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review 2017-04-10 19:01
Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling
Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling - Ross King

Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling is another very good work of art history from Ross King.  It covers in most detail the years 1505, when Michelangelo was called to Rome from Florence by Pope Julius II to make his tomb, to 1512, when he finished the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  It also takes a good look at Julius II, at Raphael (who was working next door), and to a lesser extent the other personalities dominating the Italian scene in the first decade or so of the 16th century.

 

Michelangelo was as grumpy as he was talented.  He was overjoyed to get the job of making Pope Julius II's tomb (seen as an affirmation that he was indeed the world's best sculptor), and then very angry that Julius changed his mind, and wanted him to fresco a ceiling instead.  (He had not worked in that medium in half his lifetime, since he was a teenager in the shop of Domenico Ghirlandaio.)  I can only envision him muttering, "Damn it, Pope Julius, I'm a sculptor, not a painter!"

 

He continued grumpy as he went to work on the ceiling.  His assistants were annoying.  His neck hurt.  Someone was stealing the marble he had bought for the pope's tomb, which had been left just lying around.  His family back in Florence were all lazy, or unambitious, or too ambitious, and expected him to pay for everything.  He wasn't being paid enough.  The pope was a megalomaniac who knew nothing about art.

 

That last one was pretty much true.  Julius II was a piece of work.  He was intent on re-conquering lands that had formerly been part of the Papal States - and he was then shocked and surprised that when he went to war with his neighbors, they called in someone larger to protect them.  (That would be France.)  He issued coins which compared him to Julius Caesar on one side, and to Jesus Christ on the other.

 

He also did not have great taste in art.  His original plans for the ceiling featured strongly the emblems of his own family - oak leaves - (which would have been much simpler to execute) and Michelangelo rejected them out of hand.  Then, when it was done, he insisted it wasn't really done, because it hadn't been covered in gold leaf.  Julius disliked the existing frescoes in the papal bedroom (the art had been installed by one of his recent, loathed, predecessors, Pope Alexander VI, a Borgia) so much he moved down a floor.  He hired Raphael to decorate the library of his new suite.

 

Raphael was not nearly as grumpy as his rival at work over in the chapel, and was dubious about Michelangelo's skills as a painter - until he saw the half-finished ceiling.  (Michelangelo hated visitors interrupting his work.)  He then paid him a painter's compliment, inserting Michelangelo into the already mostly done "School of Athens."  He immortalized one notoriously grumpy genius as another notoriously grumpy genius - Heraclitus.  (Michelangelo would also paint a self-portrait of himself on the ceiling; as a grumpy Jeremiah.)

 

When the ceiling was done in 1512, Michelangelo might have thought he was done with the Sistine Chapel.  That was far from the case.  He'd be called back to work on its altar wall, painting the Last Judgment, in the 1530s and 1540s.  And while he was still finishing up that work, he got the job as architect of St. Peter's basilica.  ("Damn it, Pope Paul, I'm a sculptor, not an architect!") 

 

Recommended to those interested in Michelangelo, in the Renaissance, or just in very readable art history.

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review 2016-12-01 01:13
David Travels to the Past by Gonzalo Martinez de Antonana
David Travels to the Past - Saure Publisher,Gonzalo Martinez De Antonana,Maria Jose Mosquera Beceiro

Note: This book contains two distinct adventures: The Rock Painters, Art of the Upper Paleolithic Period and also The Babylonians, Art of Mesopotamia. Each story starts with a little introduction page. David is an apprentice artist to Master Messina and Angela joins in the second adventure. While there are a few typos, perhaps due to translation errors perhaps, in the first story, there are more in the second, including a few lines that are rather clunky. Please note that my copy was an ARC and these typos and translation errors may be corrected in the final publication. They did not detract from my enjoyment of the book.

In the first tale, The Rock Painters, Art of the Upper Paleolithic Period, Messina uses hypnosis to transport both himself and David into the distant past – the Paleolithic period. There, they befriend a small group of nomadic hunters and they then spend weeks with them learning about their various types of art. Po-pec and Ae-tel are the most prominent characters among the the tribe. They act as guides for David and Messina in exploring caves and learning how to do their art.

