Take a Closer Look

Take a Closer Look

Daniel Arasse
Translated from the French by Alyson Waters
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 184
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  • Book Info
    Take a Closer Look
    Book Description:

    What happens when we look at a painting? What do we think about? What do we imagine? How can we explain, even to ourselves, what we see or think we see? And how can art historians interpret with any seriousness what they observe? In six engaging, short narrative "fictions," each richly illustrated in color, Daniel Arasse, one of the most brilliant art historians of our time, cleverly and gracefully guides readers through a variety of adventures in seeing, from Velázquez to Titian, Bruegel to Tintoretto.

    By demonstrating that we don't really see what these paintings are trying to show us, Arasse makes it clear that we need to take a closer look. In chapters that each have a different form, including a letter, an interview, and an animated conversation with a colleague, the book explores how these pictures teach us about ways of seeing across the centuries. In the process, Arasse freshly lays bare the dazzling power of painting. Fast-paced and full of humor as well as insight, this is a book for anyone who cares about really looking at, seeing, and understanding paintings.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4804-1
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. CARA GIULIA Mars and Venus Surprised by Vulcan, Tintoretto
    (pp. 1-16)

    You may find this rather long letter surprising, even a bit irritating. I hope you won’t be angry, but I have to write to you. As I told you somewhat brusquely, I cannot understand how you sometimes look at painting in such a way that you don’t see what painter and painting are showing you.

    We have the same passion for painting, so why, when it comes to interpreting certain works, are our interpretations so dissimilar? I’m not saying that works of art have only one meaning and so there’s only one “good” interpretation. Gombrich said that, and you know...

  4. THE SNAIL’S GAZE The Annunciation, Francesco del Cossa
    (pp. 17-38)

    I know where this is headed. You’re going to tell me yet again that I’m going too far—that I’m having a good time, but that I’m also overinterpreting. It’s true, there’s nothing I like more than having a good time. As for overinterpreting, though, you’re the one who’s going too far. I admit I see a lot of things in this snail; but, after all, if the painter painted it the way he did, it was because he wanted us to see it and to ask ourselves what the heck it was doing there. In Mary’s sumptuous palace, at...

  5. PAINT IT BLACK The Adoration of the Magi, Bruegel the Elder
    (pp. 39-70)

    At first, when he saw Bruegel’s The Adoration of the Magi at the National Gallery in London, he identified what he already knew. As always. In the end it had become tiresome. He couldn’t manage to be surprised by anything anymore. He had looked so much and learned so well how to identify, classify, situate, that he did it all very quickly, without pleasure, simply as a narcissistic confirmation of his knowledge. A place for every painter and every painter in his place. His knowledge resembled a caretaker’s knowledge of his cemetery.

    So, first off, he recognized the carnivalesque, somewhat...

    (pp. 71-88)

    Frankly, there would be no point in saying that Mary Magdalene wasn’t a real blond. I’ll grant you that the idea is not uninteresting: the difference between a real blond and a fake blond is a valid concern. But, really, what does “fake blond” mean? Why should the color of one’s body hair be more “honest” than the color of the hair on one’s head? I’m quite aware that people dye their hair, but really, there’s nothing to prevent them from bleaching their pubic hair, or dying it blue, pink, green, or any other color for that matter. I’m sure...

  7. THE WOMAN IN THE CHEST The Venus of Urbino, Titian
    (pp. 89-128)

    “A pinup?”

    “Yup, that’s what she is. Pure and simple.”

    “Well, it depends on what you mean by that.”

    “It’s simple: a beautiful, naked woman … or, rather, an image of one. The image of a naked woman that’s meant to excite the man who’s looking at it; an image of woman as sexual object.”

    “You’re saying that the Venus of Urbino is a pinup? Come on!”

    “That’s right. Anyway, you know the painting’s history. When Guidobaldo commissioned Titian to paint it, his father …”

    “Whose father?”

    “Guidobaldo’s. Two years earlier, Francesco Maria, his father, had already bought a portrait...

  8. THE EYE OF THE MASTER Las Meninas, Velázquez
    (pp. 129-160)

    Las Meninas! Oh, no, not again! For pity’s sake! Enough already! Everything’s been said about it! Everything? Or nothing? What’s the difference, enough is definitely enough!

    It has been exactly thirty-three years, the “age of Christ” as they say, that people have been going on about Las Meninas. Ever since the great Foucault decided to write about it in The Order of Things in 1966, it’s unbelievable how everyone has been determined to have his or her say. To help us comprehend it better, there was even a volume of critical texts published on it. But that’s nothing compared to...

  9. Illustration Credits
    (pp. 161-162)
  10. Index
    (pp. 163-170)