Hot Best Seller

The Art of Describing: Dutch Art in the Seventeenth Century

Availability: Ready to download

"The art historian after Erwin Panofsky and Ernst Gombrich is not only participating in an activity of great intellectual excitement; he is raising and exploring issues which lie very much at the centre of psychology, of the sciences and of history itself. Svetlana Alpers's study of 17th-century Dutch painting is a splendid example of this excitement and of the centrality "The art historian after Erwin Panofsky and Ernst Gombrich is not only participating in an activity of great intellectual excitement; he is raising and exploring issues which lie very much at the centre of psychology, of the sciences and of history itself. Svetlana Alpers's study of 17th-century Dutch painting is a splendid example of this excitement and of the centrality of art history among current disciples. Professor Alpers puts forward a vividly argued thesis. There is, she says, a truly fundamental dichotomy between the art of the Italian Renaissance and that of the Dutch masters. . . . Italian art is the primary expression of a 'textual culture,' this is to say of a culture which seeks emblematic, allegorical or philosophical meanings in a serious painting. Alberti, Vasari and the many other theoreticians of the Italian Renaissance teach us to 'read' a painting, and to read it in depth so as to elicit and construe its several levels of signification. The world of Dutch art, by the contrast, arises from and enacts a truly 'visual culture.' It serves and energises a system of values in which meaning is not 'read' but 'seen,' in which new knowledge is visually recorded."—George Steiner, Sunday Times "There is no doubt that thanks to Alpers's highly original book the study of the Dutch masters of the seventeenth century will be thoroughly reformed and rejuvenated. . . . She herself has the verve, the knowledge, and the sensitivity to make us see familiar sights in a new light."—E. H. Gombrich, New York Review of Books


Compare

"The art historian after Erwin Panofsky and Ernst Gombrich is not only participating in an activity of great intellectual excitement; he is raising and exploring issues which lie very much at the centre of psychology, of the sciences and of history itself. Svetlana Alpers's study of 17th-century Dutch painting is a splendid example of this excitement and of the centrality "The art historian after Erwin Panofsky and Ernst Gombrich is not only participating in an activity of great intellectual excitement; he is raising and exploring issues which lie very much at the centre of psychology, of the sciences and of history itself. Svetlana Alpers's study of 17th-century Dutch painting is a splendid example of this excitement and of the centrality of art history among current disciples. Professor Alpers puts forward a vividly argued thesis. There is, she says, a truly fundamental dichotomy between the art of the Italian Renaissance and that of the Dutch masters. . . . Italian art is the primary expression of a 'textual culture,' this is to say of a culture which seeks emblematic, allegorical or philosophical meanings in a serious painting. Alberti, Vasari and the many other theoreticians of the Italian Renaissance teach us to 'read' a painting, and to read it in depth so as to elicit and construe its several levels of signification. The world of Dutch art, by the contrast, arises from and enacts a truly 'visual culture.' It serves and energises a system of values in which meaning is not 'read' but 'seen,' in which new knowledge is visually recorded."—George Steiner, Sunday Times "There is no doubt that thanks to Alpers's highly original book the study of the Dutch masters of the seventeenth century will be thoroughly reformed and rejuvenated. . . . She herself has the verve, the knowledge, and the sensitivity to make us see familiar sights in a new light."—E. H. Gombrich, New York Review of Books

