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Customer Review

12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: Titian: His Life (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I mention the following because here am I about to give fulsome praise to an art book I've chosen to review, despite two previous purchasers having panned it; and because Vine reviewers are not infrequently accused of giving 5 stars to duff books out of gratitude to Amazon and the publishers, for giving them "free stuff"...

I accept for review only works compatible with my interests, and months have sometimes gone by without my accepting any at all. But books on art are so rarely offered for review on Vine, that when one does appear, I accept it indiscriminately; although disappointment has mostly followed - as my one and two star reviews of two of the only three art books I have ever previously been sent for review will show.

But here at last is a fourth, and I suspect that the reason why it only appeared on the Vine programme five months after it was published, rather than, as is more usual, before or upon publication, was in the hope of eliciting some rather more objective reviews to balance the two seemingly misguided reviews herein. (As an aside, may I suggest that when a work of potential interest is disappointingly found to rate little more than a cursory dismissal from a reviewer, a glance at the reviewer's profile page and other reviews could help in deciding whether those views are necessarily relevant to you personally. And vice versa, of course.)

I read art history for enlightenment and entertainment, not to acquire learning; my capacity for study dissolved into brain-dust long ago. Thus, the most important quality for me is "readability". One reviewer complains that this book reads like a PhD thesis; which is indeed true of too many art history publications - I've laboured through a good few of those - so I rather feared the worst; but nothing could have been further from the truth.

The author entirely avoids the trap of excessive quotations and page footnotes (few things are more destructive of readability) as well as the other grosser demonstrations of intellectualism - the average reader for pleasure won't need a dictionary to hand, for example. And although it isn't written in novelese, being more a straightfoward, narrative account of the life and times of its subject, it is nevertheless beautifully written. But if you don't already understand that (a) Venetian society was immensely sophisticated and complex and (b) you require to exercise at least a bit of brainpower and mental stamina to consume 850 pages of social, political and art history - which is obviously going to be loaded with detail - then it clearly isn't for you. Only the length is intimidating; my attention was held from page one, and tired old eyes gave out each night long before brain.

The other reviewer who complained that it was more about Titian's milieu than about Titian obviously failed both to read the book description, and to connect with the book's length, despite which it now only costs £13.50 from Amazon - an absolute bargain by any standards. You don't get masses of artwork in 850 pages for this price, (although there are 33 quite respectable, glossy illustrations), nor can you reasonably expect an author to fill 850 pages exclusively with an artist's oeuvre, technique and love-life...

This work is, quite properly, as much an entertaining and impressively informative history of Titian's times, as of his life, and is presented as such (those who wallowed in Sky's "The Borgias" series will find familiar names here). True, the first 100 pages do indeed confine themselves almost entirely to setting the scene for the arrival and education of the young Titian, and all the better for that. The picture painted throughout of 15th/16th century Venice and all those characters whose lives touched that of Titian, directly or indirectly, is, in fact, half the worth of the book - for without that kind of context, personal information about the prime character has little value.

Authorities on Titian and Venetian history abound, as do volumes of reproductions of his paintings, but this monumental work - requiring many, many years of study in the making - is without doubt a notable addition to our knowledge of the painter and his times by a true scholar, seemingly unassailably complete in itself as a narrative and a historical record, and deserving of the utmost respect. The reviews quoted by the publisher from the press are (for once !) more reflective of the book's worth and distinction than the two brief dismissive reviews here.

Since writing the above, a third reviewer has complained that he couldn't "visualise the paintings" from the author's prose - having, like the other two, foolishly failed to notice that the book's title is "Titian: His Life" - NOT "Titian: His Paintings"...Incomprehensible. I'm almost beginning to think there's a plot...
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Review Details



Jeff Walmsley

Location: Wales

Top Reviewer Ranking: 846