Customer Review

17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Useful, but with a dated perspective., 3 July 2011
This review is from: The Story of Art (Paperback)
My copy of this, inherited from my father, is the 13th edition, revised in 1972. E.H.Gombrich died not that long ago, so may have revised it again since; the man himself, however, is unlikely to have changed much. The blurb claims it "spans the entire history of artistic creation . . . All periods and styles are covered, including the art of "primitive" tribes . . .". Well, up to a point; certainly any book making that claim today would have a very different perspective.

Usefully, the margins are wide, leaving plenty of space for pencilled scribblings; some of mine, I note, decidedly tetchy. Gombrich's view of art history is very mid-century (the first publication was 1950); absolutely Eurocentric, disproportionately reverential to the high Renaissance and Impressionism. He sees a very strong storyline leading from Egypt, through Greece and Rome, losing its way in the Middle Ages, resurgent in the 15th century, moving inexorably on to the triumph of Impressionism. True, there are glimpses of the world outside Europe; Chapter One includes the art of pre-Columbian America in with "prehistoric and primitive peoples", (eg Aboriginal art from Australia, about which European scholarship now has quite another viewpoint.) and Chapter 7 covers the whole of Islam and China from 100AD to 1200AD, while Buddhist art up to 300AD is permitted to share a chapter with the art of "Romans, Jews and Christians" in the same period.

So far, so bad. If this was all, the book would only be of interest as a period piece. But, if you accept and set aside the bias - no more than one would expect for the time - there is still a lot worth reading. Gombrich's scholarship is immense, his discussion of the development of taste and style in Europe both thorough and easily understood, and his understanding of individual works of art illuminating. We must ask ourselves how much of Gombrich's perspective is his own, how much what he assumed was required in a textbook of the period.

This is still an interesting read for a student of art history; have your pencil ready to scribble in the margins if you wish. It is also required reading for anyone studying precisely the history of art history as a discipline. Comparing it with contemporary books such as The Nude (Penguin Art & Architecture) - in which Kenneth Clark discusses the subject in depth without once mentioning Gustav Klimt, or THE MEANING OF BEATY (that should be "beauty", of course) - once a set text and now no more than a curiosity, will enable the reader to assess Gombrich's status in the right context.
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Peasant
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