Flying Too Close To The Sun
By James Cahill
Review by Alice (Classics and English)
As a Classics and English student, I’m hugely interested in the reception of classics in literature, which was something I had thought about a lot when I was applying as a way of linking my two subjects in my personal statement. It was not until I saw this book in a Tate gift shop, however, that I had really considered just how influential the classics have been to visual art as well, all the way from antiquity through to the modern day. You might already have an image in your mind of ancient statues or Renaissance paintings of mythological figures, but this book reveals the vast scope of art inspired by classical mythology in a beautiful and easy to follow format. The most interesting aspect for me was the comparison of artworks based on the same story but made centuries or millennia apart, especially the way modern works utilise different mediums and modes such as photography and videography to highlight unique aspects of often very well-known stories. For example, one of my favourite artists, Cy Twombly, is explored in this book to show how the Abstract Expressionist movement of the 1970s approached this genre of art – his paintings, at first glance, seem to have far more in common with Pollock than Da Vinci, and it is perhaps not until you realise that the work is called ‘The Shield of Achilles’ that its meaning becomes clear. I am not an art student, but Cahill thoughtfully leads the reader through both extremely famous and more obscure works inspired by classical stories in a way that is engaging both to experts and amateurs. I would highly recommend this book as a slightly different way of approaching some familiar topics for classicists and exploring the influence of classics on culture, or for artists and art historians interested in mapping how certain ideas persist in art through the ages, and how and why the presentation of those ideas changes in order to reflect the time in which the art is made.
Flying Too Close To The Sun: Myths in Art from Classical to Contemporary by James Cahill