30 review for The Art of Describing: Dutch Art in the Seventeenth Century

  1. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This book is in essence a treatise on how seventeenth century Dutch painting was a descriptive art. This was especially so when it was compared to the highly admired narrative art of the time - found in Italy - with its illustrations of human figures in history, myth, and Biblical stories. (My notes below are mostly direct quotes from the book.) “Dutch painting was not and could not be anything but the portrait of Holland, its external image, faithful, exact, complete, life-like, without any ador This book is in essence a treatise on how seventeenth century Dutch painting was a descriptive art. This was especially so when it was compared to the highly admired narrative art of the time - found in Italy - with its illustrations of human figures in history, myth, and Biblical stories. (My notes below are mostly direct quotes from the book.) “Dutch painting was not and could not be anything but the portrait of Holland, its external image, faithful, exact, complete, life-like, without any adornment.” Fromentin, 1876 . The author says that most of the history of art has been geared up to the art of Italy..... with its artists and their works being seen as the pinnacle of creative achievement. This makes it difficult to articulate the very different talents that one finds in the work of Dutch artists. She then goes on to do a grand job of doing just that. Some of the basic defining factors found in Northern art It was the art of describing. It was realistic. It had a stilled or arrested quality. There was attention to the surface of the world – which is achieved at the expense of the representation of narrative action. (Italian art is much more vigorous than Dutch art). There was a propensity for concentrating on landscapes. Even if the painting had another main subject, any landscape present would be carefully rendered. There was a great desire for external exactness, and the attempt to do too many things too well. (Everything in the picture had to be reproduced perfectly.) The stress was on seeing and representing. There was a frequent absence of a positioned viewer. You would often find a play with great contrasts of scale(e.g., a huge cow in the foreground would be amusingly played off against a tiny, distant church tower). There is often the absence of a prior frame. (The world depicted in Dutch paintings often seems cut off by the edges of the work, or conversely, seems to extend beyond its bounds as if the frame were an afterthought and not a prior defining device). Dutch artists often paint a wide-angle view of their subjects. These works do not represent a fictive, framed window view of their subject. There is the formidable sense of the picture as a surface (like a mirror or map, but not a window), on which words along with objects can be replicated or inscribed. It is hard to trace stylistic development in the work of Dutch artists. Even the most naïve viewer can see much continuity in northern art, from van Eyck to Vermeer. There is consistency rather than innovation. Dutch culture was obsessed with observation. Magnifying glasses, telescopes, and the camera obscura. All these means of intensifying seeing were of much fascination in the North. In Holland images proliferated everywhere – in books, tapestries, table linens, painted onto tiles and framed on walls. The visual culture was central to the life of society. The Dutch had an obsession with maps and atlases – as vehicles of knowledge and for conveying details. There was much overlap between highly pictorial maps, and pictures which were very map-like in the way they were composed. Many landscapes and townscape pictures were seen - like maps – as ways of observing and describing. They were often topographical in character, as well as being beautiful. This Dutch concentration on observation has its drawbacks….the emotion often found in looser painting styles is missing. “Jan van Eyck’s eye operates as a microscope and telescope at the same time…so that the beholder is compelled to oscillate between a position reasonably far from the painting and many positions very close to it…However, such perfection had to be bought at a price. Neither a microscope nor a telescope is a good instrument with which to view human emotion…The emphasis is on quiet existence rather than action… Measured by ordinary standards (ie the standards of Italian or narrative painting), the world of Jan van Eyck is static. Erwin Panofsky “Early Netherlandish Painting” 1953 And rather than the drama found in Italian art, Dutch art is concerned with the everyday. “Dutch art represents pleasure taken in a world full of pleasures: the pleasures of familial bonds, pleasures in possessions, pleasures in the towns, the churches, the land. In these images the seventeenth century appears to be one long Sunday after the troubled times of the previous century.” JQ van Regteren Altena. 1961 In fact there is a tradition in Holland of ‘historiating’ portraits…..whereby figures were made to represent historical figures. But they are not very successful. These sitters look dressed up rather than ‘transformed’ into the subjects they are supposed to be representing. They fool no-one. The identity in the look of their faces, and their telling domestic bearing, take precedence over the artists’efforts to make them look other than themselves. Rembrandt is the one exception, and he often succeeds where other Dutch artists have failed. The observational skills of Dutch artists are where their talents lie…. “Vermeer seems almost not to care, or not even to know, what it is that he is painting. What do men call this wedge of light? A nose? A finger? What do we know of its shape? To Vermeer none of that matters, the conceptual world of names and knowledge is forgotten, nothing concerns him but what is visible, the tone, the wedge of light.” Lawrence Gowing. 1952. I didn’t read all of this book. I ordered it specifically to find out more about the tradition of mapping in Holland, and how this was transformed or related to a love of pictures showing land and townscapes. Not only did the book describe this well with words – but also with pictures, and I found it a fascinating read. MAPS THAT LOOK LIKE DRAWINGS AND PAINTINGS DRAWINGS AND PAINTINGS THAT LOOK LIKE MAPS Illustrations: 1: Africa, In Willem Jansz Blaeu World Atlas: 1630 2: Brazil by George Markgraf: 1647 3: Anonymous. The Siege of Haarlem. 4: Anonymous. Dutch. The Polder. Het Grootslag, near Enkhuizen. 5: Nijmegen. Braun & Hogenberg. Civitates Orbis Terrarum. 1587-1617. 6: Vermeer's View of Delft: 1660/1661

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kalliope

    Rereading this...

