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High Renaissance, by Michael Levey. New York: Viking Penguin. 320 pp. Illustrated. $7.95. One of a series called ``Style and Civilization'' edited by John Fleming and Hugh Honour, ``High Renaissance,'' first published in 1975, is a stimulating, imaginative, beautifully written study of that period of grace and grandeur roughly coinciding with the life of Michelangelo (1475-1564) and including such masters as Raphael, Titian, Giorgione, Correggio, Leonardo da Vinci, Andrea del Sarto, Cellini, D"urer, and Holbein. Levey's thematic approach considers the visual arts in the context of history and of related developments in the realms of music and literature. His enthusiasm, erudition, and ability to communicate sophisticated insights - in an engagingly accessible style sure to interest the general reader - have earned Levey comparison with the late Sir Kenneth Clark. It is lovely to have this handsomely designed, well-illustrated volume available at such a reasonable cost. The Decorative Art of Today, by Le Corbusier, translated and introduced by James I. Dunnett. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press. 214 pp. Illustrated. $12.50 ($25 cloth).
This is the first English translation of a book first published in 1925: Le Corbusier's ``L'Art D'ecoratif d'Aujourd'hui,'' a collection of polemical, revolutionary, and somewhat repetitive articles inspired by his opposition to the aesthetic values promulgated by the Decorative Arts Exhibition in Paris in 1925. Here, he attacks decoration for its own sake, ornamentation, icons, symbols, and all that he considered ostentatious or superfluous. Functionalism, spare perfection, simplicity, and the values of objects as well-designed tools - for living, working, or thinking - these receive his approbation. Ironically, as the translator observes, it has taken a change of outlook as dramatic as the recent rejection of pure modernism and the ``boxy'' international style to help us to see again - almost as if for the first time - how shocking Le Corbusier's views must have been when he first voiced them. But will anyone ever be able to hope again that a clean, streamlined, starkly simple environment will inhibit crime, reduce mental clutter, and break down the rigid barriers of class and caste? What remains strongly viable, however, is Le Corbusier's belief that true art is never merely decorative or incidental, but part of the essence of things. A History of Southern Africa, by J.D. Omer-Cooper. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann Educational Books. 297 pp. Illustrated. $20.