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Art History: Reference & Introductory Sources

Duccio di Buoninsegna
Maestà; detail of central panel showing Madonna and child enthroned with angels
tempera and gold on panel
1308-1311

Architecture is inhabited sculpture. – Constantin Brancusi

Where to Begin

With thousands of years of source material, art historical research can seem intimidating at first, particularly if you're new to the field, or simply unsure of where to begin. In those cases, general reference materials and other broad-based resources can act as access points for more specific research concepts. They can provide concise introductions to a wide range of art historical topics, while helping construct a framework for further exploration.

Oxford Art Online
Oxford Art Online is a digital gateway to several excellent sources for information about art and art history.  Included are:

  • The Grove Dictionary of Art  is the most complete encyclopedia of art available in English, featuring nearly 50,000 articles on a variety of topics including art movements, artists’ biographies, and countries. Articles are signed, include brief bibliographies, and images. Images are searchable and made available through Oxford’s partnerships with museums, galleries and arts organizations.  Articles in the Grove are updated.
  • The Benezit Dictionary of Artists, a comprehensive and definitive resource for artists’ biographies, published since 1911. It includes 149,000 biographies as well as auction records, exhibition histories, and over 11,000 images of artists’ signatures and stamps of sale.

Also included in Oxford Art Online are several Oxford dictionaries and short encyclopedias on the following topics:

  • The Oxford Encyclopedia of Aesthetics
  • The Oxford Companion to Western Art
  • The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Art Terms

The Gale Virtual Reference Library

  • Searchable database of several hundred subject encyclopedias and other reference works across all subject areas, but with particular strengths in the social sciences and humanities. It includes a number of major reference works, and is Northwestern’s largest single collection of reference materials. A good source for authoritative background information.

Biographical Sources

 

Bibliographies & Multi-Library Catalogs

Bibliographies can be very useful in collecting a group of information resources on a particular topic,  Resources collected and published as bibliographies have the added benefit of being recommended by an expert in the field, though they may not include the most recent publications.  Library catalogues are good sources for comprehensive searches of the literature.

Oxford Bibliographies: Art History

  • Oxford University Press publishes many bibliographies on various topics.  This growing collection covers art history generally.  Others, (which can be found in the libraries catalog) may cover the many subtopics of Roman Art, or Urban planning for example.

Worldcat

  • Worldcat connects you to the collections and services of over 10,000 libraries across the world. Essentially the word's largest card catalog, it can be invaluable in locating difficult to find resources.

Gallica

Kubikat

Kubikat is the collective catalogue of four of the leading German scholarly research institutes in the field of art history:

  • Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence, Max-Planck-Institut
  • Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte in Munich
  • Deutsches Forum für Kunstgeschichte / Centre allemand d'histoire de l'art in Paris
  • Bibliotheca Hertziana, Max Planck-Institut für Kunstgeschichte in Rome

More specific resources

Art Theorists of the Italian Rennaisance

  • The database is a collection of treatises on art and architecture published between 1470 and 1775. It is structured around the two Italian editions of Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists

The Illustrated Bartsch

  • is the definitive collection of European master prints from 1400 to 1850, reflecting the history of prints and printing in Europe for over 400 years. Originally a 24 volume set begun in the 18th century, the Bartsch currently contains over 50 volumes (not including supplements and commentaries) and is planned through volume 166.

The Hollstein
is actually several separate serials devoted to woodcuts, etchings, and engravings:

The Corpus Rubenianum
Currently, 21 volumes on the work of Peter Paul Rubens

The Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

  • Presented by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Heilbrunn Timeline is a visual chronology of art throughout history, supplemented by images and scholarly essays. It can be useful in understanding how different artistic movements are related in both time and geography.

Khan Academy's Smarthistory

  • Part of Khan Academy's mission is to "provide a free world-class education to anyone, anywhere." Smarthistory uses videos and text to tell the story of our collective cultural heritage from an art historical perspective. Narrated and presented by art historians, the nearly 2000 videos and essays provide an accessible introduction to a wide range of art historical topics.

