By Timothy Wilson-Smith

I haven’t seen many paintings by Caravaggio in museums; but then, I haven’t been around much, I tend to go to the same places again and again, like the Frans Hals museum in Haarlem or the Stedelijk Museum in Zwolle, seeing the same paintings again and again.

Still, Caravaggio repays study, as much nowadays, as for his Dutch pupils, in the seventeenth century. He was the master of light; but as this catalogue makes clear, he was a dark master of light, a man who would be diagnosed with a mental disorder nowadays and not be allowed near anything stronger than water colours on a piece of wet paper.

This Phaidon Golden Library edition was quite cheap; and the reproductions are a bit grainy. The accompanying text isn’t all that great, either. But it’s a very useful introduction all the same.

(I just remember that I’ve bought and used a lot of other art books in the past year, too, varying from a book on Flemish paintings in the United states to a book on the process of converting a drawing into a painting (in French, no less), and a book on art in the National Museum in Washington; I should do a notice on them, if only for my bookkeeping, but I probably won’t.)

Het Nederlandse stilleven 1550-1720

When we came back from a visit to the Prinsenhof in Delft, I made a resolution that I would learn about the art of still-life. I want to be able to paint a lemon like Willem Heda… You can buy reproductions, in real oils, for instance of:

at Art Unframed. I believe they do prints,too. But that doesn’t really satisfy: I want to know how to do it myself. One think I’ve already noticed is that a lemon doesn’t stay fresh for long enough to paint from life; oils dry slowly, and lemons go bad quickly… Indeed, in this book, published for a special exhibition, there are several completely mouldy lemons to be seen on paintings. Apparently those painters weren’t quick enough either.

It’s a pity that this book doesn’t say much about the technique of painting. Instead, some paintings are described in excruciating detail. Look, I can see there’s a lemon on that painting. No need to tell me. Better tell me how to paint that lemon… But other articles are more interesting. It’s easy to lose oneself in the biographies of painters or the symbolism of herring, beer and bread. And the colour reproductions are first class.