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78 of 79 people found the following review helpful
on March 12, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This is the kind of book that seems to come along only once in a generation, and if you miss it, you wish you could have been lucky enough to have purchased it when it was still available.

First, as to logistics. The publisher's information about the book on this page currently says the book weighs 4 pounds. This is a serious error - my scale says it weighs 21 pounds. Perhaps they meant kilos?

In order to enjoy this book, I think it's essential to have a bookstand. I found a nice inexpensive one on ebay - if you search "big bible stand" you will probably find the seller I used, who makes a very simple but very effective book stand. I would be afraid to let this lie flat on a table while browsing through it, for fear that the spine would break.

Now to the content of the book. As you might expect, the majority of this book presents art and architecture of Christian churches of the Western world through the ages. There are also some illuminated manuscripts, paintings and sculpture that might not be displayed in Churches, but the great majority of the photos encompass the architecture and art works in Western churches and monasteries. The work is grouped chronologically and while most of the works are from Western Europe, there are some works from other areas, such as Byzantine churches, and a few from Ethiopia, Russia and in the later chapters, North and South America.

The reproductions are exceptional, large, clear, lush and deep colors. Many of the photos present close-up views and details of intricate cathedral carvings that one doesn't often see. The paper is heavy and the book appears to be quite sturdy, with a beautiful cover. You can randomly open this book to almost any page and have your breath taken away by the glorious art on display.

My only disappointment is with the text accompanying the photos. It is quite obvious that this was written in one of sevral foreign languages (German, Italian and Spanish?) and translated into English. The syntax is clunky and difficult to read, and it seems to me that the translator and/or editor do not have English as a first language. While the text is mainly technically correct and therefore it is possible to understand what is meant, the sentence structure and frequent mis-use of definite articles slows down the reader.

Also, there are some odd mistakes that make me believe the English translator is not familiar with Catholicism, and since the majority of these art works are associated with Catholic culture, that is strange. For instance, I would think most English speaking Catholics are aware of the fact that the great pilgrimage church of Santiago De Compestela is dedicated to St. James. However, the text repeatedly refers to "St. Jacob" when discussing St. James. Some northern european languages use the name Jacob and James interchangeably but English does not, and I would think that an editor familiar with the matter would have caught this error. . [See, eg pages 190, 206, etc.)

"St. Francis of Assisi was the burial place of the preacher St. Francis". [p. 392] By which they mean the Basilica bearing his name is the resting place of St. Francis. The bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ during the sermon? [p. 344] No. Transubstantiation means that the altar is a "magical" place, where parishoners stare "as if spellbound." [p.344] Anti-Catholic, much?. The crucified Christ is standing right behind the altar "flanked by angels with the weapons of Christ, to demonstrate the connection between Passion and Salvation." [p.373] Of course, they mean "the weapons of Christ's passion" which were used to kill Him, not His own store of armaments. "Romanesque sculptors had the task to keep the demons from entering the churches and destroying people's souls. The Holy Scripture itself contained the means, as the Evangelist Matthew repeatedly reported Christ replacing one evil with another.(Matthew 9:34; 12:24-27)" [p.232] How can anyone read that sentence and not see that it is completely wrong? The cited scripture passages relate to the false charges that Christ cast out devils by the power of the devil, which he refutes, not confirms, as the author here suggests. I could go on, but you get the point. To be fair, it's not necessarily the case that the translator made all these errors, and some might be in the original text. But I would think a competent editor would correct them.

Finally, I would have hoped that a lush and overwhelmingly respectful presentation of Sacred Art would perhaps have found someone sensitive to the spiritual dimension of the works. Instead the text almost exclusively focuses on technical and historical matters without any seeming concern to address the underlying spirituality being expressed by the artists. Indeed in the few places where a theological explanation is offered, the perspective is simplistic, usually contentious and not overly sympathetic to Christianity. For instance, did you know that the Church in the Middle Ages had "a negative evaluation of sexuality" because of the story of Adam and Eve? [p.210] And, counter-intuitively, this demonization of sex led church leaders to place fertility symbols on their churches. Of course, the story of Adam and Eve is about disobeying God's command not to eat a particular fruit, not about having sex, and God directed the couple to be fruitful and multiply which requires having sex, but apparently Christians in the Middle Ages didn't know that (or that marriage was a sacrament). It's amazing that anyone was born to carry on such a civilization, much less create these unbelievably complex and wonderful works of art.

But let's be real. No one buys a book like this to read the text. It is designed to offer a feast to the eyes of some of the most beautiful and profound art ever created. And at this it succeeds to a remarkable degree. My real problem in appreciating this work is in pacing myself to only view a chapter or so at a time to avoid being overwhelmed by the magnitude and majesty of this book.