Additional Print Resources

  • Looking at Paintings by Dawson Carr; Mark Leonard
    Call Number: 750.3 C311l
    ISBN: 0892362138
    Publication Date: 1992
    The Oxford Companion to Architecture by Patrick Goode (General Editor); Stanford Anderson (Consultant Editor); Colin St. John Wilson The Oxford Companion to Architecture is a new A-Z reference book on a popular and much-debated subject. It covers all aspects of architecture, from architects, building types, and movements and styles to materials, aspects of design, and definitions. It is particularly strong in its coverageof architecture around the world, and of modern and vernacular architecture. It has been written by a team of over 150 contributors, including many distinguished architects and academics, under the editorship of Dr Patrick Goode and two consultant editors. The Companion is strongly rooted in an approach to the study and presentation of architecture that avoids the art-historical approach and looks instead at its social, technical, and practical aspects. It explores why buildings look as they do, and approaches architecture not as a fine art, but as ameans of solving certain social and technical problems while creating a visual effect. Because buildings are nearly always the product of specific social, political, individual, or religious requirements, rather than of abstract artistic expression, the Companion pays particular attention to building types, and to how the architect's achievement can be appreciated within the contextin which they were building. It covers not only the familiar building types (cathedrals, mosques, houses), but also those which are more obscure and whose architectural merits are sometimes overlooked (bus garages, power stations, or multi-storey car parks). It also gives a fairly broad answer tothe question 'what is architecture?' by including the contribution of vernacular architecture, and structures designed by engineers.As well as taking account of the social dimension, the Companion examines the technical aspects that influence architectural expression, and offers a detailed appraisal of materials, structures, and services in architecture. It also explains why certain visual effects were important at certainperiods - for example, why proportion amounted to an obsession with Palladio but is neglected by many 20th-century architects; and why some modern architects, such as Bruno Taut, were sensitive to the opportunities of colour, while others seemed quite indifferent. The Companion covers all periods, from the beginnings of architecture in ancient Egypt up to the present day. It is worldwide in scope, giving equal weight to architecture in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and South America as to the more familiar examples from Western Europe and the United States.The entries provide criticism, analysis, and value judgements, as well as information, making it an indispensable reference for architects, designers, and teachers and students of architecture and architectural history.Also available online for purchase by institutions from the Oxford Digital Reference Shelf (www.oxford-digitalreference.com) offering flexible search and browse functionality and multi-access either through Oxford Reference Online (www.oxfordreference.com) or as a stand-alone resource.
    Call Number: NA31 .O93 2009
    ISBN: 9780198605683
    Publication Date: 2009-09-17
    The Oxford Companion to the Photograph by Robin Lenman (Editor) This is the first Oxford Companion to deal with the subject of photography. It appears at a watershed in the medium's history, as digital imaging increasingly dominates the global photography scene at both amateur and professional levels. In addition to a wide range of technical information,the book encapsulates in concise and readily accessible form the mass of recent scholarship on photography as a social and artistic practice, organized both thematically and geographically. There are over 800 biographical entries, both on photographers and on other individuals who have significantlyinfluenced photographic culture from the early 19th century to the present. The book's scope is worldwide. The international team of contributors is made up of leading authorities in their fields, and include: Heather Angel, Sylvie Aubenas, Quentin Bajac, Marta Braun, Clement Cheroux, Elizabeth Edwards, John Falconer, Colin Ford, Ron Graham, Sarah Greenough, Mark Haworth-Booth, Roger Hicks, Paul Hill,Jens Jaeger, Jan-Erik Lundstrom, Naomi Rosenblum, Rolf Sachsse, Martha Sandweiss, Graham Saxby, Joan Schwartz, Sara Stevenson, Roger Taylor, Regine Thiriez, John Ward, Liz Wells, and Mike Ware. The book is extensively illustrated and includes many pictures never before published. The majority of the 1600-plus entries include suggestions for further reading. But the work's usefulness is further enhanced by the inclusion of an extensive bibliography, a chronology of photographic history, alist of important websites, and an index of people.
    Call Number: TR9 .O94 2005
    ISBN: 0198662718
    Publication Date: 2005-12-01
    The Oxford Companion to Western Art by Hugh Brigstocke (Editor) This work replaces Harold Osborne's Oxford Companion to Art (1970), which has been continuously in print for thirty years. Though originally commissioned as a new edition of Osborne's book, it is effectively a completely new work, planned and written afresh for new generations of art lovers.Apart from a handful of classic articles by Harold Osborne mainly on aesthetics, and a few others which needed only minor change, the text is entirely new. Unlike Osborne, it focuses on Western art rather than the whole of world art, concentrating primarily on painting, sculpture, and the graphicarts, leaving architecture to be covered separately. With not only a tighter focus but also a greater extent than Osborne's, the new Companion offers far deeper coverage of the subject than previously; it includes many more artists and their works, and also pays proper attention to new topics ofinterest focused on patronage, taste, theory and criticism, materials and techniques, and the new art history. There are over 2600 entries, alphabetically arranged. Almost half of them cover artists, from classical times to the twentieth century. Other entries discuss art styles and movements, art forms (such as battle painting, landscape, caricature, or stained glass), specialist terms, and materials andtechniques in all media. There is strong emphasis on location as a focus for art: not only are there regional and cultural surveys, but also entries on specific places of importance such as Paris or Urbino; and, in addition, entries on museums and galleries are arranged under the their city headwordso that the reader can easily survey the major sites within a particular locality, such as New York, Boston, or Madrid. Patronage receives imaginative treatment: here, rather than focusing on a limited number of individual patrons, the Companion has entries on towns and cities as centres ofpatronage and collecting - such as Nuremberg, Dresden, or Prague. In addition, there is a novel series of entries on the critical fortunes of the art of the major European countries, covering, for example, patronage and collecting of Italian art in France, Spain, Britain, Germany and Central Europe,the USA, and in Italy itself. A further category of entry covers topics in the theory of art, such as iconography, perspective, and synaesthesia; and there is wide-ranging coverage too of art scholarship and criticism from Aristotle and Pausanius to Sartre, Panofsky, and Michel Foucault. All this issupplemented by entries on general topics as varied as reproduction, anatomy, guilds and confraternities, frames, and the conservation and restoration of paintings and sculpture. This is a work for everyone who loves art, whether actively engaged in the subject professionally or as one of the countless amateurs visting sites and cities, galleries, and exhibitions, churches, libraries, country houses, and palaces in pursuit of beauty and cultural enrichment.
    Call Number: Ref 709 O977
    ISBN: 0198662033
    Publication Date: 2001-11-22
    The Oxford Dictionary of Art by Ian Chilvers (Editor) Ideal for students, picture researchers, and enthusiasts of all kinds, this third edition of The Oxford Dictionary of Art reaffirms the unrivalled position held by this authoritative one-volume guide to the art of the western world. It provides a careful balance of fact and critical appraisalranging across painting, sculpture, drawing, and the applied arts from classical times to the present. Almost 3,500 entries provide the reader with instant information, written in succinct and readable prose, about styles, techniques, collections, artists, and historians. Includes a practicalreference section with a fully updated and expanded Chronology, and an Index of Galleries and Museums around the world. There is also a Classified Contents, enabling the reader to search for entries within a particular subject area or period.
    Call Number: N33 .O93 2004
    ISBN: 0198604769
    Publication Date: 2004-06-10