The Strangest Paintings, Sculptures and Other Curiosities from the History of Art
by Edward Brooke-Hitching
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Pub Date 07 Mar 2023 | Archive Date 06 Mar 2023
Enter The Madman’s Gallery and discover an extraordinary, illustrated exhibition of the greatest curiosities from the global history of art, featuring one hundred magnificently eccentric antique paintings, engravings, illustrations, and sculptures, each with a fascinatingly bizarre story to tell.
Brought to light from the depths of libraries, museums, dealers, and galleries around the world, these forgotten artistic treasures include portraits of oddballs such as the British explorer with a penchant for riding crocodiles, and the Italian monk who levitated so often he’s recognized as the patron saint of airplane passengers. Discover impossible medieval land yachts, floating churches, and eagle-powered airships. Encounter dog-headed holy men, armies of German giants, 18th-century stuntmen, human chessboards, screaming ghost heads, and more marvels of the human imagination. A captivating odditorium of obscure and engaging characters and works, each expertly brought to life by historian and curator of the strange Edward Brooke-Hitching, here is a richly illustrated and entertaining gallery for lovers of outré art and history.
A GLOBAL SURVEY: Here are European painters who used ground up Egyptian mummies as pigment, examples of the antique Japanese art of Gyotaku (fish stone rubbings) using dried fish as printing plates, a Parisian art hoax featuring paintings actually created by a chimpanzee, and much more.
ODDITIES ABOUND: Depictions of the demon worms believed to cause toothaches carved into human molars: Check. A nude version of the Mona Lisa painted by the “bad boy” apprentice of Leonardo da Vinci: Here it is. The most admiring portrait of a cannibal likely ever produced: Presented in full color.
EXPERT AUTHOR: Edward Brooke-Hitching is a master of taking visually driven deep dives into unusual historical subjects, such as the maps of imaginary geography in The Phantom Atlas or ancient pathways through the stars in The Sky Atlas, imaginative depictions of heavens, hells, and afterworlds in The Devil’s Atlas, and the strangest books imaginable in The Madman’s Library.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 28 members
I loved the author’s Madman’s Library, a compilation of some of the most unusual, bizarre and sometime downright weird books ever published. This tine he’s back with a similar outline, but with art instead of literature. Sometimes beautiful, sometimes eye watering, but always guaranteed to make you take a second glance and wonder…..”What on earth?”
I really enjoyed this book, it was great to get the history of weird art, each of the art that was talked about was uniquely beautiful in a way and I found it interesting. It does a great job in telling the history of each concept. I could tell that the author had the passion for the subject and it worked well. I was never bored when reading this and look forward to read more from Edward Brooke-Hitching.
Thanks to NetGalley, the author, and the publisher for this ARC! This book was deeply fascinating and filled with interesting and often little-known art. Starting from around 30,000 BC(E), all the way to the modern day this book provides a great background on the art that is outside of the mainstream and does a wonderful job of discussing the background and history of each concept/object in this book. I found this book a wonderfully entertaining and informative read and I recommend this to any art lovers or history buffs out there.
Pros: As someone who wishes she had studied art history rather than going to law school, I love books about art history. I have found that many such books tend to focus on the same pieces of art and the same artists. I loved that this book introduced me to new art and artists and that it features art from around the world and from different eras. Two of my favorite details in this book are the informative and fun footnotes and captions.
Cons: The digital arc I read had a lot of formatting problems—missing pages, repeated pages, out of order pages, and blank pages. I assume the final printed copy will not have these problems, but it made for a frustrating reading experience because I really liked what I was able to read and would have liked to have read the entire contents of this fascinating book.
Art history presented in a new way is the best description I can give for this book. It's at times tragic, funny, and inspiring. I'm not sure if it belongs with history books, art books, travel books, or maybe all three.
I received The Madman's Gallery through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
This is a circus sideshow in the form of an art history/coffee table book...which I would recommend you NOT keep on your coffee table unless you wish to provide quite a shock to any visitors who might venture to open it.
Three stars instead of two strictly for the amount of research and information. Frankly, I didn't even finish the book. I couldn't.
This art history book is fascinating. Rather than focus on a movement or an artist, the book takes readers through history looking at some of the bizarre, grotesque, and mysterious. The book covers everything from ancient fertility statues to depictions of saints to performance art to forgeries. The book follows a rough chronological order (at least in terms of the main piece of focus) with several similar pieces rounding out each section. The write-ups are well written and researched. I read the ones I was interested in and skimmed others. This book is a wonderful that art doesn't have to fit the mold in order to be important.
