Reviewed by IRIS CONLAY THE Vatican is a collector's volume, an object of beauty. an ornament, a library's treasure. and, for its future rarity value, even an investment. Primarily it is a book to he looked at rather than read. to be handled with pride and to he displayed rather than put on a shelf.
It lies on a table before me caged in a strong, protecting box covered in dark red buckram and the gold blocking on the spine gleams sumptuously. The act of pulling the hook from its box is as satisfying ass unsheathing a sword and there the splendid thing is with its gold edged pages, its headbands and its gold tooled cover. anticipating inspection.
In keeping with the subject F am expecting magnificence. The title page sustains hope in its restrained use of gold over a double spread. Then plunging into text and pictures (the photographs specially taken, of course) I find the archeological studies at the beginning which reveal Constantine's basilica and the pagan necropolis with their Christian sarcophagi, both exciting and original.
The high standard is upheld through most of the views taken of buildings and gardens no small feat when professionals and amateurs have been snapping away at every imas ginable angle ever since cameras were invented—particularly in the shots of the
THE VATICAN, by Jerome Carcopino. Photographs and reproductions in monochrome and colour (Thames and Hudson, 18 guineas). •
THE DIVINE MICHELANGELO: a facsimile ediLion of Esequic dcl Divino
Michelangeto Hunnarroti Florence 1564 introduced, translated and annotated by Rudolf. and Margot Wittkower (Phaidon 426.).
pretty casino of Pius IV and the wide panorama of the Piazza.
I was much less impressed with the reproductions of frescoes. Whole walls do not compress well on half-pages even of the most generous of hooks, and the double-spread is a dubious advantage because the centre of the picture—invariably the composition's important focusing point—gets lost in the gutter and distorted by the curving way the pages fall.
What an opportunity. though, such a hook as this offers for details. The most remarkable picture in the hook is the marvellous Martyrdom of St. Sebastian with the ruins of the Colosseum -in the background. Here the picture has been cunningly cut so that the gutter does not disturb the picture. The Fra Angelico heads of S. Jerome and Thomas Aquinas are particularly memorable, too.
It is these smaller, intimate
things that illustrated books can do better than anything else. If "The Vatican" had devoted more of its picture space to extracting such perfect details as these, it would have so enhanced our appreciation, Jerome Carcopino's text, though skilful. is too short to do more than breathlessly cover the story of the Vatican from pre-history beginnings and to touch where it may on the greatest of its treasures, but it has been done the greatest disservice by setting in 36 pt. type—one which our eyes are unaccustomed to reading in bulk, except perhaps standing at a distance from a lectern.
Legibility could have been vastly improved if the typographer had not covered the whole page with a type hest used for display (wit!? heavy and distracting capitals) but instead had set the text smaller within generous margins. But probably few people will read it anyway. It is difficult with a museum piece of this size to remember that it is a hook, and as such. should he designed for reading.
IVIICHELANGELO'S 4th centenary is appropriately honoured by The Divine Michelangelo a scholarly facsimile and translation of the contemporary booklet produced to commemorate his memorial service.