As a bedtime reader, it is easy to tell when I am into a page-turner - I go to bed early. A few years ago when reading "Infinite Variety", the authors' first offering on Casati's life and times, I remember announcing to my husband that "I think I'll go and see what the Marchesa is up to tonight", whereupon he gave me that "you're going to bed at 8:30 look?" Unlike "Infinite Variety", "The Marchesa Casati Portraits of a Muse" is not a book to be hungrily devoured. It is more like fine dining - one wants to savor every bite!
It is important to understand both what this book is and what it is not. It is a picture book. But unlike so many of today's pictorial offerings, it is definitely not a poorly researched and bunged- together doorstop. This book was more curated than written. It was done so with so much obvious attention to detail that one can easily imagine its contents on display at a blockbuster National Portrait Gallery show. From the high production values to the tasteful and varied graphics and the clever construction that sets out the Casati legend in dramatic phases, this is a beautiful book.
Two things shine through on every page - the passion the authors have for their subject matter and the care they take to ensure their many pictures appear alongside the corresponding text. This latter point is not a minor one - so many authors of illustrated books bend to publishing economics by binding in picture "sections" which require the reader to madly flip back and forth through many pages in order to relate textual and graphic elements. In this book the echoes of argument between the authors, editors and layout artists ("no, the Van Dongen portrait stays right where it is.... you move the D'Annunzio photo over my dead body".... etc.) are visceral. What results is not only a well-organized and brilliantly engaging book, but a book that is truly an inspired work of art! Bravo!
The closing section, entitled "Afterlife," deserves special mention. It is here that the authors allow their academic integrity to shine as they prove that their book and indeed Casati's life is not just about outrageous exhibitionism. The thesis is that the Marchesa is important in the context of art and cultural history and the examples they provide, whether from Hollywood film, haute couture or even consumer products prove that the lady did indeed leave a legacy that even today inspires "generations of artists around the world....". Double Bravo!
If the first half of the 20th Century is "your" historical period, you are going to love this book. If you own a copy of "Infinite Variety", you need this companion piece. If 20th Century Modern Art is your thing, this is a must on your bookshelf. Otherwise, just get the book and enjoy a most worthwhile art-literary experience!
- Joanne Bergen (aka the artophile)artophile.com