- Series: The Yale University Press Pelican History of Art Series
- Paperback: 132 pages
- Publisher: Yale University Press; 4 edition (October 11, 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0300079397
- ISBN-13: 978-0300079395
- Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 8.5 x 11.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #493,065 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Art and Architecture in Italy 1600-1750, Vol. 1: Early Baroque (Yale University Press Pelican History of Art) 4th Edition
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As a preliminary comment, I should point out that I have an older edition of this work (in only one volume) and it appears that it has now been expanded to three short volumes with some full-colour pictures so you may wish to take this review with a grain of salt.
This Pelican History of Art, like the others in the series attempts to cover painting, sculpture and architecture, breaking the time period into blocks and the reducing the blocks to the art forms. While this is a generally successful format in other books in this series, for the Baroque period, where the arts blend into one another, often seamlessly, it tends to break down. Is Bernini an architect, a painter or a sculptor? Wittkower overcomes this problem by hewing occasionally to the prescribed format but taking liberty to devote chapters and sections to individual artists and all their varied output.
Previous Pelican Histories have impressed me with their devotion to showing all or nearly all of the artwork described in the text. This enables the reader to satisfy his or her curiosity and greatly aids the comprehension of the principles described by the author. Sadly, this ideal is lost in this volume. Names fly by like cars on the TGV and descriptions of paintings and sculptures which might as well be mythical appear all too frequently. Yes, if you have the time and patience and perhaps a high-speed internet connection you can turn up pictures of most of them but it is highly frustrating to hear about art and not see it. Which is not to say there aren't many, many pictures in the book. They're just not well tailored to the text.
Wittkower seems at his most intelligible when describing architecture and his most obscure when dealing with painting. This may be due to my own interests lying more with the architecture but the obscure name dropping seems much more egregious with painters and paintings. The pictures themselves are black and white (in my older edition - I understand the more recent edition has some colour photos) and generally small. This isn't a book for the coffee table set. The glorious trompe l'oeil ceilings and immense stateliness of St. Peter's are hinted at by the images but fail to inspire the awe that comes from a large format (or being there). Of course, this is not the book's raison d'etre so it is unfair to judge it by that standard.
Rather, it is a scholarly work of art history, well illustrated with exemplary works but lacking the art to fully back the text. I would rather the author had left out some of the smaller lights of the 17th century and talked more to the images. A long hundred page section of notes is included for the scholar. To the general reader this is mostly noise. A lengthy annotated bibliography and index round out the volume.
On the whole, this Pelican History was readable but somewhat pedantic, heavy on textual details and no doubt very complete in its survey of artists of the period. The pictures are profuse but fail to keep up with the text (perhaps this has been corrected in the new edition - and hence the three volumes instead of one). If you are looking for a survey of the Italian Baroque for the general reader, this seems like a bit of overkill but for a scholar, looking for leads to minor painters of the time period, it might be a useful tool