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Heaven on Earth

Painting and the Life to Come

T. J. Clark


A tightly argued appraisal of the political and religious ramifications of one of the perennial topics in the history of art: the artistic encounter with the transcendent

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The idea of heaven on earth haunts the human imagination. The day will come, say believers, when the pain and confusion of mortal life will give way to a transfigured community. Such a vision of the world seems indelible. Even politics, some reckon, has not escaped from the realm of the sacred: its dreams of the future still borrow their imagery from the prophets. In Heaven on Earth, T. J. Clark sets out to investigate the very different ways painting has given form to the dream of God’s kingdom come. He goes back to the late Middle Ages and Renaissance – to Giotto in Padua, Bruegel facing the horrors of religious war, Poussin painting the Sacraments, Veronese unfolding the human comedy. Was it to painting’s advantage, is Clark’s question, that in an age of enforced orthodoxy (threats of hellfire, burnings at the stake) artists could reflect on the powers and limitations of religion without putting their thoughts into words?

At the heart of the book stands Bruegel’s ironic but tender picture of The Land of Cockaigne, but also Veronese’s inscrutable Allegory of Love. The story ends with Picasso’s Fall of Icarus, made for UNESCO in 1958, which already seems to signal – perhaps to prescribe – an age when all futures are dead.

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'Utopian modernism has been Clark’s lifetime study, to which this book is an imaginative, heartfelt coda … gracefully skims a tightrope between attentive looking and political thinking'
Jackie Wullschlager, Financial Times

'A tour de force that happily marries art with literature … [Clark] is always lively and engaging … this is art criticism at its best'
Church Times

'A more novel and compelling book about art's version of the afterlife, and how it is inflected by worldly politics and reality, can hardly be imagined'
Laura Cumming, Observer Books of the Year

'The pleasure of this book lies in the quality of these observations – Clark’s relentlessly keen attention to the small details that ought not to mean a great deal but often send you reeling. He makes you want to squint close to the original, seeing it suddenly aslant'

'Inspiring … it demands to be read from cover to cover, and happily the flow of [Clark’s] prose and the clarity of his argument mean that the experience is a singular delight'
Evening Standard, Art Books of the Year

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Size: 23.4 x 15.3 cm

Extent: 288 pp

Illustrations: 101

Publication date: 4 October 2018

ISBN: 9780500021385

Contents List

Preface • Introduction • 1. Giotto and the Angel • 2. Bruegel in Paradise • 3. Poussin and the Unbeliever • 4. Veronese’s Higher Beings • Conclusion: Picasso and the Fall • Coda: For a Left with No Future

About the Author

T.J. Clark is Professor Emeritus of the History of Art at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of the seminal The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and His Followers (1984) and Farewell to an Idea: Episodes from a History of Modernism (1999). He writes art criticism regularly for the London Review of Books. His other publications include Image of the People: Gustave Courbet and the 1848 Revolution (1983), also published by Thames & Hudson.