I read cozy and historical mysteries, a bit of Paranormal/UF, and to mix it up, I read science and gardening books on occasion.
This is a beautifully made book; one that feels lovely in the hands and it's a pleasure to leaf through the pages and admire the art.
I just shouldn't have read it.
1. I was expecting a different premise based on the synopsis I read. I had the impression that this would be a collection of art anecdotally tied to the strides women have made throughout history as it relates to the time period each piece was created. That misconception is on me.
2. The sum total of my knowledge about art is limited to recognising the work of a 'top 10' master when I see it. I'm not sure it goes much further than that. That too, is on me.
With those two points in mind, I was disappointed by this book; I was hoping to learn something about the artists, about what was going on with women when these pieces were created, or what effect books and spreading literacy was having on society in general. Instead, I learned - or was reminded, really - what a pretentious prat sounds like.
I almost didn't include that last line in this review, because it feels fundamentally unfair: I don't know this writer, I don't know that he's a pretentious prat. Perhaps he's regurgitating what is considered canon in the the art world. Maybe he has primary source material that backs up the assertions he makes about the paintings he includes. It might even be a bad translation - it was originally written in German.
All I have to go by is what I'm reading on the page and my interpretation is totally and completely subjective.
BUT - so is art. it's possible it's the most subjective of all mediums, and Bollman delivers his opinions as though they were objective fact. On page after page he tells the reader what they're seeing: from the emotions on the faces of the subjects to the meaning of trivial objects in the backgrounds. He offers no explanation for his interpretations, almost no background information about the painters themselves and nothing about the society they were written in. Any of these things would have made his narrative more palatable, more educational, and given the reader more to consider while studying the pieces. Instead, he just tells us what we're meant to think.
So, I figure, if he can look at a painting and tell me what it means, I can read his words and tell him he sounds like a pretentious prat, and we'll call it even.