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Heaven on Earth

Painting and the Life to Come

T. J. Clark


One of the world’s most respected writers on art investigates the very different ways painting has given form to the afterlife


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, and 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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'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'
Observer, Books of the Year 2018

'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'
Financial Times

'Remarkable … You don’t have to be religious to get it. You just have to have faith in the force of belief'
New York Times, Best Art Books of 2018

'Lavishly illustrated … there is some characteristically arresting phrase-making'
World of Interiors

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Paperback

Size: 23.4 x 15.3 cm

Extent: 288 pp

Publication date: 6 February 2020

ISBN: 9780500295540

Contents List

1. Giotto and the Angel • 2. Bruegel in Paradise • 3. Poussin and the Unbeliever • 4. Veronese’s Higher Beings • Conclusion: Picasso & 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.

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