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Best Art History Books

Looking for good art history books to read? Below you’ll find a curated list of the best art history books for beginners that will expand your art history knowledge.
 
The list of best art history books cover art history from cave paintings till now, and provide a good overview of the subject without technicalities. Enjoy!
 

The 10 Best Art History Books of All Time


1. The Shock of the New by Robert Hughes

Print | eBook

Synopsis: A beautifully illustrated hundred-year history of modern art, from cubism to pop and avant-garde. More than 250 color photos.


2. The Story of Art by E.H. Gombrich

Print

Synopsis: The book is divided into an introduction, 27 chapters each dealing with a defined time period of art history within one or several cultural/geographic contexts, and a concluding chapter summarizing the latest developments in visual arts. The first chapter starts examining prehistoric art and native cultures. The next four chapters are dedicated to the greater ancient cultures, especially Greece and Rome.


3. The Letters of Vincent van Gogh by Vincent van Gogh

Print | eBook

Synopsis: A new selection of post-impressionist painter Vincent Van Gough’s letters, The Letters of Vincent van Gogh put a human face on one of the most haunting figures in modern Western culture. In this Penguin Classics edition, the letters are selected and edited by Ronald de Leeuw, and translated by Arnold Pomerans in Penguin Classics.


4. The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone

Print | Audiobook

Synopsis: A masterpiece in its own right, this novel offers a compelling portrait of Michelangelo’s dangerous, impassioned loves, and the God-driven fury from which he wrested the greatest art the world has ever known.


5. The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism by Ross King

Print | Audiobook | eBook

Synopsis: While the Civil War raged in America, another revolution took shape across the Atlantic, in the studios of Paris: The artists who would make Impressionism the most popular art form in history were showing their first paintings amidst scorn and derision from the French artistic establishment.


6. The Power of Art by Simon Schama

Print

Synopsis: With the same disarming force, The Power of Art propels us on an eye-opening, breathtaking odyssey, zooming in on eight extraordinary masterpieces, from Caravaggio’s David and Goliath to Picasso’s Guernica.


7. The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren by Jonathan Lopez

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Synopsis: It’s a story that made Dutch painter Han van Meegeren famous worldwide when it broke at the end of World War II: a lifetime of disappointment drove him to forge Vermeers, one of which he sold to Hermann Goering, making a mockery of the Nazis. And it’s a story that’s been believed ever since. Too bad it just isn’t true.


8. Art Through the Ages by Helen Gardner

Print

Synopsis: The market-leading text for the art history survey course, GARDNER’S ART THROUGH THE AGES has served as a comprehensive and thoughtfully crafted guide to the defining phases of the world’s artistic tradition. With this book in hand, thousands of students have watched the story of art unfold in its full historical, social, religious, economic, and cultural context, and thus deepened their understanding of art, architecture, painting, and sculpture.


9. Michelangelo, the Sistine Chapel by Stefano Zuffi

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Synopsis: The series begins with two artists whose work continually compels audiences: Michelangelo and Van Gogh. Michelangelo: The Sistine Chapel focuses on the Italian master’s work on this Vatican Chapel, the recent restorations of which have propelled interest in this site even higher.


10. Ways of Seeing by John Berger

Print | eBook

Synopsis: Ways of Seeing is a key art-historical work that continues to provoke widespread debate. It is comprised of seven different essays, three of which are pictorial and the other containing texts and images.  Berger first examines the relationship between seeing and knowing, discussing how our assumptions affect how we see a painting.


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