Robert Tanitch reviews four books on Art
Flying Too Close to the Sun. Myths in Art from Classical to Contemporary (Phaidon £39.95) Classical myths have remained a fertile and popular source of subject matter. The art resonates across time, metamorphosing into new forms. Here is Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Michelangelo’s tipsy, effeminate Bacchus, Titian’s shameless Europa, Everdigen’s tarty Ariadne, Rossetti’s unnervingly beautiful Pandora, Frederick Sandys’ Helen of Troy with flaming red hair, David’s naked Patroculus, Mat Collinshaw’s modern Narcissus lying in the road and looking into a pool and Knopff’s Sphinx, a purring cheetah fin de siècle femme fatale. Bernini’s Pluto struggles with Peresphone,Titian’s Adonis tears himself away from Venus’s embrace, Goya’s horrific Saturn devours one of his own children, Fabrice Monteiro’s exhausted polluted Aphrodite rises from the sea, Watts’ Orpheus loses Eurydice forever, Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne are caught at the very moment of their transformation into a laurel tree. The book is a wonderful companion for all those who enjoy classical myths.
The Museum of Lost Art by Noah Charney (Phaidon £19.95). Theft. Looting. Fire. Vandalism. Acts of God. Where are Caravaggio’s Nativity and Vermeer’s The Concert? What happened to Van Weyden’s Justice cycle? Why not bring back to life a selection of dead artworks, such as The Colossus of Rhodes? 118 Picassos were stolen by the Corsican mafia. The trade stolen by collectors, criminals, armies and terrorists is enormous. Rome was sacked in 1527 in order to pay the army. Napoleon had a special military unit for looting. History repeats itself: Savonarola and the Bonfire of the Vanities in 1497 and the Nazis burning books and art in 1933. More recently the Taliban dynamited two monumental Buddha and 15,000 objects disappeared from the National Museum of Baghdad. The book is a very enjoyable read.
Looking at Pictures (Art Essentials) by Susan Woodford (Thames & Hudson £10.95) is an admirable guide for anybody who wants to progress from passive looking to active perceptive and keen to approach pictures from different angles and through new perspectives. I began with works I thought I already knew well and then read Woodford to see what I had missed. It is interesting sometimes momentarily to ignore the actual subject and take a look at paintings in terms of form, colour, shapes, sizes and arrangements.
Modern Art (Art Essentials) by Amy Dempsey (Thames & Hudson £10.95) is a clear and concise guide and introduction to modern art in Europe and America – a daunting subject! It lists sixty-eight schools and movements from Impressionism to Destination Art. Each entry has a seminal image, a succinct explanation, a list of key artists, attributes and key collections. It’s really useful in that gets you off to a quick start for any research you may want to do.