The Art of Arts: Rediscovering Painting

Anita Albus, Author Alfred A. Knopf $35 (400p) ISBN 978-0-375-40099-5
Painter and writer Albus (The Botanical Drama) has translated writings by the Goncourt brothers into German, and has illustrated books, including one by Claude L vi-Strauss. This seems to have been insufficient preparation for tackling the present project, an examination of how the invention of oil painting by Jan van Eyck and his followers changed human perception. Secondary sources, particularly the great Erwin Panofsky, are quoted so heavily as to almost overshadow the project, especially since Albus's own reflections are often banal. We are told, for example, that on seeing van Eyck's Madonna of Chancellor Rolin at the Louvre Museum, ""you have to rub your eyes."" The prose is often redundant. In one instance, a kind of paint is called ""a senile dotard."" Some of this may be clumsy translation, which also refers to a ""thick-as-a-fist black eye,"" but observations such as ""[j]ust as not all art is art, not all science is science"" don't help. Discussions of some painters less well known than van Eyck, such as still-life masters Georg Flegel, Johannes Goedaeart and Otto van Schriek, are somewhat more engaging, and in the last 60 pages, painters' colors are described in some detail and to some point. These pages might have made an interesting short book or pamphlet, instead of a welcome respite from a tedious treatise. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 12/04/2000
Release date: 12/01/2000
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