The art event of the year is the opening of the new British Galleries at the V&A, surely the most successful of the lottery- funded re-displays. The museum's overnight transformation from zero ("ace caff", charges, etc) to hero puts David Beckham in the shade. The flak will start to fly again if they persist with their attempts to build Daniel Libeskind's "Spiral", but for the time being, the critics are holding fire. For those who want to read more about the V&A, the obvious starting point is Design and the Decorative Arts: Britain 1500-1900 (V&A, pounds 45), a lavish doorstopper that both explains and supplements the displays. The "in focus" sections, ranging from individual designers to fashion magazines, are particularly useful.
One of those sections focuses on book production, and for this, Christopher de Hamel's The Book: a history of the Bible (Phaidon, pounds 24.95) is essential further reading. It is a fascinating, abundantly illustrated history of the changing size, appearance and use of the Bible, from the age of illuminated manuscripts through to Johann Gutenberg and European missionaries.
Robert Adam looms large at the V&A, and Eileen Harris's The Genius of Robert Adam: his interiors (Yale UP, pounds 65) offers a meticulous survey of 19 of his finest. Each one is visual caviar, so don't gulp this book down. Howard Coutts's The Art of Ceramics: European ceramic design 1500-1830 (Yale, pounds 60) is the first overview of the subject, and puts British achievements in context. Anne Massey's Interior Design of the 20th Century (Thames & Hudson, pounds 7.95) provides a useful coda to the V&A galleries, which throw in the towel at 1900.
The V&A ethos is becoming more prevalent, with many picture galleries now doing mixed-media displays. Luke Syson and Dillian Gordon's Pisanello (National Gallery, pounds 19.95) is the catalogue to the current exhibition, which features coins, medals, armour, cutlery and tapestries as well as paintings and drawings. The catalogue features interesting essays on chivalry and leisure during the period. Luke Syson and Dora Thornton's Objects of Virtue (British Museum, pounds 40) gives a stimulating account of the ways in which objets d'art projected the values of the ruling classes during the Renaissance. Virtue and Beauty (Princeton University Press, pounds 36.50), the catalogue to an exhibition in Washington, DC, does something similar for Renaissance portraits of women.
Titian is perhaps the greatest painter of women, and Paul Joannides's Titian to 1518 (Yale, pounds 50) is an ambitious attempt to redraw the blurred map of Titian's early career. Filled with penetrating insights, as well as vivid descriptions, the book provides a compelling introduction to Venetian painting. David Franklin's Painting in Renaissance Florence (Yale, pounds 40) offers a brisk and forthright account of Florentine painting of the same period.
Monographs on a single artist still form the backbone of art publishers' lists. Among the most useful this year are Horst Ziermann's Matthias Grunewald (Prestel, pounds 45) and Hieronymus Bosch (Abrams, pounds 40), for not only do they have informative texts, but they illustrate every work of these hallucinatory artists. Vermeer (pounds 17.95) and Delacroix (pounds 16.95) are the first artists to be covered in a useful new series of Cambridge Companions, anthologies of old and new essays that examine each figure from a variety of perspectives. …