The Golden Age of Chinese Archaeology: Celebrated Discoveries from the People's Republic of China, edited by Xiaoneng Yang (Yale, $75). Until Jan. 2, 2000, Washingtonians have the rare privilege of viewing an unprecedented collection of archaeological discoveries that have altered contemporary notions about the development of art and culture in ancient China. The volume under review is the catalog that accompanies that exhibition, and in it a thrilling litany of evidence displays the ways we should rethink China. The flowering of Chinese art did not occur, as previously thought, in the confined area of the Yellow River Valley. It began in 5000 BCE and proceeded apace until the 10th century CE, over a vast area from Xiaotun to Qingzhou. In exquisitely rendered photographs of jade, pottery, bronze, lacquer, stone, ivory and bone, the catalog displays hints of later cultures -- Egyptian, Inca, Aztec, Indian, African -- that are presaged here in remarkable ways. Most impressive, however, is the First Emperor's underground army, a wondrous display of 7,000 life-size terra-cotta statues of officers, footsoldiers, archers, charioteers and horses, emerging through trenches of clay. -- M.A.
The Eye of Duncan Phillips: A Collection in the Making, edited by Erika D. Passantino (Phillips Collection/Yale, $85). For a time Duncan Phillips envisaged the museum he intended to establish in memory of his father and brother as a full-dress goliath, "an American Prado," one more example of what critic Robert Hughes calls, in an essay contributed to this volume, "the great encyclopedic museums of America." Happily, he had a second thought: a smaller, non-grandiose edifice, with a domestic rather than an institutional feel. According to another essayist, George Heard Hamilton, Phillips "bought what he liked, not what he persuaded himself to think was good." This trait, too, has carried over into the Phillips Collection, which seems to represent one man's taste rather than some collegial canon. This strapping book traces the roots of Phillips's sensibility to such iconoclasts as Giorgione and El Greco (Phillips called the latter "the first `expressionist' in art"), both of whom are represented in the museum, and brings it forward to works acquired after Phillips's death in 1966, such as Washington artist Sam Gilliam's "Red Petals," an acrylic that seems to capture every conceivable shade of red. -- D.D.
Joseph Cornell: Stargazing in the Cinema, by Jodi Hauptman (Yale, $40). Joseph Cornell's distinctive "Box-constructions" are among the most magical achievements of modern American art. Bringing together old illustrations, dimestore toys, bits of costume jewelry, fragments of mirror and glass, scraps from the past, contemporary kitsch, all manner of "found objects," Cornell created evocative little worlds, both "surrealist and historic" in Jodi Hauptman's view. Hauptman, an assistant professor of art history at the University of Delaware, focuses in this volume on a small group of Cornell's works that reflect his fascination with movies -- including his "portrait-homages" to actresses Hedy Lamarr, Lauren Bacall, Jennifer Jones, Greta Garbo and Marilyn Monroe. This is a very attractive volume with excellent color photos placed next to the relevant sections of the text. The text, unfortunately, is less appealing -- perhaps reflecting the book's origins as a doctoral dissertation. -- N.K.
The Stone Carvers: Master Craftsmen of Washington National Cathedral, by Marjorie Hunt (Smithsonian, $27.95). Is there a sight so stirring, American, yet evocative of a different time and world, as that of the National Cathedral? Seen from afar, it is a singular body of stone in a city that favors a secular sense of the aesthetic. Seen from a closer vantage, it is a marvel of intricate carving. This volume tells the story of two master stone carvers, Roger Morigi and Vincent Palumbo, who emigrated from small villages in Italy to complete the painstaking work of fashioning gargoyles, saints and angels from massive boulders of rock. Morigi died in 1995 at the age of 87, but Palumbo is still at work and describes stone carving as "the oldest trade in the world" -- after all, God Himself sent Moses down the mountain with a tablet of carved stone. -- M.A.
Millais: Portraits, by Peter Funnell, Malcolm Warner, et al. (Princeton, $65 hardcover; $35 paperback). Though John Everett Millais may now be best-known for his pre-Raphaelite narrative paintings (especially that of Ophelia drifting among flowers), he was in later life the pre-eminent portrait painter of his generation. His portraits and his reputation for "English manliness" brought him fame, fortune and social position. All well deserved, for his portraits with their characteristic dark backgrounds, are both lush in detail and rich in personality. (His images of children, on the other hand, verge on the sickly sweet. Among his distinguished subjects: prime ministers Gladstone, Disraeli, Salisbury and Rosebery; writers Tennyson, Carlyle, Wilkie Collins, Ruskin and Cardinal Newman. This book, which includes essays by Millais scholars, was published in collaboration with the National Portrait Gallery, London. -- N.K.
Georgia O'Keeffe: Catalogue Raisonne, by Barbara Buhler Lynes (Yale, $195, 2 Volumes). Even casual observers of art have some idea who Georgia O'Keeffe was, and most of those ideas are accurate if incomplete: muse and model of modernist pioneer Alfred Stieglitz, gifted watercolorist, creator of magnificent landscapes and erotic flower studies, durable role model for a generation of emergent women artists. In this catalogue raisonne, which contains more than 2,000 works, the O'Keeffe Foundation and the National Gallery of Art have attempted to bring every aspect of O'Keeffe's persona into clear focus. Barbara Buhler Lynes, curator of the O'Keeffe Museum and author of the catalogue, notes that the artist "took inspiration from what she saw or had around her at any point in her career." The artist is quoted saying as much herself: "I have picked flowers where I found them -- Have picked up sea shells and rocks and pieces of wood where there were sea shells and rocks and pieces of wood that I liked. //When I found the beautiful white bones on the desert /I picked them up and took them home too/ I have used these things to say what is to me/ the wideness and the wonder of the world as I live in it."
