One-Minute Book Reviews

July 22, 2008

‘How to Read a Painting’ – Why Do You See Columns in the ‘Mona Lisa’?

Filed under: Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:12 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Quiz time, art lovers:

1. Why do you see a hint of columns on the far right and left in the Mona Lisa?
2. Where in The Last Supper do you find Judas knocking over the salt?
3. Why does the man stand next to the window and the woman away from it in Giovanni Arnofini and His Wife (sometimes called The Marriage of the Arnolfini)?

Patrick De Rynck deals with these and other questions in his How to Read a Painting: Lessons From the Old Masters (Abrams, 2004), an excellent collection of analyses of more than 100 great paintings, each shown on a two-page spread with callouts that highlight some of its interesting aspects. Many good books for children or adults take a similar approach to art, but this is the best I’ve found in more than a decade of keeping an eye on the category. I’ll have answers to the art quiz later this week and more on How to Read a Painting soon.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.


  1. thanks, Jan. Sounds like the sort of thing I should know/should have learned but would love to have answered outright in such a book. And like the idea of the callouts. I have trouble applying myself to onion-skin reference-type pages to glean info and this could be right up my sometimes short attention span alley!

    Comment by oh — July 22, 2008 @ 8:13 pm | Reply

  2. You’re very welcome. The title of “How to Read a Painting” is quite accurate — the book deals with the story told by each painting and tends to discuss technique only as it relates to that narrative. So it’s very well-focused in addition to its other virtues.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — July 23, 2008 @ 1:47 am | Reply

  3. Another book I might have missed altogether without your keen eye and amazing work ethic!

    I live close to the Ringling Art Museum and visit often, always eager to learn more; this book is no doubt the sort that will allow me to pick up new insights within the tiny spaces left in my life for such pursuits.

    Thank you.

    Comment by ggelliott — July 23, 2008 @ 10:55 pm | Reply

  4. Thank you, GG … another post with excellent timing. We had another near-catastrophe here yesterday: A storm bad enough that trains stopped running, a building three doors from mine got hit by lightning and Internet service was disrupted.

    As soon as I can take a deep breath, I am going to do a post that relates this to literature …

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — July 24, 2008 @ 4:31 pm | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: