Mirror of the World: A New History of Art by Julian Bell - review by Jane Rye

Jane Rye

A Broad Canvas

Mirror of the World: A New History of Art


Thames & Hudson 496pp £24.95

Julian Bell's Mirror of the World naturally invites comparison with E H Gombrich's The Story of Art, now in its sixteenth edition and reprinted every year but one since it was first published by Phaidon in 1950. The Story of Art has sold more than seven million copies, but in spite of its continued popularity there is a general, if not very specific, agreement that it must be outdated, and that every generation needs its own interpretation of art history. It looks as if Thames & Hudson are hoping to find a successor to Gombrich's bestseller. Although modestly aware of standing in the shadow of both The Story of Art and Hugh Honour and John Fleming's monumental A World History of Art (1982), Bell believes that there is a 'case for approaching the same basic task in a different way' because of changes in art history and culture in general in the intervening years. It seems a reasonable assumption, but unfortunately Bell does not identify these changes and their effects.

He shares his first two 'working premises' with his predecessors: the close linking of text with illustrations, and the preserving of a more or less chronological sequence. He sets most store, however, on the third, suggested by his title: he sees art history 'as a frame within which world history

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

RLF - March