“Ciao, Carpaccio!” By Jan Morris (Liveright, 160 pages, $19.95)
Travel writer and deep-dish Venice fan Jan Morris indulges a lifelong infatuation with the paintings of Vittore Carpaccio (1460-1520) in this charming, erudite and lavishly illustrated little book. Slender enough to fit into a stocking, it will appeal to cooks, travelers and art buffs alike. Without ever leaving his native Venice, Carpaccio recorded — and Morris explains — a world of engaging detail from duck hunting to dragon slaying, festivals and religious processions, ships, castles, an early Rialto bridge, dogs, kids, merchants, musicians, martyrs and saints.
“Vogue and the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute: Parties, Exhibitions, People” By Hamish Bowles (Abrams, 227 pages., 200 color photos, $50)
The Met’s annual Costume Institute parties raise millions to support the institute’s lavish shows and 35,000-piece collection. This glittering bonbon of a book reprises 15 big shows and their gilded parties from “Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years” through bizarre body-altering outfits, classical goddesses, transgressive British fashion, punks, superheroes and design stars Chanel, Alexander McQueen, Schiaparelli, Prada and Charles James. Paired with Vogue articles and party pictures (Beyoncé, George Clooney), it’s a star-studded romp in 21st-century decadence.
“Photography: The Definitive Visual History” By Tom Ang (DK, 480 pages, innumerable photos, $50)
“Definitive” is a bold boast, but Ang’s tome arguably delivers. It’s especially good on the medium’s 19th-century origins and practitioners; technical developments in lenses, lighting and film, and brief bios of more than 250 international photographers from Berenice Abbott to Madame Yevonde. Smart analytical boxes provide details about key images and lesser-known pictures such as a portrait of Sarah Forbes Bonetta, the black African goddaughter of Queen Victoria, who raised her.
“Ansel Adams in Yosemite Valley: Celebrating the Park at 150” By Peter Galassi (Little, Brown and Co., 204 pages, 25 color and 125 tritone photos, $100)
What justifies yet another Ansel Adams book? Yosemite National Park’s anniversary and Adams’ superbly reproduced images, which are almost luminous enough for framing. Galassi, former chief photo curator at the Museum of Modern Art, contextualizes Yosemite’s history and Adams’ lifelong commitment to the place. He starts with Abraham Lincoln’s preservation of the land and continues through contemporary photographers’ rather jaded images. Spanning more than 60 years, Adams’ photos are splendidly chosen and varied, from familiar vistas of El Capitan and Cathedral Rocks to lovely snow-muffled forests and ethereal mist-shrouded cliffs.
“The Brilliant History of Color in Art” By Victoria Finlay (Getty Publications, 128 pages, 166 color illustrations, $24.95)
This fascinating history of color in art is a real page turner. Beguiled by her pale complexion, an English earl married a 19-year-old Irish beauty, Maria Gunning, in 1752. Within a few years, Maria’s skin was ravaged and her mind gone. She died at 27, poisoned by her lead-white makeup, the same stuff used to highlight paintings. From Roman times to the 19th century, artists risked death from cinnabar, vermilion, minium and other deadly pigments. Pulverized mummy bones were used to produce a violet-brown paint, and Cleopatra’s favorite purple was made by soaking rotten shellfish in a brine of urine. Illustrated mostly with art from the J. Paul Getty Museum, this intriguing book is full of improbable but true stories.
“The Rise of Black Artists in Western Art,” edited by David Bindman and Henry Louis Gates Jr. (Harvard University Press, 368 pages, extensive illustrations, $95)
The 10th volume in a 50-year effort to document images of Africans in Western art, “Rise” focuses on images of blacks by black artists. Though profusely illustrated, it is much more than a picture book, with essays on painting, photography, jazz, performance art and critical analysis of such cultural flash points as the advertising persona Aunt Jemima. Contemporary artists Lorraine O’Grady and William Pope.L. Yep. just L. -- a last name, no space between Pope. and L among others, are included in the show “Radical Presence,” which is now on view at Walker Art Center. Paintings discussed include Bob Thompson’s 1965 “Homage to Nina Simone” in the collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
“Sanctuary: Britain’s Artists and Their Studios,” edited by Hossein Amirsadeghi and Maryam Homayoum Eisler names cqed (Thames & Hudson, 600 pages, 600+ color photos. $95)
In spreads of up to eight pages per artist, “Sanctuary” plunges into the lives and studios of 120 contemporary British painters, designers, sculptors and other talents, including Rachel Whiteread, Tony Cragg, Tracey Emin, Anish Kapoor, Jenny Saville and a transvestite potter, Grayson Perry. Photos and Q & A interviews — both probing and impertinent — shun art jargon in favor of insightful candor.
“Haute Couture Ateliers: The Artisans of Fashion,” by Hélène Farnault and Alexis Lecomte (Vendôme Press, 280 pages, 275 color illustrations, $75)
Even the red-carpet outfits of Oscar winners look like flea-market castoffs compared with the haute couture confections in this startling book. Only fashion insiders — and the truly rich — are likely to have heard of Yiqing Yin, Christophe Josse, Maurizio Galante and Oscar Carvallo, names cqed whose astonishing gowns are anatomized here: a red wedding dress that cocoons the body in artificial coral, gossamer lace clinging like lichen, gowns of glass petals, origami pleating, pheasant feathers and bird-of-paradise plumage. The artisans who make these fantasies are dazzling.
“Cartier in the 20th Century,” by Margaret Young-Sánchez, et al. (Vendôme Press and Denver Art Museum, 272 pages, lavish illustrations, $75)
As Lorelei knew, diamonds are a girl’s best friend and, since 1847, Cartier has been a place to get them. The Paris firm’s glittering baubles, history and clients — from the Duchess of Windsor to Liz Taylor — are limned in this luxuriously boxed and bound (red satin) catalog for a Denver Art Museum show. The Denver connection? Gold-mining heiress and Denver native Evalyn yes. Evalyn. Really Walsh McLean bought two famous diamonds from Cartier, the 94.8-carat Star of the East in 1908 and the 45.5-carat Hope in 1911. The gems aren’t in the show, but the pictures and stories are a window into the lives of the one-percenters.
“Turquerie: An Eighteenth-Century European Fantasy,” by Haydn Williams (Thames & Hudson, 240 pages, 291 illustrations, $65)
Fear of the Ottoman Turks held Europe in thrall from 1453, when Turks captured Constantinople, until 1683 when they were vanquished outside Vienna. Then fear gave way to fascination, setting the stage for an 18th century of fanciful decor in Europe. Turquerie, as the fashion is called, introduced turbans, robes and pantaloons to aristocratic boudoirs, added palm trees and camels to interior decor and porcelain, and inserted striped tents into opera productions and pleasure gardens from St. Petersburg to London. Rich in history, art and charming illustrations.
Mary Abbe is the visual art critic for the Star Tribune.