Writing and words can appear in works of art under many guises. The most direct is that which uses the artwork as the support for writing: the artist's signature. Another formula is that of words that play with images, emblematically or otherwise. The word Prudentia ('Prudence'), for instance, carved on a Renaissance bas-relief, uses the work as a support.
Another way of presenting writing in art is through the depiction of the object or objects that usually contain it: books, parchments, etc. Books magnified as the repository of the Holy Word or books in which people have written the Gospels. Books also appear as symbols of prestige and trade, of wisdom and justice, of devotion. Books as sacred receptacles of the Word are gradually humanised and become socially prestigious objects, the base of human knowledge in the Renaissance, and of vanitas in the Baroque. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries we see books as sources of amusement for enlightened noblemen and of distraction for collectors. In the age of Modernisme they appear as pastimes for chlorotic young ladies, as civilised bourgeois objects in still lifes, as excuses for suchlike geometric Cubist compositions, while writing appears as mere texture in collages.
We should not forget that writing is also present in the plastic arts as narrative. Many works of art are representations of literary, biblical and mythological narratives. Similarly, the authors of these accounts have been immortalised in the portraits made of them by painters and sculptors.
Finally, just as artworks have become the support for writing, illustration and decoration, books have also become the receptacle for the plastic arts, an excuse for artistic creation. In such books, words are of minor importance, and in so-called artists' books they are even dispensable.
In the framework of the celebration of the Year of Books and Reading, the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya presents a tour through its permanent collection, a tour that highlights the presence of books and writing in a selection of the Museum's works. For the first time, the chosen works are accompanied by distinctive explanatory texts, one addressed to adults and the other to children and teenagers visiting the exhibition with their schools or families.
The poet Narcís Comadira, curator of this guided tour of the collection, has written the texts of the labels, which are also published in two catalogues: an academic catalogue, that includes a number of background essays, and a small catalogue aimed at children aged between six and twelve.