Oxford University Press, Author, John Onians, Editor . Oxford $150 (352p) ISBN 978-0-19-521583-0

"Archaeologists are experts in the earliest art, anthropologists in the art of modern pre-literate peoples, and art historians in the art of literate peoples," art historian Onians says in his introduction, and as such, the study of art history has been correspondingly divided, preventing "the study of art as a worldwide phenomenon" and inhibiting "the study of the nature and origins of human artistic behaviour." More than 300 full-color maps comprise this unorthodox 9¾"×13-3/8" rectificatory survey. The book starts at 40,000 B.C. and ends at A.D. 2000, with the maps stuffed with depictions of trade routes, migrations, borders, natural resources and human settlements. Accompanying text provides plenty of detail on how the art of particular geographical regions or cultural groups changed with economic, ecological and political situations. Unfortunately, the sparse and undersized reproductions of art often fail to adequately illustrate the text and maps. A student, after reading the survey cover to cover, would be hard-pressed to visually distinguish a Roman fresco from a Piero Della Francesca, or a Maori sculpture from an Inuit carving. But she or he would certainly know how each culture's art was limited by the natural materials available to them, how the rise of hierarchies within societies led to more extravagant projects (a tendency that becomes depressingly and obviously repetitive) or by which route the Visigoths invaded Rome. (July)

Reviewed on: 06/14/2004
Release date: 05/01/2004
The Best Books, Emailed Every Week
Tip Sheet!