The Great Gift of Uffizi Art, All in a Little Book

This is just one of the many Italian Renaissance masterpieces in the Uffizi Museum in Florence.

Grace and lucidity, tinged with melancholy, mark Botticelli's work. The contours of this painter's figures, classical in inspiration and feeling, are located with immaculate precision. He is one reason Florentine artists generally came to be described as supreme draftsmen, while Venetians were painterly colorists. Even in Florentine terms, Botticelli is a wondrous delineator. Yet his obsession with line, potentially stultifying in other hands, becomes a musical interplay of answering movements, full of life. His incisiveness is also alleviated by an infusion of crystalline light and an idealized tenderness.

This Botticelli is from "Treasures of the Uffizi" (Abbeville Press, 144 pp., $35), a slender book with a surprising number of color plates. A pictorial introduction to the museum, its text (no named author) is mercifully unpretentious though too slight for its complex subject, touching on few of the paintings shown. It sometimes puzzlingly discusses paintings that are not illustrated.

Some plates are too small - the large Portinari Altarpiece of Hugo van der Goes, for example. By this latter, non-Italian part of the book the text is beginning to flag. All it manages about Chardin's paintings is that they "give a sense of the heights reached by French artists during the 18th century."

Well, probably better to just look at the plates. Or plan a trip to Florence with this nice book in your bag.

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