I agree that Brooke-Hitching is a bit of a madman, but in the best sense of the word. He is informative in an easy, witty way that that makes art history approachable and entertaining. He might start a section with something like—“It’s a question we’ve all asked ourselves at one time or another: if I was to have my head lopped off and baked in an oven, what vegetable should I temporarily replace it with?” Or he might choose a humorous setup such as the one for Ilya Repin’s <i>Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to Sultan Mehmed IV”</i>, which he says is the biggest insult in art history. He informs us that “historically, artists haven’t exactly shied away from hurling insults” and follows that statement with a few examples. My personal favorite is that Dalí said Pollock’s style is “the indigestion that goes with fish soup.”
For the benefit of our education in pigment sourcing before the era of Liquitex and Golden, we are treated to lessons about the early manner in which purple, mauve, and brown were crafted. The particular brown used in the artwork under discussion, Martin Drolling’s <i>Interior of a Kitchen</i>, is called Egyptian brown. To assure us that there were persons who shared twenty-first-century sensibilities, Brooke-Hitching offers a charming anecdote. It seems Rudyard Kipling was present when artist Edward Burne-Jones came running down the stairs with a tube of “Mummy Brown” in his hand. The artist exclaimed that the paint was “made of dead Pharaohs” and said he must bury it accordingly. I will admit, I get it.
Here’s something with which many of us will sympathize. King George III’s wife, Queen Charlotte, was viewing a naval scene on a panorama created by Robert Barker. As she gazed at an expanse of ocean, she became seasick and “decorously” vomited into a handkerchief. She’s lucky to have been born before 3D movies became a thing. Not everyone has a lace hanky on standby for such eventualities.
There is much more to this book than creepy pigment bases and seasick queens. Brooke-Hitching will take us from prehistory to AI, covering the best known movements and artists. We will see Dali’s <i>The Persistence of Memory</i> and learn that Arcimboldo was a triumph of abstract art in the sixteenth century, three hundred years before Kandinsky was born. Brooke-Hitching describes the physical struggles of both Joan Miró and Frida Kahlo and says that René Magritte’s <i>The Lovers</i>, my personal surrealist painting, was symbolic of the surrealists’s fascination with what is hidden beneath the surface.
This is a book about beauty and the limitless creativity of artists throughout the ages. We couldn’t have hoped for a better tour guide on this journey and more beautiful graphics to accompany his lessons.
Many thanks to Chronicle Books and NetGalley for allowing me to read this ARC.
This is such a fun and interesting book (I certainly didn't learn that the brown color in Liberty Leading the people was ground up mummies in school). I would recommend it for both the lay person and art enthusiast alike. I loved the re-examination of well known works (e.g. The Garden of Earthly Delights) and also some things that I had never seen. This would make a great gift and be a great conversation starter as a coffee table piece.
Remarkably Engaging..... Lot's of times books like this consist of casually collected oddities, superficial text, jokey references, and amateurish commentary. Not so here. This is a carefully curated collection of interesting art, and it is organized in a fashion that tells a clear and coherent story about outsider, or just odd, art and the many ways it may manifest itself. The narrative is thoughtful and authoritative while still congenial and inviting. Illustrations, which are abundant, are accompanied by helpful and informative text. This book is both entertaining and thought provoking, which was quite enough for me to enjoy it.
Fascinating subject matter and a truly fascinating book. Who wouldn't be intrigued by this amazing book.
I love Brook-Hitching’s books and this is no exception! Will definitely be purchasing a copy upon release and probably gifting several more copies.
"The Madman’s Gallery" presents a selection of bizarre, curious, macabre, grotesque, surreal, and psychedelic artworks with essays offering insight into the background of each painting or sculpture, including information on influences and what is known about what motivated these atypical acts of creativity. Not all of the artworks are the product of mental illness – though some are and when something is known about the artist’s mental state it’s mentioned. They are all just, in some way, preternaturally creative or unconventional.
I was pleased that the book exposed me to a new selection of art. There were only a few pieces with which (as a neophyte) I was familiar. These included: Van Eyck’s “The Arnolfini Portrait,” Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” Fuseli’s “The Nightmare,” Gentileschi’s “Judith Slaying Holofernes,” the Olmec heads, and Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory.” There were other well-known paintings that were referenced because they were influenced by or had something in common with the artwork under discussion.
The book disabused me of the notion that the latter half of the twentieth century art was the golden age of freakish art (though that era is well represented with discussions of Dada, Surrealism, performance art, etc.) It’s interesting to learn how much wild and weird art was being producing in previous centuries, given how little of it made it through the filter of history to a general audience.
