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The New York Public Library has the largest publicly accessible collection in the Americas of materials related to the history of art. The majority of publications are located in the Art & Architecture Collection, but other works can be found throughout the Library’s collection.
Introduction to the Collections
The New York Public Library has the largest publicly accessible collection in the Americas of materials related to the history of art. The majority of publications are located in the Art & Architecture Collection, but other works can be found throughout the Library’s collections depending on the language which they were published in and if their contents touch on other disciplines. Writings on art go back to antiquity, but over the centuries several significant milestones mark the point at which art historical writing began to develop in earnest. Italian painter and architect Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574) published his Lives of the Most Eminent Italian Architects, Painters, and Sculptors in 1550, with an updated edition in 1568, making it one of the first real works of art historiography. John Ruskin’s Modern Painters (1843) represents another important step in critical writing and evaluation of art and its makers. A number of Enlightenment era and 19th century German scholars, among others, helped establish art history as a historical discipline. By the turn of the 20th century, iconography and connoisseurship had become integral parts of art historical methodology. Art history prospered as a field of academic study after World War II, and theoretical methodologies blossomed from the 1970s onward, to include such diverse approaches as Marxist, feminist, and post-structuralist thought, among others. Most of all, however, art history remains an interdisciplinary study incorporating visual culture and social history perspectives.
The reference works in this guide, along with selected reference tools for photography research, can all be found in the Art & Architecture Collection Reading Room (Room 300). Other collections that possess art historical materials include Photography, Prints, Spencer Collection, The General Research Division, Rare Books, Manuscripts and Archives, Asian and Middle Eastern Division, Slavic and Baltic Division, and the Jewish Division.
Compiled by Paula A. Baxter, Art & Architecture Collection, 11/07
Using the Library’s Catalog
Searching CATNYP by subject heading can yield pertinent titles. The Library of Congress Subject Headings can be consulted for the appropriate entries, and cross-references appear during online searching.
General subject headings for art history are as follows:
Art—History—18th century—Pictorial works
Art—History and criticism
Works about artists can be accessed by using the artist’s name as a subject and as an author. Subdivisions are made for artists that include categories for biography, catalogue raisonné, and exhibition catalogues, among others:
Manet, Edouard, 1832-1883
Manet, Edouard, 1832-1883--Exhibitions
Newman, Barnett, 1905-1970—Catalogues raisonnés
Other ways of searching for art historical topics include searching by stylistic period, media, or subject matter:
Angels in art
Painting, Russian—20th century--Exhibitions
Primitivism in art
Symbolism in art--Dictionaries
Keyword searching can be helpful, as long as broad terms are not used. Limit keyword searches to specific words that are as unique as possible to the search topic. Advanced word searching can help locate titles published within a specific range of years.
Art historical research tends to follow a set of specific directions depending on the nature of the information sought. Users may work on an individual artist, or a group of artists with common goals, and then find various works about these artists subdivided in the Library’s online catalog by the category of publication about them. When searching, it is important to know the correct spelling of the artists’ last name and/or possible variations, and at least the first initial of that person’s first name. Biographical dictionaries can be consulted to obtain this information.
Research is often done on specific works of art with interest in uncovering the provenance, or history of ownership, of that work. Reference tools can aid in this discovery, especially of an artist has had a catalogue raisonné written about his works. This tool is the authoritative published research document of an artist’s works, prepared by an expert or experts on the subject. Another research angle related to artists is tracking their exhibition history. Reference compilations exist for important museums and cultural institutions that record their exhibitions and list the artists who participated in those exhibitions.
Art movements and stylistic periods are also subject to art historical research. The study of signs, symbols, and meanings behind subject matter, known as iconography, is another important category for art historical investigation.
For further steps on art research methodology, consult the guides How to Research an Artist (link) and How to Research an Architectural Structure. (link) The staff at the reference desk in Room 300 can also assist users in constructing a research strategy. Personal consultations are available for those individuals who have an art research project requiring extensive use of the department’s materials.
Writing About Art
Art historical and critical writing share distinctive characteristics related to analysis, style, and description. Two guides serve as the standard models for content:
Barnet, Sylvan. A Short Guide to Writing About Art. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman and Co., 1989.
The classic guide, this work provides sample essays on art historical and critical writing, investigates writing a comparison, and treats style and formatting.
Sayre, Henry M. Writing About Art. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1989.
This title offers a different pedagogical approach, in which choosing an image, visual information description, medium considerations, historical context, and focusing on a topic are covered.
Key Reference Tools
Art History has generated a number of bibliographies on aspects of the discipline. The following titles, however, represent the most important bibliographies aimed at professional research and documentation:
Marmor, Max and Alex Ross. Guide to the Literature of Art History 2. Chicago: American Library Association, 2005.
