A Buyer’s Market

Giotto: The Peruzzi Chapel

by Leonetto Tintori and Eve Borsook
Abrams, 214, 167 illustrations (19 in color) pp., $20.00

Vitale da Bologna and Bolognese Painting in the Fourteenth Century

by Cesare Gnudi, translated by Olga Ragusa
Abrams, 205, 193 illustrations (49 in color) pp., $25.00


by Frederick Hartt
Abrams, 162, 134 illustrations (48 in color) pp., $15.00

Italian Primitives: Panel Painting of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries

by Enzo Carli, translated by Olga Ragusa
Abrams, 126, 89 illustrations (41 in color) pp., $20.00

Until a short while ago we knew where we were with the luxury art book; with rare exceptions it was a glossy, highly-colored picture-book that was not serious—in the sense that it was very unlikely to have a serious text. The four books to be reviewed here illustrate rather well an interesting new development. To put the point simply, we can no longer tell from the glossiness of its cover or the number and brilliance of its color plates whether a book is or is not worth reading. It may be a little early to assess this new phenomenon, but there are some likely explanations. The production of art books becomes ever more expensive, as author and buyer expect more and more illustrations, and one solution to the problem is to aim the product at the greatest number of buyers. One logical approach is international cooperation, whereby the same plates can b circulated with a reprinted, translated text, and this has proved so successful, from the business point of view, that it has led the luxury volume to a larger share of the total product of art publishing (which is itself, by the same process, assuming a larger proportion of book production as a whole). This is all obvious. But as the breed multiplies, it has also to perform not only its original function, which, at a certain level, was educational, life-enhancing, and high-minded, but also the functions of other kinds of art books aimed at higher levels of commitment on the part of the reader. I suspect that this is partly the result of foresight and a sense of responsibility on the part of the publishers involved; and partly it is a result of compromise by those authors who have something that they need to get off their chests and can find no other outlet that is not economically crippling to themselves or a limitation upon the scale and scope of the book. No reasonable man can deplore these developments, especially while there is no evidence that the “pure” scholarly art book is in danger. Potentially, at least, every kind of author and reader stands to gain. The books reviewed here illustrate this potential very well. At the same time they suggest, independently from their own qualities and limitations, some gaps between potential and performance. These can best be seen after we have dealt with the books individually.

THE most courageous publishing venture here is unquestionably Giotto: The Peruzzi Chapel by Eve Borsook and Leonetto Tintori. In 1958 Professor Ugo Procacci, soprintendente of Monuments in Florence, achieved a long-standing ambition; he was able to initiate a campaign of restoration—to last, in the event, three years—of the second and greater of the sole surviving fresco-cycles by Giotto in Florence, in the Peruzzi Chapel in Santa Croce. The executant was Tintori, the most gifted, sensitive, and self-disciplined restorer of frescoes the world has yet seen. Although it was not then forseeable that this campaign would produce dramatic and unique results,…

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