What Paintings Say, 100 Masterpieces in Detail



Artists as historians

What Paintings Say is a wonderful study of 100 masterpieces, lavishly illustrated and packed with history presented in an accessible and readable way.

Some of the paintings are well known others less so. Holbein’s Ambassadors, Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam, Turner’sThe Fighting Temeraire, Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People and Bruegel’s Hunters in the Snow are among those to be explained in engaging detail.

We don’t just learn about the artists and their style but also the historical forces that shaped the artist and their subjects. The crew of theTemeraire we learn, for instance, mutinied after being kept on board for nine years in prison-like conditions. The response of the admiralty was to hang 14 of the mutineers. Thoughtfully, it did so with executions on 14 different ships pour décourager les autres.

Each painting is presented as a nugget of social history. Princes and paupers, artisans and courtesans are all here in glorious detail.

Buy this book and treat yourself to reading about one painting a day. You won’t regret it.

Graham Ogilvy

What Paintings Say, 100 Masterpieces in Detail. By Rose-Marie and Rainer Hagen. Published by Taschen. 782pp. £12.08 hbk.