Art and design across centuries: from history of typefonts and the artistic glories of Rome to two new Da Vinci books and bios of Van Gogh, Caravaggio, Titian and cartoonist Saul Steinberg, the genius designers Charles/Ray Eames and Norman Bel Geddes. Read on!
DaVinci’s Ghost: Genius, Obsession, and How Leonardo Created the World in His Own Image, Toby Lester. (Free Press) 275 pp. $16. The iconic image of “Vitruvian Man” –a naked man with arms and legs outstretched – inside a circle, within a square. What could it mean ? The 1490 drawing was DaVinci’s quest for a perfectly proportioned human, but what it wrought in the world of art and ideas, was much more. The search actually goes back to ancient Greece and even to Vitruvius himself. Excerpt on NPR
Leonardo and the “Last Supper,” Ross King. (Walker & Co.) 336 pp. illus $28. The delicate, much imperiled, fresco that measures just 450 square feet, is, according the late art historian Sir Kenneth Clark, “commonly held to be the climax of Leonardo’s career as a painter.” Was it his most important work ? Ross King, who has written about Michelangelo, looks at every aspect of the masterpiece, which is one of just a few completed works by the artist-inventor. Review
Titian: His Life, Sheila Hale (Harper) 832 pp. $39.95. One of the four great painters of the High Renaissance (Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael were the others), Tiziano Vecellio (known as Titian) was Venetian-born and -trained (Giovanni Bellini was one of his teachers) – but possessed a different sensibility and style than his Florentine-influenced confederates. In fact, Titian seldom left La Serenissima (Venice) in his lifetime, although it did not limit the extraordinary patronage he enjoyed from Ducal families, popes and monarchs. His secular works were sensuous to say the least (Bacchus and Ariadne, The Rape of Europa Danae); his religious commissions were compelling. If you have visited Venice, you’ll likely recall his Assumption of the Virgin in the Basilica dei Frari, with its heroic scale, billowing drapery, and intense colors. Hale’s book is the first full-scale biography of Titian since 1877. Washington Post book critic Michael Dirda calls it the biography of the year! Read both the Guardian review (London) and the Washington Post.
Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane, Andrew Graham Dixon. (WW Norton & Co) 514 pp. illus $39.95. Now in paperback. Gritty Roman street life finds its way into the paintings and altarpieces of the brilliant Baroque painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, whose work, both sacred and profane, only came to be widely appreciated in the 20th century. “Whatever he set out to paint,” Andrew Graham-Dixon writes, “he always ended up painting himself.” Caravaggio spent key years of his life in Rome and then frequently painted commissions on the run, after fights, squabbles, and even an alleged murder. The author used criminal and court records to reconstruct at least part of his misbegotten life. Caravaggio was dead before he reached age 40, but the work he left is among the most highly charged in all of the history of painting. Book review
Rome: A Cultural, Visual and Personal History, Robert Hughes 498 pp illustrated (Alfred A Knopf) $35. Now in paperback.A powerhouse art critic (formerly Time Magazine) and prolific writer, Hughes (who died in August 2012) completed a biography of the city – once the center of the “civilized” world – with all of its spectacle, intrigue and physical beauty. Read the lengthy review and you won’t hesitate for a moment to get or read this book. It’s a “guided tour through the city in its many incarnations, excavating the geologic layers of its cultural past and creating an indelible portrait of a city in love with spectacle and power, an extravagant city that, in Mr. Hughes’s words, still stands today as ‘an enormous concretion of human glory and human error.’” For my part, there are far, far too few illustrations – you’ll need a prodigiously illustrated art book or two as a companion while you read. Review plus Q&A with Hughes l