There are many recurring themes throughout the book: death, blasphemy, fertility, demons, etc. But the latter portion of the book features some new sources of bizarre art, including hoaxes, forgeries, and AI art.
If you’re interested in art history, and particularly the weird side of the subject, I’d highly recommend you read this book.
Anyone who dare calls art history ‘boring’ should read this book. It was a beautiful, fascinating recollection of some of the strangest works of art in the world’s history, crossing the continents of Africa and Europe and Asia and the Americas. This was incredibly well-thought out and researched and it was clear the author had so much fun while writing each of the pieces about the various artworks. I cannot recommend this book more— even if it’s just to look at the pictures, which are as delightful as they are strange.
Thank you for the EArc NetGalley and Chronicle Books. I never really fancied myself a person who had an interest in art history but this book changed my mind completely. The art itself is stunning and there is so much to admire in each piece but the history behind the artists is astonishing. I feel immediately in love with Messerschmidt and Pere Borrel Del Caso. I stared at Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare for awhile and also, strangely enough, fell in love. So many beautiful works of art, so much history to pour over, no matter how macabre. Beautifully done book!
This was an absolutely fascinating exploration of unusual and remarkable artworks, moving through time to the present day and the rise of AI-generated work. I feel I learnt so much about notable artworks from the past - there were so many pieces I'd not heard of before. I really enjoyed the captions and writing too, it was a difficult book to step away from. Thoroughly entertaining and informative in turn.
My thanks to both NetGalley and the publisher Chronicle Books for an advance copy of this book of art history and why certain works speak to us, and yet makes others shake their heads in confusion.
"Art is in the eye of the beholder, and everyone will have their own interpretation". This quote by E. A. Bucchianeri is as true about life as it is about art. One person's masterpiece is another person's my child could do better. One beholder of art will find beauty in the ugliest of things, and others will see the word beholder and think of one-eyed snake-eyestalks for hair, creatures from Dungeons and Dragons. So everyone has their own opinion on art, be it film, music, literature of pretty pictures and engaging statues, and a lot of people, myself included, like the odd more than we like a simple sketch. Edward Brooke-Hitching in his collection Madman's Gallery: The Strangest Paintings, Sculptures and Other Curiosities from the History of Art offers a companion book to his work on odd literature and books, this time focusing on art pieces from the past to the cutting edge of today.
The book begins with a little history of art, collections and what people look for in art, and art that is considered off the beaten path. From there the book goes to the past starting with early fertility works from about 30,000 B. C., and moving to Artificial Intelligence created art. There is A mix tapestrys, paintings, statutes, even pictures of the night sky, a sky map that seems amazing to be created so far in the past. Each section is illustrated with the art in question, and more photos with works related to what is being discussed. There are also descriptions ranging from a page to longer, describing the art, where is was found, what makes it unique, and what it possibly means.
The book is very different a unique kind of art book, with a lot of works that are new to me, with some that really surprise me. The subject matter, or how the works are created, even what they were created for I just found fascinating. Some works are more interesting than others, but I must say the research involved must have been intense. The photos inside are very good, very eyecatching and leave no doubt to why people wanted to posses them. Again some photograph better than others, but the art really does stand out. The descriptions are also well written, both informative and humourous, not a tour guide speech, or even an art class lecture, just a person sharing ideas with the reader in a very informative conversational style. Brooke-Hitching goes into great detail, without be overwhelming in sharing information, how the piece was created, and what materials were involved. There are plenty of fun facts, and stories about gravediggers finding more than they had bargained for or bad art restorers finding lost works by sheer incompetence and or luck. A different kind of art history, but one that will educate and entertain.
Recommended for people who like to read about art, and for those who need gifts for people who like art. This is also a good book for writers to get ideas from these pieces for ideas, especially fantasy and horror writers. There are a whole lot of plots for novels and graphic novels amidst the tales of some of these pieces. This is the first that I have read by Brooke-Hitching and I plan to read more.
This was wildly eclectic selection of artwork. I did appreciate that it was organized chronologically. It was an interesting selection and I also appreciated the history and detail that went into explaining the works that were included.
Delightful read. While these is formatted like a textbook, it's written in an engaging way.
I love art books. A lot of them present the same information, the same artists, and the same select works. This book had a lot of information that I wasn't aware of. The Arnolfini portrait, for instance, had new information I hadn't encountered before.
The section on stages of decomposition in Japanese art was fascinating, and new to me...as well as the Codex Gigas.
I also love ancient history and archeology. A lot of books present the same information, such as the statues at Easter Island. I was pleasantly surprised by the inclusion of the Colossal heads of the Olmec. It was refreshing to see a different selection of ancient relics.
