Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Thing of Beauty

Anyone who loves art loves art books—the amazing photography, the big pages bursting with color, and the incisive text winding itself around the images. FMR in Italy may now have created the Holy Grail of all art books—Michelangelo: La Dotta Mano (in English, Michelangelo: The Wise Hand). As earlier reported by The New York Times, Michelangelo: La Dotta Mano will cost 100,000 Euros, or approximately $155,000 USD. Just looking at pictures of the book in its sleek black case (above), I feel like Indiana Jones lusting after a precious artifact. FMR markets La Dotta Mano as “the most beautiful book in the world,” and they may just be right.

Photographer Aurelio Amendola captures Michelangelo’s greatest sculptures from multiple angles with loving detail. (One image from the series on Michelangelo’s Florentine Pietà appears above.) If you go to the original New York Times story, you can view a slideshow of more photographs, including up close and personal views of the Pietà in St. Peter's Basilica and the David’s buttocks. Amendola photographs the works so closely that they actually seem alive. You’ll never get this close to any of these masterpieces in real life, so if you’ve got a couple hundred grand sitting around, here’s your chance.

Only 99 copies of the work will be made. Aside from the special papers used to reproduce the photography, the book’s cover is a actual marble reproduction of Michelangelo’s Madonna of the Stairs (above, from 1490) created by artisans. If you go to the FMR site, you can view a “making of” video of the book that shows some of these artisans chipping away at the covers. Because of the marble covers, this book weighs in at more than 46 pounds, making it difficult commuter reading. Fortunately, it comes with its own stand and a 500-year guarantee (just in case you drop it, I guess).

On one hand, I think this is wonderful. If any artist deserves such grand treatment, it’s Michelangelo. On the other hand, the price point places this beyond the means of libraries and most individuals, leaving only the super wealthy to buy these up and hoard them in their private libraries with the rest of their unread books. If you make an incredible book and nobody can see it, does it make a dent in the consciousness of the world? I’d like to think that an affordable version (in the hundreds rather than hundreds of thousands of dollars) would be made available at some point, but I’m not holding my breath. Sadly, the same economic elitism that both patronized and rankled Michelangelo in his lifetime now rears its head again centuries later to lay claim to his art as theirs, and theirs alone.

[Many thanks in advance to anyone who can score me a review copy of Michelangelo: La Dotta Mano or, failing that, at least let me touch one. I promise to wear gloves.]

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