Distinguished Images: Prints and the Visual Economy in Nineteenth-Century France

Stephen Bann, Author
Stephen Bann. Yale Univ., $65 (262p) ISBN 978-0-300-17727-5
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In this comprehensive volume Bann (Ways AroundModernism) examines different types of printmaking common in France during the 19th century, "a golden age in the art of printmaking." He looks at lithography, etching, and engraving; considering, for instance, how Leonardo's Mona Lisa had not always been "the most famous painting in the world," but one whose celebrity grew in time through "successive print reproductions...that were published over the course of the century." Artists such as Raphael-Urbain Massard, Luigi Calamatta, and Hyacinthe Aubry-Lecomte, as well as photographer Gustave Le Gray helped to popularize the now-iconic image. Similarly, impressions of Normandy have also been influenced significantly by images presented of the region. Lithographs featuring the abbey of St. Georges de Boscherville, for example, capture a sense of place much like postcards these days do. Engravings further highlighted local church architecture, detailing exterior as well as interior features. In this way, Bann suggests, printmaking was instrumental in "awakening renewed interest in the medieval monuments of a French province." Too often, though, Bann's narrative proves overly academic, with discussions couched in jargon. It is a fine work for graduate students and art scholars well-versed in historical discourse, but the dry account will prove challenging for general art enthusiasts. (June)
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