Beginning with a fragment of yellow jasper – all that is left of the face of an Egyptian woman who lived 3,500 years ago, more enigmatic even than the Mona Lisa – this book confronts the elusive questions: how, and why, do we look at art?
Philippe de Montebello, Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for thirty-one years (1977-2008), and the art critic Martin Gayford talked in art galleries, churches and museums, and their book is structured around their journeys. But whether they were in the Louvre or the Prado, the Mauritshuis or the Palazzo Pitti, they reveal the pleasures of truly looking at works of art – as well as some of the pitfalls.
This is neither a work of art history nor of criticism – though it touches on aspects of both. Nor is it a conventional travel book, though to write it the authors met on two continents and in six countries. Always their destination was some outstanding collection or individual work of art, and the resulting discussion started from what they saw. The result is highly unusual and very personal: a book about what it feels like to experience pictures and sculptures.
Both men convey, with subtlety and brilliance, the delights and significance of their subject matter – some of the greatest creations of human beings through our long history.