What Heaven Looks Like: Comments on a Strange Wordless Book (Hardback)
  • What Heaven Looks Like: Comments on a Strange Wordless Book (Hardback)

What Heaven Looks Like: Comments on a Strange Wordless Book (Hardback)

Hardback 128 Pages / Published: 05/10/2017
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An unknown masterpiece of visionary art--as daring as Blake or Goya, but utterly different--reproduced in full color, with a commentary by one of our most original art historians

Somewhere in Europe--we don't know where--around 1700. An artist is staring at something on the floor next to her worktable. It's just a log from the woodpile, stood on end. The soft, damp bark; the gently raised growth rings; the dark radial cracks--nothing could be more ordinary. But as the artist looks, and looks, colors begin to appear--shapes--even figures. She turns to a sheet of paper and begins to paint.

Today this anonymous artist's masterpiece is preserved in the University of Glasgow Library. It is a manuscript in a plain brown binding, whose entire contents, beyond a cryptic title page, are fifty-two small, round watercolor paintings based on the visions she saw in the ends of firewood logs.

This book reproduces the entire sequence of paintings in full color, together with a meditative commentary by the art historian James Elkins. Sometimes, he writes, we can glimpse the artist's sources--Baroque religious art, genre painting, mythology, alchemical manuscripts, emblem books, optical effects. But always she distorts her images, mixes them together, leaves them incomplete--always she rejects familiar stories and clear-cut meanings. In this daring refusal to make sense, Elkins sees an uncannily modern attitude of doubt and skepticism; he draws a portrait of the artist as an irremediably lonely, amazingly independent soul, inhabiting a distinct historical moment between the faded Renaissance and the overconfident Enlightenment.

What Heaven Looks Like is a rare event: an encounter between a truly perceptive historian of images, and a master conjurer of them.

Publisher: Laboratory Books
ISBN: 9781946053022
Number of pages: 128
Dimensions: 229 x 153 mm

Critical Praise for What Heaven Looks Like by James Elkins

"A cryptic artifact . . . is the source of endless fascination in this alluring annotated reproduction."
--Publishers Weekly

It might be a delicious intrigue cooked up by Borges: a manuscript of fuzzy provenance, consisting of 52 paintings, rests unvisited on the shelves of a library for generations. Rediscovered, it proves fascinating."
--Kirkus Reviews

Featured in the Publishers Weekly Fall 2017 Announcements

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