The Story of Art by E.H. Gombrich

The Story of Art

This text is the 16th revised and updated edition of this introduction to art, from the earliest cave paintings to experimental art. Eight new artists from the modern period have been introduced. They are: Corot, Kollwitz, Nolde, de Chirico, Brancussi, Magritte, Nicolson and Morandi. A sequence of new "endings" have been added, and the captions are now fuller, including th...

Title:The Story of Art
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Edition Language:English

The Story of Art Reviews

  • AC

    This book was perfect. For someone like myself who (now) has a little knowledge of Art (the capital letter here is deliberate) and some sense of history -- but who has big gaps and oceans of ignorance about the topic -- this book was perfect. It is mature, serious, to the point, absolutely free of jargon, sure, insightful -- always interesting, never pedantic -- and not eccentric in the least. Gombrich covers all the major artists and the movements they represent, and ties them together with cla

    This book was perfect. For someone like myself who (now) has a little knowledge of Art (the capital letter here is deliberate) and some sense of history -- but who has big gaps and oceans of ignorance about the topic -- this book was perfect. It is mature, serious, to the point, absolutely free of jargon, sure, insightful -- always interesting, never pedantic -- and not eccentric in the least. Gombrich covers all the major artists and the movements they represent, and ties them together with clarity. Like one of our most knowledgeable 'friends' on the art circuit at goodreads, he is discerning, but not judgmental. Indeed, Gombrich's account of the development of modern art - up until World War II -- is fabulous, though brief. Gombrich is much less upbeat on more recent trends -- he mentions Pop, but quite deliberately (it seems) refuses to even mention Warhol's name.

    I know that it's very difficult for people who know a great deal about something to recommend -- or even read - introductory books. But for anyone looking for a book of this sort, this is definitely a winner.

  • John David

    Just a dozen or so pages into this book, I knew that it was one I wish I would have had access to when I was first seriously exposed to art. While in many respects, it is a conservative textbook (being first published in 1950), it is fundamentally meant for someone who has little to no previous formal contact with art history. Of course, if you have some, this can make you seriously engage some of your previously held assumptions about what you like and why you like it, but I got the distinct im

    Just a dozen or so pages into this book, I knew that it was one I wish I would have had access to when I was first seriously exposed to art. While in many respects, it is a conservative textbook (being first published in 1950), it is fundamentally meant for someone who has little to no previous formal contact with art history. Of course, if you have some, this can make you seriously engage some of your previously held assumptions about what you like and why you like it, but I got the distinct impression while reading that it was meant to initiate a teenager – a teenager who very much reminded of me of myself – into a whole new world.

    The inclusions and exclusions of certain artists are, of course, always arbitrary. However, Gombrich’s choices do not deviate too much from a standard art history text. What particularly drew me to the book was what I perceived to be its inordinate focus on medieval and especially Renaissance art. Of the twenty-eight chapters included in the book, about five mostly focus on Western medieval images (6 and 8-11). Another six chapters (13-18) focus on the art of the Western Renaissance. Most surveys of art history to which I had been previously exposed paid scant attention to medieval art and they sometimes did not give the Renaissance the space that I felt it deserved. There is no doubt the medieval and Renaissance art Gombrich’s pet periods here (and, admittedly, they’re mine, too.)

    What makes it so special is that, instead of spending the first chapter in an abstract exercise of thinking about what “Art” is, he forces you over and over again to take the art on its own terms. While discussing the various visual perspectives painted by the artist of “The Garden of Nebamun,” he says: “To us reliefs and wall-paintings provide an extraordinarily vivid picture of life as it was lived in Egypt thousands of years ago. And yet, looking at them for the first time, one may find them rather bewildering. The reason is that the Egyptian painters had a very different way from ours of representing real life. Perhaps this is connected with the different purpose their paintings had to serve. What mattered most was not prettiness but completeness. It was the artists’ task to preserve everything as clearly and permanently as possible. So they did not set out to sketch nature as it appeared to them from any fortuitous angle” (p. 60). It is the occasional insight like this that makes the book most worthwhile for a neophyte. After all, how many of us have measured something we saw by the standards of our particular narrow time and place? He really drives home the point that thinking about art seriously means thinking about other perspectives (both literally and figuratively), other preoccupations, and other aesthetic modus operandi. This is a lesson that should be lost on none of us, about art, or about anything else.