  3. 5 out of 5

    Thabata Tosta

    "The Art of Describing" is an interesting book for those who are interested in starting their studies of Dutch art, especially that of the 17th century. It engages the reader with many questions and cites several important names of the Dutch Golden Era (as well as some of the European figures of the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution). The author gives many, many, many examples of paintings, which, for me, detracts the overall content. There are many instances in which Alpers makes a point "The Art of Describing" is an interesting book for those who are interested in starting their studies of Dutch art, especially that of the 17th century. It engages the reader with many questions and cites several important names of the Dutch Golden Era (as well as some of the European figures of the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution). The author gives many, many, many examples of paintings, which, for me, detracts the overall content. There are many instances in which Alpers makes a point in one paragraph and for the next several pages extend her examples until it bores the reader. In the process, not only the interest is lost, but the focus when and if regained does not have the same grip as it would if not for so many digressions. This was my fourth and most probably final reading of the book. I took advantage of the knowledge in it, made many notes, studied and questioned its content. I can access that, for a beginner, it may be a better and pleasant reading. That is, if not being straight to the point in an academic book does not get in your nerves. There is quite a lot to be learned with the topic written by the author and this book is a good beginning.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Geoff Cain

    This is an incredible book on Dutch art except that it is also about history, science, map-making, etc. I found the book interesting and challenging. Alpers is a thorough scholar but you don't feel like your being dragged through someone's dissertation and annotated bibliography along the way. I really appreciate the intersection of the arts and sciences here. This is part of my research for a novel I am writing on art and identity. This book has changed the way I look at Dutch art. This is an incredible book on Dutch art except that it is also about history, science, map-making, etc. I found the book interesting and challenging. Alpers is a thorough scholar but you don't feel like your being dragged through someone's dissertation and annotated bibliography along the way. I really appreciate the intersection of the arts and sciences here. This is part of my research for a novel I am writing on art and identity. This book has changed the way I look at Dutch art.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Floris

    A bold account of Dutch visual culture in the seventeenth century, which offers something for the art-history enthusiast as well as the art-history ignoramus (like me). Being almost four decades old, some of what Alpers defines as innovative approaches seem quite self-evident by now, and yet I found her work to still offer some insightful ways of approaching visual culture. I like, for example, how she defines her object study as "picturing", as opposed to just "pictures", in the Dutch Golden Ag A bold account of Dutch visual culture in the seventeenth century, which offers something for the art-history enthusiast as well as the art-history ignoramus (like me). Being almost four decades old, some of what Alpers defines as innovative approaches seem quite self-evident by now, and yet I found her work to still offer some insightful ways of approaching visual culture. I like, for example, how she defines her object study as "picturing", as opposed to just "pictures", in the Dutch Golden Age, because 1) it calls attention to the making of pictures in addition to the finished products, 2) it 'emphasises the inseparability of maker, picture, and what is pictured', and 3) it allows for us to look beyond pictures towards maps, mirros, lenses, and other visual media/tools (26). She does not lose herself in the breadth of this scope, and makes excellent use of a myriad of paintings, drawings, etchings, etc. to complement her often abstract arguments about how Dutch artists saw and pictured. I also found her knowledge and use of contemporary (natural) philosophical ideas and writings impressive. Overall this work seems to have aged quite nicely as an innovative piece of academic research!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Graziano

