What should you do at Christmas? In Edvard Munch’s Christmas in the Brothel, the artist depicts himself sleeping off the effects of drink while the Madame reads a book. Is it a girl or a boy who is denied control of the books in Renoir’s Portraits d’enfants? What was Gauguin hinting at when he painted Milton’s Paradise Lost into a portrait of a friend? And why were the Cumberland girls reading The Fashionable Lover in George Romney’s portrait of them?
Thousands of fine paintings include books in their subject matter. Beginning with the question, ‘What is a book?’, this companionable survey explores the symbiotic relationship between the development of books and the emergence of our modern sense of the importance of the individual artist; it parades and interprets the work of many of the greatest artists of the last five hundred years; and it explains how and why books became the single most ubiquitous feature of our cultural lives and, in large measure, of our everyday existence.
These paintings connect us with centuries of gender differences, religious systems, symbols, education, patterns of transport, social status, romance, the imagination of children, literary life, sex, friendship, civilized bathing, scientific discovery, aids to rest, aids to reflection, danger … Books tell us about ourselves – and they certainly do furnish a painting.
'Gorgeously illustrated ... Buy six copies and declare your Christmas shopping over'
'A fascinating look at the ways in which artists have sought to communicate, entertain and intrigue their audience through the inclusion of books in their paintings'
'A scenic wander through what turns out to be rather more than a byway of art history'
Art Book Review
'The authors’ pooled expertise in history, art and publishing inform this sweeping exploration of that treasured human possession, the book … a fascinating work, by its very nature gorgeous'
'A beautiful book which acknowledges how art and literature both define us and make commentary on us as civilized beings'
'Charming … our interactions with books during the last 500 years are more symbolic than we might think, and are therefore unlikely to be completely replaced'
'Essential reading for anyone wishing to understand the long, interwoven histories of paintings and books'
'Fascinating … a book full of surprises'
Shiny New Books
The Times, Art Books of the Year
'Dark winter evenings have been lit up here in Oxford by this intricate work of great subtlety, strangeness, and delight. I’ve been stopped in my tracks by thought-provoking turns in the text'
Alexandra Harris, author of 'Romantic Moderns'