Concise, critical reviews of books, exhibitions, and projects in all areas and periods of art history and visual studies

Reviews in caa.reviews are published continuously by CAA and Taylor & Francis, with the most recently published reviews listed below. Browse reviews based on geographic region, period or cultural sphere, or specialty (from 1998 to the present) using Review Categories in the sidebar, or by entering terms in the search bar above.

Recently Published Reviews

Wen-shing Chou
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018. 240 pp.; 88 color ills.; 31 b/w ills. Cloth $65.00 (9780691178646)
Located in northern China, Mount Wutai, or the Five-Terrace Mountain, is the earthly paradise of the bodhisattva Mañjuśrī, commonly known as the Mahāyāna Buddhist deity of wisdom. Since the seventh century, pilgrims have encountered various apparitions of Mañjuśrī on this mountain. Not until the publication of Wen-shing Chou’s book Mount Wutai: Visions of a Sacred Buddhist Mountain did it become clear that Mount Wutai was also a key site in Inner Asian tantric Buddhist practices and lineages associated with the Gelukpa traditions that the Manchu court promoted during the Qing dynasty (1644–1911). Indeed, Chou’s well-researched and finely illustrated monograph presents… Full Review
June 23, 2020
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Nathaniel B. Jones
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019. 308 pp.; 15 color ills.; 77 b/w ills. Cloth £75.00 (9781108420129)
The aim of Nathaniel B. Jones’s book Painting, Ethics, and Aesthetics in Rome is to reconsider the nature of Roman wall painting by focusing on the “paintings within paintings,” or “fictive panels,” as Jones prefers to label them, that are a dominant feature of the medium. By doing so, the plan is to shed light both on the nature of Roman aesthetics and on the practical and metaphorical roles that art, particularly Greek art, played in Roman life (the “ethics” part of the title). Central to the investigation is configuring the point of the Greek nature of these panels, not… Full Review
June 18, 2020
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Rebecca Bedell
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018. 232 pp.; 69 color ills.; 44 b/w ills. Cloth $45.00 (9780691153209)
Rebecca Bedell’s splendid book about the central place of sentimentality in American art from the revolutionary era to the First World War seems surprisingly timely in the age of social distancing. For “sentimentality,” as Bedell defines this deeply modern but much maligned pattern of feeling, “asks us to conceive of ourselves in relation to others, to imagine ourselves in their place and to feel for them, in some measure, as for ourselves, recognizing a common and shared humanity” (4). At a time when we are constantly enjoined to wash our hands after coming in contact with others, sentimentality, or whatever… Full Review
June 16, 2020
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Melissa E. Buron
Exh. cat. Munich and San Francisco: DelMonico Books-Prestel in association with Legion of Honor, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 2019. 320 pp.; 250 color ills.; 25 b/w ills. Cloth $75.00 (9783791359199)
Legion of Honor, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, October 12, 2019–February 9, 2020; Musée d'Orsay, Paris (as Ambiguously Modern), June 23–September 13, 2020
As curator Melissa E. Buron observes, the French artist James Tissot (1836–1902) does not fit the usual art historical labels (11). His work was in dialogue with a range of French and British art movements, including Pre-Raphaelitism, Impressionism, Aestheticism, and Symbolism (41, 44–45, 49). The Legion of Honor, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF)’s monograph on Tissot, who lived in London from 1871 to 1882, challenges the national borders of the discipline. It reveals, for instance, that supposedly national artistic characteristics can be a matter of perception—Tissot’s work was considered too French for the British and too… Full Review
June 12, 2020
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Jo-Ann Morgan
Routledge Research in Art and Race. New York: Routledge, 2019. 212 pp.; 32 color ills.; 56 b/w ills. Cloth $155.00 (9781138605923)
