The Mirror of the Gods: How Renaissance Artists Rediscovered the Pagan Gods

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By the end of the 15th century, the remains of the ancient gods littered the landscape of Western Europe. Christianity had erased the religions of ancient Greece and Rome and most Europeans believed the destruction of classical art was God's judgment on the pagan deities. How, then, did European artists during the next three centuries create such monumental works as Botticelli's The Birth of Venus and Raphael's Parnassus?
In The Mirror of the Gods, Malcolm Bull tells the revolutionary story of how the great artists of Western Europe—from Botticelli and Leonardo to Titian and Rubens—revived the gods of ancient Greece and Rome. Each chapter focuses on a different deity and sheds dazzling new light on such familiar figures as Venus, Hercules, and Bacchus. Bull draws on hundreds of illustrations to illuminate the ancient myths through the eyes of Renaissance and Baroque artists, not as they appear in classical literature. When the wealthy and powerful princes of Christian Europe began to identify with the pagan gods, myth became the artist's medium for telling the story of his own time. The Mirror of the Gods is the fascinating and extraordinary story of how Renaissance artists combined mythological imagery and artistic virtuosity to change the course of western art.
The Mirror of the Gods profoundly deepens our understanding of some of the greatest and most subversive artwork in European history. This delightfully told, lavishly illustrated, and extraordinary book amply rewards our ongoing fascination with classical myth and Renaissance art.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"With a balance of myth and history, The Mirror of the Gods is at once both satisfyingly intellectual and deliciously juicy.... For the art history buff, a perfect curl-up-on-the-couch read; for the rest of us, a fascinating glimpse into the meanings encoded in our favorite paintings."—The Artist's Magazine

"Bull analyses the widespread impact of the ancient Greek and Roman gods on the artistic imaginations of the day, detailing how their art not only affected subsequent artists, but the cultural milieu of their day. Comprehensive."—Art Times

"A terrific god-by-god account of the Renaissance's reimagining of mythology.... Expert or layperson, one cannot come away from this book without a much deepened appreciation of the achievement of Renaissance art."—Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly
In writing about the process by which Renaissance artists came to terms with what had become a completely alien system of thought and representation, Bull (Seeing Things Hidden) brilliantly shows classical antiquity's material nearness (its remnants were scattered about an explosively growing set of Italian city-states) and its psychological distance-a distance that artists set out to close, transforming their own culture in the process. The result is a terrific god-by-god account of the Renaissance's reimagining of mythology, undertaken in successive chapters; Hercules, Jupiter, Venus, Bacchus, Diana and Apollo are bookended by chapters on "Sources," "Objects" and "The Mirror." Bull's anecdotes are compelling and his prose light and clear, but his text is primarily a scholarly one, copiously footnoted and written for an audience willing to immerse itself in a world constructed of texts and art. Allusions and remarks on re-representations of classical figures and works make up the bulk of the book; portions on studio and patronage practices seem a bit like digressions from the main show. With 200 b&w reproductions threaded in throughout and a 16-page color insert, a good many of the works under discussion are shown. Expert or layperson, one cannot come away from this book without a much deepened appreciation of the achievement of Renaissance art. (Jan.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195219234
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 2/21/2005
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 496
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Malcolm Bull is head of Art History at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, University of Oxford, and a Fellow of St. Edmund Hall.

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