A tribute to a neglected Venetian painter.
Talented writers are able to share their complete joy or fascination with their subjects and make readers love them as much as they do. Morris (Contact!: A Book of Encounters, 2010, etc.) is an undeniably talented writer, and she has loved the 15th-century Venetian artist Vittore Carpaccio (1460-1520) for years, when many others ignored him. In this brief yet entertaining book, she introduces us to a man she has held in close affection. The author draws our attention to richly presented details in the midst of his uncomplicated work: Carpaccio’s Dog, a fluffy, scruffy mutt; his turban, so exquisitely twirled around a red cap; and his buildings, rendered in the half-imagined style of a man who never traveled. However, Carpaccio compensated for his lack of exposure to various architectures, animals and peoples in his notebooks, in which he copied images of faces, figures and buildings from other artists, along the way developing his own purposeful symbolism. The excitement of finding a little bird in a shrub in the background of a painting sets Morris off to show us the power of Carpaccio’s work, especially his paintings of the Ursula Cycle and the Jerome Cycle, still in situ in the Venice institutions that commissioned them. The simplicity of this book reflects the artist’s easy, unforced style in both narrative and painting. The figures in Carpaccio’s paintings are plain, straightforward folk set in scenes the viewer can easily relate to. The illustrations of the painter’s works, shown both in their entirety and in sections, are edifying—if only the book were in a larger format.
Nothing is quite as wonderful as reading about something the author so clearly, manifestly adores and wishes only to share her delight with us.