Massive books in my living room that could pass for furniture:
CHURCHES AND CATHEDRALS OF LONDON by Stephen Humphrey & James Morris (Foreword by Andrew Lloyd Webber)
MILTON’S PARADISE LOST/Illus. by Gustave Dore
THE MUSEE D’ORSAY by Alexandra Bonfante-Warren
Sadly, these books are out of print (at least by Amazon.com’s reckoning), but they are probably available through eBay.
The first two I found on the sale display at our local bookstore. Churches&Cathedrals I got for my birthday from a dear friend. C&CoL has very good quality color photos. There’s plenty of wide shots and close-ups of details. Good, tight writing. Even the table of contents is full of photos. I like the page design. Several of the pages have the left edge run in 2-color (cyan, black) and contain extra interesting bits of information. Every photo has something wonderful in it: art, architecture, craftsmanship. I’ve been to Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s, so the pictures pulled memories out of me. I could feel the memories being drawn out of me. I desperately want to go back to England.
PARADISE LOST — first of all, gorgeous cover. Then there’s the words! So perfectly crafted. Such magnificent verbal architecture. The illustrations are by Gustave Dore, one of the most acclaimed and in-demand illustrators of books in the 1800s. I love all the place names Milton mentions. Cronian Sea, Delos, Petsora, Cathaian Sea — names so ancient that they resonate to the vibration of passing time. He even mentions astronomy, describing the alignment of the earth to set up seasons. Mythology, astronomy, geography, the origins of Biblical history — all conjoined to map the spiritual history of man on earth. Is there a combination of words more woebegotten than "paradise lost"? "Paradise": the best of all possible worlds. The zenith of contentment. "Lost": sunken into despair, heartbroken, wretched from knowing what we had and the pain of realizing our own foolishness cost us that zenith. One of the best titles ever.
MUSEE D’ORSAY: Truthfully, I’m indifferent to the Impressionists. I can admire and appreciate the talent and creativity and all that, but at the end of the day, I’d rather hang with the German Romantics and the Northern Europeans. The closest I’ve come to "liking" Impressionist-type art is El Greco. He’s not an Impressionist, but you must admit, some of his work, like View of Toledo, has a lot in common with Turner, Monet, or Renoir, even Gaugin. The book itself is grand. Big. Heavy. It’s a serving tray. The best way to display this book is laid open on a sturdy music stand. All color plates. This book, as well as the museum it honors, is an impressive catalogue of Impressionist art, early photography and reader-friendly design. Most paintings have easy-to-read captions. Caveat: captions tend to be loaded down with jargon. Personally, I don’t mind. I keep a dictionary handy.