  • Rick

    The Story of Art is a handy little survey of art history, primarily but not exclusively western art, from cave paintings and primitive sculptures to modern architecture and pop art. It is 500 pages of text and that many pages of well synchronized color plates in a smart pocket edition by Phaidon. Twenty-eight chapters, mostly quite brief, but each a skillful, thoughtful rippling of the surface, with hints of depth and well-defined currents moving quickly and sure footedly through the eras and ad

    The Story of Art is a handy little survey of art history, primarily but not exclusively western art, from cave paintings and primitive sculptures to modern architecture and pop art. It is 500 pages of text and that many pages of well synchronized color plates in a smart pocket edition by Phaidon. Twenty-eight chapters, mostly quite brief, but each a skillful, thoughtful rippling of the surface, with hints of depth and well-defined currents moving quickly and sure footedly through the eras and advances and changing perspectives on art and the role of the artist. Gombrich is more than knowledgeable and yet manages to condense without condescending or reducing his narrative to trivial choices. He brings the freshness that comes with the enthusiasm of discovery. Of course, what he is sharing is not new to him, but sharing the works and his insights with the reader is new and exciting to him, and the enthusiasm is infectious. The intended audience is younger readers than myself, high school and college age readers or adults new to art history. But I found the book not just enjoyable but helpful and insightful. Gombrich’s prose is clear and crisp, and often charming. Traveling through this great span of time with him is like taking a walk through all the great museums of the world with an elegantly minded expert at your elbow.

  • Nikoleta

    Ένα εκπληκτικό βιβλίο για την ιστορία της τέχνης. Εμένα προσωπικά, που είμαι εντελώς άσχετη, με βοήθησε πολύ να κατανοήσω την πορεία και την εξέλιξή της, σε σημείο τέτοιο που να συμπαθήσω ακόμα και την μεταμοντέρνα, που δεν άντεχα ούτε να την βλέπω. Καλογραμμένο, απλό, εμπεριέχει τα πάντα. Θα κλείσω και με ένα απόσπασμα από την εισαγωγή του Gombrich, που έγινε η αιτία να με κερδίσει και με έκανε να το ξεκοκαλίσω όλο.

    «...η Τέχνη - με κεφαλαίο Τ - δεν υπάρχει. Γιατί η Τέχνη με κεφαλαίο Τ κατάντησε

    Ένα εκπληκτικό βιβλίο για την ιστορία της τέχνης. Εμένα προσωπικά, που είμαι εντελώς άσχετη, με βοήθησε πολύ να κατανοήσω την πορεία και την εξέλιξή της, σε σημείο τέτοιο που να συμπαθήσω ακόμα και την μεταμοντέρνα, που δεν άντεχα ούτε να την βλέπω. Καλογραμμένο, απλό, εμπεριέχει τα πάντα. Θα κλείσω και με ένα απόσπασμα από την εισαγωγή του Gombrich, που έγινε η αιτία να με κερδίσει και με έκανε να το ξεκοκαλίσω όλο.

    «...η Τέχνη - με κεφαλαίο Τ - δεν υπάρχει. Γιατί η Τέχνη με κεφαλαίο Τ κατάντησε σκιάχτρο και φετιχισμός. Κινδυνεύεις να εξουθενώσεις έναν καλλιτέχνη λέγοντας του πως εκείνο που μόλις έφτιαξε δεν είναι "Τέχνη" παρόλο που είναι καλό. Και αν δηλώσουμε σε οποιονδήποτε πως εκείνο που του αρέσει σε κάποιο έργο δεν είναι, όπως νομίζει, Τέχνη αλλά κάτι διαφορετικό, θα μείνει άναυδος.»

  • Rosenkavalier

    Antefatto: al Liceo, in un impeto autonomista, la mia professoressa di disegno decise di saltare il programma triennale di storia dell'arte, consentendomi di beneficiare di cinque anni di proiezioni ortogonali (ricalcate alla finestra dalle tavole altrui).

    Questo era l'alibi.

