The Vexations of Art: Velázquez and Others

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Yale University Press, 2005 - Art - 298 pages
Velázquez is often considered an artist apart: great, but isolated in a palace/ museum in Spain. This highly original book sets him in conjunction with certain conditions of painting in his time and after.

From the seventeenth century to the twentieth, roughly from Rembrandt and Vermeer to Matisse and Picasso, a succession of European painters has taken the studio as the world; that is, the studio is where the world—as it gets into painting—is experienced. Svetlana Alpers first focuses on this retreat into the confines of the studio, then looks at the ways in which the paintings of the Dutch masters and Velázquez acknowledge war and rivalry while offering a way out. The final chapters give a new account of Velázquez’s The Spinners, a ravishing painting which has been eclipsed by interest in the enigmas of Las Meninas. Alpers concentrates on the seventeenth century but also looks back to Velázquez’s predecessors Titian and Rubens and forward to his modern successors. She discusses Velázquez’s resemblance to Manet, whose art also vexes or unsettles, giving us reason to pause and look. The book concludes by asking whether painting continues to do that today.


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About the author (2005)

SVETLANA ALPERS is professor emerita of the history of art, University of California, Berkeley, and visiting scholar in the department of fine arts, New York University. Her previous books include the classic work The Art of Describing as well as The Making of Rubens and, with Michael Baxandall, Tiepolo and the Pictorial Intelligence, the latter two published by Yale University Press.

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