What I really loved about this story is that the author didn’t shy away from using big words, which were then usually explained by Messina or by the context of the images the words related to. Also, the story shows several different types of art, such as portable art (images carved on small bone pieces), narrative art (art that tells a story), clay modeling, bas-reliefs, and others. The story also goes into some of the techniques used in making the art.

In between the bits of art lesson, David and Messina are on an adventure. There’s animal hunts, dancing, mudslides, and more. Not only do our heroes get to examine the prehistoric art up close, they get to live the life for several weeks, giving them a deeper appreciation of the art. My little criticism for this story is that while there are a few females depicted in the tale, none of them get names, get any lines, and aren’t a significant part of the story.

In the second story, The Babylonians, Art of Mesopotamia, David and Messina use the same method to be transported back to around 600 BC in the city of Babylon. Angela, Messina’s niece, was also transported with them and she’s just as ready as David for an adventure. They start their hunt for the origins of Mesopotamian art. They see several famous buildings, such as the Ishtar Gate and the Babylonian gardens. It’s not just architecture they investigate, but also the decorative friezes and and the glass bricks with relief patterns.

Still they hunt for the origins of this fine art. With the aid of the god Marduk, they are transported even further back to 645 BC at the Ninive library. At this point in the story, somehow they are able to understand the Niniveans and vice versa. In the first story, such linguistic abilities were not possible. However, they are unable to understand the written cuneiform. While I found this odd, it wasn’t a major point in the story. Besides, I was having too much fun with this ancient history adventure. There’s the ruler Assurbanipal and the mythological hero Gilgamesh to meet! There’s wall paintings and sculptures to enjoy!

The next leg of the journey has them even further back in time, in the second millennium BC, where they meet Hammurabi. Here, I was pleased to see the diorite sculptures. Finally, Marduk transports them to the third millennium BC, in the city of Uruk of the Sumerian civilization. Here they meet the high priestess of the goddess Innana. Finally, they discover the origins of the Mesopotamian art. Indeed, I found it very clever to walk back in time and see how architecture and art grew from these earliest Sumerian works. I enjoyed this second adventure more than the first, partially because it wasn’t just an art adventure, but also architecture and history. Also, this story had three female characters (though only two have names) that each had lines and roles in the story.

Illustration: I really enjoyed the illustrations for this graphic novel. In the first adventure, The Rock Painters, Art of the Upper Paleolithic Period, I especially liked that Mosquera has this distinct style for the story, but then also uses a different style to depict the Paleolithic art. Her depictions of the cave art is immediately identifiable as such. As with the first story, The Babylonians, Art of Mesopotamia has the distinct style for all the characters and background, but then totally different styles to depict the various art. I like that Mosquera rendered true-to-life depictions of the various art, which added to my delight in the book.

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review 2016-10-24 16:29
Covers Quite a bit
Inspired!: True Stories Behind Famous Art, Literature, Music, and Film - Maria Bukhonina

Disclaimer: ARC via Net galley and Museyon Inc.

Bukhonina’s book covers several famous artists and the inspiration, usually women though in some cases men, that inspired them. She deals not only with artists in terms of the literal sense of the word, but also writers, musicians and film makers. In some cases, she focuses more on the inspirational person than on the artist.
The book starts off with Alexandre Dumas’ father includes Mata Hari, Marie Dupleiness, and Doyle. Among these more well-known individuals, Bukhonia also includes the true story of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”, theater manager Renee Harris, Suzanne Valadon, as well as Hachiko, Japan’s famous loyal dog. She also includes people who might be polarizing, such as Hattie McDaniel who can be a polarizing figure because of the roles that she portrayed.
It is to Bukhonina’s credit that she includes women whose lives inspired and women who were more like muses – think of Picasso or Dali’s relationships with their perspective women. She also does not shy away from mentioning the more abusive aspects of some of the relationships.
At times, though not often, the style is somewhat like a checklist. Mention this, mention that, mention this. There is also a point where it is not quite clear that she is talking about Alexandre Dumas fils or the more famous Alexandre Dumas, his father.
Yet despite the fame and well known histories of some of the subjects, the book does an excellent jump and makes for exciting reading. It is an enjoyable, enlightening, quick read.