    Fino ai 30 anni circa non mi sono mai molto interessato d'arte, fino a un ponte del Primo Maggio trascorso tra Siena e Arezzo. Da lì, resomi conto di quel che mi ero perso, ho cominciato

    Antefatto: al Liceo, in un impeto autonomista, la mia professoressa di disegno decise di saltare il programma triennale di storia dell'arte, consentendomi di beneficiare di cinque anni di proiezioni ortogonali (ricalcate alla finestra dalle tavole altrui).

    Questo era l'alibi.

    Fino ai 30 anni circa non mi sono mai molto interessato d'arte, fino a un ponte del Primo Maggio trascorso tra Siena e Arezzo. Da lì, resomi conto di quel che mi ero perso, ho cominciato a girare per chiese, mostre e musei, rincorrendo la mia ignoranza, la quale ha il passo spedito di una siepista etiope.

    La Storia di Gombrich è il libro che avrei dovuto leggere appena tornato da Siena, perchè è il sogno realizzato di qualsiasi autodidatta.

    E' scritto benissimo: avvicente come Dumas, vi farà fare il tifo per il vostro artista preferito.

    Si legge facilmente: Gombrich da vero maestro non solo sa, ma sa spiegare (con tanti saluti a quel detto cretino per cui "chi sa fare fa, chi non sa fare insegna").

    Infine, è disseminato di spunti su cui costruire altre letture e, soprattutto, visite a luoghi e opere.

    Le idee di base del libro mi paiono in estrema sintesi queste.

    La storia dell'arte è in realtà storia degli artisti. Fino alla fine dell'800, è la storia del rapporto tra l'osservazione della natura e la sua riproduzione, più o meno fedele. Gombrich esamina il complicato andirivieni tra i diversi scopi che l'arte si è prefissa nei secoli, con pagine per me illuminanti sull'arte antica (breaking news: gli egizi dipingevano le persone "di sbieco" per uno scopo preciso, non perchè non erano capaci di farle meglio).

    Dall'Impressionismo in poi, inizia la sfida degli artisti con i problemi formali dell'arte, che a poco a poco prevalgono sul soggetto. A questo proposito, ho trovato affascinante il discorso che l'autore fa sulla differenza tra "riprodurre ciò che si vede" e "riprodurre ciò che si sa di vedere". In breve, ai pittori accademici che dipingevano in studio, un impressionista avrebbe fatto notare che, così facendo, ritraevano ciò che la loro mente, la loro cultura sapevano, ma non ciò che realmente vede l'occhio umano (ossia, i colori, il movimento, la luce). Da questa prospettiva, avevano qualche buona ragione Monet e soci quando dicevano di essere loro i veri naturalisti e non i paesaggisti come Poussin.

    Nella parte finale, inevitabilmente influenzata dall'essere quasi cronaca, Gombrich sviluppa alcune riflessioni sull'arte contemporanea.

    In conclusione, Autodidatti di tutto il mondo, uniamoci, non abbiamo da perdere altro che le catene della nostra ignoranza!

    Bonus Track: interessante sito che raccoglie molto materiale su Gombrich

  • Lisa

    Reflecting on my reading year 2016, I came to think of books that have meant a lot to me over the past decades, and the first one that came to my mind was Gombrich’s excellent introduction to art history.

    I will have to go back twenty years, half my life, to the year 1996. I am twenty years old, and just about to discover the pleasurable adventure called university. For Christmas, I receive a much longed-for gift card to buy books that “will help me in my studies”, and I stand in a bookstore, on

    Reflecting on my reading year 2016, I came to think of books that have meant a lot to me over the past decades, and the first one that came to my mind was Gombrich’s excellent introduction to art history.

    I will have to go back twenty years, half my life, to the year 1996. I am twenty years old, and just about to discover the pleasurable adventure called university. For Christmas, I receive a much longed-for gift card to buy books that “will help me in my studies”, and I stand in a bookstore, one of those exquisite, inexhaustible bookstores on several floors that German university cities provide, and I am browsing through options. I probably spend hours there. I can still feel the time pass, while I look, think, go through history, art, literature. I pick a book, then another one, and more still, until I have to bring one back. Gift card value is weighed against all these lovely, lovely possibilities.

    At this moment in time, I own one Billy bookshelf, and it is not filled yet, as my children’s books and classics are left at my parents’ house. What do I pick? I don’t remember the fiction, but I do remember picking a “start of the term offer”, Mayersches Taschenlexikon, in 34 volumes, rarely used, as the internet takes over soon, and it is inconvenient to look up definitions by going through entries in alphabetical order. Some time between 1996 and now, it falls victim to one of our many moves between cities and countries. I don’t have it anymore. I bought it out of duty.