Van Gogh: The Life, Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith (Harper) $39.99 (Now in paperback) Take 10 years of research and writing, 100,000 digital notecards, 28,000 research notes – and what do you have ? The acclaimed 980-page biography of Vincent Van Gogh, penned by the Pulitzer-Prize-winning writers Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith (biographers of Jackson Pollock). The authors’ most revealing conclusion: Van Gogh did not commit suicide, but rather was shot and did not want to assign blame to the shooter. While Van Gogh has been studied endlessly, there’s much more to learn and this book is where you will find the new revelations. In 2011, the Sunday Times of London named it the art book of the year! The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam celebrates its 40th jubilee in 2013, and reopens in April for the timely celebration. The companion web site to the book make available an array of research and documentation. Review and excerpt
Diane Rehm Show and other broadcasts
The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, David McCullough (Simon & Schuster) 558 pp. illus. $37.50. (Now in paperback) McCullough’s famous narrative voice is used to read excerpts from the book in a new CD. Starting in the 1830’s, Americans who chose to go East – to Paris – found an abundance of art, literature, music, medicine and education that jump started their own ambitions and talents. Those who went are a veritable who’s who of the 19th century cultural scene, as well as others who made their mark on science and medicine: artist- inventor Samuel F.B. Morse, John Singer Sargent (who scandalized tout Paris with his Madame “X” portrait), Mary Cassatt and James Fennimore Cooper. Book review
Saul Steinberg: A Biography, Deidre Bair (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday) 732 pp. $40. Romanian-born, trained in Milan and an émigré to New York, Saul Steinberg is best known as the artist who produced extraordinary covers for The New Yorker. Most remember the hilarious View of the World from 9th Avenue, which appeared on the cover in 1976 and became widely reproduced – as well as the inspiration for many knock-offs. Steinberg’s output was prodigious: cartoons, books, murals, sets, fabric design and even greeting cards. His life, kindly put, was a mess. He kept close quarters with many talents in the artistic and literary set, but was virtually priapic in his need for as many sexual conquests as possible. Bair had access to 177 boxes of material, 400 drawings and interviews with several hundred people to assemble this staggering biography. Book review
Eames: Beautiful Details: Introduction by Eames Demetrios (Charles’s grandson and the director of the Eames Office); Steve Crist and Gloria Fowler, editors. (Ammo Books) 320 pages, $125-200. Two of the powerhouse talents of 20th-century design, Charles and Ray Eames produced a staggering body of work: furniture, exhibit design, textile design, product design, graphic design, film and photography. Save your pennies for this massive book monograph that is well illustrated. Web site with photos and additional info from Eames Office
Norman Bel Geddes Designs America, Donald Albrecht (Abrams) 399 pp. illus $65. A man who cut a wide swath across the world of 20th century design, Bel Geddes designed yachts, streamlined cars and trains, prefab housing and created visions of the future city. He designed the General Motors Pavilion and its Futurama exhibit for the 1939-40 World’s Fair in New York. “His predictions for the future,’ notes the NYTimes T Magazine, “ in a 1931 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal, included pronouncements like: ‘Every roof will be a garden” and ‘Courses and lectures will be broadcast by television from key cities to hundreds of rural branches.’ ” NOTE: This book is a special treat since it is also an exhibition at the Harry Ransom Center (UTexas/Austin) until early January, then moves to the Museum of the City of New York in 2013. Story in T Magazine
Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design, Michael Bierut (Princeton Architectural Press). New paperback edition (first published hardcover in 2007). Twenty years of Pentagram’s Michael Bierut’s writings, on everything from Stanley Kubrick and Twyla Tharp to falling off a treadmill. Check out the essay Why Design School Kids Can’t Think, excerpted on Fast Company’s Co.Design blog. Q &A with Michael Bierut
The Anatomy of Type: A Graphic Guide to 100 Typefaces, Stephen Cole (Foreword, Erik Spiekerman) (Harper Design. $25.99. If you love typefaces, this is the book for you! Check out favorites such as Garamond, Bodoni, Gill Sans and Helvetica. Then look at less familiar fonts. Cole shows you how to distinguish between related typefaces for use, readability and mood (that’s a biggie). The same book is being published by Thomas & Hudson as The Geometry of Type (UK, Jan 2013) so don’t get confused. Check out Cole’s web site/blog for lots of beautiful and fun stuff.