I have always been interested in Tutankhamen, and was pleased to see the inclusion of his dagger made from a meteorite.
This was a well-organized, engaging, and unique art book. I highly recommend it for a quick survey of art history. 5 stars!!!!!
This is an art book of curiosities as the title says. There is a little bit of everything including, ancient statues, fine art through the centuries, modern art, performance art and even a few pages on forgeries (very interesting and problematic). I’ve seen many of the more famous pieces is art museums in the US and Europe. The book includes ugly pieces giving the true history of the piece. Or something may look classic, like a coronation scene, but the actual story is bizarre (the king is a corpse of four years). There are also scandalous pieces including the beautiful Madame X by Singer Sargent that is at the Met that was ridiculed when first shown. I’m not an art historian so I am assuming the writes up are correct and they are very readable. The selection is eclectic but for the most part follows a time chronology. This would be great for an art lover or to check out from a library. I enjoyed reading it and learning about the works, especially ones I recognized. But it isn’t something I would choose for my coffee table.
The Madman's Gallery is a librarian's dream, based on librarianship 101 style discussion questions: What is a book? What is a manuscript? What is information? How do we create and format our ways of information storage? With beautiful images and and examples from every part of history and the globe, "Madman's Gallery" seems like a sensational title to a librarian. This book is full of rare looks at how other cultures and civilizations created books and manuscripts, and doesn't seem mad at all to a student of information. These curious examples include a beautiful garment embroidered with the words of a hospitalized mental patient, the ever scintillating books covered in human skin, written from human blood-Saddam Hussein's Koran is particularly eerie, and more obscure. Beautiful records knotted into quipu, totenpasses carved into gold, clay vessels and tablets engraved and painted with the world's history. These and more are within the pages of the Madman's Library, which is a delightful read or even a browse. You're destined to find something intriguing.
I enjoy art history and greatly enjoyed reading Madman's Gallery. It was such a unique take on art history, shining light on oddities and strange works that have a place within our history that many don't know about. The book features an incredible assortment of works such as statue of Glycon, paintings of bearded women, and interesting works depicting phases of decay. Some of the art featured tie into specific cultures and it's cool seeing the history of these cultures through their artworks such as with quotaku (a Japanese technique for printing with fish), minkisi (Central African power figures), and the Olmec giant heads. There are specific artists featured as well that had unique styles such as Salvador Dalf (a surrealist artist), Franz Xavier Messerschmidt's ghost heads, and the psychic paintings of Marguerite Burnat-Provins. This is perfect for those that enjoy art and art history as well as students looking to learn, a resource for teachers, and artists looking for inspiration. Definitely recommend this.
I am not sure what I expected when I requested this book, but I really enjoyed it. Full of great images and great information that covered an expansive range of time. It isn't often a book makes me wish I had focused on a different major in school, but this makes me wish I had focused more on art rather than human history.
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for this dARC in exchange for my honest review.
Art books – and coffee table books in general — are not the stuff I like to review. They tend to be forgettably similar. There’s boring text demonstrating the author’s erudition, text fitted around sculpture, and enormously monotonous commentary. Not the best scenario for a review that will rock readers. The exception is the fascinating and wonderful The Madman’s Gallery, by Edward Brooke-Hitching. It is a terrifically organized romp through the bizarre eruptions of (mostly) western art. He writes with light-hearted (but well-researched) commentary. .And the self-evident drama in the well-chosen images. They all come with stories. There’s even sarcasm! It is a pleasure to actually read the words. The images will stay with the reader a long time. This is the best art book I’ve read in years.
The chapters are short, and there are lots of them: sixty-one. They range from featuring an artist, to featuring a single work, to featuring a category. So for example, there are chapters on revenge, self-portraits snuck into commissioned works, nightmares, and doom in the 12th and 13th centuries. There’s even a chapter on hot-selling paintings by chimpanzees, meant to shame the art world, which shrugged it off and kept buying anyway. Among the artists rating chapters are Arcimboldo and his vegetable portraits, and Dali and his Persistence of Memory. It ends with Maria Abramovic’s performance art, in which she goes so far as to put her life on the line for the thrill of her art. This is a different level of madness altogether.
In Ugly Portraits, there is a painting so surpassingly ugly it defies reason, as in, who would commission such a thing? It dates to about 1513, and the painter was Quentin Matsys, a Flemish artist. It is truthfully titled The Ugly Duchess. I can only describe it as John Malkovich playing The Queen of Hearts without sufficient makeup.
