Oxford, £16.99(free p&p) on 0870 079 8897
The Sinister Side, By James Hall
A guide to left and right that's often dextrous and occasionally sinister
Wednesday 17 December 2008
Right means good; left means bad. Right means order and rigidity; left means pleasure and anarchy. The right versus left issue is fascinating, irrespective of whether we apply it to art, religion, politics or sport. James Hall's searching new book looks at the ways in which scholars and critics have neglected the importance of left-right symbolism when interpreting Western art. Why should this be so? Because, he argues, we generally map the body from top to bottom and not from left to right or right to left. He regards it as a lost key to understanding Western art.
Hall exhaustively analyses works of art – paintings, prints, sculptures. He scrutinises the orientation of bodies in crucifixion scenes; he notes the way a portrait's gaze twists to left or right. He describes how the early church exalted the idea of the right at the expense of the left – the right was steadfast, virtuous, the left an indication of weakness, moral and physical.
A tremendous change takes place at about the time of the Renaissance. In the courtly love tradition, the left hand comes to be regarded as more beautiful than the right, and the left side of the body as emotionally and morally superior. When St George, in the great 1416 sculpture by Donatello, is seen to thrust his left foot forward, it is a moment of profound cultural significance.
The arguments deployed, and the evidence cited, are dense and teeming. There are many illustrations of single works, but never enough to keep pace with the works described in great detail. This causes the reader a good deal of exasperation – this book should have been much more visual. The greatest single moment of frustration comes when a multiple figure drawing by Michelangelo is referred to as "the greatest drawing ever made". Unfortunately, we are not allowed to admire it for ourselves.
Though perpetually fascinating, there is little sweep or flow to the book; we are always having to put on the brakes to cite secondary sources – until we move towards the present day. The final chapters guide us, much more briskly and entertainingly, through such fascinating subjects as Picasso and Satanism, and how the modern primitives were happy to wallow in the occult mysteries of "gauchisme". This is rather lip-smacking stuff.
Review: A panoramic account of the hacking scandalbooks
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Russell Brand accuses FOX News anchor Sean Hannity of terrorism after aggressive Israel-Gaza debate
- 2 Pope Francis issues top 10 tips for happiness
- 3 Disney heiress Abigail disowns her share of family profits in West Bank company
- 4 The secret report that helps Israel hide facts
- 5 Now diplomacy has failed, boycotting Israel might be the only way we can protect the people of Gaza
Game of Thrones actress begs for 'other princess work' after Myrcella Baratheon part is recast
The Walking Dead season 5 will see deaths of 'favourite characters', hints Andrew Lincoln
Palestinian artists transform smoke-filled Gaza into symbol of resistance
Star Wars 7: Plot details 'leak', with sequel's opening sequence and premise revealed
Big Bang Theory: Filming delayed by contract disputes over actors' pay
The secret report that helps Israel hide facts
Land for gas: Merkel and Putin discussed secret deal could end Ukraine crisis
Woman and two children killed by mob in riots over 'blasphemous' Facebook post in Pakistan
Richard Dawkins tweets: 'Date rape is bad, stranger rape is worse'
Putin is 'thuggish, dishonest and reckless', says British ambassador to US
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – Britain as others see us
- < Previous
- Next >