    Senza l’occhio umano l’universo e’ buio. Non riesco a vedere lontano se abito in una pianura e voglio scoprire e descrivere cosa vive al di la’, ma se abito tra le vette vivo nel limite del mio orizzonte e rimpiango solo se al di la’ di quelle vette degli dei scrivono libri che mai leggero’. L’arte italiana e’ narrativa, nel senso che da’ consistenza visiva a quel che si trova scritto nei libri, nella storia sacra e nelle leggende degli antichi. L’arte nordica, e quella olandese in particolare, e’ Senza l’occhio umano l’universo e’ buio. Non riesco a vedere lontano se abito in una pianura e voglio scoprire e descrivere cosa vive al di la’, ma se abito tra le vette vivo nel limite del mio orizzonte e rimpiango solo se al di la’ di quelle vette degli dei scrivono libri che mai leggero’. L’arte italiana e’ narrativa, nel senso che da’ consistenza visiva a quel che si trova scritto nei libri, nella storia sacra e nelle leggende degli antichi. L’arte nordica, e quella olandese in particolare, e’ invece descrittiva, nel senso che rappresenta la realta’ cosi’ come essa e’. (copertina) (Svetlana Alpers) Arriva in questo modo a ipotizzare una centralita’ della vista, del vedere, come strumento di conoscenza nella cultura olandese del Seicento, rispetto a una presunta centralita’ del pensiero, della scrittura, della storia nella cultura italiana. (xiv) Nel riferirmi all’idea di arte nel Rinascimento italiano, ho in mente la definizione albertiana di quadro: una superficie o una tavola incorniciata, posta a una certa distanza da un osservatore che guarda, attraverso di essa, un mondo altro o sostitutivo. Nel Rinascimento questo mondo era un palcoscenico su cui figure umane recitavano azioni significanti basate su testi di poeti. E’ un’arte narrativa. (5) I ritratti, le nature morte, i paesaggi e le raffigurazioni della vita quotidiana colgono momenti di piacere in un mondo pieno di piaceri: quelli dei legami familiari, delle cose possedute e della vita in citta’, le chiede, la campagna. In queste immagini, … il Seicento ci appare come una lunga domenica dopo i giorni turbolenti del secolo precedente. L’arte olandese offre appagamento alla vista e sembra sollevare meno domande di quanto non faccia l’arte italiana. (8) Giacche’, come intendo dimostrare, le immagini nordiche non mascherano significati, ne’ li nascondono dietro la superficie, ma mostrano piuttosto che il significato si trova per sua natura in cio’ che l’occhio e’ in grado di cogliere, per quanto ingannevole possa essere. (12) O Tu che dai gli occhi e il potere Da’ occhi con questo potere: Occhi che, se resi vigili, Vedono tutto cio’ che e’ da vedere. (35) … l’impressione che il mondo si depositi da se’, con i suoi colori e la sua luce, sulla superficie pittorica; la mancanza di un preciso punto d’osservazione, come se lo spettatore percepisse ogni cosa con occhio attento, ma senza lasciare traccia di se’. La Veduta di Delft di Vermeer ne e’ un esempio perfetto. (45) … Keplero non solo definisce l’immagine sulla retina una rappresentazione, ma sposta la sua attenzione dal mondo reale al mondo ‘dipinto’ sulla retina. Tutto questo implica un’estrema oggettivita’ e la rinuncia a formulare giudizi di valore sul mondo cosi’ rappresentato. (56) L’idea della mente come luogo dove immagazzinare le immagini visive era ovviamente comune a quell’epoca. Ma solo nell’Europa del Nord gli artisti raffigurarono questo stato mentale. Comunque si voglia giudicarle, la mancanza di uno stile ideale o elevato e la tendenza a un approccio descrittivo anche nel caso di soggetti elevati, sono dovute a questo modo di intendere la rappresentazione. (60) Or non vedi tu che l’occhio abbraccia la bellezza di tutto il mondo? (65) … cosi anche gli artisti olandesi hanno la passione per l’attenzione visiva. Infatti le loro opere sono rivolte agli stessi oggetti che attiravano l’attenzione di Beeckman: le nuvole gonfie di Ruisdael, alte sulla campagna, il guizzare di una candela o le pagine arricciate dei libri in pile che le nature morte di Leida fissano per il piacere dei nostri occhi; i cadaveri dipinti dai ritrattisti, per i quali la morte si presenta sotto forma di una lezione di anatomia. (148) Nel descrivere che cosa vedono gli occhi degli animali o degli insetti, egli (Leeuwenhoek) richiama piu’ volte l’attenzione sul fatto che il mondo e’ conosciuto non in virtu’ della sua visibilita’, ma in virtu’ dei particolari strumenti che lo rendono visibile. (156-7) Non facciamo nessuna scoperta se diciamo che l’arte olandese in genere condivide quel carattere nominativo e rappresentativo che veniva attribuito anche al linguaggio. Abbiamo pero’ un motivo ulteriore per fissare la nostra attenzione, come facevano appunto gli artisti olandesi, sulla descrizione della realta’, piuttosto che indagare sui significati nascosti dietro la superficie. (170) L’intento dei pittori olandesi era di fissare su una superficie il maggior numero di conoscenze e di informazioni sul mondo visibile. Anch’essi, come i cartografi, affiancano immagini e parole, e costruiscono opere composite, che non si lasciano cogliere da un singolo punto d’osservazione. La loro tela non e’ una finestra secondo il modello italiano, ma assomiglia piuttosto a una carta geografica, a una superficie su cui e’ esposta una costruzione del mondo. (198) Con l’aiuto della terminologia cartografica possiamo dunque affermare che la pittura nordica prende la via della descrizione, e non quella della persuasione retorica abbracciata dall’arte italiana. (208) Uno dei motivi conduttori della nostra ricerca e’ che l’arte olandese, essenzialmente descrittiva, taglia i ponti con queste basi letterarie. La sua insistenza sul sapere visivo e sulla maestria tecnica dell’artista denota una cultura dell’immagine autonoma rispetto alle fonti letterarie. (277) Nel suo bel saggio su Vermeer, Lawrence Gowing commenta in questi termini la qualita’ centrale della sua arte: Vermeer si trova fuori dalle nostre convenzioni (quelle, s’intende, relative all’arte italiana) perche’ non puo’ condividere la grande illusione che le sostiene: che lo stile abbia un potere reale sulla vita. Per quanto un artista ami il mondo e cerchi di afferrarlo, in realta’ non potra’ mai farlo suo. Per quanta audacia possa muovere il suo occhio insaziabile e dominatore, le vere forme della vita restano intatte. (367)