UPDATE --

Ok, having read a bit more of the text, I am sorry to say that much of the text is laughably bad, and some of it is really incomprehensible. For instance, using words that aren't even words in the English language: "complementarability"? Or they use one word (presence) when they mean another (present). [p. 362] Or - "Christ thrones in the center of the Mandorla" - [p. 199]. Many sentences make absolutely no sense in English, but you can kind of catch their meaning if you stop and think about it. [See, e.g. pages 426, 479] Most of the content seems to be about the artists, who paid for the work, technical aspects of a work, lots of dates, and criticisms of Christians and Christian cultures (which aren't all that great apparently, other than making some really nice art in service to their weird ideas).

Also, either the authors are not familiar with the most basic principles of Christianity, or they assume that the readers are not, and so they explain the most obvious things in very ponderous and overly-scholarly ways. And sometimes the explanations are simply incorrect. After World War II, the crucifixion expressed the suffering of humanity. Not before then? Hunh. Several passages seem to suggest that there's something novel about having an awareness that people suffer and die, or that this only happened in the past, when both "the rich and poor, the powerful and the weak" all were subject to mortality. Unlike today? Also, according to this book, Christians apparently think that something significant might happen after death. What??? Crazy. Helpfully, the author explains that this belief was needed in order to get people to join the early Church. [p.362] Some of it actually starts to sound like a satire of a graduate student's overblown effort to sound wise and well-read by using complicated words and obscure sentence structure, which only serve to reveal that he is very uncomfortable with the material.

Such a shame - it would have been better to simply provide clear labels indicating basic identifying information and just delete the text altogether. And what a sad commentary on our culture's abandonment of its heritage that scholars are so inept at explaining the spiritual significance of the sacred treasures we have inherited. Buy it for the pictures, try not to be distracted by the text.

UPDATE 2: I have added page citations for most of the quotes above, still looking for a couple of others. For those who are interested, I have added some additional points in the comments attached to this review - but I don't want to make this review longer.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on April 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover
How many of us have spend a lifetime's savings going to Europe to look at the two millenia of art, architecture, painting and sculpture? We go into church after church to worship. But are we worshiping God or Jesus or Mary? The answer for most people is no. What we are really worshiping is two thousand years of inspirational creation carried out by absolutely exemplary artists.

I say that because Ars Sacra (Sacred Art) is a superbly put together compendium of Christian art. In a sense, it is the book version of all those churches, cathedrals, galleries, palaces, public places, icons, frescoes, friezes, sarcophogii, manuscripts and gargoyles. It is the summation of virtually the sole expression of European art for more than a thousand years. That art went on to resonate, develop and evolve to the present day, and it is all covered magnificently in this generous tome. Ars Sacra is the European grand tour in a book. In fact, it is the guided specialist tour that most of us will never be able to afford. With its clear and lovely reproductions, insightful commentary and wonderful production, quite frankly you will be able to get a lot closer to those treasures from this book than you will from standing 10 deep and gazing at a Tintoretto in a gallery, or trying to pick out from the ground the features of a flying buttresses disappearing into that flat grey wintery sky.

Ars Sacra is huge. It must weight something like 11 kilos and its 800 pages have more than 2000 colour images. It is presented shrink-wrapped with a simply breathtaking cover design of a bejewelled golden treasure with a two process dust jacket spelling out the title which allows glimpses through to the image behind.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on January 5, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This is a beautiful book. It's HUGE, and it weighs about 25 pounds. I could look at the images forever.

That said, it's clear this book was originally published in a foreign language (most likely German, as the publisher is German). The translation is ABYSMAL. Pathetic, even. It breaks my heart to see such a beautiful book receive such shoddy treatment when it comes to the content. But that's what happens when design wins over editorial.

Still, I recommend this book, if only for the pictures. Not sure it's worth the hefty price tag.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon January 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Every once in a while, you come across one of those truly unusual books that does not fit into most normal categories. This stunning photographic collection in Ars Sacra is one of those finds: it is absolutely gorgeous, large, and will probably be one of the most beautiful books you will likely to come across.

First, let me echo what others are saying, yet can be difficult to conceptualize: this book is huge. No, I mean, REALLY huge. If you look at its specifications, it lists the book as being 24 pounds in weight. I can confirm that this book is, indeed, 24 pounds. And if you have a hard time envisioning that weight, remember that the carry-on luggage weight for an international flight caps on most airlines at about 50 pounds. That means that this book is HALF of that total weight. And yes, the book is physically huge. Really huge. Once you get past the weight, you'll realize that, because of its size, this book is not likely going to fit on your bookshelf, and even if it could, it would likely exceed the weight limitations of the bookshelf. It is almost half a foot thick, and every bit as tall and deep as listed. In fact, the book is so large and heavy that it comes in its own box from the manufacturer, with cardboard inserts and styrofoam supports. (That's a box you will want to keep, because you'll need it any time you wish to transport the book.) This book will require its own stand or support to accommodate its size and weight.

