There is a true fascination with all things miniature and with the skills involved in creating a miniature work of art. Speaking of such works, anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss remarked that "all miniatures seem to have an intrinsic aesthetic quality." And who could fail to be beguiled by an exquisite Elizabethan miniature painting, an intricately carved Japanese netsuke, the words of the Lord's Prayer engraved on a minute jewelled clasp, or the gemlike perfection of an eighteenth-century Italian micro-mosaic?
This richly illustrated book celebrates the art of the miniature, but also looks beyond it at the many aspects of "small worlds"--in particular, their capacity to evoke responses that far exceed their physical dimensions. Author John Mack explores the talismanic, religious, or magical properties with which miniatures are often imbued. Considering a wide range of objects--from Mughal miniature paintings, ancient Egyptian amulets, Ashanti gold weights, and Aztec jade figures to Hindu temple carts, English prints and drawings, classical Greek jewelry, maps, mosaics, models, and magical gems--he examines the use of the miniature form in various cultural contexts. He also assesses the importance of scale and questions the definition of "miniature." How large or small can a miniature be? Is a map a miniaturization of a larger world? What is the point of an object that is almost too small to be seen by the human eye? From Gulliver to King Kong, classical art to surrealism, Aristotle to the Yoruba, The Art of Small Things shows us, in fine detail, the exquisite and the esoteric, the wondrous and the weird.
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John Mack is Professor of World Art Studies at the University of East Anglia.Review:
For most, miniature art tends only to conjure up a culture's lonely eccentricities--toy trains, dusty runes, weekend hobbyists tweezing ships into bottles. But John Mack's absorbing new book, The Art of Small Things, argues persuasively that the miniature is society writ small: Squint hard at the world's knickknackery and find the cultures that produced it...For those determined to browse, nearly every page boasts gorgeous color plates, many of which are by necessity larger than the objects being photographed. But more than a catalog of tiny curiosities, The Art of Small Things is a study of how we relate to objects of all sizes, and of how the miniature strangely enables experiences of the vast or ephemeral....The pleasure of this encyclopedic book lies in the resonances Mr. Mack finds between his many historical anecdotes. Mr. Mack's roving, capacious sections are not organized within an academic thesis so much as they are arranged like a bouquet of flowers, in evocative rather than linear groupings. The book itself enacts a kind of miniaturization by surveying so many artifacts in one volume.
--Jeremy Axelrod (New York Sun 2008-01-09)
Mack draws from many cultures to meditate on the aesthetic and cultural values seemingly embodied in small works of art. His examples range from Aztec to Indian, English to Greek and cover many media. Beginning with a comparison of small works of art with the colossal, Mack discusses miniature portraits, maps, sculptures (usually of the human figure), talismans and fetishes, and the private nature of small pieces...The illustrations, frequently with details, are good; some are larger than life, providing a sense of the wonder such tiny things can evoke.
--Jack Perry Brown (Library Journal 2008-03-01)
This lavishly illustrated compendium of miniature art explores our fascination with "the outer limits of visual perception and technical precision." Mack delves into the materials and technologies involved in the production of tiny artifacts, and the daunting skills required. (The contemporary micro-miniaturist Willard Wigan, who mounts sculptures in the eye of a needle, moves his diamond-tipped tools only in the middle of a heartbeat.) The book brims with captivating detail: intricately carved Japanese netsuke, used to suspend small belongings from the belt of a kimono, were also made to feel pleasant in the hand; Elizabethan mini-portraits worn as jewelry afforded the "private pleasure" of ownership. But, Mack concludes, miniatures are finally so desirable because they resist total possession: "We are forever denied ultimate access to their interiority and the secrets they may contain." (New Yorker 2008-04-07)
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