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Books Do Furnish a Painting

Jamie Camplin, Maria Ranauro


A beautifully illustrated survey of the relationship between the development of books, the artist and Western pictorial art from the 15th to the 20th centuries

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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.

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'Gorgeously illustrated ... Buy six copies and declare your Christmas shopping over'
Literary Review

'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'
History Today

'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'
Book Murmuration

'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'
Mr Porter

'Essential reading for anyone wishing to understand the long, interwoven histories of paintings and books'
.Cent magazine

'Fascinating … a book full of surprises'
Shiny New Books

'Academically thorough'
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'

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Size: 24.0 x 16.5 cm

Extent: 256 pp

Publication date: 6 September 2018

ISBN: 9780500252253

Contents List

PART ONE: 1. How It All Began • 2. Who Invented ‘the Artist’? • 3. Courtly Cultures and their Undercurrents • 4 . ‘People are Stuffed with Reading Matter’ • 5 . Books and the Painting of ‘Modern Life’ • 6 . Things Hold Together • PART TWO: Painting is ‘Like a book … which needs to give up its riches’ • Gallery 1. The Word of God • Gallery 2. ‘Book-Love’ and the Home • Gallery 3. Perennial Pleasures in Multiple Locations • Gallery 4. ‘All that Men Held Wise’

About the Author

Jamie Camplin graduated from Cambridge in 1968 with a Double First in History. He was Editorial Director, Thames & Hudson, 1979–2005, and Managing Director, 2005–13. He is the author of The Rise of the Plutocrats: Wealth and Power in Edwardian England (1978) and 1914 The King Must Die (2015). According to bestselling biographer Michael Holroyd, in The Times, he writes with ‘skill and a wry romantic wit. I can see he is playing brilliantly.’

Maria Ranauro studied art history at the Courtauld Institute. After taking her MA in 2005, she worked in the publishing department at the National Gallery, London, and was responsible for the visual content of a number of seminal exhibition catalogues. She is now Senior Picture Researcher at Thames & Hudson and in January 2016 won the Longman-History Today Picture Researcher of the Year Award.