The 12 Best Art History Books

7 min read

Art history is a captivating and complex subject, in which an incredible range of artworks from around the world have been produced over many centuries. This article offers readers insight into some of the best books on this topic available today, providing reviews that can help guide those looking to expand their knowledge or learn more about the masterpieces created throughout time. From a comprehensive overview of artwork through all ages, to exploring individual pieces such as The Annotated Mona Lisa or Van Gogh’s Complete Paintings, these chosen texts are sure to provide invaluable resources for anyone interested in discovering more about art history.

  1. Art History Vol 1

    Art History Vol 1
    Marilyn Stokstad, Michael W. Cothren
    Published in 2017

    Art History Vol 1 is an essential resource for students of art history. It provides a comprehensive overview of the topic from a global perspective, with up-to-date research and interpretive perspectives included throughout. The Sixth Edition has been revised to reflect new discoveries and current understanding in this ever-evolving field, while its welcoming tone ensures equal delight, enjoyment and serious learning are experienced by all readers. Accessible via Revel™ – an interactive learning environment – Art History 6th edition caters to both traditional learners as well as those who prefer digital resources. An invaluable addition to any library or classroom, it’s no wonder why this book consistently receives high ratings from academics and critics alike!

  2. Art: The Definitive Visual Guide

    Art: The Definitive Visual Guide
    Andrew Graham Dixon, DK, Ross King
    Published in 2018

    This is a must-have for any art enthusiast or someone curious to learn more about the history of global art. Art: The Definitive Visual Guide offers readers an extensive look at artwork spanning 30,000 years and showcases pieces from over 700 artists in incredible detail. With striking imagery that brings the works to life, this coffee table book provides descriptions of each movement’s origins, influences and typical subjects as well as timelines of its key works. There are also ‘Closer Look’ sections which analyse some select paintings so you can better understand composition and subject matter. Written by experts Iain Zaczek and Mary Acton with collaboration from Bridgeman—the biggest visual library in existence—this guidebook will be invaluable for those wanting to further their knowledge on artistic styles such as Italian Renaissance through to graffiti art. A perfect gift for lovers of art and culture alike!

  3. AP Art History

    AP Art History
    John B. Nici M.A.
    Published in 2020

    Barron’s AP Art History is an exceptional resource for those preparing to take their exam. Written by experienced educators and reviewed by experts, it provides comprehensive content coverage tailored to the most recent test. Students receive tips and strategies, as well as study advice that can be compared to having a personal tutor at hand. With five full-length practice tests—three in the book and two online—students can sharpen their skills prior to taking the final assessment. Interactive online practice options are also available, which include two additional complete tests with answer explanations plus 400 flashcards on Barron’s Online Learning Hub. Timed quiz simulations provide a realistic experience of what one will face on examination day while automated scoring helps measure learning progress along the way. This high quality guidebook ensures that students have all they need for success when sitting down for this important evaluation.

  4. The Annotated Mona Lisa, Third Edition

    The Annotated Mona Lisa, Third Edition
    Carol Strickland
    Published in 2018

    The Annotated Mona Lisa, Third Edition is an informative and comprehensive art history book. Written by Carol Strickland for the knowledgeable layperson or aspiring student of art, its pages are packed with more than 300 photos and illustrations that elucidate 25,000 years of artistic development in five sections – prehistoric to medieval; renaissance to baroque; nineteenth century works; modern art movements; contemporary pieces. With succinct page-length essays and instructive sidebars demystifying jargon and theory, this edition has been updated from 2007’s version including a new chapter on recent artists. Perfect for those attending museums or seeking a crash course in visual arts without dull textbooks! The Annotated Mona Lisa: A Crash Course in Art History from Prehistoric to the Present provides an entertaining yet educational journey through world artwork – highly recommended!

  5. Van Gogh. The Complete Paintings

    Van Gogh. The Complete Paintings
    Ingo F. Walther, Rainer Metzger
    Published in 2020

    Vincent van Gogh’s works have been celebrated for centuries and this book, “Van Gogh. The Complete Paintings,” gives readers a comprehensive overview of the artist’s life and work. Authored by Ingo F. Walther and Rainer Metzger, two experts in fine art history, it includes 871 paintings alongside writings and essays exploring texture, light and place that are unique to Van Gogh’s style. Additionally, this volume documents his mental illness challenges as well as how he eventually committed suicide at age 37. This beautiful compilation of information makes this an essential piece for any fan or collector looking to delve deeper into the beloved painter’s oeuvre.

  6. Art History Vol 2

    Art History Vol 2
    Marilyn Stokstad, Michael W. Cothren
    Published in 2017

    Marilyn Stokstad and Michael W. Cothren’s Art History Vol 2 is an essential guide for those studying the history of art, providing a comprehensive overview of works from all around the world. The Sixth Edition has been updated to include new discoveries as well as fresh interpretive perspectives, while also addressing current needs in teaching and learning. With its welcoming tone, this book strives to bring delight and enjoyment alongside serious learning. It covers a variety of topics such as French Gothic art & architecture, visual narrative and theory & method – allowing readers to explore the full breadth of our creative heritage with ease. Art History Vol 2 makes use of Revel™ interactive technology which enables students to read, practice and study within one smooth experience. Highly recommended for any student interested in discovering more about the fascinating subject that is art history!