This nearly 900-page bibliography is testimony to the tremendous increase in publications on art since the 1970s.
Arntzen, Etta and Robert Rainwater. Guide to the Literature of Art History. Chicago: American Library Association, 1980.
The leading bibliography used by booksellers and librarians, this guide was compiled from the extensive holdings of the New York Public Library.
Freitag, Wolfgang M. Art Books: A Basic Bibliography of Monographs on Artists. 2nd Edition. New York: Garland, 1997.
A key source for important oeuvre and catalogues raisonnés of major artists.
Jones, Lois Swan. Art Information and the Internet: How to Find it, How to Use it. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press, 1999.
Although dated, this is a commonsense approach to utilizing computer network resources for all types of art research.
McNulty, Tom. Art Market Research: A Guide to Methods and Sources. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2006.
The process of art acquisition is documented from gallery to auction house, with looks at terminology, artwork analysis, documentation, and online research.
Hundreds of dictionaries have been produced to document facts about artists’ lives. Many of these tools are specialized in scope and coverage. Nevertheless, a few titles stand out as critical resources for investigation of both well-known and obscure artists. The following is a sample of reference titles with broad to specific coverage:
Benezit, Emile. Dictionary of Artists. 14 vol. Paris: Éditions Gründ, 2006.
The long-awaited English translation of Dictionnaire des peintres, sculpteurs, dessinateurs et graveurs, this tool provides international coverage of artists from antiquity to the early-to-mid 20th century. Some entries also contain a reproduction of the artists’ signature.
Thieme, Ulrich and Felix Becker. Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart. Leipzig: Wilhelm Engelmann Verlag, 1992. 37 vol.
This biographical dictionary is so respected and known within the art field that it is usually referred to as “Thieme-Becker.” Excellent resource for obscure artists. An expanded version, from the publisher K.G. Sauer, has been in process since 1992, in alphabetical progression. They also produced a bio-bibliographic dictionary of the original edition.
Artist Biographies Master Index. Edited by Barbara McNeil. Detroit: Gale, 1986.
A good general source for 275,000 names, culled from other biographical reference works
Folk Artists Biographical Index. Edited by George H. Meyer. Detroit: Gale, 1987.
A substantial resource on genre artists.
Groce, George C. and David Wallace. The New-York Historical Society’s Dictionary of Artists in America 1564 – 1860. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1969.
A time period-specific dictionary with fairly comprehensive coverage.
Mantle Fielding’s Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors & Engravers. Edited by Glenn B. Opitz. Poughkeepsie: Apollo Book, 1983.
A reprint of a classic resource much used by experts in Americana.
Marlor, Clark S. Brooklyn Artists Index. New York: n.p., 1993.
A geographical artist biographical dictionary complied from local and regional resources.
St. James Guide to Black Artists. Edited by Thomas Riggs. Detroit: Gale, 1997.
Published in association with the NYPL’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
Shipp, Steven. Latin American and Caribbean Artists of the Modern Era. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2003.
Provides entries for 12,700 artists in those geographical regions.
Who Was Who In American Art. Edited by Peter Hastings Falk. Madison, CT: Sound View Press, 1985. 3 vol.
Compiled from American Art Annual 1898-1893 and Who’s Who in American Art 1935-1947, among other sources.
Who’s Who in American Art (Annual) New York: R.R. Bowker, 2007/2008.
Biographical entries for artists, historians, critics, museum and other professionals; coverage is selective, however, since entrants have to be nominated for inclusion.
Wood, Christopher. The Dictionary of Victorian Painters. 2nd Edition. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Antique Collectors’ Club, 1987.
A specialized resource for identifying English painters of the nineteenth century.
Dictionaries and Encyclopedias
Comprehensive art encyclopedias seem to come at thirty-year intervals. The most recent venture, The Dictionary of Art, replaces the old Encyclopedia of World Art (1967), which was rigidly Eurocentric and had little information on non-Western art. Art historical investigation has generated vast amounts of specialized dictionaries. The following titles represent some of the best-known reference sources, and are representative of the wealth of subject-specific research tools currently available.
The Dictionary of Art. Edited By Jane Turner. London: Macmillan, 1996. 34 vol. (index in vol. 34)
A massive undertaking, this tool is more politically correct in coverage, and utilizes the many methodologies in usage since the 1970s. Excellent biographical entries. Available online through the Library’s Selected Electronic Resources.
Atkins, Robert. ArtSpeak: A Guide to Contemporary Ideas, Movements, and Buzzwords. New York: Abbeville Press, 1990.
Demystifies current art lingo in scholarship and the popular press for the neophyte reader.
