Art Encyclopedias and Dictionaries

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Art Encyclopedias and Dictionaries


scholarly reference works containing systematized information on the history, theory, and practice of the plastic arts (architecture, the fine arts, and decorative applied art) as well as about artists and architects.

The forerunners of art encyclopedias were classical and medieval descriptions of works of art and treatises on architects and artists, but actual reference works on art were not published until the development of art studies, between the 16 and 18th centuries. The increased public interest in art led to the publication of collections of information about artists such as J. Neudörfer’s Nachrichten von nürnberger Künstlern und Werkleuten, (Nuremberg, 1546). Collections of biographies of artists were first written in the 16th century by the Italian art historian G. Vasari and the Dutch art historian K. van Mander. Later, in the 18th century, the first biographical art dictionaries were compiled, including J. Lacombe’s Dictionnaire portatif des beaux-arts (Paris, 1752), J. R. Füsli’s Allgemeines Künstler-Lexicon (Zürich, 1763), and F. Milizia’s Dizionario delle belle arti del disegno (vols. 1–2, Bassano, 1797).

The 17th and 18th centuries witnessed the publication of dictionaries of terms that acquainted readers with the vocabulary of aesthetics and the arts. They included F. Baldinucci’s Vocabolario toscano dell’arte del disegno (Florence, 1681) and A. Félibien’s “Dictionnaire des termes propres” in Des principes de I’architecture, de la sculpture, de la peinture et des autres arts qui en dépendent (Paris, 1676). Well-known biographical art dictionaries published in the 19th century included G. K. Nagler’s Neues allgemeines Künstler-Lexicon (vols. 1–22, Munich, 1835–52), Die Monogrammisten (vols. 1–5, Munich, 1858–79), and the art dictionaries of Müller and Singer and of Mayer in Germany.

In the early 20th century, Bryan’s art dictionary was published in England, and Siret’s art dictionary, in France. Still of importance are the Dictionnaire critique et documentaire des peintres, sculpteurs, dessinateurs et graveurs de tous les temps by E. Bénézit (vols. 1–3, Paris, 1911–23) and the Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart, edited by U. Thieme and F. Becker (vols. 1–37, Leipzig, 1907–50). A supplement to this art dictionary that dealt with 20th-century architects and artists was H. Vollmer’s Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler des XX. Jahrhunderts (vols. 1–6, Leipzig, 1953–62). Outstanding dictionaries of art terms published in the 19th and 20th centuries have included J. Adeline’s Lexique des termes d’art (Paris, 1884), W. Spemann’s Kunstlexicon (Berlin-Stuttgart, 1905), J. Jahn’s Wörterbuch der Kunst (Berlin, 1957), R. Parow’s Kunststile-Lexikon der Stilbegriffe (Munich, 1957), and Slownik terminologiczny sztuk pięknych (Warsaw, 1969).

Art encyclopedias containing comprehensive information have been published since the 18th century; one of the earliest was the Enciclopedia metódica critico-ragionata delle belle arti by P. Zani (vols. 1–8, Parma, 1794). Later art encyclopedias have included the Encyclopédie historique, archéologique, biographique, chro-nologique et monogrammatique des beaux-arts plastiques, architecture et mosaique, céramique, sculpture, peinture et gravure by A. F. Demmin (vols. 1–3, Paris, 1873–74), Encyclopédie des beaux-arts by L. Hourticq (vols. 1–2, Paris, 1925), Encyclopédie photographique de l’art (vols. 1–3, Paris, 1935–38), Algemeene kunst encyclopaedic, edited by B. D. Swanenburg (Utrecht, 1950), Encyclopédie de l’art by L. Réau (Paris, 1951), Das Atlantisbuch der Kunst (Zürich, 1952), and Dictionnaire universel de l’art et des artistes (vols. 1–3, Paris [1967–68]).

The most comprehensive art encyclopedia is the Encyclopedia of World Art (vols. 1–15, New York-Toronto-London, 1959–68; Italian edition, Enciclopedia universale dell’arte, vols. 1–15, Venice-Rome 1958–67). This encyclopedia was published with the participation of scholars from many countries, including the USSR.

Art encyclopedias published in the socialist countries include the Enciklopedija likovnih umjetnosti (vols. 1–4, Zagreb, 1959–66), Müvészeti Lexikon (Vols. 1–4, Budapest, 1965–68), and Lexikon der Kunst (vols. 1–3, Leipzig, 1968–75). Many art encyclopedias are devoted to specific historical periods, for example, the Enciclopedia dell’arte antica classica e oriéntale (vols. 1–7, Rome, 1958–66) and the Encyclopédie de l’art international contemporain (Paris, 1958). Others are devoted to individual geographic areas or countries, for example, the Enciclopedia del arte en América (vols. 1–5, Buenos Aires, 1969), or to specific types of art, such as the Encyclopedia of Painting (New York, 1955). Art encyclopedias dealing with architecture include Wasmuths Lexikon der Baukunst (vols. 1–5, Berlin, 1929–37), Mała encyklopedia architektury i wnetrz by K. Krajewski (Wroclaw, 1974), and the Dictionary of Architecture and Construction, edited by C. M. Harris (New York [1975]). There are many Western European and American art encyclopedias, but most are nonscholarly works published merely for profit.

In the second half of the 19th century and the early 20th century, numerous art dictionaries were published in Russia, many of which have retained their scholarly value. They include F. I. Bulgakov’s Art Encyclopedia (vols. 1–2, St. Petersburg, 1886–87), Bulgakov’s Our Artists (vols. 1–2, St. Petersburg, 1890), N. Sobko’s Dictionary of Russian Artists (vols. 1–3, St. Petersburg, 1893–99), D. A. Rovinskii’s Detailed Dictionary of Russian Engravers of the Sixteenth Through Nineteenth Centuries (vols. 1–2, St. Petersburg, 1895–99), A. I. Uspenskii’s The Tsars’ Icon Painters and Painters of the Seventeenth Century (vols. 1–4, Moscow, 1910–16), and Uspenskii’s Dictionary of Artists Working in Imperial Palaces in the Eighteenth Century (Moscow, 1913).

The most important Soviet reference books on art studies are A Concise Dictionary of Terms Used in the Representational Arts (Moscow, 1959), the concise art encyclopedia The Art of the World’s Countries and Peoples in five volumes, of which three have been published (Moscow, 1962–71), and the biobibliographical dictionary Artists of the USSR’s Peoples in six volumes, of which three have been published (Moscow, 1970–76).


“Lexika der Kunst und Handbücher.” In Lexikon der Kunst, vol. 2. Leipzig, 1971. Pages 922–26.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.