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The Finger: A Handbook [NOOK Book]



In this collision between art and science, history and pop culture, the acclaimed art historian Angus Trumble examines the finger from every possible angle. His inquiries into its representation in art take us from Buddhist statues in Kyoto to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, from cave art to Picasso’s Guernica, from Van Dyck’s and Rubens’s winning ways with ...
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The Finger: A Handbook

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In this collision between art and science, history and pop culture, the acclaimed art historian Angus Trumble examines the finger from every possible angle. His inquiries into its representation in art take us from Buddhist statues in Kyoto to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, from cave art to Picasso’s Guernica, from Van Dyck’s and Rubens’s winning ways with gloves to the longstanding French taste for tapering digits. But Trumble also asks intriguing questions about the finger in general: How do fingers work, and why do most of us have five on each hand? Why do we bite our nails?

This witty, odd, and fascinating book is filled with diverse anecdotes about the silent language of gesture, the game of love, the spinning of balls, superstitions relating to the severed fingers of thieves, and systems of computation that were used on wharves and in shops, markets, granaries, and warehouses throughout the ancient Roman world. Side by side with historical discussions of rings and gloves and nail polish are meditations on the finger’s essential role in writing, speech, sports, crime, law, sex, worhsip, memory, scratching politely at eighteenth-century French doors (instead of crudely knocking), or merely satisfying an itch—and, of course, in the eponymous show of contempt.

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Editorial Reviews

Troy Jollimore
On the whole, The Finger is a deft, enjoyable and often provocative investigation into some overlooked and interrelated aspects of human experience.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Trumble (A Brief History of the Smile), curator of paintings and sculpture at the Yale Center for British Art, blends art history, anatomy, and etymology in this analysis of finger lore that originated as a lecture to Australian orthopedic surgeons. Contrary to the OED, Trumble contends that the thumb is a finger. In the fraught world of human relationships, he says, the handshake is indispensable, and a proper one must include “the enclosing clasp of the thumb.” Queen Elizabeth I owned hundreds of pairs of gloves and gave gloves as gifts in a sophisticated diplomatic game; in portraying his right hand expensively gloved in a self-portrait, Rubens was affirming his rank; and Eleanor Roosevelt was the first first lady to wear colored nail polish. Trumble enumerates the necessities of fingers: they are indispensable in playing the violin and in sex; ancient Romans could count to one million using their 10 digits; babies' discovery of pointing with the index finger as a means of getting attention seems partly innate. This prodigiously researched work offers many gold nuggets of wisdom to a rarefied audience, though it's verbose and esoteric in the extreme. 22 b&w illus. (May)
Kirkus Reviews
Museum curator Trumble (A Brief History of the Smile, 2004) renders an adept cultural tour of our fingers. This "handbook" is not meant to be exhaustive, but rather, "in the manner of a trusty coastal lighthouse, it is intended to cast a revolving beam across a surprisingly complicated fingerscape, the particularities of which should make possible further navigation." That sentence captures the author's pleasantly antique tone. When he delves into physiology, it's never a dry anatomy lesson: "the lower row of carpals serves to bring about the miraculous transition from that beautiful wrist to the elegant baroque palace of the hand" Trumble periodically returns to fingers as anatomy, but his primary focus is the finger as a social being. He dives into the many religious affiliations, including the Sistine Chapel (the finger of God), the hand gestures of benediction, Jesus scribbling a runic something in the dirt during the tale of the adulterous woman, the many hand/finger movements associated with Buddhist and Hindu dance and meditation and the hand-signing of silent Trappist orders. Trumble also looks at the finger in relation to the economy-how numbering to the power of ten "originated with what our distant ancestors found at their fingertips," the use of finger-counting in Roman transactions and the grisly act of finger-lopping that literally put the overextended merchant out of business. The author covers gloves in matters of diplomacy, class and honor. As gloves fell from fashion, enter nail polish, that "moist dash of intense color." Last but certainly not least, Trumble examines the "ubiquitous gesture of defiance and contempt," the bird, the "digitus infamis." The author givesthese topics-and many more-full treatment, each emerging as a colorful vignette. Intelligent, passionate and amusing-though Trumble's old-fashioned voice may not appeal to some readers. Agent: Peter McGuigan/Foundry Literary + Media
The Barnes & Noble Review

Despite our species' epochal shift away from manual work, in a digital age the finger finds itself as important as ever. Even as palms, wrists, and forearms recede into doughy disuse, the finger's role touches upon not only the world of objects, but information as well. The devices by which we come to grips with the world demand ever-more sophisticated grammars of pettings, rubbings, and fingerings; gesture, perhaps the most ancient form of human communication, achieves a kind of apotheosis by way of keyboard and touchscreen.

But fingers have always fascinated and repelled us, according to Angus Trumble, whose The Finger: A Handbook is a dazzling glossary of digital significance. Curator of Paintings and Sculpture at Yale's Center for British Art, Trumble brings the eye of an art historian to bear on the "cathedral of the hand," describing manual anatomy in breezy and breathtaking detail. The esoteric systems of finger-based calculation employed by Roman merchants, Trumble avers, may be due for a revival in an era when economic rudiments seem to have slipped our grasp. He somewhat casually brushes aside the history of sign languages, which were developed by silent medieval monks as well as by the deaf (a detour into the history of Braille here seems an uncharacteristic slip in this otherwise-dexterous book).

Trumble's meditations on the divine and creative importance of finger imagery, on the other hand, are subtle and thought-provoking. Fingers have long shaped and signaled elemental forces of nature and religion: the mudras of the East are yogic gestures frequently seen in images of the Buddha and Indian deities; the finger of Yahweh both kills and creates; and the benedictory digit of Jesus scribbles enigmatic lessons in the dirt. Trumble's examination of the history of gloves and painted fingernails, of hands at play and at war, and of the lonely career of the thumb, likewise are never less than engaging.

But it's when he turns to the hands of artists -- both as subjects and organs of image-making activity -- that Trumble gestures towards the poignant. In Rembrandt's The Anatomy of Dr. Nicolaes Pulp (1632), the doctor indicates the tendons of the forearm while making a circle with his own thumb and forefinger -- a gesture which I had always taken as a sort of professorial mudra, but which Trumble explains is the very motion which the indicated tendons make possible. Rembrandt's clear-eyed portrayal of this anatomy -- the fragile machinery of his own craft -- is in Trumble's telling a nervy look into the wriggling, carnal roots of artistic creation. Those same tendons also play a memorable cameo role in Michaelangelo's depiction of creation on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, where God's forearm flexes while an arc, invisible and energetic, bridges the synaptic gap between his and Adam's outstretched digits. For Trumble, these artist's fingers are uncanny reminders that we never reach out to one another without effort. As our smudged touchscreens attest, to make contact we must risk dirtying our hands.

--Matthew Battles

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429945615
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 5/11/2010
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Angus Trumble is the youngest of four brothers and was born and raised in Victoria, Australia. He is a graduate of the University of Melbourne, and of New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts, where he was a Fulbright Scholar in 1994–95. From 1996 to 2001 he was Curator of European Art at the Art Gallery of South Australia in Adelaide, and since 2003 has been Senior Curator of Paintings and Sculpture at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut.
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