Campbell, Gordon. Renaissance Art and Architecture. London: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Typical of the specialized dictionaries and encyclopedias, with its alphabetical entries and thematic index to terms from this historical period.
Dempsey, Amy. Styles, Schools and Movements: An Encyclopaedic Guide to Modern Art. London: Thames & Hudson Press, 2002.
Another historical period interpretive tool for an age with many artistic developments.
The Encyclopedia of Sculpture. Edited by Antonia Boström. New York: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2004. 3 vol.
An important resource for artists, movements, terminology, and historical context.
Frazier. Nancy. The Penguin Concise Dictionary of Art History. New York; London: Penguin, 2000.
A broad-brush alphabetical coverage of art terms, institutions, movements, and individuals (major artists).
Kaltenbach, G.E. Dictionary of Pronunciation of Artists’ Names. Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 1938.
A venerable and unique reference tool that still proves useful.
Mayer, Ralph. A Dictionary of Art Terms and Techniques. New York: Crowell, 1969.
A classic work, now outdated, but still relevant for older terminology.
Room, Adrian. A Dictionary of Art Titles: The Origins of the Names and Titles of 3,000 Works of Art. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2000.
Demonstrates just how specialized a reference work can be: explains subject matter and titles of works with iconographic contexts.
Walker, John A. Glossary of Art, Architecture and Design Since 1945. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1992.
This dictionary of post-1945 art terms covers much ground, due to the rapid development of trends, technology, and artistic ideology.
While the Internet has not been as well developed for art historical investigation as other subject areas, perhaps because of art history’s largely retrospective nature, directory-type information for art business and institutional listings has proliferated. The following three annual compilations represent the major print reference resources for consultation:
American Art Directory 2007-2008. (Annual) New Providence, NJ: National Register Publishing, 2007.
Covers art organizations, schools, art councils, general art information, with indexes by subject, personnel, and organization.
International Directory of Arts. (Annual), 3 vol. Munich: K.G. Saur,
Lists museums and public galleries, universities, associations, professional specialists, e.g. auctioneers, restorers, publishers, and booksellers. Vol. 3 is an index of persons in institutions and companies.
Official Museum Directory. (Annual) Washington, D.C.: American Association of Museums.
Has United States museums listings with scope and contact information.
Important information about artists and art movements can be found in the exhibition records of museums, galleries, and art institutions. These exhibition records can relate history about the institution in question, and document artists who participated in group exhibitions. Museum permanent collection catalogs are another critical resource with information on artistic holdings. The following titles are representative of many other publications that record exhibition information useful in tracking an artist’s career:
The Annual & Biennial Exhibition Record of the Whitney Museum of Art, 1918-1989. Edited by Peter Hastings Falk. Madison, CT: Sound View Press, 1991.
Incorporates serial exhibitions of the Whitney Studio Club, 1918-1928; the Whitney Studio Club galleries 1928-1930; and the Whitney Museum 1932-1989.
The Annual Exhibition Record of the Art Institute of Chicago, 1888-1950. Edited by Peter Hastings Falk. Madison, CT: Sound View Press, 1990.
Includes the records of three annual exhibition series.
Cowdrey, Mary B. American Academy of Fine Arts and American Art-Union, 1816-1852. 2 vol. New York: New-York Historical Society, 1953. 2 vol.
Includes an institutional history and an exhibition record.
Graves, Algernon. The Royal Academy of Arts: A Complete Dictionary of Contributors and their Works from its Foundation in 1769 to 1904. New York: Burt Franklin, 1972 (reprint of 1905-6 ed.) 4 vol.
An exhibition record for this time, with a later record for periods in the 20th century.
Marlor, Clark S. The Society of Independent Artists: The Exhibition Record 1917-2000. Park Ridge, NJ: Noyes Press, 1984.
Documents exhibitions and participants for this New York-based group.
Monneret, Jean. Catalogue Raisonné du Salon des Indépendants, 1884-2000. Paris: Salon des Indépendants, 2000.
Well illustrated with bibliographic references and society history.
Survey texts comprise one of the largest categories of art historical publications. Over the course of the twentieth century, as instruction in art history gained a firm hold in academia, a number of classic textbooks were established. Several of them have been steadily reissued and updated over the decades. The ones listed here have served as texts for introductory art history survey courses around the world. Two more recent textbooks have gained popularity, along with one of the most cogent historiographies of art history:
Gardner’s Art Through the Ages. 9th Edition. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1991.
Helen Gardner’s classic text first appeared in 1926 and has been utilized by numerous generations of students.
Gombrich, E. H. The Story of Art. 16th Edition. London: Phaidon Press, 1995.
British art historian’s text is used worldwide.
