Setting the Scene
There is no class on Monday in observances of Labor Day. Please begin working on the Writing Art History Activity in preparation for Wednesday's class.


"Because I'm an art historian, I have some experience of writing that comes out of close attention. That's [really] what art history is. You're looking at something very closely, and you try to write in a meticulous way about it." - Teju Cole

Two patrons looking inside/outside of the box at SF MoMA.











The Critics
What is Art History?
The idea of "art" is a relatively new term, existing only about 250 years. Our definition of art is modern.
Honore Daumier, The Critics, 1862.











Pliny the Elder
  • Ancient works exhibit clear rules.
  • Ancient Athenians appear to be the first culture to recognize individual artisans.
  • The Athenian sculptor, Xenocrates wrote one of the first historical accounts of art, a history of Greek sculpture that Pliny the Elder drew upon and quoted in his Historia Naturalis.
Pliny the Elder











Aesthetics = concerns the theory of art and beauty. Questions of art and beauty are grouped in the realm of value because many philosophical problems in aesthetics involve critical judgements.
  • What is the most beautiful painting?
  • What is the most valuable work of art?
  • What is art?
James McNeill Whistler, Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket, 1875.
Oil on wood, 23 3/4 x 18 3/8 in.











Giorgio Vasari
  • Vasari was friendly with many of the artists about whom he wrote. Though the work is deeply polemical and full of legends accepted as fact, his was the first attempt to create a scholarly framework into which to place art history.
Giorgio Vasari, Self-Portrait, 1511.










Growing out of the salons held at the Hôtel de Rambouillet that were focused on the discussion of literature during the late 1620s and early 1630s, the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture was founded in France in 1648.
Louis XIV
Academies would then be established in Rome, Athens, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Britain, the U.S., Holland, and Spain.
An important feature of the academies were schools of fine art that allowed academy members to advance their studies, and would later offer important competitions to emerging artists.
These academies published their own texts and allowed scholars of various disciplines to collaborate in different areas of classical studies, unlike the more rigidly structured universities. Classical and early-medieval art historians blossomed under these new impetus.
Hyacinthe Rigaud, Louis XIV, 1701.











French Revolution 1789 - 1799
  • Once a royal palace, the Louvre was opened as a museum by France's Revolutionary government in 1793.
Musée Central des Arts in the Grande Galerie of the Louvre











Luncheon on the Grass

  • During the Enlightenment and early modern eras, art history as a discipline began to blossom.
  • However, in the early years of this century most art historians were principally interested in two types of problems:
    • Establishing the authorship and date of works of art.
    • Analyzing changes in style, both in the careers of individual artists and as a more general process.
Courbet, The Encounter, 1854.











As printing technologies improved, the study of art history became available to more and more people.











Clement Greenberg with Noland painting

  • Texts such as Gardner's used traditional methods for analyzing works of art: biography, iconography, and historical context.
  • By the 1960s new criteria for writing art history were adopted by many art historians. These approaches emphasized a variety of modern concerns including feminism, Marxism, psychoanalysis, formalism, and semiotic deconstruction.
Clement Greenberg studying Kenneth Noland, Song, 1958.











The Questions Art Historians Ask
  • Chronology = When was it made? How old is it?
  • Provenance = Where was it made? Who paid for it, and when?
  • Artist = Who made it? Under what conditions was the work conceived?
  • Style = How does it look? Is that look particular to a time, place or artist?
  • Subject = Who and what is depicted? What story is being told?
  • Iconography = What symbols are used and what do they mean?
  • Form = How was the work composed and made?
Consider the formal elements such as composition, materials, technique, line, color, texture, space, mass, volume, perspective, foreshortening, proportion, scale, etc.
Vermeer, A Lady Writing a Letter, 1665.











la rinascita = rebirth; term used to describe a period in European history from the 14th to 15th century; first used in Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Most Excellent Artists, 1550
Renaissance = 14th century to 17th century
"northern Europe" = places north of the Alps
Northern Renaissance
art in Flanders, Netherlands, and Normandy
1400 - 1550
Early Renaissance
Italian art in Tuscany
1400 - 1500
High Renaissance
Italian art in Rome, Florence and Venice
1500 - 1527
art in Florence, Rome, Venice, Spain and France
1520 - 1600












The Middle Ages


Fall of the Roman Empire

859 - 1088

First universities established


Norman conquest of England

1095 - 1099

First Crusade called by the Pope to retake the Holy Lands from the Muslims


Persecution of witches begins in France
Black Death


Invention of wearable eyeglasses


Dry mariner's compass developed after ancient Chinese models

1337 - 1453

Hundred Years' War between France and England

1346 - 1353

Black Death kills about 75 million people worldwide

1378 - 1417

Great Schism divides the Roman Catholic Church into eastern and western traditions

1387 - 1400

Chaucer writes the Canterbury Tales










The Black Death (Bubonic Plague) began in 1346, and quickly spread throughout Europe until 1353.
It is estimated that 30 to 60% of Europe's population was killed by the plague.











Paul, Herman and Jean Limbourg, Page with February and June from Tres Riches Heures, 1413 - 1416.











Western and southern façades of Chartres Cathedral, France, c. 1145 - 1155.











Madonna Enthroned
Madonna Enthroned, late 13th century. Tempera on panel.
Detail of Christ of the Pentacost. Saint Madeleine Cathedral, France. 1125 - 1150.











Group Think

  • Group 1 - What traits characterize Medieval art? Identify a work that exemplifies these traits.
  • Group 2 - What traits characterize Renaissance art? Identify an artist known for making art with these traits.
  • Group 3 - What traits characterize Renaissance art? Identify an artist known for making art with these traits.
  • Group 4 - What are some of the main ideas that stimulated the development of Renaissance art?