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How do you write the history of buildings? This is not merely a rhetorical question, but a very real problem for anyone whose primary source material is timber or stone structures. The difficulty is that it is necessary to infer intent and function from objects which cannot speak and for which there is little written evidence.
Some books enlighten and disappoint at the same time. This is how I felt having read Oleg Tarasov’s book. Originally Tarasov’s doktorskaia dissertatsiia (the second PhD), the book was first published in Russian and has now been painstakingly translated by Robin Milner-Gulland and lavishly published by Reaktion Books.
This book sets out to give an account of what the foundation of The Royal Academy of Arts in 1768 meant for artistic practice in particular and cultural life more generally in Britain between 1760 and 1840. It is to be welcomed, because it fills a gap, and fills it well. The history of art institutions in Britain attracts sporadic attention.
Reflecting the place of the Bible as the bedrock of medieval culture, biblical imagery was ubiquitous in medieval England, yet it has not hitherto been the subject of a comprehensive modern monograph. Such precedents as there were – notably M. R. James’s The Apocalypse in Art (London: British Academy, 1931) and F. Wormald’s ‘Bible Illustration in Medieval Manuscripts’, in G. W. H.
I do not know whether the Italian title of this book (Vita di casa) is an allusion to Mario Praz and his autobiography La casa della vita (Milan, 1958), but it would be fitting. In that book Mario Praz guides the reader through his Roman house and tells his life during the tour.
Mona Lisa ('the eyes follow you round the room'), for example, has certainly been damaged by its over exposure and The Hay Wain barely survives its endless biscuit tin projection as the essence of Englishness.
Nobody doubts the exceptional importance of the long reign of Louis IX (1226-70) as perceived either from modern historical perspectives, or presented in thirteenth-century (or later) views.
'Never before has such a comprehensive study on Morris been published, and ... it will stand as the standard work on Morris long after the exhibition it commemorates is over.' The book/catalogue that accompanies the exhibition at the Victoria and Albert M useum marking the centenary of Morris's death makes a large claim for itself.