    I choose one extravaganza: Gombrich. A German hardback copy, beautifully illustrated, taking a huge chunk of the gift card money. I start reading as soon as I come home. And almost magically, it opens up the world of art to me. I learn why Egyptians “walk like Egyptians”, I discover Rubens, Bernini, Raphael, Leonardo, and Delacroix,and Canova, Manet and Monet, and Picasso, Duchamp and, and, and...

    I discover the world through a visual prism. Ever since then, Gombrich has followed my path. I soon come to read his more specialised works on form, function and symbolism in Renaissance art, I learn about his life, deeply influenced by 20th century history, and I keep going back to “The Story Of Art” whenever I need to take a step back and look at general ideas again.

    And I steal my mother’s Swedish copy!

    I want to read it aloud to my children, and they are only used to their father reading in German, and me in Swedish. So in order not to confuse them more than necessary in their Babylonian curse, I read it in Swedish, the stolen goods. And what a help that has been in the many museums around the world that my children have visited over the years. They recognise their “Gombrich” when they see it.

    Two years ago, my eldest son wants a copy - in English, in order to be able to quote from it. And of course I can’t resist buying it for him, at a shop inside the British Museum. So we have three copies, and I would not be beyond buying one in French, at a shop in the Louvre, maybe, just for the silliness of owning a favourite in so many different shapes. For they are all slightly different in layout, but equally satisfying visually and textually.

    I still recommend it to whoever wants a clear, concise, lovable account of the history starting with cave paintings in Lascaux, and moving forwards still, mirroring humanity in its need to express ideas, thoughts and feelings through the medium of art.

    My children and I will now be reading

    , which Gombrich wrote expressly for children, and YES - we read it in Swedish. And YES, we have it in English as well!

    And NO - one Billy bookshelf is not even enough for our children’s books anymore!

    This is The Story Of Lisa And The Story Of Art, to be continued...

  • Luís C.

    What a monument! I'm not a regular in the history of art, but I wanted to throw myself still in this reading. Much good has taken me, it took me a few weeks to deal with them, but I do not regret it! Are discussed painting, drawing, sculpture and even architecture, since the earliest human societies until the 50s the whole is decorated with beautiful illustrations. Unless you have a real need for the pocket edition (small footprint), I advise rather publishing "beautiful book". Indeed, the techn

    What a monument! I'm not a regular in the history of art, but I wanted to throw myself still in this reading. Much good has taken me, it took me a few weeks to deal with them, but I do not regret it! Are discussed painting, drawing, sculpture and even architecture, since the earliest human societies until the 50s the whole is decorated with beautiful illustrations. Unless you have a real need for the pocket edition (small footprint), I advise rather publishing "beautiful book". Indeed, the technical constraints imposed grouping illustrations at the end of the paperback edition, which requires incessant round trips. And the images are larger, quite simply!

  • Michael Kotsarinis

    4.5/5

    Η αλήθεια είναι ότι όταν το αγόρασα, ως βιβλίο αναφοράς για τη βιβλιοθήκη μας, δεν πίστευα ότι θα το διάβαζα ολόκληρο. Μετά το πρώτο ξεφύλλισμα, σκέφτηκα να ρίξω μια ματιά στην εισαγωγή. Και εκεί ήρθε η πρώτη έκπληξη καθώς αντί για τα συνήθη ακαταλαβίστικα και βαθυστόχαστα, που διαβάζουμε σε άρθρα και κριτικές για την Τέχνη, συνάντησα έναν λόγο απλό, μεστό και στραμμένο στον απλό αναγνώστη. Λίγο, λίγο, λοιπόν το προχωρούσα ανάμεσα από άλλα αναγνώσματα και χωρίς να το καταλάβω, είχα περάσει