Within its front matter, this book is described as examining a range of visual expressions of Black Power across American art and popular culture from 1965 through 1972. It begins with case studies of artist groups, including Spiral, OBAC [Organization of Black American Culture], and AfriCOBRA, who began questioning Western aesthetic traditions and created work that honored leaders, affirmed African American culture, and embraced an African lineage. Also showcased is an Oakland Museum exhibition of 1968 called “New Perspectives in Black Art,” as a way to consider if Black Panther Party activities in the neighborhood might have impacted local… Full Review
June 10, 2020
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Jennifer Nelson
University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2019. 216 pp.; 19 color ills.; 24 b/w ills. Cloth $99.95 (9780271083407)
The anamorphic skull that cuts an unsettling path across the foreground of Hans Holbein the Younger’s 1533 double portrait, The Ambassadors, has struck modern interpreters of the painting as a fundamental disruption of the ordered world of the two young men portrayed amid the books and instruments of liberal learning. For Jacques Lacan, the skull signifies the annihilation of the Cartesian subject. For those more inclined to historical interpretation, it signifies the undoing of a confident Renaissance humanism. Against perspectival coherence, the skull offers fragmentation; against a dream of comprehensive knowledge, it offers a melancholy reminder of death. In… Full Review
June 5, 2020
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Christina Neilson
New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019. 362 pp.; 90 color ills.; 52 b/w ills. Cloth $120.00 (9781107172852)
Andrea del Verrocchio is generally overshadowed by his famous pupils—particularly Leonardo da Vinci—a trend that began with Giorgio Vasari’s negative treatment of the older master in his book Lives of the Artists (first published in 1550). In response to this characterization, Christina Neilson seeks to “reassess Verrocchio’s accomplishments” in her book, Practice and Theory in the Italian Renaissance Workshop: Verrocchio and the Epistemology of Making Art (9). By examining Verrocchio’s unusual practices of making and their intended meanings, Neilson convincingly situates him as one of the most important sculptors working between the eras of Donatello and Michelangelo. The author presents… Full Review
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Fabiola López-Durán
Austin: University of Texas Press, 2018. 312 pp.; 132 b/w ills. Paper $29.95 (9781477314968)
In the last few decades, scholars have dedicated a great deal of effort to documenting and analyzing the impact of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century modernist planning ideologies throughout the world. While most ideologies were firmly rooted in a benevolent desire to improve deeply chaotic and oppressive urban environments, some—largely forgotten or ignored—deployed urban planning and architecture as racially motivated social-engineering projects. Nearly twenty years ago, Oren Yiftachel mused, “Far less attention has been devoted to the ability of planning to promote goals of an opposite nature, such as social repression, economic retardation or environmental degradation” (“The Dark Side of… Full Review
May 27, 2020
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Helena Katalin Szépe
New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2018. 400 pp.; 225 color ills.; 25 b/w ills. Cloth $70.00 (9780300226744)
This elegant and information-packed volume, Venice Illuminated: Power and Painting in Renaissance Manuscripts by Helena Katalin Szépe, is the fullest statement we have to date of the importance placed on the holding of public office by high-ranking patricians of the Venetian state. The book presents a study of a particular category of Venetian state documents collectively referred to as ducali (dogali in Venetian dialect), prepared in large part by the ducal chancery for newly elected holders of the top three offices of the republic. These were high-quality manuscripts containing the oaths, rules, and regulations attached to each office. Over… Full Review
May 20, 2020
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Daniel M. Unger
Visual and Material Culture, 1300–1700. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2019. 244 pp.; 8 color ills.; 44 b/w ills. Cloth €99.00 (9789462986015)
Daniel M. Unger’s new monograph on “eclecticism” in early modern Bolognese painting has the undeniable merit of drawing attention to a much-neglected and foundational concept within Baroque art theory: the “synthesis of styles” described by Carlo Cesare Malvasia (1616–1693). It has been almost half a century since Charles Dempsey published his combative Annibale Carracci and the Beginnings of Baroque Style (1977). In this short but powerful book, Dempsey opposed Denis Mahon’s influential opinion that the “eclecticism” of the Carracci family was a historical misinterpretation. Perusing Malvasia with acuity, Dempsey redefined Malvasia’s synthesis of styles, demonstrating its full validity in understanding… Full Review
