Purple Desks

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For the last three years--during the pontificates of both Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI-- Matthias Schaller has gone inside the Vatican to photograph the rarely seen offices of the Roman Catholic cardinals. Using fifteenth-century iconography as a model, such as the portraits of cardinals Saint Hieronymus and Saint Augustine by Vittore Carpaccio, Schaller combines Renaissance tradition with the technology and conventions of contemporary art--for his works are portraits without a sitter. In this absorbing monograph, his subjects are revealed through our entree into their intimate chambers and through the subtle differences of their attendant accessories, forcing viewers to confront our own assumptions about who these men really are. It perhaps comes as no surprise that Schaller, who was born in Germany and now splits his time between New York and Venice, studied cultural anthropology before embarking on his career in photography.