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What Makes a Masterpiece?

Encounters with Great Works of Art

Christopher Dell


World masterpieces, from the Chauvet Cave to Cézanne, brought to life by internationally acclaimed artists, art historians, curators and critics


Over the course of history there sometimes emerge works of art of such quality that they transcend boundaries of period and place. In this exploration of the idea of the masterpiece, distinguished artists, critics and art historians write about their personal encounters with the greatest artworks of all time, representing cultures from all over the world, and stretching from prehistory and the birth of art to Cézanne at the cusp of Cubism.

What Makes a Masterpiece? begins with the forms of animals inscribed on the walls of Chauvet Cave in France, and travels through the worlds of the ancient Egyptians, Assyrians, Greeks and Romans, embodied by images of royal or martial potency and mysterious religious rites. Medieval representations of Christ are celebrated alongside images of Vishnu, the Buddha and his priests, and the royal figures of South American and African civilizations. The jewels of the Quattrocento are on show beside the lesser-known triumphs of Aztec and Japanese court artists, while the masters of the European Renaissance and Baroque mingle with Mughal, Arab and Chinese virtuosos. The journey ends with the 19th century, depicted as an age of revolution, introspection and modernization.

This collection of famous works is more than the sum of its parts: it presents a remarkable cultural chronicle, showing how artists throughout history have seen their world and chosen to represent it. Here are seventy answers to the question, 'What makes a masterpiece?'

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'An art book that really sets you thinking … a feast of an anthology'
The Spectator

'Intelligent, lucid, intimate, the book is also beautifully illustrated'
Independent (Best Books for Christmas)

'Thought-provoking … the breadth of work considered is impressive and the essays are informative and inspiring … a passionate introduction to the world of great art'

'Brilliantly edited … worth buying for the introduction alone'

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Size: 26.0 x 20.0 cm

Extent: 304 pp

Illustrations: 285

Publication date: 4 October 2010

ISBN: 9780500238790

Contents List

Contents include: Avigdor Arikha on Las Meninas, by Velázquez • Quentin Blake on The Crucifixion, by Tintoretto • Mary Beard on The Villa of the Mysteries, Pompeii • Anthony Caro on Isis, Messenger of the Gods, by Rodin • Antony Gormley on the reclining Buddha of Polonnaruwa • Germaine Greer on Judith Slaying Holofernes, by Gentileschi • Martin Kemp on the Mona Lisa, by Leonardo • John Julius Norwich on the Cefalú mosaics • Grayson Perry on The Garden of Earthly Delights, by Bosch • Tom Phillips on the Mycerinus Triad • Philip Pullman on A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, by Manet • Pierre Rosenberg on The Phocion Paintings, by Poussin • David J. Roxburgh on The Court of Gayumars, by Sultan Muhammad and Marina Warner on The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, by Bernini.

About the Author

Christopher Dell holds a degree in the History of Art from the Courtauld Institute, London. He has written and edited many bestselling titles on art and visual culture, including Freemasonry, Mythology, Monsters, What Makes a Masterpiece? and The Occult, Witchcraft & Magic, all published by Thames & Hudson.

List of Contributors

Christopher Dell

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