Kalliope Muse speaks to me

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Northern Renaissance Art (Oxford History of Art)

Northern Renaissance Art (Oxford History of Art) - Susie Nash This is a parallel volume to Evelyn Welch’s Art in Renaissance Italy (1350-1500) within the Oxford History of Art series. Apart from the time frame, they share a similar approach. These books do not narrate the period chronographically, nor do they analyze the style of the artists, nor focus on their lives. They concentrate on the material aspects of the production. These are welcomed contributions, since so much has been written already on Renaissance style, and strings of monographs have also been published. So far there has been less attention devoted to aspects such as the functioning of guilds, the relations between patrons and artists, circulation and marketing of the works, organization of workshops, origins and handling of materials and religious and social uses of the objects, etc…Susie Nash insists that the fact that two separate volumes have been devoted to the art of this period, thereby perpetuating the conception of two separate traditions, is somewhat contrived. She reminds us that the geographies of North and South were not that separate. There was a great deal of Trade. Art objects and people moved from North to South and vice-versa readily, if not easily. The political map of Europe was drawn very differently from the way it is today. Royal marriages and other alliances established links among physically separate lands uniting them culturally. The Duchy of Burgundy, with its lands in the current Belgium and Netherlands, as well as in Burgundy and the fact that this terrain was adjoined to Spain in late 15th century, which means that Spain was closer culturally to Flanders than to neighboring Italy.There are some drawbacks. The editors have wanted to produce an accessible series and have produced volumes which are too small to my taste. The choice of illustrations is magnificent and the quality of reproductions is high. But they are very small, and there is little room to be able to include its location in their labels. Since I find this irritating, I have had to add in pencil the current whereabouts given at the end of the book underneath each illustration. This was worthwhile but laborious.And what seems like another drawback is really the result of another quality. Susie Nash has chosen her illustrations so well, and they are so very well interspersed in her text that any one illustration becomes an example several times as she develops her various themes. This means that reading her book with attention demands flicking through the pages backwards and forwards continually, and when one is in the in the middle of a sentence it can be irritating. The best consolation for the lazy reader, like me, is to realize that the effort must have been much harder for Nash. She has not included any object that she has not personally seen. And as she has not limited herself to the major art collections in European capitals, this has meant a considerable number of trips to small churches and museums in the various provincial towns across Europe. This is to be applauded. The book is the fruit of so much research that it is inevitably loaded with it. This detracts from its readability and one craves sometimes for more art-looking, which Nash can also do so very well. There are many examples of how carefully she has looked at these paintings, but the one I like the most is her pointing at the different treatment of reflections on shiny surfaces as seen in Van Eyck, Van der Weyden, and Memling. Van der Weyden did not care for them and Van Eyck was the first master to treat them (Arnolfini Marriage). But if Van Eyck, by reflecting in the painting persons or things outside of the painting (like the painter himself), thereby draws attention to the artificiality of the image, Memling (The Two St John’s Altarpiece) only shows reflections of things and persons who are inside the painting, expanding the space and presence in which these figures exist.This is all in all, an excellent book, but has to be a companion in one’s bookshelf to other books on Northern Renaissance painting.

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