May 15, 2020
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Felicia M. Else
European Festival Studies: 1450–1700. New York: Routledge, 2018. 226 pp.; 32 color ills.; 76 b/w ills. Cloth $155.00 (9781472410795)
Veramente il mare, a “veritable sea,” was what the courtyard of Florence’s Palazzo Pitti looked like according to Simone Cavallino on the occasion of the naumachia (mock naval battle) organized in 1589 to celebrate the wedding of Grand Duke Ferdinando I de’ Medici and Christine of Lorraine. This expression, used in Cavallino’s official description of the festivities and quoted by Felicia M. Else (165), is paradigmatic of what her book aims to demonstrate. According to Else, bringing the sea to landlocked Florence, making it visible, and reproducing it in the city of the Arno was a goal of three… Full Review
May 6, 2020
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Getty Center, Los Angeles, November 19, 2019–February 16, 2020
Opening in time for Epiphany 2020, the exhibition Balthazar: A Black African King in Medieval and Renaissance Art at the Getty Center in Los Angeles was the first exhibition at a major museum to examine the portrayal of the youngest of the Three Magi, Balthazar, as a black African king. (The exhibition adopted the phrase “black African” in acknowledgment of racial diversity across Africa. Medieval European terms were in contrast often vague, inaccurate, or pejorative.) Balthazar begins with a question: why, if early medieval legends describe Balthazar as a black African man, does it take nearly a millennium for him… Full Review
April 30, 2020
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Kelly Donahue-Wallace
Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2017. 398 pp.; 111 b/w ills. Cloth $65.00 (9780826357342)
The field of Spanish colonial art, to use a widely known if contested term, has enjoyed somewhat of a resurgence in the United States in the last decade or so. More and more universities are offering classes in the area, and an increasing number of museums are making serious overtures to establish collections. Perhaps mirroring these efforts, institutions in Europe are also starting to take a fresh look at the field and consider the region’s rich artistic output as part of the larger history of the Iberian world. To be sure, this growing interest in the field goes hand in… Full Review
April 22, 2020
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Sonja Drimmer
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018. 352 pp.; 27 color ills.; 97 b/w ills. Cloth $59.95 (9780812250497)
In her new multidisciplinary monograph, Sonja Drimmer asks a “deceptively simple” question (15): “Who is Geoffrey Chaucer?” An author? Narrator? Pilgrim? And who, for that matter, is John Gower? Or John Lydgate? The very identities of these first Middle English poets, Drimmer argues, presented an ontological challenge to the limners, or illuminators, portraying them and illustrating their texts. Drimmer contends that limners helped shape late medieval ideas about authorship, political history, and royal identity. They did so via the “art of allusion,” which Drimmer likens to the writing practices of late fourteenth- and early fifteenth-century English authors; that is, the… Full Review
April 16, 2020
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Sanja Savkić and Hannah Baader, eds.
Estudios Indiana 13. Berlin: Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut and Gebr. Mann Verlag, 2019. 438 pp. Paper €34.00 (9783786128311)
Sanja Savkić and Hannah Baader offer a fine collection of edited essays dedicated to the question of aesthetic practices in the cultural traditions of indigenous America. The volume seeks to participate in “the praxeological turn” across “a plurality of fields” in the humanities and human sciences: its intention is to explore “the emancipatory capacities of aesthetic experience” and the “practical reflection” occasioned by artistic experience (429). The collection’s overall vision amalgamates continental theories of practice (Pierre Bourdieu, Theodore Schatzki) with “the biography of objects” (Arjun Appadurai, Nicholas Thomas) and object-agency (Alfred Gell, Timothy Ingold, Ian Hodder), although this characterization is… Full Review
April 14, 2020
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