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What is Art History? - Definition & Overview
Art history is the academic study of the history and development of art, as well as its stylistic and thematic characteristics. It covers a wide range of art forms, including painting, sculpture, architecture, and other decorative arts, and spans a period of over 30,000 years. The study of art history involves analyzing and interpreting the meaning, context, and significance of works of art, as well as their relationship to the societies that created them.
Through an understanding of the visual elements, subject matter, and symbolism of a work, as well as the historical, cultural, and social context in which it was created, art historians work to shed light on the artist's intent and how the work of art relates to the time it was created.
"David" by Michelangelo as an example of Renaissance sculpture
The study of the history and development of art and its stylistic and thematic characteristics.
The study of the visual arts, including painting, sculpture, architecture, and other decorative arts.
A field that involves analyzing and interpreting the meaning, context, and significance of works of art and understanding their relationship to the societies that created them.
The examination of visual culture and material culture through an art historical lens.
Understanding and interpreting the context, aesthetic values, and social meanings of artworks and visual expressions.
Formal analysis, which involves analyzing the visual elements of a work of art, such as its composition, color, form, and technique. This method is used to understand the artist's use of design principles and how they relate to the content and meaning of the artwork.
Iconography, which involves analyzing the subject matter and symbolism of a work of art. This method is used to understand the underlying meaning behind the artist's choices of subject matter, symbols, and motifs, and how they relate to the historical and cultural context of the artwork.
Contextual analysis, which involves understanding the historical, cultural, and social context of a work of art. This method is used to place the artwork within its historical and cultural context.
Comparative analysis, which involves comparing works of art from different time periods and cultures. This method is used to understand how art evolves over time, and how it is influenced by different cultures and societies.
Stylistic analysis, which involves identifying and understanding the artistic styles used in a work of art. This method is used to understand how an artist's style relates to their historical context, artistic influences and how their style has evolved over time.
Timeline of prominent Methods
18th century − Connoisseurship and formal analysis, which focused on identifying and authenticating artworks through close examination of their visual qualities and techniques.
19th century − The use of art history as a tool for nationalist and racist ideologies.
Early 20th century − The introduction of the "Social history of art" which shifted the focus from solely the formal analysis of art and its maker.
Mid-20th century − The rise of feminist and post-colonial critiques of art history, which critiqued the ways in which the discipline had been used to exclude and marginalize certain groups.
Late 20th century − The expansion of interdisciplinary approaches in art history, drawing on fields such as anthropology, archaeology, and sociology to provide a more comprehensive understanding of art and its place in human history.
"Christ in Majesty" from the Book of Kells as an example of medieval art
Christ pantoctator lifting his hand with a copper braclet, in a blessing gesture, Ã–vraby, Sweden, November 6, 2009
Divisions by Period
Ancient art (prehistoric to 4th century) − This period covers art from the earliest civilizations to the end of the ancient world, including art from ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, and Rome.
Medieval art (5th-15th century) − This period covers art from the fall of the Roman Empire to the start of the Renaissance, including the art of the Byzantine Empire, Carolingian art, Romanesque art, and Gothic art.
Renaissance art (14th-17th century) − This period covers the art of the Italian Renaissance, and later the Northern Renaissance, which began in Italy in the 14th century and spread across Europe over the next few centuries.
Baroque art (17th century) − This period is characterized by grandeur, drama, movement, and tension. Art from this period often has a strong emotional impact and was used to create a sense of awe and wonder.
18th-century art (18th century) − This period covers art from the late Baroque period to the start of the Romantic era. It is characterized by the rococo style, which is characterized by its ornamental, asymmetrical designs and pastel colors.
19th-century art (19th century) − This period covers art from the Romantic era to the start of the 20th century. It is characterized by the rise of various art movements, such as Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, and Symbolism.
20th-century art (20th century) − This period covers art from the start of the 20th century to the end of 1999, and is characterized by the rise of various art movements, such as Futurism, Surrealism, and Abstract Expressionism.
Contemporary art (21st century): This period covers art from the start of the 21st century to the present day, and is characterized by a wide variety of art forms, styles, and mediums.
The College Art Association (CAA) − This is one of the oldest and most prominent professional organizations for art historians and artists in the United States.
The Association of Art Historians (AAH) − This is a UK-based professional organization for art historians and other art professionals. It promotes the study of art history, and provides resources and opportunities for its members.
The International Center of Medieval Art (ICMA) − This organization promotes the study of medieval art, with a particular focus on the art of the Western world.
The Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) − This organization promotes the study of architecture and architectural history.
In conclusion, Art History is a vast field that encompasses the study of art, architecture, and artifacts from various time periods and cultures. Overall, art history provides us with a deeper understanding of the art, architecture and artifacts that shape and reflect the cultural, social, and political values of a given time period and society.
Q1. What are the different methodologies used in art history?
Ans. Formal analysis, Iconography, Contextual analysis, Comparative analysis, Stylistic analysis
Q2. How is art history used to interpret a work of art?
Ans. By analyzing the visual elements, subject matter, and symbolism of a work, as well as understanding the historical, cultural, and social context in which it was created.
Q3. What are some professional organizations related to art history?
Ans. The College Art Association (CAA), The Association of Art Historians (AAH), The International Center of Medieval Art (ICMA), The Society of Architectural Historians (SAH)
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