Compare to the work of Xavier Messerschmidt (late 18th), who took it upon himself to sculpt heads with the most horrific expressions on their faces. His sculptures are grimacing, leering, and mad. They are fabulously ugly, in a repelling and off-putting sort of way.
For sheer bad taste, the completion is fierce. But the Penis Tree surely has a firm foothold there. It decorated a building in Naples, Italy in 1265, and was rediscovered only 24 years ago.
Along the way in this chronological ramble, there is education. At least half the precious art in museums and private collections is fake, according to the Fine Art Expert Institute of Switzerland in a 2014 report. This is a rather enormous percentage, calling into question centuries of collecting. It has always been a problem, and has only increased in significance with the astronomical sums being flung at galleries and auctions today. The chapter on forgers is therefore instructive.
Few will know of all the versions of The Mona Lisa, nude. For some reason, artists, including if not especially Da Vinci’s own students, found it necessary and irresistible to make nude versions the Master’s finest work. They are displayed in this book. Some of them are good enough to pass for his work. None of them rate anywhere near the real thing.
There is the bizarre story of Cecilia Giménez, an 80 year old artist in Borja, Spain, to whom the Sanctuary of Mercy church entrusted the restoration of Ecce Homo, a portrait of Jesus. She did such a horrific job that Christ comes off looking like a well-trimmed baboon. She absolutely ruined it. The news went viral, and art restoration became a thing on people’s minds as it never had been before. But then, the wild and wacky art world intervened. The story got so much press worldwide that tourism in the town shot from 6000 a year to 200,000 as people from everywhere wanted to see this horror for themselves. Go figure.
It’s not all bad taste, either. My favorite is a horrifying impression of World War I, by Franz Marc, called Fate of the Animals. He painted it in 1913, fully envisioning the coming conflagration throughout Europe. He was then drafted, sent to the front (as a camouflage artist), and was killed at the Battle of Verdun in 1916, at the age of 36. To me, his painting is far more evocative of the chaos and horror of war than Picasso’s Guernica, nearly 30 years later (and which does not make the book). Yet it was done in advance and in a very modern art style.
It turns out this is not the first time Brooke-Hitching has done this. His previous book is a madman’s survey of bizarre books and manuscripts. This was apparently such as success, he has tried to replicate it in art. And clearly succeeded. This might be a new franchise. Lord knows culture has enough that is bizarre to keep him occupied. So keep an eye on him. It’s worth it.
The world of art has always been mysterious, but the Madman's Gallery shows us the far reaches of artistic vision. From a skeletal zombie statue with a huge boner to portraits composed of fruit, and a baker of heads who uses cabbages as bandages, all of these colorful images are waiting to delight, and perhaps disturb a bit too.
Beginning with carvings from 38,000 BCE and ending with contemporary art created by artificial intelligence, the book proves that strange visions are both universal and timeless. There is truly something for everyone within its covers. There is just enough written description to explain each image without ever being boring.
Overall, the Madman's Gallery is an excellent coffee table book for art lovers. 5 stars!
Thanks to Chronicle Books and NetGalley for a digital review copy of the book.
In The Madman's Gallery: The Strangest Paintings, Sculptures and Other Curiosities from the History of Art Edward Brooke-Hitching presents another assemblage under a common theme, he has previously published works centered on books, sports, maps and the afterlife.
As is clear from the title, this time Brooke-Hitching is presenting oddities from the art world, under the unfortunate title choice of tied to mental health. (Perhaps an Oeuvre of Oddities might have been a better choice?). On page 10 the author notes his prior life experience and writing the book, The Madman's Library, taught him that to open a seemingly closed world "a historical curiosity with a captivating story can make even the most complex area of specialist study instantly accessible." And the works here are all meant to inspire some sort of emotional response.
The Madman's Gallery is arranged chronologically, and attempts to show global art, but the bulk of the works are Western leaving works from the other nations to feel more like token additions, though the effort is worth acknowledgement. Each work is provided a short history or explanation alongside images of the work, similar works, or works that influenced the creation of the featured work. Most works get 3 to 4 pages, making this book a fairly swift read. Brooke-Hitching looks at many different mediums and eras, but the majority are painted works.
The most interesting section was the last entry, focused on Artificial Intelligence created art. Centered on the 'first' work created this way, the author uses it as a reflection point to consider all that was covered before "the depthless capacity of human imagination" (Pg 243), but what will it like partnered with AIs? Will they be just another tool or medium? Or will AI art become its own genre?
As a work of popular nonfiction, it serves its premise well as a something for a reader to pick up and flip through, however those seeking a more in-depth look at or overview of the history of art would be better served elsewhere, perhaps in Gardner's Art Through the Ages.
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