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

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Daniel M. Unger
Visual and Material Culture, 1300–1700. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2019. 244 pp.; 8 color ills.; 44 b/w ills. Cloth €99.00 (9789462986015)
Daniel M. Unger’s new monograph on “eclecticism” in early modern Bolognese painting has the undeniable merit of drawing attention to a much-neglected and foundational concept within Baroque art theory: the “synthesis of styles” described by Carlo Cesare Malvasia (1616–1693). It has been almost half a century since Charles Dempsey published his combative Annibale Carracci and the Beginnings of Baroque Style (1977). In this short but powerful book, Dempsey opposed Denis Mahon’s influential opinion that the “eclecticism” of the Carracci family was a historical misinterpretation. Perusing Malvasia with acuity, Dempsey redefined Malvasia’s synthesis of styles, demonstrating its full validity in understanding… Full Review
May 15, 2020
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Felicia M. Else
European Festival Studies: 1450–1700. New York: Routledge, 2018. 226 pp.; 32 color ills.; 76 b/w ills. Cloth $155.00 (9781472410795)
Veramente il mare, a “veritable sea,” was what the courtyard of Florence’s Palazzo Pitti looked like according to Simone Cavallino on the occasion of the naumachia (mock naval battle) organized in 1589 to celebrate the wedding of Grand Duke Ferdinando I de’ Medici and Christine of Lorraine. This expression, used in Cavallino’s official description of the festivities and quoted by Felicia M. Else (165), is paradigmatic of what her book aims to demonstrate. According to Else, bringing the sea to landlocked Florence, making it visible, and reproducing it in the city of the Arno was a goal of three… Full Review
May 6, 2020
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Getty Center, Los Angeles, November 19, 2019–February 16, 2020
Opening in time for Epiphany 2020, the exhibition Balthazar: A Black African King in Medieval and Renaissance Art at the Getty Center in Los Angeles was the first exhibition at a major museum to examine the portrayal of the youngest of the Three Magi, Balthazar, as a black African king. (The exhibition adopted the phrase “black African” in acknowledgment of racial diversity across Africa. Medieval European terms were in contrast often vague, inaccurate, or pejorative.) Balthazar begins with a question: why, if early medieval legends describe Balthazar as a black African man, does it take nearly a millennium for him… Full Review
April 30, 2020
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Kelly Donahue-Wallace
Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2017. 398 pp.; 111 b/w ills. Cloth $65.00 (9780826357342)
The field of Spanish colonial art, to use a widely known if contested term, has enjoyed somewhat of a resurgence in the United States in the last decade or so. More and more universities are offering classes in the area, and an increasing number of museums are making serious overtures to establish collections. Perhaps mirroring these efforts, institutions in Europe are also starting to take a fresh look at the field and consider the region’s rich artistic output as part of the larger history of the Iberian world. To be sure, this growing interest in the field goes hand in… Full Review
April 22, 2020
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Sonja Drimmer
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018. 352 pp.; 27 color ills.; 97 b/w ills. Cloth $59.95 (9780812250497)
In her new multidisciplinary monograph, Sonja Drimmer asks a “deceptively simple” question (15): “Who is Geoffrey Chaucer?” An author? Narrator? Pilgrim? And who, for that matter, is John Gower? Or John Lydgate? The very identities of these first Middle English poets, Drimmer argues, presented an ontological challenge to the limners, or illuminators, portraying them and illustrating their texts. Drimmer contends that limners helped shape late medieval ideas about authorship, political history, and royal identity. They did so via the “art of allusion,” which Drimmer likens to the writing practices of late fourteenth- and early fifteenth-century English authors; that is, the… Full Review
April 16, 2020
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Sanja Savkić and Hannah Baader, eds.
Estudios Indiana 13. Berlin: Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut and Gebr. Mann Verlag, 2019. 438 pp. Paper €34.00 (9783786128311)
Sanja Savkić and Hannah Baader offer a fine collection of edited essays dedicated to the question of aesthetic practices in the cultural traditions of indigenous America. The volume seeks to participate in “the praxeological turn” across “a plurality of fields” in the humanities and human sciences: its intention is to explore “the emancipatory capacities of aesthetic experience” and the “practical reflection” occasioned by artistic experience (429). The collection’s overall vision amalgamates continental theories of practice (Pierre Bourdieu, Theodore Schatzki) with “the biography of objects” (Arjun Appadurai, Nicholas Thomas) and object-agency (Alfred Gell, Timothy Ingold, Ian Hodder), although this characterization is… Full Review
April 14, 2020
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Elizabeth Otto
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2019. 296 pp.; 55 color ills.; 26 b/w ills. Cloth $34.95 (9780262043298)
The centennial of the Bauhaus in 2019 was marked by an explosion of public interest, much of it fueled by the German government’s substantial investment in new museum buildings in Dessau and Weimar and in a program of exhibitions and conferences that ringed the globe. Such widespread attention to a topic often exposes the substantial gap between public perception and scholarly understanding. Simply dismissing popularly held notions as unscholarly can miss the point, for their endurance demonstrates their utility. For instance, the Bauhaus remains a symbol of a democratic Germany open to artistic experimentation, although the publication of Winfried Nerdinger’s… Full Review
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Cherise Smith
Austin: University of Texas Press, 2020. 300 pp.; 151 color ills.; 20 b/w ills. Cloth $60.00 (9781477319178)
Within the past five years, art historians and others interested in the intersection of race and representation have benefited from several noteworthy publications examining the role of visual culture, both current and historical, in the construction of American identity. To this list—which includes John Stauffer, Zoe Trodd, and Celeste-Marie Bernier’s Picturing Frederick Douglass: An Illustrated Biography of the Nineteenth Century’s Most Photographed American (Liveright, 2015), Sarah Lewis’s edited issue of Aperture entitled “Vision & Justice” (Aperture 223, 2016), and Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow (Penguin Random House, 2019)—must… Full Review
April 6, 2020
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Christian K. Kleinbub
University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2020. 260 pp.; 40 color ills.; 77 b/w ills. Cloth $99.95 (9780271083780)
Among premodern artists, Michelangelo is by far the most written-about individual. Through books, articles, and popular culture we are inundated with information and interpretation about him. While the onslaught of literature will and must continue, it is rare when a book offers a fundamentally new way of considering the artist. Christian K. Kleinbub’s book Michelangelo’s Inner Anatomies does just that. It offers meaningful and original investigations into Michelangelo’s sense of self and the meaning of his art. Kleinbub seeks to turn Michelangelo and his art inside out. Rather than looking at surfaces and outward appearance, Kleinbub investigates how Michelangelo might… Full Review
April 2, 2020
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Seattle Asian Art Museum, February 8, 2020–ongoing
After closing for two years to undergo extensive renovations, the Seattle Asian Art Museum reopened in early February with Boundless: Stories of Asian Art—an exhibition that reimagines its existing collection and presents a timely intervention into the field of Asian art. Boundless foregoes curation based on linear histories, geography, and national borders, turning instead to a thematic approach that makes space for a more expansive conception of Asia. Criticisms of curating based on national, regional, or civilizational designations have often been lodged in art historical discourse on Asia; however, alternative approaches have been rarely realized. Historically, museums and exhibitions… Full Review
March 30, 2020
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