Honour, Hugh and John Fleming. The Visual Arts: A History. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1982.
Honour’s various textbooks are popular, while still somewhat Eurocentric.
Janson’s History of Art: The Western Tradition. 7th Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007.
The late H.W. Janson produced a classic textbook almost universally used in American college survey courses. Later editions have been expanded and updated to include a broader range of historical coverage, particularly for women artists and their contributions.
Kultermann, Udo. The History of Art History. New York: Abaris Books, 1993.
Covers the discipline’s interesting historiography.
The Oxford History of Western Art. Edited by Martin Kemp. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
A newer survey history reflecting pedagogical changes in art historical investigation.
Stokstad, Marilyn. Art History. Upper Saddle River, NJ; New York: Prentice Hall; Abrams, 2002.
One of the newest historical surveys with an inclusive scope.
One of the most established aspects of art historical investigation is the iconographic study. Signs, allegorical narrative, religious symbols, and other subject matter invested with covert meaning appeared in art works from antiquity to the modern era. Medieval and Renaissance art, in particular, incorporated iconographic imagery. By the twentieth century, handbooks with interpretations of these signs and symbols were devised in an effort to assist art historical research. Many iconographic tools are specialized resources in scope.
Carr-Gomm, Sarah. The Dictionary of Symbols in Western Art. New York: Facts on File, 1995.
A good general compilation of major symbols in the arts.
Ferguson, George Wells. Signs & Symbols in Christian Art. New York: Oxford University Press, 1954.
A classic reference work for sacred imagery in Christian religious art.
Hall, James. Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art. New York: Harper & Row, 1979.
Another popular examination of themes and motifs in art works.
Impelluso, Lucia. Nature and its Symbols. Los Angeles: J.P. Getty, 2004.
Covers plants, flowers, fruits, and real and imaginary animals.
Reid, Jane. The Oxford Guide to Classical Mythology in the Arts, 1300-1990s. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. 2 vol.
Provides background to works with iconography from Greek and Roman mythology.
Schiller, Gertrud. Iconography of Christian Art. Greenwich, CT: New York Graphic Society, 1972. 2 vol.
A classic scholarly study of imagery from the life of Jesus Christ.
Tabor, Margaret. The Saints in Art. London: Methuen; Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1969 (reprint of 1908 ed.)
A venerable study of the attributes and symbols of the Catholic saints.
Werner, E.T.C. A Dictionary of Chinese Mythology. New York: Julian Press, 1961.
A specialized handbook for Chinese iconography.
Whittock, Arnold. Symbols, Signs and Their Meaning. Newton, MA: C.T. Branford Co., 1960.
Another classic study of symbolism in art with a good introduction.
Locating Journal Articles
Periodical indexes for art history may be found in the Library’s Selected Electronic Resources page under the category “Art & Architecture.” The following electronic indexes provide access to key journal articles in the discipline:
Art Index Retrospective
Indexes articles in over 420 international periodicals, yearbooks, and museum publications for the period 1929-1984.
Art Full Text
Continues the indexing of Art Index from 1984 to the present, with full text coverage for some, but not all, titles.
Indexes and abstracts periodical article, books, dissertations, and exhibition catalogues relating to twentieth century art, design, and photography movements.
Bibliography of the History of Art
Includes and extends the Repertoire d’Art et d’Archeologie from 1973-1989 and the International Repertory of the Literature of Art from 1975-1989 and covers American and European art from antiquity to the present through articles from over 2500 periodicals, books, conference proceedings, dissertations, and exhibition catalogues.
Index to Nineteenth-Century American Art Periodicals
Specific index to art periodicals published in the United States between 1840 to 1907.
Visual Electronic Resources
Databases of visual images have been growing steadily. When indexed and tied to specific art research purposes, these image resources can be very helpful for teaching and presentation.
This organization is a not-for-profit scholarly developer and distributor of electronic digital images for art study, gathered from museums and other cultural institutions.
Users can build their own file of study images.
Index to Christian Art
This database was developed by Princeton University’s Index to Christian Art, useful for iconographic study of themes, media, and motifs from Western and Eastern Orthodox Christian belief, covering Early Christian to Medieval art through 1400.
NYPL Digital Gallery/NYPL Digital Library Collections
The Library’s searchable database of visual materials documenting culture studies and social history from antiquity to the present. Access to over 450,000 images from the Library’s collections includes illuminated manuscripts, historical maps, vintage posters, rare prints and photographs, illustrated books, and printed ephemera.
Selected Internet Resources
Art-Guide Collection of Art History Websites
The Art History Research Centre
The History of Art Virtual Library
Mother of All Art and Art History Links Page
Timeline of Art History/Metropolitan Museum of Art
World Art History Resources