    4.5/5

    Η αλήθεια είναι ότι όταν το αγόρασα, ως βιβλίο αναφοράς για τη βιβλιοθήκη μας, δεν πίστευα ότι θα το διάβαζα ολόκληρο. Μετά το πρώτο ξεφύλλισμα, σκέφτηκα να ρίξω μια ματιά στην εισαγωγή. Και εκεί ήρθε η πρώτη έκπληξη καθώς αντί για τα συνήθη ακαταλαβίστικα και βαθυστόχαστα, που διαβάζουμε σε άρθρα και κριτικές για την Τέχνη, συνάντησα έναν λόγο απλό, μεστό και στραμμένο στον απλό αναγνώστη. Λίγο, λίγο, λοιπόν το προχωρούσα ανάμεσα από άλλα αναγνώσματα και χωρίς να το καταλάβω, είχα περάσει το 1/3 του βιβλίου. Από ένα σημείο και μετά του αφιέρωσα εξ ολοκλήρου την προσοχή μου και ομολογώ πως το ευχαριστήθηκα! Βέβαια, μία ανάγνωση δεν φτάνει και συχνά θα πρέπει να ξαναγυρίζω σε συγκεκριμένα θέματα για να τα θυμηθώ αλλά πιστέψτε με αξίζει τον κόπο!

  • Νόρα

    Από τα ωραιότερα βιβλία που βρίσκονται στη βιβλιοθήκη μου.Όσοι με γνωρίζουν ξέρουν ότι έχω βαθιά αγάπη για την τέχνη,έτσι μου έκαναν δώρο αυτό το βιβλίο.Δεν ήταν δύσκολο να το καταλάβουν ότι το ήθελα,τους είχα πάρει τα αυτιά.Είχα αποφασίσει να μάθω περισσότερα για την ιστορία της τέχνης και δεν μου αρκούσαν πλέον τα βιβλία των μεγάλων ζωγράφων η οι οδηγοί των μουσείων.Ένα βιβλίο κατανοητό με απλή γραφή ,που εύκολα ο αναγνώστης ξεκαθαρίζει με σειρά τις έννοιες και την χρονολογική εξέλιξη της τέχν

    Από τα ωραιότερα βιβλία που βρίσκονται στη βιβλιοθήκη μου.Όσοι με γνωρίζουν ξέρουν ότι έχω βαθιά αγάπη για την τέχνη,έτσι μου έκαναν δώρο αυτό το βιβλίο.Δεν ήταν δύσκολο να το καταλάβουν ότι το ήθελα,τους είχα πάρει τα αυτιά.Είχα αποφασίσει να μάθω περισσότερα για την ιστορία της τέχνης και δεν μου αρκούσαν πλέον τα βιβλία των μεγάλων ζωγράφων η οι οδηγοί των μουσείων.Ένα βιβλίο κατανοητό με απλή γραφή ,που εύκολα ο αναγνώστης ξεκαθαρίζει με σειρά τις έννοιες και την χρονολογική εξέλιξη της τέχνης,ξαναβάζει σε μια χρονολογική σειρά γεγονότα και πρόσωπα που υπάρχουν συγκεχυμένα στο μυαλό μας.Το βιβλίο ανήκει σε εκείνα τα σπάνια βιβλία που μπορούν να ανοίξουν κόσμους ολόκληρους μπροστά στα μάτια σου και να σε ταξιδέψουν.Δεν χρειάζεται να είσαι ειδήμων για να μπορέσεις να το απολαύσεις.O Gombrich επεξηγεί με ουσιαστικό τρόπο αρκετά σύνθετα ζητήματα.Το Χρονικό της Τέχνης οφείλει τη μοναδική δημοτικότητά του στην άμεση και απλή γραφή του.Ένα βιβλίο που το προτείνω ανεπιφύλακτα.

  • Michael Finocchiaro

    Gombrich's Story of Art is a great survey (western-oriented however) of art for those who wish to know the big names and get familiar with some of the more common works. He covers all the various periods in a sufficient amount of detail without sounding pedantic or academic which is a challenge when explaining art history. I would just lament the lack of information about art in China, India,. S America and of course Africa, but that is kind of how Europeans have always viewed art, isn't it.

    It r

    Gombrich's Story of Art is a great survey (western-oriented however) of art for those who wish to know the big names and get familiar with some of the more common works. He covers all the various periods in a sufficient amount of detail without sounding pedantic or academic which is a challenge when explaining art history. I would just lament the lack of information about art in China, India,. S America and of course Africa, but that is kind of how Europeans have always viewed art, isn't it.

    It remains nonetheless a great starter for someone who wants to get their feet wet.


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