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Book review: Robert Gaston on Michael Baxandall, Vision and the Work of Words, edited by Peter Mack and Robert Williams, Farnham UK and Burlington VT, Ashgate, 2015

14 October 2015

‘What I wanted was concepts’: Michael Baxandall’s intellectual Odyssey

Michael Baxandall, Vision and the Work of Words, edited by Peter Mack and Robert Williams, Farnham UK and Burlington VT, Ashgate, 2015, xii +175 pp, 16 col. Plates, £ 60 hdbk, ISBN 9781472442789.

Robert W. Gaston 13/RG1

Abstract: The review offers a thorough critical account of the Introduction and nine substantial studies contributed to the book. Given its author’s personal experience of the Warburg Institute during several of Baxandall’s formative years there, it offers something of an insider’s perspective on the development of his early work that both coincides with that offered by several of the collection’s authors, who were students of Baxandall in the following decades, and elaborates it with slightly different emphases. A consistent focus, as the review’s title implies, is Baxandall’s search for ‘concepts,’ to enable his transition from an empiricist training at Cambridge, and initially at the Warburg, toward an obsessively distinctive series of theoretical positions that stood apart from the wave of French and German theory of his time.

Keywords: pictorial meaning, language, experience, period eye, method, decorum

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