Now, having said that, the reason that this book is so large and heavy is because it is filled with 300 pages of large-format, full-color photos. The images, a trademark of all the books that Tolman produces, are everything that you wish your own photos could be. Yes, you can spend a lot of time in cathedrals and museums doing the best you can taking photos of beautiful architecture and art, but they likely are not going to be a match for a professional's efforts, particularly when he or she is armed with a medium- or large-format camera with lenses and tripods that make the photographic equipment package exceed tens of thousands of dollars, which is undoubtably the type of equipment used to capture these images. The photos are stunning in their clarity, depth, color saturation, and accuracy. You have to see these in person to appreciate them: they are incredible photographic reproductions of some of the world's most beautiful art and architecture, and are probably among the best currently captured and reproduced. These images are museum-book quality, without any exaggeration whatsoever. In fact, these reproductions exceed what you will find in many professional museum books.

The actual print reproduction of these photographs in the book is also excellent. The paper is heavy-weight, semi-gloss, and the print resolution and color rendition accuracy is such that the photographer's efforts are well preserved in the print versions. The paper, of course, is one reason why the book is so heavy: but without this weight, you would not end up with a book like this. And these images are likewise huge, with many of them taking up the entire 21 x 15 inches, and some spread across two pages. These are likely to captivate and engross even the most hardened table-book aficionado with their accuracy, resolution, color rendition, and size.

The photos cover various art and architecture across the major periods: Roman of the Late Antiquity, Early Medieval Romanesque, High Medieval Gothic, Baroque, and so on. There is good variation between art and architectural subjects, and illuminated manuscripts are also included.

The text is the weakest point of the book, due to a shaky translation into English. It's no matter. You don't buy or use a book like this for text. Get some good books on the history of western art to learn about what you are viewing here.

A true stunner of visual reproduction in print, its a wonder why the book isn't far more expensive than it is.

Also see...
 The Art of Gothic: Architecture, Sculpture, Painting
Baroque: Architecture, Sculpture, Painting
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 23, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
How to sum up the nearly two thousand year history of Christian art in one volume? Sort of a different application of St. Augustine's oft used image of the child trying to pour the ocean into a puddle on the beach---well. you simply can't. The chosen highlights are sometimes expected, sometimes obscure, but oh what photography! The folio (and occasionally panoramic) photos are breathtaking---many close-ups of subjects (much architecture and mosaics) that you would never see even with on-the-spot, street level observation. The text, mostly from a secular art history perspective, is another story. The translator was obviously not an English speaker---the language is sometimes clumsily brought over from German to English---though interesting commentary occasionally appears. And where to store this hefty tome? Unless you have substantial shelving, most likely it will be confined to a box under your bed, which is a pity---like hiding a Rembrandt in your kitchen closet. It's a sumptuous volume worthy of display and repeated visits, best supported by a strong table in a reading room or some often passed-by spot where you can periodically stop and "smell the roses" of this stately and luminous work. Buy it for the inspiring, jaw-dropping photography (a wonderful way to introduce your kids to the marvels of Christian art), not for its comprehensiveness or academic analysis.
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12 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on March 30, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is a really beautifully produced book - the pictures are genuinely stunning. The review above makes some criticisms of the text, but having looked through (and I do work as an editor) I'm having trouble spotting these ones in particular. That said, I do agree that buying this book is more about the visual impact of it, than it is about reading it from cover to cover. After all - I don't know many people who could keep a book this size on their lap for more than about 5 minutes! And that is of course the point of coffee table-style tomes - they are to be dipped into in fleeting moments, rather than devoured lexically for hours on end.
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on March 2, 2015
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This is the most extraordinary book of art I have ever seen. It is elephantine in scale and packed to the brim with beautifully colored images of sacred art and architecture. Worthy of its own bookstand, so that it can lie open and perpetually enrich your home and your life with new images of Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Saints, and great places of worship throughout the world.
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on July 27, 2014
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
The masterpiece of art books. A massive volume (25 lb) of sacred art up to the twentieth century. With a thousand color photographs
shot throughout the western world. It is an experience going through this (definitely not a lap book). I have owned many art books
over the years, but this one tops them all.!
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on December 27, 2013
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Quality throughout. Good balance of text and pictures, though sometimes wished for more information, I wouldn't like it at the expense of the lavish imagery… I don't think the option to make the book even bigger was probably there….
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on January 5, 2013
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
There are some issues with clarity as far as the text's translation is concerned but the reproductions and the layout are superb. Excellent value as well.
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