When this first landed on the mat, I wondered why the publisher had sent to me. Looking at it, I can answer that (it is an art book), but it begs another question: just who is it aimed at?
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the book. It’s a nice handy guide to classical figures with some useful reproductions of later paintings and sculptures thrown in and I can see it doing quite nicely in any museum shop. It feels good in the hand (a quality all too often overlooked, but one which influences the impulse purchaser more than is always recognised) and it rather neatly staples together two areas that people tend to go to museums and galleries to see. And a great deal of Old Master works do have classical themes.
The book is arranged as list of 100 classical characters, each of whom gets one or two pages of explanation of who they are and their place in mythology together with a painting and a quick family tree. It’s very neatly done, but I’m still not quite sure why it was done. There are other guides to classical mythology and there are more comprehensive and larger-format guides to the world’s great works of art. The blurb suggests that it’s “an ideal reference tool for art historians looking the further their understanding of the mythological background of much of Western art”, but the problem is that, in a relatively small format and at only 160 pages, it’s surely aimed much more at the casual reader than the specialist.
Like I said, it’ll probably do very well in museum and gallery shops and it’s as good a point to start as anywhere else and its quirky approach might appeal, too. Just not to me.