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Italian Renaissance Learning Resources

In collaboration with the National Gallery of Art

Pliny the elder

(b Comum [now Como, Italy], AD 23 or 24; d Bay of Naples, 24 Aug 79).

He was the author of the encyclopedic Natural History in 37 books, of which Books XXXIII–XXXVII on stones and metals offer the sole surviving history of art from antiquity. The text is eclectic, combining excerpts of earlier treatises from the 5th to the 1st century BC with Pliny’s own topical comments about the setting and meaning of art in mid-1st century AD Rome. Preserved through the Middle Ages, the Natural History exerted an enormous influence on artists and theoreticians from the Renaissance on. In particular Pliny’s historical scheme of an artistic evolution culminating in Greek art of the 5th and 4th centuries BC, with its vivid anecdotes about individual works and artists, fuelled movements of classicism and provided a foundation for the discipline of art history.

Bettina Bergmann