WHAT IS ART HISTORY? by Mark Roskill


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Art history is here equated with what the art historian does and that, as presented by Professor Roskill (University of Massachusetts, Amherst), is chiefly to solve problems of attribution. In successive chapters reminiscent of a lecture series, Roskill takes up the basic theory that to decide the authorship of paintings one should study the handling of details, and he explains the procedures of Berenson and Friedlander--now standard--for placing works of unknown origin. Among the separate problems considered is that of distinguishing the work of collaborators Masaccio and Masolino; of determining, in the case of Piero della Francesca, which work is by the master, which by his assistants, pupils, and followers; and of deciding precisely what the legendary Giorgione actually painted. Another chapter details how Georges De La Tour was rediscovered (and why he was so long in eclipse). In each of these cases, a truer understanding of the artist emerges from the accurate identification of his work, which is of course the point. As a work of elucidation and an introduction to the discipline of art history, the book engenders respect, and readers can sharpen their powers of discrimination by studying the many photographs. But its virtual limitation to Renaissance and post-Renaissance painting (save for a weak discussion of Picasso's Guernica), and the concentration on connoisseurship not only restrict the readership, they shrivel art history. Some Panofsky humanism is in order as an antidote.

Pub Date: June 23rd, 1976
Publisher: Harper & Row