The Sinister Side: How Left-Right Symbolism Shaped Western Art

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The Sinister Side is the first book to detail the richness and subtlety of left-right symbolism since the Renaissance, and to show how it was a catalyst for some of the greatest works of visual art from Leonardo and Michelangelo to Rembrandt and Picasso. Traditionally, the left side was regarded as evil, weak, and worldly, but with the Renaissance, artists began to represent the left side as the side that represented authentic human feelings and especially love. Writers including Lorenzo de' Medici, Michelangelo, and Winckelmann hailed the supreme moral and aesthetic beauty of the left side. Images of lovers foreground the left side of the body, emphasizing its refinement and sensitivity. In the late nineteenth century, with the rise of interest in the occult and in spiritualism, the left side becomes associated with the taboo and with the unconscious. James Hall's insightful discussion of left and right symbolism helps us to see how the self and the mind were perceived during these periods, and gives us a new key to understanding art in its social and intellectual context.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

Hall (The World as Sculpture; Michelangelo and the Reinvention of the Human Body) analyzes the cultural, anthropological, theological, literary, and other symbolism of left and right in Western art from antiquity to the 20th century, which he feels has been an unexplored dimension of art criticism. He considers some of the standard conventions that originated with the ancient Greeks (left equals bad, female, darkness; right equals good, male, light) and then looks at how Renaissance artists dramatized left-right distinctions. Hall goes on to discuss the decline of the artistic importance of left-right symbolism in the 19th and 20th centuries but sees a revival as great artists view left-right distinctions as a "radical tool that can imbue their work with awesome primitive power." Although dozens of key works of art are reproduced here, the reader will want to have a computer or a heavily illustrated art history volume to follow Hall's comments on works that are omitted. A provocative piece of social and intellectual criticism; recommended for academic and special art library collections.
—Marcia Welsh

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199230860
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 12/30/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

James Hall is a freelance art critic and historian. A former art critic for The Guardian, he is the author of two critically acclaimed books: The World as Sculpture and Michelangelo and the Reinvention of the Human Body.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Antiquity and After

Pt. 1 Turning Right

1 Avoiding the Beer-Cellar: Left-Right Conventions 14

2 Heraldic Images 25

3 Fair Game 39

4 Sun and Moon 68

Renaissance to Enlightenment

Pt. 2 Contesting Left and Right

5 Darkened Eyes 94

Pt. 3 Balancing Left and Right

6 The Choice of Hercules 126

7 Double Vision 142

8 Rembrandt's Eyes 155

Pt. 4 Turning Left

9 The Death of Christ 1:Crossing Over 168

10 The Death of Christ 2: Not Idle 188

11 Courtly Love 211

12 Fragile Beauty 233

13 Leonardo and the Look of Love 252

14 Prisoners of Love 259

15 Lovelocks 278

16 Honourary Left-Handers 288


Pt. 5 Rethinking Left and Right

17 'To Err Forever' 313

18 Picasso and Chiromancy 326

19 Picasso and Satanism 342

20 Modern Primitives 361


21 God Save the Queen 379

Notes 385

Index 463

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