cover image Marks of Opulence: The Why, When and Where of Western Art 1000-1900 AD

Marks of Opulence: The Why, When and Where of Western Art 1000-1900 AD

Colin Platt. Harper Perennial, $18.95 (330pp) ISBN 978-0-00-653156-2

A scholar who was awarded the Wolfson Prize for History for 1990's The Architecture of Medieval Britain: A Social History, Platt focuses on the economic, political, religious and cultural factors that enabled the creation of art, tending to gloss over the art itself. The book proves repeatedly that, in the words of Philip Hamerton, ""the man who has money will rule the man who has art"" and examines how the Black Death, the French Revolution and other historical turning points affected art production. Initially, churches' stained glass and altarpieces comprised the entirety of the art world. Eventually, churches were adorned with frescoes, paintings and statuary, and still later, art began to be commissioned for civic beautification and decoration, as a status symbol or a political tool, as an investment and for private enjoyment. Platt assumes the reader is conversant in art history and familiar with myriad politicians and religious figures, and his abrupt references give the book a choppy feel and tend to muddy lines of argument. Casual readers may have trouble with this sweeping history, but specialists and those with an art history background will find Platt's work illuminating and relentlessly informative. 32 pages of color reproductions.