ed. By Mark Hallett, Nigel Llewellyn, and Martin Myrone. (Studies in British art). Yale Center for British Art, dist. by Yale University Press, June 2016. 544 p. ill. ISBN 9780300214802 (cl.), $85.00.
Reviewed November 2016
This volume of the well-known series Studies in British Art delivers a rich inquiry on late seventeenth and early eighteenth-century visual arts through a series of essays by established and emerging experts. The text is the outcome of a research project and three conferences and reflects the breadth of topics explored in those venues. The essays are grouped logically into categories that provide a platform for a dialog about visual culture that transcends genre. For example, the section “Kings, Queens, Commanders” includes two discussions of portraits of Queen Anne, in painting and sculpture, but the analyses draw in the placement and passages of those portraits rather than focusing only on the artworks.
The discussion opens with the theme “Spaces, Stages, Arenas” and investigates a variety of public and private spaces ranging from the placement of monuments to the changing furniture in the State Bedchamber. In the “Networks, Shared Practices, Communities” section, the social means of the transmission of art instruction and exposure is explored through an interesting variety of channels, spanning auction records to letters. A highlight of this section is Tim Batchelor’s essay that traces the introduction and popularity of still life painting into Britain from the Netherlands. The three essays in “Prospects, Print, Empire” provide a unified inquiry into visual tropes by examining representations of landscapes and portraiture via printing technology and techniques. The last category, “Theory, Artwords, Periodization,” brings together a discussion of three topics that may appear disparate, but by the end of this volume the reader is well prepared to see the cross-disciplinary relationships between text, printing, and sculpture in the context of art.
This volume is a testament to the idea of how academic conferences can bring together the best of research on a topic and sets a new standard for capturing and preserving the information presented. The publication is beautifully printed with stellar illustrations that are well placed for supporting the authors’ arguments. As part of a series, it is a necessary purchase for art and academic libraries, but it would be a worthy addition for libraries collecting British history due to the quality of the essays and illustrations.