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Book Review

Book: The Annotated Mona Lisa
Authors: Carol Strickland and John Boswell
Published: June, 1992
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing

available from

Synopsis: The author takes you through more than 25,000 years of art history in about 200 pages, beginning with prehistoric art and progressing through to the 20th century and beyond. Abundant illustrations and dynamic page designs accompany the text. Time lines including significant historical events that shaped the course of art history are found at the beginning of each section.

Editor’s Review: It does indeed require a crash course to recount 25,000 years of art history in just under 200 pages. The Annotated Mona Lisa does it well except with a few exceptions. Beginning with the title itself, it should be noted that this book details the history of “Western” art only, a distinction that is vital for a holistic understanding of art. Another exception is an occasional departure in chronological order. For example, the inclusion of Art Nouveau architecture in the section on Rococo Art (which is twenty-five pages before Art Nouveau is discussed) disrupts the chronological flow. There are also occasional poor choices of representative artwork. For example, I would not consider City Night to be representative of Georgia O’Keeffe’s work. I noticed as well that certain well-known terms that describe art styles or techniques are omitted; an example is “Frontalism” in Egyptian art. Some art movements that I would consider to be significant are also omitted, such as the Pre-Raphaelites. And I must admit I was disheartened to see an outright inaccuracy when the book stated that artist Artemisia Gentileschi accused a fellow pupil of raping her when it is known to have been her teacher she accused. What the The Annotated Mona Lisa excels at is providing the reader with numerous charts that compare styles that are often confused such as Gothic and Romanesque architecture or Italian Renaissance and Northern Renaissance art. There are also charts that distinguish between artists such as the one that differentiates the style characteristics of several Post-Impressionist artists. The upbeat writing and interesting facts about artists and their work really help to keep the reader engaged as do interesting page designs and more than 300 illustrations, many of them in color. Another nice feature is the inclusion of pronunciations for foreign words, giving the reader the confidence to discuss newfound knowledge with others. At a price of under $25, despite the flaws mentioned above, The Annotated Mona Lisa has a lot to offer the new art history student that wants to learn a lot about art history in a short amount of time at little expense.

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Diana Blake is a professional artist and art history enthusiast. Her fascination with art history began when she encountered European art firsthand during several trips abroad as a young adult. As she began to compose a portfolio for her own art career, she called upon what she had seen in Europe and extended her knowledge to other styles of art through profuse reading and exhaustive research. As a result, Diana has written more than one hundred articles in which she delves into a variety of art history topics and she has compiled a list of links that she believes to be invaluable for art history enthusiasts. In addition, she also reviews books and movies on the topic of art history and has assembled an extensive list of online stores that sell books, movies and gift items related to art history.
   You can see Diana's own artwork by visiting her site at