Library notes: Study not just art history, but the history of art itself

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 2, 2009

By Gretchen Beilfuss Witt
Rowan Public Library
Ever since reading Dan Brown’s books, “Angels and Demons” and “The Da Vinci Code,” I have been intrigued by the history behind pieces of art.
Whether sculpture, paintings or illuminated manuscripts, many have a long and interesting history, both of what is depicted in the object of art as well as the object itself.
In Jonathan Harr’s book, “The Lost Painting,” he sets the stage for a murder mystery. In vivid language, the image of an art expert and his pursuit of the works of Caravaggio propel us into the rest of the story.
The focus of the narrative shifts then to two women who track the specifics of the artwork done by the Italian Baroque artist Michelangelo Merisi Caravaggio. All manner of technology, X-ray machines, paint analysis, as well as scholarly research done in the basement archives of the noble descendents of Caravaggio’s patron Mattei, are used to follow the fate of the painting “The Taking of Christ.”
Discovering the whereabouts of the painting after hundreds of years and its near ruination at the hands of a restorer are as captivating as the wild accounts of Caravaggio’s life. Harr also provides a reader’s guide, making this an excellent selection for a book club.
Delving into other mysteries of art is “How to Read a Painting: Lessons From the Old Masters” by Patrick De Rynck. Modern audiences are not as well versed in the symbolism in older paintings and other art forms as contemporaries of the art would have been.
Drawing from classical Greek and Roman mythologies as well as Christian tradition, artists enriched the meaning of their work with flowers, animals, colors and objects ó dogs are symbols of fidelity, myrtle trees of eternal commitment, a fowler or bird-catcher indicated a womanizer, vivid green the color of despair.
Rynck’s text is beautifully illustrated with full paintings as well as close-ups showing details and describing their meanings. Along with the symbolism, artistic devices and developments are explained.
For instance, in the 1500s in northern Europe, a fusion of mythological figures in Christian religious art began to emerge. Charon, the ferryman from Greek mythology, carries souls in his boat while angels lead them to paradise. None of the traditional images of God or Christ expected in a religious painting are visible. This book provides a lovely tour to re-acquaint you with the great masters.
A third book that might catch your artistic sensibilities is Walker’s “The Feud that Sparked the Renaissance.” A competition to create the doors of the famous church of St. John the Baptist in Florence eventually forces two artists, the inexperienced Ghiberti and local goldsmith Brunelleschi to new heights of creativity. These two, along with pupils Donatello and Masaccio, lay “the groundwork for all who come after them, creating a new art.” Buona lettura.Computer classes: Classes are free. Sessions are 90 minutes long. Class size is limited and on a first-come, first-served basis. Dates and times are subject to change without notice.
Headquarters ó Thursday, 7 p.m., Absolute Beginners Computer Class; Sept. 14, 7 p.m., Absolute Beginners Access; Sept. 17, 2:30 p.m., Health Resources on the Web; Sept. 21, 7 p.m., Access: Beyond the Basics; Sept. 24, 2:30 p.m., Absolute Beginners Internet Searching.
South ó Thursday, 11 a.m., N.C. Live; Sept. 14, 7 p.m., E-Mail Class.
East ó Sept. 22, 7 p.m., Basic Windows.
Storytelling program: Sept. 17, 7 p.m., storyteller Jim Weiss will help celebrate the library’s 10th annual Stories by the Millstream Festival with a family storytelling program in the Stanback Auditorium at headquarters.
Children’s storytime: Sept. 14-Nov. 19, weekly story time. for more information, call 704-216-8234.
Headquarters ó Tiny Tots (infants-23 months), Wednesdays, 11 a.m.; Toddler Time (2 years), Tuesdays, 10:30 a.m.; Preschool Time (3-5-year-olds), Thursdays, 10:30 a.m.; Noodlehead (4-8 years), Thursdays, 4 p.m.
South ó Preschool Time, Mondays, 10:30 a.m.; Noodlehead, Mondays, 4 p.m.; Toddler Time, Wednesdays, 10:30 a.m.; Baby Time, Thursdays, 10:30 a.m.
East ó Toddler Time, Tuesdays, 10:30 a.m.; Preschool Time, Wednesdays, 10:30 a.m.; Baby Time, Thursdays, 11 a.m.
Teen program: Does your locker need some help? Come to the library to create a denim locker pocket or marble magnet. For information, call 704-216-8234. East, Sept. 21, 5:30-7 p.m.; South, Sept. 21, 5-6:30 p.m.; headquarters, Sept. 28, 5:30-7 p.m.
Tuesday Night at the Movies: All movies are at 6:30 p.m. All movies are rated G, PG or PG 13. Children should be accompanied by an adult. Free popcorn and lemonade.
Children of all ages will enjoy September’s movies celebrating the birthday of author Roald Dahl.Tuesday, “The BFG”; Sept. 15, “Witches; Sept. 22, “Matilda”; Sept. 29, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
Displays: Headquarters ó Hispanic Coalition and Blues and Jazz Festival; South ó Hispanic heritage by Suzanne White. East ó Girl Scout troop.Literacy: Call the Rowan County Literacy Council at 704-216-8266 for more information on teaching or receiving literacy tutoring for English speakers or for those for whom English is a second language.