Many of O'Keeffe's images have been reduced to fit on the large-format pages, but even in such confines the sheer, majestic expansiveness that she captured so capably is readily apparent. In the "Sky Above Clouds" series, for instance, readers will appreciate the ease with which O'Keeffe's soft, irregular clouds stretch, float and fade into a soft, enveloping mist. The artist's flowers and skulls are faithfully reproduced here, and many are complex and evocative enough to get lost in. The cityscapes -- including one of New York at night as seen from O'Keeffe's hotel apartment -- offer a fresh view of an artist many associate with the light-and-land portraits of New Mexico's great outdoors. -- J.A.
#Great Art Treasures of the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, 2 vols. (Abrams, $195). Russia's Catherine the Great is known for many things -- for her German blood, for her marriage to her cousin at the tender age of 15, for being banished to a separate household when he was made tsar, for enlisting the Russian army to overthrow him, for controlling an unruly nation in belligerent times -- but few know that it was Catherine II who founded one of the most extraordinary art collections in the world, the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. On the banks of the Neva River, in 350 rooms that include the Winter Palace -- the very rooms Catherine inhabited -- the museum contains some three million magnificent objects, all displayed to breathtaking effect in this lavish two-volume set. In acquiring the initial collection of 18th century Western European paintings, the empress took advice from French intellectuals and Russian diplomats.
Quickly broadening the scope, the museum intensified its pace of acquisition until it rivaled the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the British Museum. This is a spectacular display of the Hermitage's holdings, from ancient Byzantine jewelry to Greek and Egyptian statuary to stunning art works from India, China, Russia, Japan. The European collection is lovely, too, with little-seen pieces by Matisse, Cezanne, Van Gogh and Gaugin. -- M.A.
Gothic: Architecture, Sculpture, Painting, edited by Rolf Toman (Konemann, $39.95). For most of us, the term gothic conjures up a mix of images, the dominant one being that of a cathedral. Gothic: Architecture, Sculpture, Painting gives a grand, richly illustrated narrative of the history of the Gothic style from its emergence in 12th-century French cathedral building to its later, secular forms. Essays delve into the spread of the Gothic style into neighboring countries and its proliferation in other aspects of cathedral decoration: sculpture, iridescent windows, book illuminations and wall paintings. Medieval Christianity's influence over every aspect of people's lives is echoed in the cathedral as town center, affecting the urban development around it in layout and building styles. -- C.S.
#James Tissot: A Victorian Life/Modern Love, by Nancy Marshall and Malcolm Warner (Yale, $45). In this catalogue for an exhibition they curated at Yale, art historians Marshall and Warner have produced a lively and well-written portrait of a complex painter and his times. French by birth, Tissot anglicized his first name (from Jacques-Joseph) and spent many years in London where he appeared to enjoy the role of the aloof dandy. His paintings, mostly of the London social scene have, in the lush details of their surfaces, much in common with those of the Pre-Raphaelites, but Tissot's works possess an edginess and an irony alien to most of these worthies. He had an eye for social absurdity, for the pretensions and hypocrisy of the British middle class, and an awareness of the sexual tensions lurking beneath their most respectable pursuits. In short, he had a sense of humor.
Rogier van der Weyden, by Dirk De Vos (Abrams, $145). Taking an unusual and eminently successful approach to one of the most studied and disputed artists of the 15th century Flemish school, Dirk De Vos begins his monumental (and, in this case, it is not too grand a word to use) book on Rogier van der Weyden with an extended chapter on van der Weyden's masterpiece, the "Descent from the Cross" in the Prado Museum. It is, he says, "a creation that transcends time-bound conventions, Epicurean sheen or theological schemes, a painting that seems to be made in one piece . . . an absolute masterpiece." Examining this unforgettable work along with other well-established works, De Vos leaves nothing unattended. He acknowledges all significant scholarly quarrels (such as: was the great "Descent" by his teacher Robert Campin or the putative Maitre de Flemalle?), argues persuasively in each instance, details van der Weyden's documented history, describes the system of the guilds, and probes the circumstances that brought van der Weyden from his native Tournai to Brussels, where he immediately assumed great importance as painter to the city. In addition, De Vos sheds new light on many aspects of van der Weyden's working life, and evaluates certain events, such as his 1450 journey to Italy where he was apparently already well known and treated as an important visitor, and where he possibly studied Fra Angelico's mysterious wall paintings in the cells of the monastery of San Marco.
Anyone who has seen van der Weyden's masterpieces in the United States, such as "Portait of a Lady" in Washington's National Gallery, and the "Diptych of the Crucifixion" in the Philadelphia Museum, would want to know everything possible about such an intensely expressive artist, and De Vos is by far the most gratifying author. Of the "Diptych," with its amazing brick wall and fiery red hanging cloths, De Vos not only discusses the unique composition, but acknowledges its appeal to modern sensibility in its "extremely stylised, severe and sharply outlined forms, [and] the extreme reduction of the narrative element." This book, with its splendid reproductions, is everything an art book should be: exhaustive, precise, passionate and wide-ranging.
-- Dore Ashton, author of more than 20 books about art.