The one sad thing about the new Yale University Press/Pelican history of art editions is that the samll format has been eschewed in favor of a large size coffee table book. The text has changed little, if at all. What has been updated is the bibliography, and many color illustrations have been added. However, even the illustrations have not changed in many instances, because Blunt, when he originally wrote the text in the 1950's worked with, wrote from, a very specific set of images, and these same images are still essential if the reader wants to comprehend his argument. With that said, this is probably still the best general accounting of French art and architecture in the Renaissance and Baroque periods, certainly the best for the beginner. Those looking for more detailed studies might turn to some of Blunt's other books (he was the leading scholar of French Baroque for over fourty years) or more recent scholarly works. One bit of gossip that makes the text more enjoyable is that Blunt was for many many years a Russian spy, involved with a circle of British men sending intelligence to the Russians, and when he was found out in the late 1970's he was stripped of his knighthood and of his post at London's restigious art historical institution, the Courtauld. Whether or not his activites in that capacity influenced his interpreation or his writing of the text is for you to find out.
The Pelican History of Art series is full of surprising gems and this book is no exception. It's value lies in the numerous photos and drawings which do not so much accompany the text as provide it with a ground substance on which the author hangs his words. Blunt, former Cold War spy though he might have been, writes with eloquence and verve directly to the artwork. Every picture seems carefully chosen to illustrate his points. Of course, in my older (1973) edition of this book, the pictures are in black and white so this isn't exactly a coffee table book but it's an excellent resource for learning about French painting, sculpture and architecture.
Considering that Blunt may have had some communist leanings, given his extracurricular activities, he certainly chose an interesting time period in which to specialize. The book covers the time frame from Charles VIII to Louis XIV, a time when the absolute monarchy in France was at its height. Aristocracy was failing while the merchant classes and the King divvied up the country. Blunt writes the book in eight chapters which roughly divide this time period into equal parts. Each chapter consists of a little historical and artistic context followed by sections on architecture, painting and sculpture. Being partial to architecture, I found those sections most entertaining, although I never could determine which of the two Mansarts (Francois or Hardouin) the Mansart Roof is named after. The various architectural developments of the Loire Chateaus including Blois, Chambord and Chenonceau, are particularly interesting, as Italian influence blends with French to yield a unique national style. The Palace at Versailles is well covered as is the Louvre and a multitude of other monumental buildings, while smaller, less well known but representative structures (Hotels in Paris, for example - not the kind with bell-boys but famous people's houses) are given significant coverage. Painting and sculpture is given equal footing with architecture although here the personalities and works are less well known. The movement from a gothic medieval style to classical renaissance styles in all the arts is well documented here.
The book, while written in an accessible fashion, is not for those completely new to the history of art and architecture. Some knowledge of basic architectural concepts (the classical orders - for example) is assumed and some knowledge of sculpture and painting is likewise useful. It could easily be used as a text for a course but should be accessible to the educated layperson. It contains a useful map of France and extensive end notes, bibliography and index.
This book is fantastic in the well-thought-out interplay between images and text. It would be impossible to read the text in isolation from its illustrations and the illustrations would seem pointless without the text. Don't buy it for your coffee table, buy it for your mind.
Brilliant book lots of photographs and the information included is amazing, the book is in new condition and I love it, it was very helpful for my studies in art appreciation diploma course I am doing.