PÁL KELEMEN was born in Budapest and educated in Munich and Paris, where for years he devoted himself to research in European and Asiatic art. In 1926, while working on his Impressionism before the Nineteenth Century, he became interested in pre-Columbian art, that vast and mysterious body of work executed by American aboriginals prior to 1492. And in 1932, after his marriage to an American, he decided to devote his entire effort to an investigation of this native heritage, so different from the Continental cultural influences which have shaped contemporary American culture; so unexplored; so isolated in time and space. He would study, he decided, that group of five highly developed aboriginal cultures — our own Southwest Area, the Mexican Area (Aztecs), the Maya Area, the Interlying Area, the Andean Area (Incas) — which flourished during a period parallel to Europe’s Middle Ages.
Medieval American Art is a definitive work. It is also a fascinating work and one which should please not only art lovers but those readers especially interested in Americana. In Volume One Mr. Kelemen discusses, simply but professionally, the great American cultures of the past, their remains, and their European contemporaries. Volume Two is a picture book. It contains 960 excellent photographs — all beautifully placed on the page. There are also good charts, a map, and bibliographies.
This is not only a monumental work, but also a heartening one, for it is indeed encouraging to find a work of such devoted scholarship in a decade so crucial and so unsuited to scholarly research. In these two elaborate volumes there is also a timely reminder of man’s rapacity. For these great cultures of “the new golden land" were annihilated only some five hundred years ago, and they were annihilated by European white men in search of new economic spheres and wealth and in the name of Christ. Perhaps it is indicative that, in 1944, these same cultures have found some measure of rehabilitation at the hands of a European scholar. This is a work of great permanent value and one essential for the home museum bookshelf. Macmillan, $22.50.