Michael Baxandall

Art on this Day


Famed British art historian Michael Baxandall died on this day in 2008. He has been described as a scholar who expanded the frontiers of his discipline in addressing the broad sweep of cultural history. Baxandall held posts at various prestigious institutions such as the Warburg Institute and the Victoria and Albert Museum, eventually becoming somewhat of an academic celebrity.


Baxandall is known for coining the influential term “the period eye”, which describes how artists and their works functioned in their original social and religious contexts. The term was first introduced in his innovative book Painting and Experience in Fifteenth Century Italy, in which he demonstrated that attention should be cast beyond just the learned elite to include mass classes such as merchants and artisans, as well as material history and day-to-day practices. While many of Baxandall’s concepts are indispensable to art historical practice today, his expansive thinking was shocking in its time.