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review 2016-10-02 00:00
The Art and History of Books
The Art and History of Books - Norma Lev... The Art and History of Books - Norma Levarie This book combined 3 of my favorite things: history, antiquities, and books... what could be better? This book was fascinating, looking at no only the history of the book and illustrations, but bookmaking and type. Studying the photos of the ancient books was very enlightening. I will continue to refer back to this book in the future, for facts and inspiration. A quote from the beginning of the book, " ' I read the beautiful clay tablets from Sumer and the obscure Akkadian writing which is hard to master. I had my joy in the reading of inscriptions in stone from the time before the flood...' These are the words of Ashurbanipal, the last great king of the Assyrian Empire, in the 7th century before Christ." serves to remind us, that no matter the form, people have always loved to read, and the long and intriguing history of books proves that. When this book was first published, in 1968, it was considered groundbreaking, and remains as one of the go-to references about the techniques regarding bookmaking over the centuries.
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review 2016-08-27 16:23
The Golden Valley: The Untold Story of the Other Cultural Center of Tibet by Huber & Glantz
The Golden Valley: The Untold Story of the Other Cultural Center of Tibet - David C Huber,Dave Glantz

Part history book, part art book, part documentary, this book is a real treasure trove on the Golden Valley of Tibet. I was very pleasantly surprised by how much was covered! There’s maps of the area, photos of the art, a written record of some of the oral histories of the place, and a beautiful section explaining numerous images used in Tibetan art. While I am a newbie to much of this, I felt this book is a good resource for both those new to Tibetan art and those who have a dedicated interest.

Now the book does jump right into a very lengthy, and somewhat dense, background info section. Quite frankly, I skipped this the first time through (except for the maps because that info is useful to start with) and started flipping around the book looking at all the art of various media. The Tibetan monks don’t just art up one or two things, they art up all sorts of stuff. From their wall hangings to their furniture to their prayer wheels, I bet their monasteries are a veritable feast for the eyes! I quickly saw there were repeated images and themes on much of the art and I didn’t have the knowledge as on what the significance was of those particular images. Never fear! This awesome book has a whole section (near the back) on what certain images/themes mean in Tibetan culture. I love how they had photographed examples for each image. Ever wonder what red corral means to the Golden Valley? Curious as to what a Zipak is? Just how important are the Mahamudra mists? This section of the book quickly became my favorite part as I studied a piece of art and flipped back to learn in detail what all the symbology meant. My favorite by far was the mongoose both eating and… uh…  releasing (perhaps laying?) Cintamani jewels of wisdom. Before I consulted this section of the book, I thought the mongooses were perhaps rabbits.

Several things have affected the survivability of early Tibetan art. I found the most interesting reason to be the practical take of most Tibetans that if it is worn and dirty, toss it and paint/create something new and vibrant. It’s interesting to see how the interest of Western collectors and scholars has started to change that attitude and some older works have survived. Also, Tibetans tend to preserve the physical objects of great teachers. So, oddly, we have lots of every day use objects from them as well as greater works of art. It makes it a rather eclectic collection when taken in whole. Once again, this was just a very fascinating book to delve into.

When I jumped into this book, I thought the cloth art would interest me the most, however I found it was the little portable reading desks. It combines the woodworking arts as well as painting the useful piece. The photographs show how stunning these small pieces of furniture are and they must be a delight to read on.

The authors also include some photos of the modern monasteries in the Golden Valley. I really liked this touch because it shows how much of their lives haven’t changed in all these centuries and what little has changed stands out. I think this book appeals to several audiences. Whether you’re thinking of traveling to the area, are a Tibetan art collector, or want to enrich your understanding of the Golden Valley and the Tibetan culture from afar, this book is a good, solid resource. Just a FYI: the book has a contents page, a few appendices, and a detailed index. These three things make it an extra useful research book.

I received a copy of this book at no cost from the author (via Word Slinger Publicity) in exchange for an honest review.

Photography: Nearly all of the photographs were taken by author David Huber (what few weren’t, are noted upfront in the book). The photos, all of which are color, range in clarity and lighting but there are plenty of them. This book is fully illustrated. Since there are so many great examples of the various art forms captured visually in this book, I think it would make a great resource to any Tibetan arts dealer or owner. For me, as  someone who has little knowledge on the subject, I reveled in all the photos. It definitely brought this region and art to life. All the photos are well labelled with descriptions, making it easy to flip through the book and gain some info just by looking at the photos.

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