Take a Closer Look
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What happens when we look at a painting? What do we think about? What do we imagine? How can we explain, even to ourselves, what we see or think we see? And how can art historians interpret with any seriousness what they observe? In six engaging, short narrative "fictions," each richly illustrated in color, Daniel Arasse, one of the most brilliant art historians of our time, cleverly and gracefully guides readers through a variety of adventures in seeing, from Velázquez to Titian, Bruegel to Tintoretto.
By demonstrating that we don't really see what these paintings are trying to show us, Arasse makes it clear that we need to take a closer look. In chapters that each have a different form, including a letter, an interview, and an animated conversation with a colleague, the book explores how these pictures teach us about ways of seeing across the centuries. In the process, Arasse freshly lays bare the dazzling power of painting. Fast-paced and full of humor as well as insight, this is a book for anyone who cares about really looking at, seeing, and understanding paintings.
It’s the Virgin who is small—and this is where I was headed. In fact, by virtue of its disproportion, the snail acts as a spatial foil to the illusory depth of perspective and restores the material presence of the surface of the panel, of the medium of the representation. In fact, when I and an architect friend of mine drew a floor plan of the Virgin’s palace, we found that it was absolutely impossible to build. It is only on the surface, superficially, that it is impressive. Its majestic stone
very models from which he took his inspiration. Then a new hypothesis occurs to him. If Bruegel “returned” to Italy in 1564—and in such a way!—it is because current events encouraged him to do so. Whereas in 1566 the Protestant condemnation of images, supported by economic and social factors, would lead to a great iconoclastic campaign in the Netherlands, in 1563 the Council of Trent had just ended by strongly reaffirming the legitimacy of worshipping images and relics. The most striking aspect
invented to pay tribute to the king as (absolute) principle of the Family Portrait already consisted in shifting the attention from the represented object to the conditions of its representation. And, in the way it functions, this fiction is not radically foreign to the intellectual process that dominates Kant’s Critique. You read attentively the second preface to the Critique of Pure Reason from 1787: Kant’s goal was, starting from the analysis of the conditions of the possibility of knowledge,
himself, the art of painting is recognized at last, the prestige of a “liberal” and not a “mechanical” art. This aspect of the work had been known for a long time. It was even the most elaborate response that historians had given to Foucault’s breathtaking interpretation. In the tradition of, among others, Vicente Carducho’s Diálogos de la pintura, published in 1633, Las Meninas (in its 1659 version) put a triumphant end to the controversy that pervaded the “golden age” of Spanish painting by
77–79; repentance of, 76, 77, 82–84; as role model, 79–82, 84, 86–87; Virgin Mary and, 81–82 Mary the Egyptian, 74 masturbation, 92, 98, 117–18 materiality of painting, 28–30, 32, 35, 120–21 Meillet, Antoine, 73 Mena Marqués, Manuela, 131, 137, 154–55 Michelangelo, 14, 44, 50; Sistine Chapel ceiling, 134–35 mirror: Narcissus and, 126; in Tintoretto’s Mars and Venus, 8–10; in Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Wedding Portrait, 147; in Velázquez’s Las Meninas, 134, 138–39, 142, 144, 146–48, 150–51, 153,