Fine Art & Artists

1. Art and violence in early Renaissance Florence
Nethersole, Scott. Yale, 2018

This timely book is very much a product of the present era, which is marked by inexplicable violence worldwide and a determination to understand the root causes of violence and the mechanisms that allow it to perpetuate. A specialist in art of the Italian Renaissance, Nethersole (Courtauld Institute of Art, UK) examines select images, and their themes, produced in Florence, mostly during the 15th century. The Florentine public was accustomed to both wanton and staged violence, witnessing frequent belligerencies and, on average, about ten public executions each year. And Christian and classical stories offered up plentiful literary accounts of war, rape, and murder to depict. Even so, questions remain regarding issues such as the copiousness and range of violent imagery, the derivation of pleasure or catharsis in viewing these scenes, the artistry and beauty contemporaneous viewers found in the depiction of violence, and the consequences of regularly visualizing brutality inflicted on women, children, saints, and the innocent.
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2. Leonardo da Vinci: a closer look
Donnithorne, Alan. Royal Collection Trust, 2019

This is an extraordinary and valuable book for understanding both Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings and the processes and techniques for analyzing Renaissance drawings more generally. Donnithorne (formerly, head of paper conservation, Royal Collection Trust, and a Da Vinci expert) brings rare specialized knowledge to the subject, particularly in terms of the scientific analysis of materials. He details the basic properties of Renaissance drawings—from the papers used to brushes, inks, and charcoals—and provides insights into artistic creation as gleaned from creative choices and characteristics of an artist’s strokes or the handling of different media. He also includes revelatory images obtained with the help of scientific instruments featuring examples of infrared, ultraviolet, and multispectral imaging; optical microscopy; Raman spectroscopy; X-ray fluorescence, and XRF microanalysis. Nowhere else will one find such an easily accessible amalgamation of scholarly information.
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3. Rembrandt: painter as printmaker
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. by Jaco Rutgers and Timothy J. Standring Denver Art Museum/Yale, 2018

During his lifetime (1606–69), Rembrandt singlehandedly took printmaking to the highest levels, thanks to his creativity and constant search for innovation. Loyal clients who eagerly sought out the special editions and prints on exotic papers that Rembrandt fashioned with them in mind spurred his success. This story of a pioneering printmaker and his eager clients is superbly told by Rembrandt specialists Rutgers and Standring, who examine the prints from many angles, technical and aesthetic: states and condition, subject and iconography, audience and patronage. Anticipating the 350th anniversary of the artist’s death, the Denver Art Museum’s exhibition—for which this is the exceptionally handsome catalogue—drew heavily on the holdings of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris, which possesses one of the most important collections of Rembrandt prints in the world. The sumptuously illustrated volume showcases 130 prints, drawings, and paintings spanning the artist’s career, from 1625 to 1665.
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4. The Italian Renaissance nude
Burke, Jill. Yale, 2018

Given the centrality of the male and female nude in the teaching and scholarship of Renaissance art, it is about time this book appeared. Burke (Univ. of Edinburgh, UK) makes a major contribution to the literature by presenting the nuanced reactions, in both textual and visual form, of viewers of the nude between about 1400 and 1530 in the Italian peninsula. The emergence of workshop model books in Florence in the 1470s appears to be the earliest flourishing of the nude study in early modern Western art; these involved live male and female models and the imaginative re-creation of antique poses. The consequence of this development would become most evident in Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling, to cite just one example. One of Burke’s focuses in this wide-ranging discussion is nude combatants as savages, including some reference to world exploration and contact with Africans and natives of the Caribbean; Antonio del Pollaiuolo’s engraving of ten fighting nude men is a major example. Another focus is the conflict between attraction and sinfulness of Christianity and nudity.
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5. The tale of Genji: a visual companion
McCormick, Melissa. Princeton, 2018

In this elegant book McCormick (Japanese art and culture, Harvard) reproduces in color a 1510 Japanese album that includes paired passages of calligraphy and painted illustrations from the 54 chapters of Murasaki Shikibu’s classic The Tale of Genji from Heian-era Japan. It is the earliest surviving complete album, a traditional format at the time, and was intended to complement a reading of the novel. Commissioned by a patron from Suo province, the album was illustrated in rich mineral pigments by Tosa Matsunobu, with passages of prose and poetry inked on Chinese paper by six different calligraphers. Accompanying each pair of leaves reproduced in this volume are English translations of the Japanese, Romanization, and contemporary Japanese script, and McCormick’s sensitive discussion of the calligraphy and painting, fuller details of the Genji story, and the context for the novel and the album. Also included are an annotated introduction, a key to the calligraphers’ work, a glossary of Japanese words, and works referenced in each chapter.
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