Feminism and Art History: Questioning the Litany

Feminism and Art History: Questioning the Litany

Feminism and Art History: Questioning the Litany

Feminism and Art History: Questioning the Litany


A long-needed corrective and alternative view of Western art history, these seventeen essays by respected scholars are arranged chronologically and cover every major period from the ancient Egyptian to the present.



The history of art, like other scholarly disciplines, has matured over the centuries by expanding its boundaries to include new ways of looking at its subject. After the rudimentary descriptions of Pliny the Elder came the biographies of Vasari, followed by the archaeological researches of Winckelmann, the historical insights of Burckhardt, and the archival investigations of Waagen and Milanesi. The frame of reference was further widened by the connoisseurship of Morelli and Berenson, the theoretical substructures of Riegl and Wölfflin, the formalism of Fry and Bell, the iconographic studies of the Warburg school, the psychological approaches of Kris and Gombrich, and the social approaches of Hauser, Antal, Baxandall, and others. In the course of its development, art history has drawn nourishment from intellectual advances made in other fields. Radically new perspectives on human experience -- whether these involved archaeological discovery, the discovery of the subconscious mind, or of the behavior of social classes -- have eventually had a broadening effect upon the way that art historians think.

Feminism, or the historical discovery of women, has had in the past decade a comparably broadening effect upon art history. On the most basic and, to date, the most visible level, it has prompted the rediscovery and reevaluation of the achievements of women artists, both past and present. Thanks to the efforts of a growing number of scholars who are devoting their research skills to this area, we know a great deal today about the work of women artists who were almost lost to us little more than a decade ago, as a result of their exclusion from the standard histories.

This book, however, is not about women artists. Feminism has raised other, even more fundamental questions for art history as a humanistic discipline, questions that are now affecting its functioning at all levels and that may ultimately lead to its redefinition. In its broadest terms, we would define the impact of feminism on art history as an adjustment of historical perspective, and, at the outset, an analogy may help us to establish this point.

Early in the fourteenth century, the Italian poet Petrarch walked through the streets of Rome with his friend Giovanni Colonna, talking of history. He surveyed the ancient ruins of the city with deep emotion, seeing in . . .

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