Robert Tanitch reviews the latest books
500 Self-Portraits (Phaidon £19.95). We live in an age of selfies. This wonderful book (at a fantastic bargain price) covers portraits from antiquity to the present day. So, that’s what they look like! Here is Durer (so Christ-like), Raphael (so young, aged 13), Tintorento (so soul-searching), Caravaggio (uses his face for John the Baptist’s decapitated head), El Greco (as Saint Luke, deeply sad) and so it goes on. They are all there: Cezanne, Corot, Gaugin, Rousseau, etc, etc. Courbet (proud, arrogant) looks quite desperate. There is a great selection of familiar and unfamiliar portraits. These studies in psychology and self-perception are absolutely fascinating. One thing is for certain: this new edition is going to be a best-seller.
Women of the Raj: The Mothers, Wives and Daughters of the British Empire in India by Margaret Macmillan (Thames & Hudson £9.99). If you have enjoyed Rudyard Kipling’s Tales, E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India, Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet and Indian Summers on TV, I can strongly recommend this immensely readable account (originally published in 1988) which stretches from the 1850’s and the horrors of the Indian Mutiny to Independence in 1947. Would you have survived? Women were not meant to do anything or be anything but decorative chattel or appendage to a husband. Children were sent back to England when they reached seven and thereafter rarely saw their parents.
Year of the Mad King: The Lear Diaries by Antony Sher (Nick Hern Books £16.99). Gregory Doran’s production of King Lear for the RSC at the Barbican was vastly superior, and far more coherent and far better acted by the supporting players than Deborah Warner’s production with Glenda Jackson. The last time Sher appeared in King Lear was in 1982 in Adrian Noble’s production for the RSC when he played the Fool to Michael Gambon’s Lear and they were the best Shakespearian double act I have seen in this play. Sher’s Lear had a great entrance in furs, carried on in a glass cage as if he were some Mongol king. It is interesting to read his diary, a journey from research to rehearsal to opening night. The volume includes a selection of his portraits of artwork, portraits and sketches of himself and company.