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The Oxford History of Western Art [Paperback]

Martin Kemp
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

26 Sep 2002
The Oxford History of Western Art is a unique and authoritative account of the development of visual culture in the West over the last 2700 years, from the classical period to the end of the twentieth century. OHWA takes a fresh look at how the history of art is presented and understood. It uses a carefully devised modular structure to offer readers powerful insights into how and why works of art were created. This is not a simple, linear 'story' of art, but a rich series of stories, told from varying viewpoints. Carefully selected groups of pictures give readers a sense of the visual 'texture' of the periods and movements covered. The 167 illustration groups, supported by explanatory text and captions, create a sequence of 'visual tours' - juxtapositions of significant images that convey a sense of the visual environments in which works of art were produced and viewed. The reader is invited to become an active participant in the process of interpretation. Another key feature is the redefinition 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 foundations: Greece and Rome c.600 BC-AD 410 Church and state: The establishing of visual culture 410-1527 The art of nations: European visual regimes 1528-1770 The era of revolutions 1770-1914 Modernism and after 1914-2000 This 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 Professor Martin Kemp, one of the UK's most distinguished art historians. While bringing their own expertise and vision to their sections, each author has also related their text to a number of unifying themes and issues, including written evidence, physical contexts, patronage, viewing and reception, techniques, gender and race, 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, Australia, and Canada. The applied arts and reproductive media such as photography and prints are also covered. The result is a fresh and vibrant account of Western art, which serves both as an inspirational introduction for the general reader and an authoritative source of reference and guidance for students.

Product details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; New edition edition (26 Sep 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192804154
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192804150
  • Product Dimensions: 27.2 x 21.8 x 3.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 365,231 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Amazon 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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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 andEvidence in the Italian Renaissance. He lives in the U.K.

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The most substantial artistic legacy from antiquity survives in the form of sculpture, particularly in marble, and it is Roman stone sculpture that best preserves the appearance of the many lost masterpieces of Greek sculpture in both marble and bronze. Read the first page
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Oxford History of Western Art 26 Oct 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A major reference work by an expert in the field. Very useful for my studies and also for general information
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
40 of 43 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful images, but a shame about the writing 8 Nov 2000
By S. Koterbay - Published on
I have the highest regard for Kemp and a number of the contributors to this volume; this is especially due to the fact that I was once a student of his, and the source of much of my excitement derives itself directly from having listened to his wonderful lectures. This book, however, was a major disappointment in many respects.
Espousing a new approach to art history which is image based, Kemp has provided us with a text that is filled with glorious reproductions. Alongside the old favourites are many new discoveries, and the inclusion of areas of design and the attention to the history of photography is not just welcome but a breath of fresh air. Yet, there is very little text accompanying the imagery, and a complete lack of architecture.
Why? Kemp and his contributors don't offer an explanation. Where complicated art require an explanation for the uninitiated, the reader is left with little to rely on. This may be due to the fact that Oxford is currently publishing an excellent series of detailed texts on specific periods and ideas (though not all are that good... avoid the volume on Modernism at all costs), but I would think that Kemp's book should be self-sufficient. It isn't.
Most of these large volumes are published with introductary art history classes in mind. As a professor, I look to have material which will enhance my teachings. Kemp fails to provide this. I loved looking through the book, but it would be impossible to teach from this, in that little information is provided for an audience who will be mostly ignorant of that which they're looking at.
Truly, its a beautiful book to look at, and I recommend purchasing it on that basis alone, but don't buy it to read anything substantial. Oxford should think about a second edition quickly if they wish to bite into the market that Gardner, Janson, and Stockstad have established on campuses in this country.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Oxford History of Western Art a must have reference book 20 Sep 2000
By Paul Tuns - Published on
It is often said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. To an extent that is true but it also has its limitations. The proper appreciation of art is not a matter of taste or impressions but an intellectual understanding of what a particular work is trying to do. That is as true of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel as it is Mark Rothko's Ochre on Red on Red. To understand a piece of art, one must understand the context that created it. That means both the society the artist lived in and the threads that connect art throughout history. A perfect book to explain that is The Oxford History of Western Art, edited by Martin Kemp.
Kemp and the other contributors describe the age artists lived in, the motivations for their creations and the technical details involved in the creation of different kinds of art. There is the perfect combination of art theory and history and Kemp is careful not to impose modern prejudices and understandings (theory, techniques, world view) on the past.
The particular strength of the book is the Renaissance and its weakness may be a longer than necessary examination of the last 200 years (although, unlike earlier ages, there are more areas to cover with the advent of different kinds of art such as photography and splintering of many styles).
The Oxford History of Western Art is must reading for anyone nominally interested in art, but also religion, history and philosophy. We cannot understand art without understanding the context in which it was created. The flip-side, however, is also true. Our understanding of our world is enhanced when we see it through the eyes of our best artists.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A step beyond the usual 13 Sep 2002
By Grady Harp - Published on
Why should any art afficiando purchase yet another "History of Western Art" book? Answer: Because this one is thoughtful and user friendly. Yes, electing to present the entire history of Western Art is daunting and often borders on stuffy: Martin Kemp has wisely recodified the presentation to maintain the flow of chronolgy but to this flow he adds the refreshing idea of grouping paintings into similar examples of each period, the effect of which provides entertaining and eye-opening disclosures that have not been readily available prior to this volume. Example: In a section on the Era of Revolution 1770 - 1914 he groups paintings into categories such as 'Romantic Quandries' showing Goya's "Third of May, 1808" with Turner's "Snow Storm: Hannibal Crossing the Alps" and Gericault's "The Raft of Medusa" - combining a study not only of politial content but also of variations in landscape and figure painting. 'Disquieting Images' pairs Goya's "Fire" with Gericault's "Severed Limbs". At the end of this section of the book Kemp gifts us with photographic visions through the stereoptican and progresses through Julia Margaret Cameron's "Lancelot and Guinevere" to Alfred Stieglitz. He ends this beautifully and generously illustrated volume with a fine Chronology pairing artistic events with concurrent events in that time's contemporary world. The book is thorough enough to accompany any art student's passage through the academy, but more important this History is a quick reference, elegantly detailed, to refresh each of us when we encounter that newly uncovered masterpiece in the museums and magazines. Excellent.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent and informative book on Art from Greece and Rome ... 28 Jun 2014
By christina busby - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Excellent and informative book on Art from Greece and Rome 600BC to Modernism in the 20th century. Book in excellent condition and superb colour plates too! Will be extremely useful for my on-going University studies of the History of Art.
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