The other day I started reading “The Books that Shaped Art History” edited by Richard Shone and John-Paul Stonard. It’s a collection of essays on sixteen books which, as the title suggests, were influential in developing new ways of looking at, thinking about or writing about art. Having read the introduction I was just about to start in on the first essay when the idea came into my head that I should read the original books before I read the essays about them.
There are sixteen books listed. I usually read more than 16 art books a year, so how difficult would it be to read the 16 in 2016? And, I notice skimming the list, I already own and have read a handful of the titles so I’d just have to find them and revisit them. So far, so good.
But now I start to look in detail at the list. Some are not in print, some are long books on what are, for me anyway, obscure topics, and some are in German. But by this time I’m committed to the plan having casually mentioned it on Twitter.
I also mention the idea to some friends – another mistake – since one points out that, to get the real sense of the development of art history, I should tackle them in strict chronological order (as The Books that Shaped Art History does). I can’t really argue with that so reading them in order now becomes a rule. I have however drawn the line at attempting to read the books in their original language. I might have got by in French but the prospect of tackling Wolfflin or Belting in German is just too daunting.
These self imposed rules do still mean the first two books will be a 450 page book published in 1898 on French 13th century gothic art (not really my area) and Berenson’s 3 volumes of “The Drawings of Florentine Painters” which includes one volume which is his very long list of painters. I should have mentioned that another rule requires that I read the book from beginning to end, so no skipping chapters or “copious” lists.
Anyway, now the rules of the challenge are settled I can get underway. I’ll update here on progress and what I think about each book as I finish it.
First up, Emile Male’s “L’art religieux du XIIIe siècle en France: Etude sur l’iconographie du Moyen Age et sur ses sources d’inspiration“…