Sunday, May 20, 2007

Recommendation in Art History

Just recently I spent an evening reading Michael Baxandall's seminal book Painting and Experience in Fifteenth Century Italy, a truly fascinating book about social, material, and stylistic conditions that comprised the rapport between patrons, artists, and paintings in the era. For instance, he looks at something like art criticism written by contemporary clients (recall that Vasari, "father of art history," was a sixteenth century man), and examines the uses of words used in evaluating different painters for different projects; similarly, he goes into detail about things like volumetrics and proportion, very important parts of the education and daily life of the moneyed class that would have comprised the patrons of all our great quattrocento masters.

But what's additionally laudable is the very subdued presentation of Baxandall's prose--he's a very dry wit, with a certain modesty about any generalized claims he makes (even as he ceaselessly heaps interesting facts into the reader's lap). And the conceptualization of the project is inspiring. To me this is a great example of a consideration of form, the history of style, and even a little aesthetic philosophy considered within both materialist and a historicist contexts--teasing out concrete origins and corrolaries of the social history in which our forms are forged.

I know that I must have read Baxandall in college--very likely his work on Tilman Riemenschneider (example below)--but I can't remember for sure ...

For some recent words by a fellow film blogger on the same era (but not Italy), go


Alex said...

Limewood Sculptors of Southern Germany? Or Patterns of Intention?

Tucker said...

Baxandall's book is great. As I understand it the book was considered groundbreaking at the time by helping to place works of art more fully into the social/historical context in which they were created. It's been a long time since I read it, but now I'm temped to pull it off the shelf again. Thanks for the reminder.

Alex said...

See also Barbara Lane's The Altar and the Altarpiece: Sacramental Themes in Early Netherlandish Painting for a work that also "helping to place works of art more fully into the social/historical context in which they were created".

If you are in Munich, don't forget to go to the often-ignored Bavarian National Museum, which has an entire room of Riemenschneider works - as well as several other rooms of excellent late Gothic / early Renaiisance sculptures (including such masters as Hans Leinberger, Jorg Syrlin, Nicholas Gerhardt v. Leyden, Eramus Grasser, Adam Kraft and so on).

ZC said...

I've got Patterns of Intention out from the library now. I certainly haven't read it before; I've possibly read excerpts from Limewood Sculptors, or (if it was indeed on TR) Baxandall's contribution to the monograph on the artist. Thanks for the recommendations, Alex.