The Oxford History of Western Art

ISBN 13: 9780198600121

The Oxford History of Western Art

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9780198600121: The Oxford History of Western Art
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In this reappraisal of how the history of art can be presented and understood, readers are given insights not only into how and why works of art were created, but also how works in different media relate to each other across time. This is not the simple, linear story of art, but a series of stories, told from varying viewpoints. The founding principle of the book has been to use selected groupings of pictures to give readers a sense of the visual "texture" of the various periods and episodes covered. The 167 illustration groups, supported by explanatory text and picture captions, create a sequence of "visual tours" - not merely a procession of individual works viewed in isolation, but juxtapositions of significant images that convey a sense of the visual environments in which works of art need to be viewed in order to be understood and appreciated. Another key feature of the narrative is the re-definition of traditional period boundaries. Rather than relying on conventional labels such as Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, etc., five major phases of significant historical change are established that unlock longer and more meaningful continuities: the art of classical antiquity, from c. 600 BC to the fall of Rome in AD 410; the establishment of visual culture in Europe from 410 to 1527 (the sack of papal Rome); European visual regimes from 1527 to 1770; the era of revolutions 1770 to 1914; and Modernism and after, 1914 to 2000. This new framework shows how the major religious and secular functions of art have been forged, sustained, transformed, revived, and revolutionized over the ages; how the institutions of Church and State have consistently aspired to make art in their own image; and how the rise of art history itself has come to provide the dominant conceptual framework within which artists create, patrons patronize, collectors collect, galleries exhibit, dealers deal, and art historians write. The text has been written by a team of 50 specialist authors working under the direction of art historian Professor Martin Kemp. Whilst bringing their own expertise and vision to their sections, each author was also asked to relate their text to a number of unifying themes and issues, including written evidence, physical contexts, patronage, viewing and reception, techniques, gender and racial issues, centres and peripheries, media and condition, the notion of "art", and current presentations. Though the coverage of topics focuses on European notions of art and their transplantation and transformation in North America, space is also given to cross-fertilizations with other traditions - including the art of Latin America, the Soviet Union, India, Africa (and Afro-Caribbean), Australia, and Canada. Professor Kemp and his team similarly deal generously with the applied arts and reproductive media such as photography and prints. The result is a vibrant, vigorous, and revolutionary account of Western art serving both as an inspirational introduction for the general reader and an authoritative source of reference and guidance for students.

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Review:

Despite its telephone directory dimensions, Martin Kemp's Oxford Dictionary of Western Art as a vigorous chronicle of Western visual culture is remarkably concise. In an exercise of editorial sadism (a tautology?), he has not spared the whip on his team of 50 international critics and academics, who have been forced to distil a lifetime's study of a period or style into a few hundred words. Against this background of bit-champing, what emerges is a lucid, breathless panoramic span of the Western artistic spectrum from its roots in the Greek and Roman empires through to the giddy blur of postmodernism. By opening with the Elgin Marbles and closing with a picture of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Kemp bookends his survey with two icons that typify the complex relationships that Art, the self-conscious descendant of art, has of necessity maintained with ownership, patronage, and power. The splitting of the history into five temporal sections successfully prevents any genre fatigue, and the diversity of media discussed is both enlightened and enlightening, with sections on interiors, spaces, prints, sculpture, photography and crafts.

With so ambitious a project, which at times must have been like catching water in a sieve, inevitably there are omissions--a disappointing lack of Celtic art, for example--but ample room is allocated to associated subjects such as art history, criticism and galleries, as well as European influence elsewhere in the world, and the choices of focus, if less "radical" than the publishers would have us believe, certainly breathe new life into old themes. By re-drawing the lines of development to show evolution rather than succession or progression, Kemp and his contributors have succeeded in assembling and contextualising a whole every bit as accessible and authoritative as its multifarious parts, a record of which they as a team, and we as a society, should be justly proud. --David Vincent

About the Author:

Martin Kemp, British Academy Wolfson Professor (1993-8) and Professor of the History of Art, University of Oxford, is one of the UK's most distinguished art historians. His many publications include Leonardo da Vinci: Artist, Scientist, Inventor; The Science of Art; and Behind the Picture: Art and Evidence in the Italian Renaissance. He lives in the U.K.

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