History of Art, 5th Edition by H. W. Janson

This is a review for one of my many “project” books that  I don’t read cover to cover (and hence otherwise don’t review), but have nonetheless read several times out of order while researching specific subjects.

Back when I was in college, this massive tome was the course textbook for two semesters of Art History from neolithic times to the present day.  We used the 5th edition, which was the most current.  I think they’re up to the 9th edition now (?).

This is a fantastic book for the introductory student, providing short biographies of the artists as well as offering a brief outline of the presented works and putting it all into context with the history of time and place.  Plenty of photographs to be had, as one would expect.  I still use this is a baseline reference when comparing different artistic movements, so much so that I regret to say my well-worn copy is beginning to fall apart from overuse.

The only thing I can really say in the negative is that it should have been called History of Western Art.  Despite the depth and breadth of the subject matter, it’s largely missing the Eastern counterparts to everything presented here.  But rather than lament, I look at this book in fondness for the foundation it provided and understand that as an overview, it’s primary function is to provide a springboard for further exploration.  It most definitely fulfilled its purpose in that regard, opening my world to a lifetime of richness.

5 stars


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