A reader just sent me a link to her list of 15 art books for the Holidays. So, I thought I’d make my own.
I buy a lot of books and have a long wish list. The five here were chosen for being both beautiful and enjoyable for beginners to experienced scholars.
1. James Tissot: The Life of Christ by Judith F. Dolkart, ed.
Principally known for his scenes of fashionable women, the artist James Tissot had a religious awakening near the end of his life. He created a series of 350 watercolors–now owned by the Brooklyn Museum–to illustrate the New Testament. Tissot had traveled multiple times to the Holy Land. His knowledge of the terrain and remarkable arsenal of painterly skills combine to create some of the most original religious images I have ever seen. This book reproduces all 350 illustrations.
2. The Infinity of Lists by Umberto Ecco
The Louvre invited Ecco, a renowned philosopher and author, to organize a series of conferences and exhibitions. The result was a number of events, featuring art and literature about lists. In The Infinity of Lists, Ecco gathers lists from Homer, the Bible and poetry. My favorite example: the list of the rebel angels thrust out of heaven made by John Milton in Paradise Lost.
3. The Sacred Made Real: Spanish Painting and Sculpture from 1600-1700 by Xavier Bray, ed.
Religious statues are almost never seen today because they are still in use by churches, not museums. But they were often created by masters like Juan Martinez Montañés (Spanish, 1568-1649), considered the Michelangelo of wood. This book is a catalogue from a major exhibition that reunited the sculptors and painters who worked together in Spain at the height of the Spanish Empire.
4. Only in America: 100 Paintings in American Museums Unmatched in European Collections by Pierre Rosenberg
My wife and I spent much of last night looking through this book with a map of the United States at hand. Who knew so many wonderful paintings were in Cleveland? WARNING: This book may spawn a series of family vacations.
5. Luis Meléndez: Master of the Spanish Still Life by Gretchen A. Hirschauer, Catherine A. Metzger, Peter Cherry, and Natacha Sesena.
Since finding this book, I have become obsessed with still-life painting. Meléndez was a painter for the Spanish royal court who spent his life meticulously painting the varied regional foods of Iberia. Scholars from many disciplines (e.g. food, pottery, botany, politics) have used his paintings as research tools. He was able to achieve a remarkable level of fealty to reality while making his arguably mundane subjects endlessly fascinating and beautiful works of art.