Art love – and art book love

February 7, 2008 at 5:45 pm (Art, books, Historical fiction)

30000.jpg I’ve just brought home the art book to end all art books: 30,000 Years of Art. It’s subtitled The story of human creativity across time and space and is published by Phaidon, the venerable art book publisher. I should say more accurately that I carted him home. This splendid tome is three inches thick and weighs in at just under fifteen pounds. It’s the ultimate coffee table book – just make sure the coffee table is of sturdy construction!

lion-man1.jpg The first work is The Lion Man of Hohlenstein-Stadel. Carved from mammoth ivory, the Lion Man was found in the caves of the Altmuhl valley in southern Germany. It dates from 28,000 B.C.

The book’s approach to art history is global and chronological. This results in fascinating and provocative juxtapositions. For instance, the following works, all listed as c. A.D. 750, appear on consecutive pages:

celebrant.jpg The Smiling Celebrant, a painted terracotta figurine, Mexico;

The Flying Dragon, gilt bronze, China;

jordan.jpg Church of St. Stephen mosaic, Jordan;

tangelgarda.jpg Tangelgarda Picture Stone, Sweden;

Crucifixion with Saints Longinus and Stephen, a parchment from Ireland;

zodiac3.gif Zodiac Figure of a Boar, Korea;

dinwoodie.jpg Dinwoody Petroglyphs, USA.

Many famous works are included here, but the real joy comes from discovering previously unknown, stunning objets d’art. My favorite example so far is the Lamentation over the Dead Christ by Niccolo dell’Arca.

niccolo5.jpg lamenta4.jpg This sculpture group, dated, incredibly, about 1463, is in the Church of Santa Maria della Vita in Bologna, Italy.


Many of the art books I’ve purchased over the years are exhibition catalogues. Four of my particular favorites among these are:

manet-velasquez.jpg Manet/Velasquez: The French Taste for Spanish Painting (Metropolitan Museum of Art). This exhibition had more fabulous art per square foot than any I have ever attended. Here are some of the masterworks that were on display the memorable day that I was there:

vulcan1.jpg eggs1.jpg zurbaran_francis_kneeling376x578.jpg

Above, left to right: The Forge of Vulcan, Velasquez; Old Woman Poaching Eggs, Velasquez; Saint Francis in Meditation, Zurbaran]]]]

velazquez_menippus.jpg philosopher_with_out-strechted_hand.jpg dwarf.jpg

Above, left to right: Menippus, Velasquez; A Philosopher (Beggar in a Cloak), Manet; The Dwarf Don Diego de Acedoa “El Primo“, Velasquez

It is hard to find adequate vocabulary for singing the praises of the astounding Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velasquez (1599-1660).

diegovelazquez_juandepareja.jpg And BTW – one of my favorite works of historical fiction is about this painter as seen through the eyes of his manservant and fellow artist, Juan de Pareja (above, in a portrait by Velasquez).

i-juan.jpg This luminous novel, by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino, is entitled I, Juan de Pareja. It won the Newberry Award in 1966; I recommend it for readers of all ages.

samuel-palmer.jpg Samuel Palmer: Vision and Landscape (also the Met). When I first read about the upcoming Samuel Palmer retrospective, I had never heard of this 19th century British artist. I didn’t “get” these works at first; they seemed childlike and bizarre. But gradually I began to see the way in which Palmer’s paintings penetrate the mystical heart of rural England. and then, of course, I was well and truly hooked!

self-portraitl.jpg cornfield.jpg magic-apple-palmer.jpg evening-church-palmer.jpg

Left to right: Self-Portrait; Harvest Moon; The Magic Apple Tree; Coming from Evening Church

americans-in-paris.jpg Americans in Paris 1860-1900 (yet again, the Met). I had a really fabulous experience with this particular exhibit: well, several fabulous experiences, actually. First off, the museum was letting members in a half hour before opening to the general public. I got there at 9:10, flashed my membership card, and sprinted through to the exhibit. Once there, I and two other people found ourselves standing before spectacular canvases by John Singer Sargent, James Abbott MacNeil Whistler, and others. The paintings hung in solitary splendor as we few gazed upon them and felt transported back to the world of Edith Wharton and Henry James.

stewart.jpg sargent_mrs_whitel.jpg nourse_lamerel.jpg henry-ossawa-tanner-thankful-poor_jpg.jpg ellen-day-hale.jpg curran_garden_clunyl.jpg cassatt_little_girll.jpg

beaux-sitasarita.jpg rose.jpg lady_with_a_glove.jpg carolus-duran.jpg

Top row, left to right: Woman in an Interior, Julius Leblanc Stewart; Mrs. Henry White (Margaret Stuyvesant Rutherford), Jon Singer Sargent; La Mere (Mother and Child), Elizabeth Nourse; The Thankful Poor, Henry Ossawa Tanner

Middle row, left to right: Self Portrait, Ellen Day Hale; Afternoon in the Cluny Garden Paris, Charles Courtney Curran; Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, Mary Cassatt

Bottom row, left to right: Sita and Sarita (Jeune Fille au Chat), Cecilia Beaux; A Rose, Thomas P. Anshutz; Woman with a Glove, Carolus-Duran; Portrait of Carolus-Duran, John Singer Sargent

You can see quite a bit in a half hour. I stayed on at the museum until early afternoon; when I left, the lobby was a mob scene.

This exhibition featured many of my favorite artists of the period, such as the above named Sargent and Whistler. I also discovered many new ones, including quite a few women (in addition to the justly famed Mary Cassatt) and an African-American, Henry Ossawa Tanner, whose personal story is as remarkable as his paintings.

eakinsportraitofhenryossawatanner1897.jpg Portrait of Henry Ossawa Tanner by Thomas Eakins


fra-angelico.jpg Finally, Fra Angelico, also at the Metropolitan. These profoundly beautiful paintings bespeak another world, one in which faith and beauty exist together in a radiant peace. If ever art could fulfill the soul’s deepest yearning, surely Fra Angelico shows us the path!

fra_angelico_009.jpg fra_angelico_006.jpg fra_angelico_005.jpg

Left to right: The Day of Judgement; The Annunciation; The Flight into Egypt

fra_angelico_013.jpg The Adoration of the Magi, The Cook Tondo

ingres_princess_albert_de_broglie.jpg How do I love thee, Metropolitan Museum of Art; let me count the ways. Here’s one of them: The Princesse de Broglie by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. (Don’t you just yearn to reach out and touch the fabric of that dress?)


  1. cawsandeffect said,

    All i can say is thank you for this post. I happened upon it quite by accident, in a search for lion images.. 🙂 The images of the The Princesse de Broglie by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres… and yes, seems as though you could just reach out and touch the fabric of her dress -and the chair she leans on, too – it took my breath away…

    • Roberta Rood said,

      Standing in front of that painting is absolutely mind boggling!

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