Man’s best friend: dog or book? The artist Samuel Palmer thought that when it came to walks in the countryside, the company of his ‘not unbeloved bull terrier’ was pleasant. But a book was better, for ‘Milton never fidgeted, frightened horses, ran after sheep, or got run over by a goods-van’.
In François Boucher’s life-size portrait of Madame de Pompadour (1756), a spaniel keens at the royal mistress’s feet. In her lap, a work of philosophy. Or perhaps a naughty novel. In Pierre-Antoine Baudouin’s painting La Lecture (c 1760) we meet another rococo reader, this one reclining in her armchair, her tales of seduction abandoned, her hand lost in the folds of her skirts. A book could be a lover as well as a friend.
These works by Boucher and Baudouin appear in the sumptuous Books Do Furnish a Painting by historian Jamie Camplin and picture researcher Maria Ranauro. Together they have produced a gorgeously illustrated series of essays and musings about paintings inspired by books and books inspired by paintings. Buy six copies for the Palmers and Pompadours in your life and declare your Christmas shopping done.
Camplin takes us from the earliest Christian codices, through St Jerome, Gutenberg and Clarissa, to the books collected by Gilbert & George. Early religious books written on parchment or vellum were expensive. In the ninth