Book reviews: 5,000 Years of Glass | Scotland’s Lost Gardens | Scotland’s Landscapes
5,000 Years of Glass edited by Hugh Tait
British Museum, £25 ****
Glassmakers in Mesopotamia were driven by the desire to recreate the colours and consistency of gemstones; to turn common materials into precious treasures by a sort of alchemy. Even today, the making and working of glass can seem as much a magic rite as an industrial process, banal as so many of its final uses are. Those everyday applications get scant attention in a sumptuously illustrated history in which prestigious items are well to the fore. More Murano than St Helens, more crystal than car windscreens, it doesn’t do justice to the versatility of glass. It does, however, bring out the extraordinary artistic possibilities of this material.
Scotland’s Lost Gardens by Marilyn Brown
RCAHMS, £25 *****
Flowerbeds and fishponds under fields of wheat; ornamental terraces put out to pasture: this is a guide to the gardens time all but obliterated and then forgot. Invariably they show up better in aerial surveys conducted by the RCAHMS (Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland). And, of course, in the period plans and pictures lovingly brought together here. An enchantingly beautiful book, this is also a fascinating account of vanished sensibilities and styles.
Scotland’s Landscapes by James Crawford
RCAHMS, £25 ****
This book opens with the image of a lonely stretch of water glinting against a background of empty hills and moorland: the ultimate Scottish wilderness, in short. Only for the caption to reveal that it’s a man-made reservoir, Loch Quoich, in Knoydart. Scotland’s Landscapes is full to bursting with truly breathtaking scenes from the country’s every corner – the various items from the National Collection of Aerial Photography assembled here show that Scotland may have been built and roughly shaped by geomorphological processes, but the crucial touches were bestowed by human history. Iron-age hillforts; ancient cultivation; “improving” landlords in the 18th century; clearances; the construction of golf-courses; urban expansion in the post-War decades; road-schemes in the present day… All these things have left enduring marks.