Albums of classical art approach art themselves; The Etruscans, by Maja Sprenger and Gilda Bartoloni. New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc. 471 pp. $85. Greek Monumental Bronze Sculpture, text by Caroline Houser, photographs by David Finn. New York: The Vendome Press. 128 pp. $35.
If you can afford art albums and are a connoisseur of ancient Greek and Roman art, each of these two books would make an interesting addition to your collection.Skip to next paragraph
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''The Etruscans'' and ''The Greek Monumental Bronze Sculpture'' are almost art objects themselves - luxury editions with high-quality photos and explanations. Since the text in picture albums is to the illustrations what music in the ballet is to the movement, the text does matter; and the difference between these two books is a difference of text.
''The Etruscans'' is an encyclopedia of this somewhat mysterious ancient tribe which inhabited the territory of Tuscana in the first millennium BC. Illustrations are arranged in a strictly chronological order followed by detailed descriptions and references. A thoroughly researched, definitive article discussing Etruscan history, language, script, mythology, and art precedes the plates.
Justice is done to the Etruscans as artists, and the book provides valuable proof of the worth of their art - often perceived exclusively as a predecessor of the art of ancient Rome. The choice of plates - including excellent examples of monumental painting, architecture, decorative and applied arts, and free-standing sculpture - demonstrates how much more there is to Etruscan art than the well-known vessels and tomb sculptures.
''The Greek Monumental Bronze Sculpture'' is a more personal, less objective work. An introduction by Caroline Houser gives perspective to the sculptural medium and to the works reproduced in the book. The plates are arranged according to their geographical location, not chronologically. There is a logic to this arrangement, for sculptures in Greece were an integral part of landscape and architectural ensembles. Yet the reader may be confused by the arrangement: Early harmonious classical images full of self-sufficient serenity precede archaic faces with their ornamental geometry and enigmatic smiles. The latter are then followed by more personal and passionate sculptures of the Hellenistic period - a time of doubt and reflection.
Author Houser provides short articles on the discovery and history of every sculpture. The analysis is sometimes more emotional than scholarly. But the choice of sculptures, most of which are well known and are photographed from several points of view and in great detail, provide the reader with a good general feeling of the art of classical Greece.
Even such misinterpreted masterpieces as the bronze sculptures of the Acropolis and ''The Delphi Charioteer,'' whose cast copies and unexciting reproductions bore an art lover in many museums and textbooks, breathe a new life in David Finn's photographs.