Monday, 21 December 2009

The Most-Used Cover Image in the World?

As someone with an interest in the use of one image on multiple books, I've wondered in the past which image has been most popular, appearing on the greatest number of books. I think I've found the answer: it's Diego Velázquez's 'Rokeby Venus', which was attacked in 1914 by "Slasher" Mary Richardson, the militant suffragette, supposedly to protest against the arrest of Emmeline Pankhurst the previous day.


(Click for much bigger version)


“I have tried to destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythological history as a protest against the government for destroying Mrs Pankhurst, who is the most beautiful character in modern history,” Richardson said at the time, though she admitted in 1952 that another reason was simply that she “didn’t like the way men visitors gaped at it all day long”. (See more here.)

It's the painting's combination of sexiness and restraint, I suspect, that has seen it so widely used. Here are just a selection of covers which feature it, and this excludes the many other Velázquez-focused books which also make use of it.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The second book featured above, The King Amaz'd by Gonzalo Torrente Ballester, is a wonderful and strange novel: Spain is in trouble, struck by incursions from Hell, because the King desires to see his wife naked. Meanwhile, a pure-hearted priest who is able to chat with Satan without becoming corrupted, meets up with the Devil to sort out what can be done. Beautifully written, and obeying its own strange internal logic, it's a beautiful book.

9 comments:

Brian Busby said...

The use of "Rokeby Venus" as a cover image for Stephen Vizinczey's In Praise of Older Women seems both inappropriate and lazy. That said, it does provide the opportunity to... well, praise this fine novel (originally self-published!). Also recommended is Vizinczey's An Innocent Millionaire, a wonderful achievement recognized by Graham Greene and, it seems, few others.

JRSM said...

'In Praise...' is coming out in 2010 as a Penguin Classic, which I'm looking forward too, with a big eye-catching monochrome breast on the cover: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/P/0141192062.jpg

Christy Pinheiro, EA ABA said...

It's a beautiful painting, but I agree with Brian. I think that re-using this image again and again is just laziness.

Lee said...

Not a cover, but my favourite inappropriate use of the Rokeby Venus was in The Tudors (HBO production I believe, but shown on the BBC over here). Remarkably, without any kind of explanation or apparent shame, they showed it being painted by Hans Holbein instead of Velazquez!

Truly bizarre.

Flyswatter said...

Wow, great blog! I just popped in here from Reddit.

Aisling said...

Because I didn't know the name of the painting, I couldn't check the Tudors use of it. But I was sure it wasn't a Holbein painting, and it seemed a completely random inclusion into a busy series.

Has the Gruber book covered her bum? :O

JRSM said...

I've not seen 'The Tudors', but that's mad!

Yes, the Gruber book covers her bum up, and 'Sexualidad Femenina' has given her a little pair of underpants.

Flyswatter: thanks!

Tulkinghorn said...

Isn't it a cheat, though, to list books that are actually, in some way, about the Rokeby Venus?

Depending on how you count, eleven of these are.....

JRSM said...

Possibly, yes, but there are plenty that aren't, too--and I did exclude a lot of others and those grounds. And I actually don't mind the painting's wide use at all--I was just wondering which painting was most used, cover-wise.