Competition was key to the astonishing creativity of the Italian Renaissance. Nowhere was this truer than in Florence, where, in 1504, officials commissioned paintings by Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo for the Republic’s Great Council Hall. These murals are The Lost Battles (Knopf, $35) at the center of this rich account by The Guardian’s art critic, Jonathan Jones. Commissioned both to celebrate Florence and to determine who was the greater artist, the dual depictions looked to the past martial glory of Florence for their subject, but in approach and style pointed ahead to the art of the High Renaissance. As Jones defines the different strengths of the two competitors—Leonardo was “an artist who worked with ideas,” while Michelangelo was primarily a sculptor and dealt in risk and daring—he shows how these distinctions heralded new criteria for judging art. The emphasis was no longer on technical expertise, but on individual style and originality. And the winner? Neither artist completed the assignment, and the preliminary drawings were likely destroyed when the Medicis regained power in 1513.
No matter how you feel about “heroin chic” or her personal life, there is little question that Kate Moss has had an unparalleled modeling career. Kate: The Kate Moss Book (Rizzoli, $85) is a comprehensive collection of images that spans two decades and includes never-before-seen photographs from Moss’s own archives. The close collaboration of Moss and her editors, three luminaries of the fashion world, Fabien Baron, Jess Hallett, and Jefferson Hack, has resulted in a book that is as beautiful as it is personal. A friend once said to me, “whatever Kate Moss is selling, I’m buying.” My recommendation? Follow my friend’s advice and buy this amazing book about a truly stunning woman.
In Alexander McQueen: The Life and the Legacy (Harper Design, $35), Judith Watt presents an illustrated biography of one of fashion’s greatest contemporary designers, a man with enormous vision who was challenged by personal demons. Watt shows how McQueen, the youngest son of a taxi driver and a teacher, was a man of contradictions— tenacious yet uncertain in his ambitions, charming yet a compulsive liar who delighted and encouraged the many apocryphal stories that surrounded him—and reveals how McQueen’s designs reflect a similar tension between extremes. Known for his flamboyant and theatrical runways, McQueen pushed himself to create new silhouettes and to combine fabrics and styles in innovative and avant-garde ways. From bumster pants to the Armadillo shoe, Watt’s intimate portrait proves that McQueen’s impact on contemporary fashion design is undisputed.