  7. Art That Changed the World

    Art That Changed the World
    Published in 2013

    This encyclopedia of art explores the development of art in detail. Art That Changed The World is an A-Z guide to art, from cave paintings to pop and modern masterpieces. It’s a visual timeline that covers every major movement in art history, with stunning images of 2,500 iconic works by 700 notable artists like Michelangelo and Picasso. With this book, readers can explore influences on each period and understand turn-point paintings which triggered or epitomised movements against a backdrop of events. This visually striking masterpiece provides a unique guided tour throughout the history of Western art which will be an invaluable reference for any bookshelf!

  8. Gardner’s Art through the Ages: The Western Perspective, Volume II

    Gardner's Art through the Ages: The Western Perspective, Volume II
    Fred S. Kleiner
    Published in 2020

    Gardner’s Art through the Ages: The Western Perspective, Volume II is an excellent choice for art enthusiasts hoping to experience a historical tour of influential works. Edited by Fred S Kleiner Ph.D., this 85 year-old text offers readers compelling discussions on key pieces from Stone Age civilization to modern times. Outstanding illustrations are included and can be viewed in their true scale using the unique Scale feature offered within this magnificent volume. Moreover, students benefit from Quick Review Captions and Big Picture Overviews that aid understanding of the material. Additionally, those with access to its optional ebook have the ability to zoom in on fine details of priceless works of art! All told, Gardner’s Art Through The Ages:The Western Perspective will undoubtedly leave readers feeling inspired and knowledgeable about their chosen subject area.

  9. Artists: Their Lives and Works

    Artists: Their Lives and Works
    DK, Ross King
    Published in 2017

    This art book is an excellent reference guide to over 80 of the most famous painters throughout history. It provides insightful biographies and remarkable full-page reproductions of their iconic work, from early Renaissance masters to modern artists alive today. Get a glimpse into the lives and loves of these visionaries including Giotto, Raphael, Frida Kahlo and Hokusai through stories about their influences, relations with peers, romances and rivalries. The chapters are organized by century for easy access to information on different historical contexts in art movements accompanied by timelines and fact panels giving incredible insight into the past world of fine art. Ross King’s foreword adds further depth as he explores his own bestsellers Brunelleschi’s Dome and Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling alongside novels Ex-Libris & Domino. Artists: Their Lives & Works is not only beautiful but also comprehensive; making it a perfect gift for those interested in artist biographies or browsing attractive reproductions -over 500 years worth!

  10. Rembrandt Is in the Wind

    Rembrandt Is in the Wind
    Russ Ramsey, Makoto Fujimura
    Published in 2022

    This captivating book by Russ Ramsey takes the reader on a journey to appreciate art from some of the world’s most renowned artists. It is part history, part biblical study, and blends philosophy and analysis of the human experience all in one story. The lives of these creators illustrate our struggles with life while pointing to beauty that can be found through redemption in Christ. Rembrandt Is In The Wind explores humanity’s capacity for glory and encourages us to look at artwork with new eyes as an opportunity to worship its Creator. Beautifully written, this book will provoke readers with stories full of joy and struggle – ones that ultimately reveal how we were made for beauty!

  11. Gardner’s Art Through the Ages: A Global History

    Gardner's Art Through the Ages: A Global History
    Fred S. Kleiner
    Published in 2019

    Gardner’s Art Through the Ages: A Global History is an incredible tome for art enthusiasts and students alike. This 16th Edition of this popular textbook has been trusted by classrooms all over the world for 85 years, providing readers with a fantastic overview of the most celebrated works in history from the Stone Age until today. The book offers beautiful illustrations that look almost as good as their real-life counterparts – plus it allows users to zoom in on fine details using its optional ebook feature! In addition, every chapter contains insightful conversations about key artwork, eras and locations; Quick Review Captions and Big Picture Overviews help keep readers focused. All these features make Gardner’s Art Through the Ages: A Global History an ideal purchase for those interested in discovering more about our artistic past.

  12. Monet

    Christoph Heinrich
    Published in 2015

    The book, Monet by Christoph Heinrich is part of the acclaimed Basic Art Series and provides an insightful introduction to one of art’s most influential figures. It offers a comprehensive chronology detailing his life and works as well as a concise biography. The publication contains over 100 illustrations displaying his remarkable water lily series, poplar trees, grain stacks and Rouen cathedral in different seasons, weather conditions and times of day – highlighting how visual impressions change with light and time. Its heavy paper stock supports stunning images that capture the ephemeral nature of each image we see. This excellent collection celebrates Claude Monet’s achievements which irrevocably transformed painting on canvas for generations to come; making this book perfect for any admirer or fan of classic Impressionism.

Additional resources

If you are looking for more information about art history, here are some useful websites and blogs to explore:

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4 Replies to “The 12 Best Art History Books”

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