James Hall

A Few Pointers

Michelangelo’s Finger: An Exploration of Everyday Transcendence

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Atlantic Books 166pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

The Finger: A Handbook

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Yale University Press 256pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

The Romantic cult of the fragment lurks behind the contemporary fashion for books with preposterous possessive titles like Wittgenstein’s Poker, Churchill’s Cigar, Napoleon’s Buttons, Michelangelo’s Nose, Rembrandt’s Nose and Nathaniel’s Nutmeg. Just as the anatomist Georges Cuvier (1769–1832) claimed that he could reconstruct an entire animal from a single bone, and the connoisseur Giovanni Morelli (1816–91) believed he could attribute paintings from ‘marginal’ features like ears, hands and fingernails, so our authors insist that a seemingly inconsequential or bathetic detail is in fact the key to a whole personality or historical period.

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