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Sister Wendy's Story of Painting Hardcover – March 15, 1997

4.4 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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Amazon.com Review

For those who've enjoyed the original, the good news is that the new edition of The Story of Painting has grown by more than 300 pages of photographs--magnified close-ups of details from nearly half the 450 paintings in the book. Fauvist paint strokes become mighty slabs; sparkling light on a Dutch still life is revealed as a series of tiny dots; the cheeks of a young man in an Italian Renaissance portrait betray a touch of five o'clock shadow. This kind of close looking is seductive, and it's an important part of Sister Wendy's direct, unpretentious approach to art.

As a history of painting, Sister Wendy's book has its strong points (works with religious or spiritual themes and those that lend themselves to psychological interpretation) as well as its lapses (a very skimpy discussion of Cubism and inadequate treatment of works from the late 20th century). Even the title is a bit of a misnomer. The painting in question is purely Western; there is nothing here about Indian or Persian miniatures, or the great tradition of Chinese landscapes.

But what Sister Wendy alone offers are vivid, personal interpretations that come from a deep well of emotional sympathy with works of art. Who else would notice the way the bagpiper in The Wedding Feast by Pieter Breughel "stares at the porridge with the longing of the truly hungry"? Who else would point out how Venus--the "older woman" pleading with "virile" Adonis not to go off to war in Titian's "Venus and Adonis"--shows us "her superb back and buttocks, beguilingly rounded, full of promise." Rather than portraying Western art as the dutiful production of "masterpieces," she revels in the physicality of paint and the variety of human experience these works represent. --Cathy Curtis --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

YA-Sister Wendy, well known in Britain for her BBC series on art history, has produced this exhaustive overview of Western painting. Nearly every development from the Lascaux Cave painters up to the "maze of contemporary artistic experience" is represented, although the main emphasis is placed on the last 800 years. The material is presented in chronological order, and grouped into chapters by trends or movements. A typical chapter includes several of the period's leaders, a few of their most famous works, and supporting material arranged in attractive, eye-catching displays. Over 400 beautiful, full-color reproductions appear; they are often augmented with closeups of particular sections and highlighted portions. Vignettes about the artists' lives, their favorite subjects, and their patrons enliven each selection. Politics, religious beliefs, and other factors that influence the painters are briefly summarized. Insights into art production, special techniques, symbolism, and samples of parallel trends in sculpture, architecture, and in later years, photography, broaden the scope of the book. The writing style is straightforward but lively, neither talking down to readers nor resorting to arcane art-speak. YAs interested in a beginner's course on art history will find this book satisfying.
Carolyn E. Gecan, Thomas Jefferson Sci-Tech, Fairfax County, VA
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: doring kinderling; 1st American ed edition (March 15, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1564586154
  • ISBN-13: 978-1564586155
  • Product Dimensions: 11.2 x 1.2 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #373,520 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I first read this book when I was enrolled in an art history class in college. The text book we had for the class was informative, but many of the works we studied in detail were not pictured in the text. Sister Wendy covered each of those major works with great care. Her photos and close-ups were, almost work for work, the exact paintings and close-ups we had discussed in the class. I ended up reading more from Sister Wendy than from the text, because she gave wonderful synopses of key points, and included more photos. I would highly recommend this book for anyone who is curious about painting. It will improve your future museum visits just by flipping through the pages
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Format: Hardcover
How bizarre...
...and yet, how wonderful. Who would have ever thought that a nun going through the museum would have (a) been interesting, (b) been publishable, (c) been television-worthy, or (d) been within the realm of credible imaginings? And yet, here is the proof, on my coffee table. Sister Wendy's smiling face, next to a scowling Vincent, greets me each day with my morning cocoa.
This is a book to be savoured. It cannot, like the morning cocoa, be rushed and enjoyed. This must take time. Not because the text is dense or confusing--indeed, it is not. It is lively, witty, historical, accessible, all that one could want in a book on art.
But, mostly, it is exquisitely visual in layout. Everything is photographed and reproduced in stunning colour and low-gloss format to make the pages vibrant and durable yet easily seen. Care has gone into the production of this volume. None of the art is reduced to black and white, but rather presented in glorious colour. With over 800 images in under 400 pages, this is a feast for the eyes. Each page is dominated by art, not text. That makes for slow moving, like reading a museum..
Sister Wendy Beckett takes us on an historical tour of painting (in the European theatre of history), beginning with prehistoric cave-art and drawings, leading up to modern and post-modern artists.
She takes representative pieces, such as the Bosch painting of Death and the Miser to illustrate points of colour, detail, composition, and story. Some paintings have complex stories (such as this one), others have simple composition (such as the `innocently disadvantaged' Mona Lisa) which give endless speculation as to the meaning.
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Format: Hardcover
The expanded version of "The Story of Painting" features an exponentially larger selection of artwork and commentary from Sister Wendy; both being a plus that benefits the reader.
This is not a dry, scholarly work, and I suspect the author would not desire it to be viewed that way anyway. What "The Story of Painting" brings to the reader is a very approachable style of writing and some of the most lush artwork you will see in any book on this subject. I was particularly surprised to see many works that I had never seen in any other book of this kind. Some were a revelation (like Tintorretto's "The Last Supper"), while others allowed - via the detailed closeups featured in the book - a closer inspection of brushstrokes and technique not normally covered in other historical painting overviews.
"The Story of Painting" begins with short section covering works before the medieval era, mostly Greek, Roman, and Etruscan, then kicks into high gear before ending with the 20th Century. This concluding section is one of the weaker parts of the book, but I think it can be argued that the latter half of that time period has not produced many of the glorious works featured in other parts of the book. Too much time deconstructing art and not enough making soul-stirring paintings, I suppose.
As with any Sister Wendy art book, you get the sage, grandmotherly insights into the works from a woman who deeply enjoys art. Other books impart a barrier between the works, the critical evaluation of them by the author, and the reader. Sister Wendy smashes that piece of artifice and seeks to draw people into the works themselves, not to critique them and simply move on to the next, but to give life to each work. She does this admirably, in my opinion.
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Format: Hardcover
After re-reading The Story of Painting up to the Mannerist period, I read History of Art, by A. W. Janson, up until the same time. I found both experiences wonderful.
Glancing back at The Story of Painting, the incomparable visual presentation was dramatically apparant. I have been wondering ever since if Sister Wendy Beckett arranged for some of her profits to be plowed back into high quality paper and extra large details that you find throughout the book.
I also appreciate the time she takes to closely analyze some of the paintings. In the History of Art, there are many references to the necessity to be brief. Sister Wendy takes the time to look in depth at key paintings.
In regards to a former review where it said that Sister Wendy knows nothing about art, I would be interested in a few solid examples of her ignorance. She certainly delights me with her presentations and has motivated me to further study.
If you are a Sister Wendy Beckett fan, I would encourage you to get a copy of the VCR-taped interview with Bill Moyers. I find her depth and insight an inspiration and Bill Moyers is a most excellent interviewer. I wish they would do it with a few more topics, such as English Literature and European History.
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