Borsook, Eve 1929–
Borsook, Eve 1929–
PERSONAL: Born October 3, 1929 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada; daughter of Henry and Lisl Hummel. Education: Vassar College, B.A.; New York University, M.A.; Courtauld Institute of Art, London, Ph.D. Hobbies and other interests: Mural conservation, pottery, arts and crafts, reverse paintings on glass, history of glass techniques.
ADDRESSES: Office—Villa I Tatti, Via di Vincigliata 26, Florence 50135, Italy.
CAREER: Art historian, teacher and writer.
(With Leonetto Tintori) Giotto: The Peruzzi Chapel, Harry N. Abrams (New York, NY), 1965.
Ambroglio Lorenzetti, Sadea/Sansoni (Florence, Italy), 1966.
The Companion Guide to Florence, Harper & Row (New York, NY), 1966, 8th edition, Companion Guides (Rochester, NY), 1998.
Gli affreschi di Montesiepi, EDAM (Florence, Italy), 1969.
(With Johannes Offerhaus) Francesco Sassetti and Ghirlandaio at Santa Trinita, Florence: History and Legend in a Renaissance Chapel, Davaco Publishers (Doornspijk, Netherlands), 1981.
(Editor, with A. Morrogh, F. Superbi Gioffredi, and P. Morselli) Renaissance Studies in Honor of Craig Hugh Smyth, two volumes, Barbéra (Florence, Italy), 1985.
(Editor, with Fiorella Superbi Gioffredi) Tecnica e stile: esempi di pittura murale del Rinascimento italiano (papers from Harvard Center for Italian Renaissance Studies convention), two volumes, Silvana (Milan, Italy), 1986.
Messages in Mosaic: The Royal Programmes of Norman Sicily, 1130–1187, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1990.
(Editor, with Fiorella Superbi Gioffredi) Italian Altarpieces, 1250–1550: Function and Design, Clarendon Press (New York, NY), 1994.
(Editor, with Fiorella Gioffredi Superbi and Giovanni Pagliarulo, and author of introduction) Medieval Mosaics: Light, Color, Materials, Silvana Editoriale (Milan, Italy), 2000.
(Coeditor and coauthor of introduction) L'oro dei poveri: La paglia nell'arredo liturgico e nelle immagini devozionali dell'Italia centrale fra il 1670e il 1870, Polistampa (Florence, Italy), 2000.
Contributor to books, including Festschrift: Ulrich Middeldorf, edited by A. Kosegarten and P. Tigler, de Gruyter (Berlin, Germany), 1968; Art the Ape of Nature: Studies in Honor of H.W. Janson, edited by M. Barasch and L. F. Sandler, Harry N. Abrams (New York, NY), 1981; Santa Maria del Fiore: The Cathedral and Its Sculpture, edited by M. Haines, Cadmo (Fiesole, Italy), 2001. Contributor of articles and reviews to periodicals around the world, including Portfolio and Art News Annual, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Arte medievale, Studi Medievali, and Burlington.
SIDELIGHTS: Art historian Eve Borsook has devoted her professional life to the study of murals and mosaics from the Middle Ages and the Italian Renaissance. She has written books on individual painters as well as matters of technique, function, and design. She has also edited volumes of scholarly essays. In addition, her guidebook to the city of Florence has remained in print for over thirty years and has undergone eight editions to date.
Borsook's first published book, The Mural Painters of Tuscany, from Cimabue to Andrea del Sarto, was a revision of her doctoral dissertation. This book was welcomed as a groundbreaking survey of mural painting and was revered as basically the sole comprehensive study on the subject until flooding in Florence in 1966 threatened to damage the city's artistic heritage and new interest arose in preserving mural art. Indeed, the restorations that took place after this flood enabled Borsook to conduct new observations and research that culminated in the book's extensive enlargement and revision in 1980. Though the book's first edition had been highly praised, the revised edition received even more lavish accolades. A Choice reviewer commented that the book "should be made available to every student and scholar," and praised Borsook's exceptionally thorough, scholarly, and succinct catalog notes. In Apollo, however, reviewer Cecil Gould found that Borsook's comments on Leonardo's "Last Supper" suggested that she was "rather out of her depth" on this subject; he also pointed out some factual errors. Although he criticized Borsook for failing to include a detailed discussion of the technical problem of the "eye level," he concluded that the book was informative and thorough on several matters and "is probably the most convenient work of reference now available."
Before and after The Mural Painters of Tuscany, Borsook worked with Leonetto Tintori (between 1952 and 1982) on Giotto: The Peruzzi Chapel, a study of the murals in the Peruzzi Chapel in Florence's Santa Croce church. A Kirkus Reviews critic admired the historical context provided in the book and its analysis of the restoration of individual murals. With her reputation by this time established as an expert in Florentine art, Borsook was next asked to write a new guidebook to the city. The Companion Guide to Florence received mixed reviews. A Choice contributor praised Borsook's aesthetic sensibility, insight, and warmth, and observed that each chapter contained "a useful summary of monuments." But the reviewer also noted the book's "utterly romantic and adulatory" tone and its disorganized structure. In Books and Bookmen, a critic called the book an excellent companion guide distinguished by its "taste." Marghanita Laski, however, wrote in the Listener that The Companion Guide to Florence was "disappointing." Though she found the book adequately informative, she observed that it remained "somehow incapable of rousing enthusiasm." A Times Literary Supplement critic dismissed Borsook's organization as "thoroughly unpractical" and her information "inaccurate" and "careless." The critic pointed out several mistakes in the walking and biking tours Borsook described in the book and criticized the inclusion of personal encounters as an embarrassment. The critic concluded that, though the book was likely to be popular, tourists "will not be greatly aided in choosing what to look at or in understanding what they see" by the work.
