Critical reviews of books, exhibitions, and projects in all areas and periods of art history and visual studies

Browse Recent Book Reviews

Gillian Mackie
Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003. 512 pp.; 114 b/w ills. Cloth $100.00 (0802035043)
Gillian Mackie has written an ambitious study of the early Christian chapel with a focus on the regions of Italy and Istria in the fourth to seventh centuries. Impressive in its breadth of coverage and depth of research, Early Christian Chapels in the West: Decoration, Function, and Patronage should become one of the primary resources for any reader interested in the development of art during this period. This well-illustrated book presents a typological and historical analysis... Full Review
September 18, 2003
Joshua Brown
Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002. 384 pp.; 105 b/w ills. Cloth $49.95 (0520231031)
In the last two decades the study of nineteenth-century American painting has enjoyed a renaissance of sorts. The same cannot be said, however, for the vast realm of nineteenth-century visual culture: the popular prints, book and magazine illustration, pictorial journalism, and ephemera that proliferated throughout the century and became increasingly important agents in the dissemination of news, information, and ideologies. For many ordinary Americans, pictures in books and... Full Review
September 17, 2003
Sheryl E. Reiss and David G. Wilkins, eds.
Kirksville, Mo.: Truman State University Press, 2000. 364 pp.; 108 b/w ills. Paper $35.00 (0943549884)
The 1990s were an exciting period for those concerned with gender issues in Italian Renaissance art. Seemingly overnight, a group of scholars emerged determined to track down how, when, where, and why women created, commissioned, and utilized works of art. Such scholarship provided access to a world in which Renaissance women were seen to have a greater measure of the autonomy history has traditionally denied them. They became subjects, not objects, and evolved beyond the limited... Full Review
September 16, 2003
Justin Wolff
Princeton University Press, 2002. 208 pp.; 16 color ills.; 81 b/w ills. Cloth $39.95 (0691070830)
As the subject of a monograph, the American genre painter Richard Caton Woodville (1825–1855) presents some clear challenges. His life was regrettably short (he died of a morphine overdose at age thirty), his few years of work were not overly prolific (we know of perhaps seven major paintings), his decision to live in Europe for his entire career placed him culturally and physically outside the ranks of his fellow antebellum artists, and, as if to frustrate the historian’s attempt to... Full Review
September 15, 2003
Debra Schafter
New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. 292 pp.; 87 b/w ills. Cloth $80.00 (0521791146)
Debra Schafter’s book contributes to a small but growing literature committed to identifying intersections of, rather than differences between, ornament and modernism. The stakes of this endeavor should not be underestimated. One needs only to remember Adolf Loos’s proclamation that “the evolution of humanity would cause ornament to disappear from functional objects,” in his polemic from 1908, aptly titled “Ornament and Crime,” to grasp the significance of this turnaround in... Full Review
September 12, 2003
Anne Wilkes Tucker, Dana Friis-Hansen, Kaneko Ryuichi, and Takeba Joe
Exh. cat. New Haven: Yale University Press in association with Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2003. 432 pp.; 356 color ills.; 50 b/w ills. Cloth $75.00 (0300099258)
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Houston, TX, March 2–April 27, 2003; Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH, May 25–July 27, 2003
See Mikiko Hirayama’s review of this book From its beginnings, photography has been the agent of an international dialogue of its own making. It has enacted and exemplified tensions between local cultures and wider historical energies: those of colonialist assimilation and resistance, of commercial engagement, of transcultural communication. Study of the medium leads quickly and irresistibly to international issues. Therefore few... Full Review
September 11, 2003
Gisela Schmidt
New York: Peter Lang, 2001. 526 pp.; 49 b/w ills. Paper $71.95 (082045611X)
Art history has now and then been structured around psychoanalytic theory and method of inquiry. Clinical method and therapy have often been relied upon to interpret paintings as well. Nevertheless, the two modes of inquiry, historical and therapeutic, have been wary of each other’s conclusions, and therefore a relationship that varies from outright antagonism to interdisciplinary merger has characterized their past. That history is usually thought to begin with Sigmund Freud’s... Full Review
September 9, 2003
Jodi Cranston
New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. 258 pp.; 69 b/w ills. Cloth $85.00 (052165324x)
The Poetics of Portraiture in the Italian Renaissance is an ambitious book, a prolonged meditation on the reflexive nature of portraiture. It constitutes a novel contribution to the history of Renaissance portraiture in that Jodi Cranston seeks to bring modern literary criticism and concepts to bear in her discussion of sixteenth-century Venetian and northern Italian likenesses. Stating that “thinking of pictures in terms of analogous structures characterized the general... Full Review
September 8, 2003
Nicole Coolidge Rousmaniere, ed.
Exh. cat. New York and London: Japan Society and British Museum Press, 2001. 304 pp.; 230 color ills.; 60 b/w ills. Cloth $45.00 (0810967480)
Japan Society, New York, October 17–December 31, 2002; British Museum, London, February 5–April 13, 2003
In Japan, little formal distinction existed between the fine and decorative arts until about a century ago, when the Japanese began to adopt Western art-historical language and structures. Before then, all works of art—painting, ceramics, sculpture, and textiles—were seen as playing an equally vital role in the embellishment of interior and exterior spaces and as setting the aesthetic tone of a specific locale. The careful choice of the painting to be displayed in the tokonoma,... Full Review
September 5, 2003
Eric Thunø
Rome: L’Erma di Bretschneider, 2002. 216 pp.; 8 color ills.; 133 b/w ills.; 141 ills. Paper (8882652173)
In Image and Relic: Mediating the Sacred in Early Medieval Rome, Erik Thunø thoroughly explores three objects that could be justly deemed among the most important works of art created in the Carolingian period. (One of these is pictured here.) Commissioned as part of what was apparently a coherent papal project of art production in support of the cult of saints and relics, the objects were made for the most prestigious... Full Review
September 2, 2003