New Getty Releases

BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

The Getty has released four new titles which would make ideal presents for any booklover. Two are large, copiously illustrated works. THE GREAT EMPIRES OF THE ANCIENT WORLD was put together by a team of internationally renowned scholars who contributed essays on the major imperial powers, from 1600 b.c. to a.d. 500. Such empires as Egypt, Rome, Babylonia, Persia, India and China are depicted and dissected.

Among the highlights are character studies of such once-godlike rulers as Thutmose and Rameses of Egypt; the Roman Emperor Augustus, who nearly conquered the entire world; and the First Emperor of China, who sincerely thought he would live forever.

The artworks and architectural achievements of these autocrats come to life in the book's 288 pages (220 color and 80 b&w illustrations). Attention is also paid to the influence ancient civilizations still have on us today.

IRVING PENN: SMALL TRADES has been published by the Getty in conjunction with the recent exhibition of the photographer's work at the Museum. Penn (b. 1917) is one of America's most successful modern photographers. Best known for his portraits, still-lifes and fashion photography, his career has spanned seven decades.

Penn began the SMALL TRADES series in Paris fifty years ago and continued it in London and New York. He invited working-class men and women to pose for him in his studio, wearing exactly what they did on the job and carrying the tools of their trade. The book's 259 tritone photographs are aesthetic and social masterpieces which reveal the subjects' hidden qualities in subtle, unobtrusive ways. Penn was a magician with the camera; he composed his still-lifes like a painter and gave dignity and beauty to each portrait.

The British Museum owns a hundred drawings attributed to the famed Dutch artist, Rembrandt, along with the richest collection of his prints in the world. Hilary Williams, a curator at the BM, has mined the collection for a small book of prints which the Getty has just released in the USA.

REMBRANDT ON PAPER offers handsomely reproduced samples of the artist's portraiture, bible scenes, landscapes and other works. Williams, in an introduction to the book, comments on each of the Rembrandt selections in brief but pithy fashion. Here is what she says, for example, about Six's Bridge: "This famous etching has a wonderfully sketchy quality for a print that has been inscribed onto a copper plate. It has the sense of having been sketched directly and quickly into the plate in the open air, in front of the subject. The speed and immediacy is conveyed through the looped strokes of the foliage in the trees on the left and the grass on the right. A story...tells how Jan Six bet Rembrandt that the artist could not make the print in the time it took for someone to fetch a pot of mustard from the local village."

Williams' REMBRANDT ON PAPER provides a splendid introduction to the work of one of the greatest artists in European history. (96 pages, 54 color illustrations).

Another nifty Getty book is IRISES: VINCENT VAN GOGH IN THE GARDEN. The author is Jennifer Helvey, who was assistant curator of paintings at the Getty from 1996-2001. She not only analyzes Van Gogh's Irises, one of his most striking and famous paintings, but discusses the circumstances under which it was created.

Van Gogh painted Irises in the final year of his life in the garden of the asylum at Saint-Remy, where he was being treated for schizophrenia. Irises were in full bloom then, which is why he picked them as his subject. Although he considered the painting more a study than a finished picture, his brother Theo submitted it to the Salon des Independants in September 1889. As Helvey notes, "Its energy and theme--the regenerative power of the earth--express the artist's deeply held belief in the divinity of art and nature."

Getty Publications (800-223-3431).