Robert Tanitch reviews four books
King Tut. The Journey through the Underworld by Sandro Vannini (Taschen £50). A royal journey into paradise as told by ancient Egyptian treasures is published to celebrate Howard Cartier’s excavation in the Valley of the Kings 100 years ago. Here is an outstanding comprehensive guide to an understanding of ancient Egyptian afterlife, beginning with death, mummification, rites, offerings and funeral. Tutankhamen was buried in the 14th century BC. Vannini’s super high-resolution photographic record of murals and artefacts is absolutely mind-blowing. The art work is overwhelming in its solid gold splendour; the images and hieroglyphics constantly amaze and delight.
Leonardo da Vinci. The Complete Paintings by Frank Zollner (Taschen £30). Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) is the most accomplished, the greatest, the most prolific of Renaissance artists, a master of light an shade. It’s great to be able to look at his work in close-up and in such detail. The beauty of Ginevra de Benci, Virgin of the Rocks, Cecilia Gallerani, Virgin and Child and, of course, Mona Lisa is luminous. The Mona Lisa is the most famous painting in the world, so over- familiar and yet so natural, so subtle; the elusive smile, the direct eye contact, the serene slender hands, all these have an extraordinary expressive power. And then there is The Last Supper, immensely influential, endlessly quoted, quite unforgettable, so dramatic and so powerful in the gestures and expressions. The disciples’ shock that one of them is going to betray Christ remains palpable, even in its crumbling state. It’s a lovely book.
Vincent’s Portraits. Paintings and Drawings by Van Gogh by Ralph Skea (Thames & Hudson £12.95). “What I am most passionate about, much much more than all the rest in my profession,” said Van Gogh, “is the portrait, the modern portrait.” The volume contains many familiar faces. Over the course of only five years Vincent (the name he preferred) also created 39 self-portraits, which record, with changing techniques, his psychological decline. The portraits are a candid record of his fragile mental state. The sheer intensity of his piercing sad eyes, the severe gaze, the emotional impact of colour, the sheer energy of the brushwork, all show a vulnerable man under pressure, physically and emotionally exhausted, wrestling with his demons.
Sentinels of the Sea. A Miscellany of Lighthouses Past by R. G. Grant (Thames & Hudson £19.95) is a chronicle and celebration of the golden age of the lighthouse, a hymn to the incredible feats of engineering and endurance. It features 50 historic lighthouses around the world from the 17th to the 20th century. The detailed illustrations, plans, drawings, elevations are fascinating. The lighthouses, beautiful and awesome include Bishop Rock in the Isle of Scilly, Heaux de Brehat in France, Minot’s Lodge in the USA, Roter Sand in Germany, Korso in Sweden and Bell Rock in Scotland.