Reading Art by David Trigg

SANDA MILLER
Contributing Editor (Books)

Described as an ‘enchanting compendium of artworks that celebrate books and reading throughout 2,000 years of art history,’ David Trigg’s Reading Art (pictured below) features reproductions of almost 300 artworks, collected together as a homage to reading and the written word in the visual arts. As a picture-led survey of art from around the world, among the artists to appear in this volume are the usual suspects – Caravaggio, Cézanne, Dali, Dürer, Magritte, Picasso, Rembrandt, and Van Gogh, as well as contemporary artists including, Tracey Emin, Anselm Kiefer, Ed Ruscha, Cindy Sherman and Rachel Whiteread.

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Jean Honoré Fragonard ,  Young Girl Reading , c.1769, and  Vittore Carpaccio ,    The Virgin Reading,  c.1505, Samuel H. Kress Collection. (Images: Courtesy The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC).

Jean Honoré Fragonard, Young Girl Reading, c.1769, and Vittore Carpaccio, The Virgin Reading, c.1505, Samuel H. Kress Collection. (Images: Courtesy The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC).

Of course, the real strength of Trigg’s project is in his breaking down of the traditional chronological telling of art’s history, inviting comparisons between works of different eras, and revealing fresh visual connections. Fragonard’s Young Girl Reading (1769) echoes the composition of Carpaccio’s The Virgin Reading (1505) in this regard, and as Trigg reminds us, books are ‘one of the most influential objects in all of human history.’

From religious art to secular images – where books are often portrayed as one of the noblest signifiers of an elevated status, frequently seen as one of our most prized possessions in life – we are encouraged to remember Erasmus de Rotterdam’s words: ‘When I have a little money, I buy books, and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.’ Ultimately this is not a book about words, though. It is a thoroughgoing celebration of literature in art that offers a fresh approach to the discovery of both the well known and the often overlooked artists who have celebrated the simple act of reading. Modest in size but beautifully bound, it’s an interesting concept not seen before.

Reading Art: Art for Book Lovers
by David Trigg
Phaidon Press (£24.95)
ISBN: 9780714876276