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Jan van Eyck: The Play of Realism Paperback – June 1, 1997

ISBN-13: 978-0948462795 ISBN-10: 0948462795

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Paperback, June 1, 1997
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 228 pages
  • Publisher: Reaktion Books (June 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0948462795
  • ISBN-13: 978-0948462795
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 11.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,780,272 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"An enthralling study." -- Sunday Telegraph

"the facts [Craig Harbison] excavates make for a gripping read." -- Sunday Times

About the Author

Craig Harbison is Professor of Art at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Among his publications is The Last Judgement in Sixteenth-century Northern Europe (1976).

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Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By William J. Ceriani on June 8, 2005
Format: Paperback
Jan van Eyck: the Play of Realism manages to be both scholarly and accessible to non-specialist readers. This is not a biography of van Eyck nor is it a comprehensive analysis of all of the painter's work. Harbison addresses a number of issues that played a role in forming van Eyck's astonishing realism and technical virtuosity. The early Netherlandish painters, such as Dirk Bouts, Roger van der Weyden, Robert Campin, Hans Memling, and Petrus Christus, are characterized by their crystalline light, saturated colors, and obsession with clearly-rendered detail. However, Jan van Eyck's realism, especially his sensitively wrought faces, his evocative landscapes, and his almost miraculous ability to render the textures of brocade, metal, glass, armor, and architecture, was the never-surpassed inspiration for so many of his contemporaties and followers. Harbison explores many of the influences that informed van Eyck's style, such as the conflict between institutional and personal Christian piety, the newly-emerging devotions to the Virgin and the Sacred Heart, the interests of his patrons (mostly merchants and court and Church functionaries, rather than his nominal employer, Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy) in how they presented themselves to the world, the practice of pilgrimage, and others. He also discusses the somewhat surprising influence of Byzantine icons on van Eyck's later work.

If I have any quibbles with this book they would be that Harbison presents little analysis of the Ghent Altarpiece and makes almost no mention of Jan van Eyck's brother Hubert and the extent to which the two artists may have collaborated on some works, notably the Ghent Altarpiece.
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37 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Clode on August 19, 2005
Format: Paperback
If you buy art books for the art, then this one will leave you sorely disappointed. This book does no justice to the brillant and detailed work of van Eyck, thanks to the small format of the book, poor reproductions, absence of close-ups and limited number of colour images. The price is right - but for a good reason.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By JSL on October 22, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A very rare book. The original one is a lot more harder to find. This one printed on a matt paper, of which it displays a different contrast of color; makes the pictures of paitings look a bit darker. Also translated in English. Worldwide.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By julia on February 6, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Have to say that this Harbison book is fascinating in its content. My only complain is the illustrations. I don't know what the publisher was thinking, but pictures of Van Eyck's paintings in this book are tiny & rare. I often found myself going back for 20 pages or so just to check the image again. I had to google clear and large enough images online in order to see details in Van Eyck's paintings that Harbison is talking about. I guess this book should be published in a larger format but the small, portable version just reduces its price. Other than that, I love this book. I know they have digital version. Maybe illustrations there would be better. PS: someone mentioned that this book is printed on matt paper; but mine is not. It's printed on glossy & smooth paper as you always seen in art books. So colors are fine.
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Format: Paperback
Harbison's book is based on deep learning. It shows a lively and welcome appreciation for the "unusual sense of visual delight" (p. 260) that van Eyck offers. Harbison puts his finger on many of the big questions of early Netherlandish art, and usefully seeks to correct what he sees as the excesses and wrong turns of the field. (For example: "We must, today, try first to read the power of a work's visual language, and through that to see its special intellectual and emotional appeal. When we posit from the outset that an image is a metaphor of some general Christian idea, then we have reversed this logic." P. 226.) All this is good.

But there are problems. First, despite its length, the book does not come across as a coherent, fully developed monograph. The chapters -- more than 20 of them -- seem to skip around almost at random, touching on topics such as private devotion, pilgrimage, and literary sources without identifying any common threads (other than van Eyck himself). The impression conveyed is that of a set of lecture notes. Puzzlingly (and disappointingly), the chapter on the Ghent altarpiece seems truncated and almost an afterthought.

Second, Harbison spends too much time criticizing the work of other scholars: he seems to have a St. Bavo-size chip on his shoulder. Scholarly debate itself is fine, but Harbison never presents a full-blown account of the traditional scholarship that he seeks to reform. Because we don't really understand what Harbison is attacking, the force of his attack is muted. We could have used a separate chapter on the shortcomings of Panofsky-style iconography before Harbison launches into his work of demolition.
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