Florence: The Paintings and Frescoes (1250-1743)
By Ross King and Anja Grebe. (Black Dog & Leventhal/Hachette, 708 pages, 2,000 color illus. $75.)

For 800 years Florence, Italy, has been a sacred city whose very walls breathe beauty. In vivid essays and more than 2,000 lush images, this glorious book covers the great collections of the Uffizi, the Pitti Palace, the Accademia and the Duomo, plus key works in 28 of the city's additional museums and churches. The lively text explains Florentine politics, patronage, street life, banking, international trade and the effect of its wars, plagues and religious squabbles. Fascinating.

The Art of Wonder: Inspiration, Creativity and the Minneapolis Institute of Art
(MIA/University of Minnesota, 164 pages, lavish color, $25.)

A perfect gift book, this attractively priced volume celebrates the Minneapolis museum's centennial with invitingly personal responses to the museum, including photos of the galleries at night, a comic-style story and essays by staff and unexpected people, including hip-hop artist Dessa, late New York Times writer David Carr and photographer Alec Soth.

Sunlight on the River: Poems about Paintings, Paintings about Poems
By Scott Gutterman. (Prestel, 144 pages, 60 illus., $34.95.)

This novel book would make a charming gift for a literary sort with an eye for art, or vice versa. Art ranges from Vermeer to Edward Hopper, Mark Rothko and Larry Rivers. The poets flow from Shakespeare to William Carlos Williams and Rainer Maria Rilke. Could it have been a Minnesota winter that prompted John Berryman to pen a few lines about Pieter Bruegel's "Hunters in the Snow"? Perhaps.

Forms of Japan
By Michael Kenna and Yvonne Meyer-Lohr. (Prestel, 304 pages, 240 black and white illus. $75.)

Having spent decades photographing Japan, Michael Kenna presents the country's sea, land, trees, sky and "spirit" in this handsome collection of elegant black-and-white photos. No neon signs, crammed trains or jostling crowds disfigure his minimalist landscapes of fenceposts in snow, raked gravel, lanterns in a forest, a single tree in a sea of white. His is an idealized, austere and meditative Japan that may exist only in his mind and camera, but every image is a tranquil benediction.

Art in Vienna 1898-1918
By Peter Vergo. (Phaidon, 288 pages, 250 color, $59.95.)

Luxurious, decadent and highly erotic, the paintings and drawings of the Vienna Secession era — especially those of Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele — are enormously more popular now than when this book was first published 40 years ago. Now updated and redesigned, it is a definitive survey of the interplay of art, architecture, music, literature and the design of everything from fabric to type and teapots that gave Vienna its febrile sizzle at the beginning of the 20th century.

Heritage of the Mogul World
Edited by Philip Jodidio. (Prestel, 296 pages, 293 illus., $75.)

Originating in what is now Afghanistan, the Mogul Empire ruled much of the Indian subcontinent for 300 years, from 1526-1857. In that relatively peaceful and prosperous era, exquisite gardens, lavishly tiled temples and gilded marble tombs fused Hindu architecture with Islamic symbolism. Though abused and neglected over the past 150 years, some key Mogul sites are being restored by the Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme, whose work this book handsomely documents. One delightful surprise is the plan for a traditional Islamic garden to be built in, of all places, Edmonton, Alberta.

Picturing People: The New State of the Art
By Charlotte Mullins. (Thames & Hudson, 192 pages, 200 illus., $40.)

Focusing on 70 contemporary painters from at least 24 countries, this excellent and highly readable survey argues that these new, sometimes unsettling pictures of people are a reaction to the political unrest, economic turbulence, culture clashes and confusion of the postwar era. Images range from cartoonish sketches to complex family scenes.

Marvelous Objects: Surrealist Sculpture from Paris to New York
By Valerie J. Fletcher. (Prestel, 192 pages, 180 illus., $49.95.)

Inspired by dreams, chance encounters and wild, imaginative puns, surrealism aimed to go "beyond reason" into a realm of unbridled creativity. Its practitioners made strange objects such as Meret Oppenheim's fur-lined teacup and Salvador Dali's lobster-handled telephone. The movement's paintings are better known than the fascinating objects found here, but they shouldn't be. Published in conjunction with an exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., through Feb. 15.

Edward S. Curtis: One Hundred Masterworks
Edited by Christopher Cardozo. (Delmonico/Prestel. 184 pages, 155 color illus., $65.)

Minneapolis-based Christopher Cardozo has almost single-handedly rescued from oblivion the American Indian photographs of Edward Curtis, producing eight books and exhibitions that have been seen in more than 40 countries. He repeats his formula of sepia prints on cream paper in this handsome book. Curtis produced more than 2,200 photos during his 25-year effort to document the tribes of North America. The "master" set includes unusual images, including a rare 1908 color photo of an Indian with green-striped braids.

Minnesota Modern: Four Artists of the Twentieth Century
By Moira Harris, Brian Szott and Ben Gessner. (Afton Press, 180 pages, 200 color illus., $45.)

Mostly forgotten now, these Minnesota painters were rising stars in the early 20th century, included in the 1939 and 1940 World's Fairs along with Picasso, Munch and Marcel Duchamp. Well-researched biographies, excellent color reproductions and intimate family photos successfully champion the talents of "searching voyager" Dewey Albinson, "Midwest bohemian" Clement Haupers, "Minnesota old master" Cameron Booth and "blue-collar modernist" Elof Wedin.

The Hermitage XXI: The New Art Museum in the General Staff Building
By Oleg Yawein. (Thames & Hudson, 208 pages, 283 illus., 164 color illus., $60.)

The Hermitage XXI is an astonishing addition to the original Hermitage, converting a wing of the vast General Staff Building across the square into a museum of 19th- and 20th-century art. Skylit interiors, hanging gardens, huge movable walls and grand staircases of steel and glass provide a daunting venue likely to overshadow any art installed there.

Impressionism: Reimagining Art
By Norbert Wolf. (Prestel, 272 pages, 200 color illus., $75.)

Starting in France, this global view of Impressionism wraps in painters and photographers from the United States, Scandinavia, Russia and throughout Europe. It deals with the familiar stylistic tics (flickering brush strokes, watery light), topics (dance halls, gardens, flowers) and even the art dealers and collectors who popularized the style. Unfortunately, the book is blighted by unintelligible prose. What could the "highly sketchy dictus" of Degas' style possibly be? Or Manet's "pastose application" of paint? Really.

Mary Abbe is the Star Tribune's art critic.