Though The Companion Guide to Florence was not an unqualified critical success, Borsook's more specialized works met with more consistent praise. Her study of the murals in the Sassetti chapel of St. Francis in Florence's Vallombrosan church, Francesco Sassetti and Ghirlandaio at Santa Trinita, Florence: History and Legend in a Renaissance Chapel, written with Johannes Offerhaus, according to Burlington contributor Amanda Lillie, "is not the comprehensive monograph" that it could have been but acknowledged its informative appendix of new documents and its "well-chosen" and well-reproduced illustrations.
In Messages in Mosaic: The Royal Programmes of Norman Sicily, 1130–1187, Borsook departed from the Renaissance and mural painting to consider the medieval mosaics at Cefalu, the Cappella Palatina at Palermo, and Monreale. These were created during the rule of the Norman kings in Sicily, and Borsook argues that the mosaic cycles were created "to legitimize and fortify a new monarchy" over the Papacy. Paul Williamson in Apollo found this book "consistently thought-provoking" but took issue with several of Borsook's theories, commenting that the author "has both gone too far and not far enough in her interpretations." Williamson was particularly disappointed that Borsook chose not to discuss in detail the mosaics of the Martorana, which contain a panel that shows Roger II being crowned by Christ—a subject Williamson believed would shed light on Borsook's thesis about the monarchy's claims. While Choice reviewer E. Kosmer found the book "densely written" and "often difficult to follow," the critic also admired its scope and wealth of information.
Both Burlington contributor George Zarnecki and Times Literary Supplement reviewer Raleigh Trevelyan found Borsook's arguments in Messages in Mosaic provocative and persuasive. Calling the author's analysis of individual works "masterly," Zarnecki called Borsook's study "a stimulating book, full of challenging and, on the whole, convincing ideas." Trevelyan, too, enjoyed what he called the book's sometimes "controversial" but well-reasoned and well-documented arguments. And both reviewers particularly noted Borsook's insights on the mosaics' theological symbolism of light.
In addition to her own monographs, Borsook has also served as editor for two collections of symposium papers. Tecnica e stile: esempi di pittura murale del Rinascimento italiano, edited with Fiorella Superbi Gioffredi, presents papers from a conference sponsored by the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies in May 1983. Contributors included art historians, curators, and fresco restoration professionals. John Pope-Hennessy observed in Apollo that the collection's "careful editing" and excellent photographs make it "an eye-opening book." Borsook again worked with Superbi Gioffredi in editing Italian Altarpieces, 1250–1550: Function and Design, a collection of eight papers from a symposium held at Villa I Tatti in 1988. London Review of Books critic Nicholas Penny observed that the book "is little more than the sum of its parts," but added that its surfeit of information would make it a welcome study for historians of the Renaissance.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Borsook, Eve, Messages in Mosaic: The Royal Programmes of Norman Sicily, 1130–1187, Oxford University Press, 1990.
Osti, Ornella Francisco, editor, Mosaics of Friendship: Studies in Art and History for Eve Borsook, Centro Di (Florence, Italy), 1999.
Apollo, July, 1981, Cecil Gould, review of The Mural Painters of Tuscany, from Cimabue to Andrea del Sarto, p. 68; March, 1987, John Pope-Hennessy, review of Tecnica e stile: esempi di pittura murale del Rinascimento italiano, pp. 240-241; December, 1990, p. 433.
Books and Bookmen, August, 1973, review of The Companion Guide to Florence, p. 140.
Burlington, Amanda Lillie, review of Francesco Sassetti and Ghirlandaio at Santa Trinita, Florence: History and Legend in a Renaissance Chapel; May, 1984, pp. 293-295; February, 1990, George Zarnecki, review of Messages in Mosaic: The Royal Programmes of Norman Sicily, 1130–1187, pp. 132-133; March, 1991, pp. 198-199.
Choice, April, 1967, review of The Companion Guide to Florence, p. 147; October, 1981, review of The Mural Painters of Tuscany, from Cimabue to Andrea del Sarto, p. 227; October, 1991, p. 268; May, 1995, p. 1438.
Connoisseur, February, 1982, p. 89.
Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 1965, review of Giotto: The Peruzzi Chapel, p. 670.
Listener, January 12, 1967, Marghanita Laski, review of The Companion Guide to Florence, p. 64.
London Review of Books, April 6, 1995, Nicholas Penny, review of Italian Altarpieces, 1250–1550: Function and Design, p. 17.
Renaissance Quarterly, autumn, 1983, pp. 413-418; summer, 1988, pp. 308-310; winter, 1997, p. 1259.
Times Literary Supplement, July 21, 1966, review of The Companion Guide to Florence, p. 630; September 25, 1998, Raleigh Trevelyan, review of Messages in Mosaic, p. 32.