CULTURE

Recent books on art history and theory

A number of recent Greek publications on art, art history and art theory provide a range of books addressed to the general and the more specialized public. Each of the three new books released by Agra publications and originally published by the French Assouline publishing house present a different topic taken from the history of Western art: Renoir’s paintings of female nudes, Piero della Francesca’s wall painting for the Saint Francis Chapel in Arezzo and Cycladic idols are the subjects of the three books. An introduction in each of the books gives a general overview of the subject which visually unravels in full-page, color illustrations, many of them details of a painting or other work of art. The texts are written as flowing narrative and read like a story that, unlike most art books, does not analyze the works in a strictly art-historical context. In the Renoir book, for instance, one learns about the artist’s life, his relationships with his female models and his views on paintings of the nude figure. It is a vivid and direct narration that gives the reader a feeling of what it must have been like to be in the artist’s studio The Piero della Francesca book seeks to unravel the mystery that surrounds the famed cycle this renowned Renaissance master made for the Arezzo chapel. The images that follow the texts are wonderful closeups of the huge wall painting and provide a closer look at works that in situ can only be viewed at a distance. The book on the Cycladic idols provides useful and broad-ranging information on the different types of Cycladic figurines, archaeological excavations and the figurines as a source of inspiration for modern art, all woven together in a pleasurable read filled with flavor rather than just dry information. The role of the artist Another book, also by Agra publications, takes the viewer on an in-depth, researched analysis of the artist’s role. «The Artist as a Historical Subject from the 19th to 21st Century» (as translated from the Greek title) by professor of art history Nikos Daskalothanassis takes on the innovative and complex task of analyzing the role of the artist within the context of changing times. The author examines three different types of artist, each a succession of the former in chronological development: the «solitary artist,» a type born out of the romantic period and lasting throughout the 19th century, is followed by the «avant-garde» artist, who is typical of the first part of the 20th century. Under the heading of «The Loss of the Artist,» the author writes about the role of the artist from the 1960s to today. Collection of essays «The Landscape,» published by Potamos, brings together three «classic» essays that examine the notion of landscape in terms of philosophy and art. All three essays trace the origins of the landscape as an idea and theme in art and also make the distinction between nature and landscape. Georg Simmel’s «Philosophy of the Landscape,» first published in 1913, argues that the notion of the landscape as a cultural construct first emerged in post-medieval times. In his essay from 1963, Joachim Ritter talks about Petrarch’s approach to nature as paving the way for modern perceptions of the landscape. Ernst Gombrich writes about the Renaissance theory of art in relationship to the rise of landscape painting. First published in 1966 in Gombrich’s «Norm and Form: Studies in the Art of the Renaissance,» this essay is considered, in chronological sequence, the next most important essay on landscape written in English after Kenneth Clark’s «Landscape in Art» from 1949. General art history Just published by Livanis publications, «Art at the Beginning of the 21st Century» is written by Stavros Tsigoglou, a pediatrician and children’s surgeon who writes extensively on art and is a member of the Hellenic Association of Art Critics. The book covers a broad range of subjects, from contemporary Japanese art to surrealism and art collectors. Some essays focus on the work of a single artist.