Federico Zeri,
Botticelli: Allegory of Spring
(RCS Libri, 1998; NDE, 2000)

This series could be called "Everything You Really Need To Know About Great Art." I have a degree in visual art and the requisite heavy hours of college-level art history, and none of those classes gave me as quick or memorable an overview of an artist as Federico Zeri's Botticelli: Allegory of Spring. If all the books in Zeri's One Hundred Paintings series are this comprehensive, an attentive reader would be able to out-critique most museum staffs.

Allegory of Spring starts off with a detailed analysis of the title painting, listing not only several possible symbolic meanings for just about every aspect of the painting, but also possible inspirations for the overall painting and each of the figures. Anyone who thinks that the symbolism of a single Botticelli painting couldn't possibly take up much space has never sat through a lecture on Botticelli; this brief explanation takes 28 pages. Fortunately, the information here is presented clearly enough for a novice student and briefly enough to not be repetitive for long-time art fans.

If this were only done with one painting, it would make for a nice pamphlet, but little more. But the rest of the book covers all of Botticelli's best-known works and many of the less popular ones. These subsequent paintings don't receive the same level of attention as "Allegory of Spring," but are used for examples of broader points of his artistic styles. Informations on the details of these paintings are also used to reveal Botticelli's life and artistic career. Best of all, Botticelli's work is used to examine the society of his time (1445-1510). Of course, this is a slim volume devoted to art analyses, so none of this information is terribly extensive, but it's enough for the casual fan and a fine starting point for a beginning serious student.

The only real problem with this book is the price. While the main market for this sort of information may be a more casual art fan or student, only a small portion of those are likely to pay $14.95 ($23.95 Cdn.) for a 50-page book half filled with different views of the same painting. But if you genuinely want to start learning about Botticelli and his work, this is probably the best book to pick up. The text may seem sparse, but it's all to the point, and the color reproductions of his work are large and clear. So skip the eight-pound academic treatises, grab Allegory of Spring. You'll find all the information you need to critique his art yourself, and pictures clear enough to study.

It beats six semester hours of art history.

[ by Sarah Meador ]
Rambles: 19 January 2002

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