Hand Holding a Book by Adolf von Menzel

In my meandering  around the internet this week, I came across this piece on FT.com reviewing a number of books.  Not much in the content was too memorable except when the author was discussing an excerpt from Book Was There by Andrew Piper.   Piper talks about a specific painting by the 19th century artist Adolf von Menzel titled “Hand Holding a Book.”  The painting is described as “one of the most sensuous depictions of the relationship between a hand and a book I have ever seen.”  This I had to see, and here it is:

Hand Holding a Book

I don’t know if sensual is quite the word I’d use, but it’s an evocative painting nonetheless.   As in a novel or short story, the first-person perspective draws the observer into the painting in a visceral way.  What is the book, what does it contain?  We want to know but cannot.  All that is apparent is that the book is of extreme import and value.   In a world where reading is increasingly done on tablets, phones, and other devices, this painting is a profound reminder of the power of books as both sources of knowledge and as objects of reverence and value.


  1. Not so much sensual more reverential I’d say. Stunning painting has a quiet power. Great post. On a similar subject best book read recently that has an artist at its centre is Sea of Ink about one of the greatest exponents of the Chinese Shuimohua style of painting.

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