Art history

9th June 2000 at 01:00
THE HISTORY OF ART. By Claudio Merlo. Hodder Wayland, pound;14.99

The scope of this book is the artistic achievement of five continents since the dawn of human activity. It includes statuary, mosaics and frescoes, architecture and modern art as well as easel painting, all in 128 pages. However, readers should not feel overwhelmed by this, as the whole enterprise is done rather successfully, despite inevitable gaps.

The book's most attractive feature is its engrossing illustrations. Throughout, it adopts a double-page spread of a large central image surrounded by subsidiary pictures, notes and labels. Merlo's interesting approach has been to concentrate on how th art was produced, so the main pictures are reconstructions of what work looked like in progress or in its original context.

We are shown, for instance, how Vermeer might have set up a camera obscura, how Canova's assistants might have made copies of his sculptures, how the foundations of the buildings in Venice were sunk in the canal and how bronzes in Benin were set up in the shrines.

This book would make a useful addition to the school library or an attractive present for a child beginning to take an interest in museum and gallery collections, where the art's original context may not be clear.

Susan Morris is a museum and gallery educator

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