By IRIS COATLAY
ITALIAN RENAISSANCE SCULPTURE, by John PopeHennessy (Phaidon, 90s.).
VERMEER, by Ludwig Goldscheider (Phaidon, 47s. 6d.).
MODERN GERMAN PAINTING, by Hans Konrad Roethel (Eyre & Spottiswoode, 50s.).
IT is hard to realise, with the .1bookshops filled with glowing art books, that not so very long ago the only way to know about Michelangelo's Sistine chapel was to go to Rome and look at it.
Things are almost in reverse now. Most of us have seen more of the world's art from an armchair at home than in reality. It is becoming possible to get an illustrated art book about almost every great epoch and every important artist and study it quietly without even travelling so far as the National Gallery.
Through books, and perhaps even More through postcards, everyone can know-or feel he knowsas much about the art of other countries which he has not seen as he knows of his own. He may even find in some cases, when he does travel, that he sees less of the picture when in front of it than he does in a bookthis is particularly true of frescoes in churches where the light is poor.
FtUT it would be an awful thing
if the art book began to be a substitute for the original, if we really began to think we had seen the real thing because we had seen the reproduction. Herein lies the snare of those exce?lent publications.
However poor the light, however difficult to see. to dwell in the presence of a masterpiece is an experience without parallel, and books can do no more than introduce to or remind us of that experience.
Apart altogether from the aura which surrounds the masterpiece itself and cannot be recaptured there are other deficiencies in a book of reproductions. To instance the most important: nothing, not even the quality of colour in reproduction. or the lack of its matters so much as the relentless uniformity of size which pages demand, so that murals and miniatures appear on the same scaleTintoretto's Paradise and an illumination from a Book of Hours seeming therefore alike.
Some books, notably the encyclopaedia type, sin badly on this score, others, however, take the greatest trouble to correct the wrong impression of size. The " Vermeer" noted above, for instance, has been particularly careful to show details of the pictures in the original size.
jNDF,ED, of the many art books
which have appeared this season the three mentioned above are of immensely high standard. especially in the choice and quality and number of their illustrations. None are .parlour books, just to be left about for the casual half-hour of idleness.
Each has the kind of scholarly text which can open a new world on the imagination, biographical notes on the artists as well as notes on each plate and excellent bibliographies to send the reader into further excursions-and to excite in him a fever not to be reduced until he stands before the original works themselves.
These arc the kind of '" Ill-Fl" art books of which there cannot be too many.