Some of the Classic tomes which shaped the development of Western Art History and personal writings of its leading artists, from its roots to modernity, as available online.


On Painting

by Alberti Leon Baptista
Alberti’s classic treatise first appeared 1435-36, through which he describes the Brunelleschi’s theories of linear perspective and his theories of history painting as the noblest genre of painting. Online text provided by Notebook, a site maintained for personal convenience to develop a context for understanding the visual arts.
Click to access: http://www.noteaccess.com/Texts/Alberti/index.htm

Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptures & Architects

by Giorgio Vasari (Translator: Gaston du C. de Vere)
Considered a foundational text for artist biographies and Western art history, Vasari’s Lives (or Vite) traces the achievements of Italian painting-focused primarily on Florence and Rome and remains an important source of information on the evolution of Italian painting. It was twice published in two editions in 1550 & 1568 with substantial differences between them.

For access to all volumes: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/author/9769
Click here to access Volume 1 (1550 edition): http://www.gutenberg.org/files/25326/25326-h/25326-h.htm

Early Netherlandish Painting

Max J. Friedländer’s essential 14 volumes on Early Netherlandish Paintings, published by between 1967 and 1973, digitized for research purposed under the auspices and with the aid of the Governments of Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands within the framework of their Cultural Agreements. Available in English, French and Netherlandish.

Click here for the English editions:
http://xv.kikirpa.be/books-downloads/friedlaender/

Seven Discourses on Art

The Project Gutenberg eBook, Seven Discourses on Art, by Joshua Reynolds, Edited by Henry Morley. Transcriptions of the lectures give by Sir Joshua Reynolds, leading painter and founding president of the Royal Academy of Arts, to the students and faculty beginning with the academy’s founding in 1768.
Click to access: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2176/2176-h/2176-h.htm

The Memoirs of Madame Vigée Lebrun

Madame Lebrun brought out her Memoirs at the suggestion of her friend, the Princess Dolgoruki, in 1835. The authoress was born in 1756, at Paris, where she died in 1842. She was the daughter of Louis Vigée, an obscure portrait painter. Her baptismal name was Marie Louise Elisabeth. In 1776 Mademoiselle Vigée was married to Jean Baptiste Pierre Lebrun, a notable picture dealer and critic, known also to his contemporaries as an inveterate gambler. Vigée Lebrun would become among the most sought after portrait painters in the late 18th century in Europe.
Click to access: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/31934/31934-h/31934-h.htm

Life and Letters of John Constable, R.A.

John Constable was an intellectual who pursued the accuracy of his veristic landscape paintings with a scientific curiosity, literally! From his studies of clouds to, how, in the artist’s words: “The sky is the source of light in Nature and it governs everything.”
Click here to access: https://archive.org/details/lifelettersofjoh00lesl/page/n7

Pre-Raphaelites by John Ruskin

Art critic John Ruskin’s pamphlet Pre-Raphaelitism, published in 1851 three years after the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood had formed, defends the group against the hostile abuse rained on them by other contemporary critics. 
Click to access: https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/pre-raphaelitism-by-john-ruskin

Journal of Eugene Delacroix

The journal of 19th-century Romantic painter Eugene Delacroix’s provides unparalled insight into the minds of one of history’s great painters. In it the artist delves into his art, life and the events of his time, as well as his thoughts on the paintings and sculptures of Rubens, Michelangelo, Constable, and others: old and new literature and the music of Mozart, Rossini and Chopin.
French: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/54020/54020-h/54020-h.htm
English: https://monoskop.org/images/8/80/The_Journal_of_Eugene_Delacroix.pdf

Charles Baudelaire

The French poet who also produced notable works as an essayist and art critic, Baudelaire’s writing helped define the idea of modernity and the artist’s role in shaping it.  
Fleurs du mal: https://fleursdumal.org/1857-table-of-contents
Painter of Modern Life: http://www.columbia.edu/itc/architecture/ockman/pdfs/dossier_4/Baudelaire.pdf

Coming next: the era of Art Manifestos… Check back soon!