"Art That Changed the World"

(DK, 400 pages, $40)

If you could have only one art book, this smartly written, extravagantly illustrated, crisply designed volume would be a splendid choice. The title is a bit misleading, since its "world" is only Europe and the Mediterranean basin. But Europe's rich heritage unfolds crisply with insightful overviews, biographies and neatly defined terms organized by time lines. Sweeping from the cave paintings of Lascaux through ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, the book swirls through the Dark Ages, Renaissance and the Neoclassical eras into the 19th century and wraps up with the Modern Age. All the usual geniuses are covered, but the book gets stars for touting such great undersung talents as Fernand Khnopff, a melancholy Belgian symbolist, and important but neglected works like J.S. Sargent's harrowing memorial to soldiers gassed in World War I.

"Art/ Fashion in the 21st Century"

By Mitchell Oakley Smith & Alison Kubler (Thames & Hudson, 320 pages, 238 color illus., $60)

Let artists into fashion's pricey playpen and you're likely to get campy surrealism, like Alexander McQueen's sullen white-faced models swaggering past a runway mountain of garbage, or Italian models in red longjohns garnished with crocheted skulls and gas masks. The mashup of art and fashion has produced such inspired pairs as Cindy Sherman and Christian Dior, Jeff Koons and Valentino, and Louis Vuitton tricked out in Yayoi Kusama's polka dots. A must for the fashionista on your list.

"Late Raphael"

Edited by Tom Henry and Paul Joannides (Thames & Hudson, 384 pages, 238 color illus., $65)

Another youthful genius, Raphael Sanzio (1483-1520) was a big operator in the Rome of Michelangelo, turning out portraits, murals, tapestry designs and religious commissions, all while supervising construction of St. Peter's Basilica and overseeing some 50 assistants. Also accompanying a major Prado show, this book focuses on the last seven years of Raphael's too-brief career, from 1513 until his death in 1520 at age 37. Biographies of his sitters and key assistants enrich the book along with beautiful photos, details and infrared images that show the condition and under painting of key images.

"New Museums in China"

By Clare Jacobson (Princeton Architectural Press, 256 pages, 400 color illus., $50)

In the past decade, China has opened more than 2,500 new museums to house everything from archaeological relics to contemporary art and pickles. Yes, pickles. In 2001 alone, 395 museums opened there. Many were built by international "starchitects," including Zaha Hadid, Steven Holl, I.M. Pei, David Chipperfield, Rem Koolhaas and Arata Isozaki. Written by a Shanghai-based expert, this handsome volume discusses 51 buildings whose striking engineering and design innovations will soon percolate through the field.

"Art & Place: Site-Specific Art of the Americas"

Edited by Amanda Renshaw (Phaidon Press, 376 pages, 800 color illus., $79.95)

Arranged geographically, the 500 site-specific artworks range from 2,500-year-old rock paintings in the Utah desert to 20th-century San Francisco murals, from a dazzling gold-encrusted baroque church in Puebla, Mexico, to the modern sculpture and buildings of Brasilia. The combos of ancient and contemporary, earthworks and buildings, sculpture, stained glass, mosaics, tapestries, murals and more — plus maps and plans — make this an enticing armchair tour.

"The Art Glass of Louis Comfort Tiffany"

By Paul E. Doros (Vendome Press, 228 pages, 196 color and b. & w. illus., $75)

Stunning photos of Tiffany's gorgeous vases and other objects make this luxurious book a perfect gift, especially coupled with the delightful text about the artist's life, businesses, employees and family, including twin daughters nicknamed "Strawberry and Vanilla," speeding tickets, sailboats and Manhattan's largest mansion, which cost $1 million in 1885, when that was really a lot of money.

"The Young Van Dyck"

By Alejandro Vergara and Friso Lammertse (Thames & Hudson, 416 pages, 242 color illus., $70)

The Mozart of paint, Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641) had talent to rival that of his master, P.P. Rubens, whose luminous style he absorbed. Accompanying a show organized by Madrid's Prado Museum, this engaging volume focuses on just eight formative years from ages 14 to 22. By the time Van Dyck left An­twerp for Genoa, Italy, at age 22, he already had completed 160 significant pictures, which are photographed and discussed in lively detail.

"William Kentridge: Fortuna"

Edited by Lilian Tone (Thames & Hudson, 320 pages, 1,558 color illus., $60)

A white South African born in 1955, Kentridge has interpreted his homeland's repressive politics and turbulent racial history in raw, psychologically compelling drawings, poetry, theater and what he calls "drawn films" — jerky black-and-white movies made with shadow puppets, ink blots, cutouts, collages and reworked drawings. One of the most tough-minded and poetic artists of our time, Kentridge is well served by this handsome summary of his work to date.

"Japonisme and the Rise of the Modern Art Movement: The Arts of the Meiji Period"

Edited by Gregory Irvine (Thames & Hudson, 240 pages, 220 illus.,$70)

European artists' fascination with Japanese art and design in the late 19th century is well-known, but seldom explored in such startling detail as here. During the Meiji period (1868-1912), Japanese crafts — lacquer, pottery, enamel, prints and carvings — filled shops and expos throughout Europe, especially London and Paris. There, young artists including Monet, Van Gogh, Lautrec, Gauguin and others absorbed and adapted Japanese subjects, tonalities, perspective and decorative motifs. This lavish book compares specific examples of their work and other Western art with objects from the Khalili Collection of Meiji art.

"Nature Morte: Contemporary Artists Reinvigorate the Still-Life Tradition"

By Michael Petry (Thames & Hudson, 288 pages, 366 color illus., $60)

After its heyday in Rembrandt's Netherlands, the still life was largely ignored until recently. Now contemporary artists are rethinking the classic tropes of flora, fauna, food, home and — of course — death. From Andy Warhol's flower paintings and Damien Hirst's diamond-studded skulls to Jennifer Steinkamp's hypnotic digital blossoms and Anya Gallicio's screens of real flowers left to rot, the still life has returned in all its metaphoric potency as a symbol of life's transience. How better to end the old and start the New Year?

Mary Abbe is the Star Tribune art critic.