Painting and Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy: A Primer in the Social History of Pictorial Style (Oxford Paperbacks)

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Serving as both an introduction to fifteenth-century Italian painting and as a text on how to interpret social history from the style of pictures in a given historical period, this new edition to Baxandall's pre-eminent scholarly volume examines early Renaissance painting, and explains how the style of painting in any society reflects the visual skills and habits that evolve out of daily life. Renaissance painting, for example, mirrors the experience of such activities as preaching, dancing, and gauging barrels. The volume includes discussions of a wide variety of painters, including Filippo Lippi, Fra Angelico, Stefano di Giovanni, Sandro Botticelli, Masaccio, Luca Signorelli, Boccaccio, and countless others. Baxandall also defines and illustrates sixteen concepts used by a contemporary critic of painting, thereby assembling the basic equipment needed to explore fifteenth-century art.
This new second edition includes an appendix that lists the original Latin and Italian texts referred to throughout the book, providing the reader with all the relevant, authentic sources. It also contains an updated bibliography and a new reproduction of a recently restored painting which replaces the original.

Product Details

  • Series: Oxford Paperbacks
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 2 edition (July 28, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019282144X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192821447
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 0.4 x 5.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces

Customer Reviews

Four Stars

 on May 25, 2017
By Amazon Customer
The book was in good condition

Excellent introduction into the 15th century art world in Florence

 on July 7, 2014
By Charles C Hample
Excellent introduction into the 15th century art world in Florence, it’s purposes and how the 15th century art supporters and general viewers would evaluate a painting.

intersting book

 on December 20, 2012
By linzeethai
i actually enjoyed this book. great insight to fifteenth century art and what was most importart during this time period in regards to art

This superb short book delivers

8 people found this helpful.
 on May 21, 2013
By paedagogue
exactly what it promises: a key to relating the “raw” evidence of Renaissance social history (contracts, treatises on commercial math, preaching and devotion, social dancing, and–most wonderful–the making and judging of art) to the “raw” evidence of Renaissance picture-making: altarpieces, portable diptychs and other devotional panels, frescoes on convent walls. NOWHERE does Baxandall promise to “unveil” artistic mysteries, or show us the “fun” of Renaissance art. He never panders to his reader’s ignorance, or accepts the facile claim that art is about personal genius “expressing itself.” If you believe looking at art is a self-sufficient experience purely dependent on your ability to “connect” emotionally or aesthetically with an object made by a genius, that’s great, but you won’t learn anything from this book, because you know all you need to know already. If, however, you can drop your solipsistic preconceptions about art and ask yourself: WHY were Renaissance pictures made, WHO had them made (guess what? It WASN’T the artists!), HOW were they seen (NOT in museums!), then you’re in for an amazingly thoughtful and well documented primer in “how to see as if you were a Renaissance art buyer” (the only buyers that mattered to “Renaissance geniuses,” who would have laughed at the modern museum-goer attempting to emotionally connect with “fine art” cut off from its original location and purpose). Baxandall was a great linguist (Greek, Latin, German, Italian, French . . .), as well as a specialist who combined deep curatorial expertise (he knew in precise technical detail how a tree-trunk was transformed into a painted wood statue) and advanced historical analysis. Most of us read old historical sources and are struck by their simplicity (those Renaissance geniuses sounded pretty naive when they wrote down their thoughts), but Baxandall knew how to read for both what is written and what is left unsaid. He knew the connotations, not just the denotations, of Renaissance Italian words, and how a simple concept–such as “ornate”–actually implies a multitude of other concepts when applied to picture-making. This book tells you how Renaissance pictures were bought and paid for, what the buyers saw in them that correlated with their own social reality, how those same buyers USED them, and how different buyers, art-makers and art-commentators actually evaluated and described pictures. It starts simple, but it gets complex as Baxandall demonstrates how each new layer of documentation enriches and modifies the others. If you’re a careless reader, you’ll miss this cumulative aspect of the book’s evidence (Baxandall uses carefully selected representative sources, not masses of “facts”), and therefore the book’s greatest strength. Looking at a Renaissance picture in a museum (and even in an “original site” that has become a museum, such as the Vatican Palace) is a lot like looking at a laptop screen with the rest of the computer (including the battery!) removed or inaccessible. You can’t DO anything with it. Baxandall gives you the tools for recovering the REST of the laptop.

Art Book

20 people found this helpful.
 on September 30, 2008
By Pierre
This was my first introduction to the art historian world and it was fascinating. Unfortunately, but only for me, is the fact that both my educational level and acquired knowledge of the subject were insufficiently advanced to fully appreciate the author’s insights. That just calls for more work on my part to study up in advance. It should be taken as praise for Mr. Baxandall’s pedagocic style which — as the best teachers tend to do — opened up new vistas, if only I choose to look.

Like 15th century interpretation? Read this before others.

One person found this helpful.
 on October 24, 2016
By wireloop
Great book about method, mode and purpose of a difficult subject. I found his explanations and overall interpretive analysis to be concise, convincing and easy to follow.

A wonderful book to study about fifteen century painting in Italy

One person found this helpful.
 on December 9, 2015
By Amazon Customer
A wonderful book to study about fifteen century painting in Italy. New version with index reference to original Italiano text and letter.

A Must-Read If You Are More Than A Casual Art Student

60 people found this helpful.
 on April 26, 2005
By Christine L. Savides
I really can’t add more to Robert W. Moore’s insightful review. However, I feel a need to counterbalance the ranting reviews posted by others on this page.

A classic study of the vocabulary of Renaissance painting

126 people found this helpful.
 on October 28, 2001
By Robert Moore
I find it strange that many people find it strange that one might read a book like this one for fun. Twice in one day I had people approach me and ask me for what class I was reading this, as if there are books one reads only in school and books one reads in real life.

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