If you can’t make it to the Vatican this Christmas and would like to immerse yourself in its remarkable art collection, a sumptuous new book escorts you — with up-close detail and knowledgeable commentary — through the Vatican’s many museums, palaces and St. Peter’s Basilica. “The Vatican: All the Paintings” not only features every Old Master painting on display but also explores the Vatican’s statues, architecture and gardens. The book is encyclopedic — each work is catalogued by artist, date, medium, size — and designed for the armchair tourist, complete with a map of the various museums and chapters that take you into them. For instance, the book’s guide, art historian Anja Grebe, leads you through the private chambers — also known as the Borgia Apartments — of Pope Alexander VI, who reigned from 1492 until his death in 1503, explaining the historical and cultural significance of these rooms, which “are among the most extensively frescoed suites in the papal palace.” The reproductions in this coffee-table book are exquisite. A DVD-ROM duplicates all the images and, for the serious student, has a search capability. “Walking through the Vatican, or turning these pages, we get an incomparable lesson in the history of art,” Ross King, author of “Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling,” writes in an introduction. “But we also receive a profound impression of the skill and passion of the artists, and of their wonderful ‘force of mind.’ ”
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