  7. 5 out of 5

    The Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge

    When it was published, The Art of Describing was instantly recognized as a classic in art history, where it transformed our understanding of the relationship between Italian Renaissance art and Dutch painting in the seventeenth century. Alpers' readings of the masters like Rembrandt and Vermeer will change how you see their great works, but she also devotes attention to artists and mapmakers who may be less familiar, like Pieter Saenredam's paintings of church interiors—revelatory. But what make When it was published, The Art of Describing was instantly recognized as a classic in art history, where it transformed our understanding of the relationship between Italian Renaissance art and Dutch painting in the seventeenth century. Alpers' readings of the masters like Rembrandt and Vermeer will change how you see their great works, but she also devotes attention to artists and mapmakers who may be less familiar, like Pieter Saenredam's paintings of church interiors—revelatory. But what makes this book returning to nearly four decades after its publication is the way that Alpers moves beyond art to show how technology and culture contributed to a certain Dutch way of seeing the world. In a present characterized by crises of the visual—how best to perceive and invisible virus, changes in our climate?—her work offers an exemplary way of thinking.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Endymion Liu

    I don't know if in trying to argue for an alternative discriptive mode of viewing Dutch Art as to the discursive mode of interpreting Italian art, and by overemphasizing the attention to the surface and description, the author also reduces the art and simplifies artists' preoccupation and ambitions. It does deserve merit for proposing a different approach to look at dutch visual art, independent of the mainstream scholarly apparatus of studying italian narrative art and it's legacies. I don't know if in trying to argue for an alternative discriptive mode of viewing Dutch Art as to the discursive mode of interpreting Italian art, and by overemphasizing the attention to the surface and description, the author also reduces the art and simplifies artists' preoccupation and ambitions. It does deserve merit for proposing a different approach to look at dutch visual art, independent of the mainstream scholarly apparatus of studying italian narrative art and it's legacies.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Will Schumer

    This is THE text on Dutch Golden Age art. Required reading. No ifs and buts. Start here.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jay

    dense but endlessly fascinating. enriched my enjoyment and understanding of my favorite paintings, excited to read more.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    I love Dutch genre painting and this classic on the subject had some really interesting ideas. However I felt there was rather an overwhelming focus on Vermeer, and I'm guessing this was a translation or not in her first language? Because a few sentences didn't really read quite right... I love Dutch genre painting and this classic on the subject had some really interesting ideas. However I felt there was rather an overwhelming focus on Vermeer, and I'm guessing this was a translation or not in her first language? Because a few sentences didn't really read quite right...

  12. 5 out of 5

    Emmanuella Symeonaki

    To fully appreciate this book one needs to read Eddy De Jongh's review. To fully appreciate this book one needs to read Eddy De Jongh's review.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Leon Limpens

    Ongelofelijk dat de hele hollandse kunstgeschiedenis-wereld in de jaren 80/90 hiervan van de leg raakte. Nogal taai, lees liever http://www.dbnl.org/tekst/_han0012003... Ongelofelijk dat de hele hollandse kunstgeschiedenis-wereld in de jaren 80/90 hiervan van de leg raakte. Nogal taai, lees liever http://www.dbnl.org/tekst/_han0012003...

  14. 4 out of 5

    Irene Torrisi

  15. 5 out of 5

    Maja

  16. 5 out of 5

    Breña

  17. 4 out of 5

    Lee

  18. 5 out of 5

    Boreas

  19. 4 out of 5

    Bwickre

  20. 5 out of 5

    Cori North

  21. 5 out of 5

    Crunchyrobot

  22. 4 out of 5

    Terri Coco

  23. 4 out of 5

    Laura Ward

  24. 4 out of 5

    Tuesday

  25. 4 out of 5

    Shane Campbell

  26. 5 out of 5

    Miguel Pinto

  27. 5 out of 5

    Dave

  28. 5 out of 5

    Amber

  29. 5 out of 5

    Allison

  30. 4 out of 5

    Letícia Martins De Andrade

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...