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Reading Room Entablature Notes

Elmer Garnsey's original decoration scheme for the Reading Room included the listing of fourteen significant writers on the history of art and architecture. From Vasari to Ruskin these names circle the Reading Room in the entablature area below the skylight. Helen Gardner and Daniel Burnham, the fifteenth and sixteenth names, were added during the 1994 restoration. The following information is available as a handlist at the Reception Desk: (Information compiled from the Encyclopædia Britannica and Who Was Who in American Art)


John Ruskin (1819-1900)

English writer, critic and artist who championed the Gothic Revival movement in architecture and the decorative arts and the taste for Pre-Raphaelite painting in Victorian England.

Works: The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849), The Stones of Venice (1851), and Modern Painters, 5 vol. (1843-60, epilogue 1888).

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)

Florentine artist, architect, inventor and writer who not only produced such painting masterpieces as The Last Supper and Mona Lisa, but also kept many notebooks on his theories on painting, anatomy, perspective, military engineering and cosmology.

Work: Tratto della pittura [Treatise on painting](1540-50). Tratto... is not an original work, but a compilation of texts from his various manuscripts, arranged by his disciple and heir, Francesco Melzi.

Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768)

German archaeologist and art historian whose writings directed popular taste toward classical art, primarily ancient Greece. His writings not only inspired Western painting and sculptural styles, but literature and philosophical studies as well. 

Work: Geschichte der Kunst des Altertums [The history of ancient art], (1764).

Marcus Vitruvius Pollio (fl. 1st Century BC)

Roman architect, engineer and author during the time of Julius Caesar.

His only known work is the treatise De architectura [The ten books of architecture], a handbook for Roman architects, dealing with city planning and architecture in general. It is also the first known detailed documentation of the classical orders of architecture.

Giacomo Barozzi Vignola (1507-1573)

Italian architect and author, one of the dominant forces in Italian Mannerist architectural design.

Works: Regola delli cinque ordini d'architettura [The Five Orders of Architecture] (1562) and Le due regole della prospettiva practica [1583]. Vignola's Five Orders... remained the standard textbook on architectural orders for three centuries.


Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574)

Italian Mannerist painter, architect and writer. Although he received artistic training from the artist Andrea del Sarto, Vasari is best known for his architecture, e.g., the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. 

As a writer, Vasari incorporated his views and theories on the arts in a biographical dictionary titled Le Vite de' più eccellenti architetti, pittori, et scultori italiani... [The Lives of the Most Eminent Italian Architects, Painters and Sculptors] (1550, 2nd ed., 1568). The second edition, which includes Vasari's autobiography, as well as biographies of his contemporaries, is the one that is widely used today.


Hippolyte Taine (1828-1893)

French thinker, critic and historian who attempted to apply a scientific method to the study of the humanities. In 1864, he was appointed by Napoleon III to succeed architect E. Viollet Le Duc as professor of aesthetics and art history at the École des Beaux-arts in Paris, where he lectured for 20 years. A prolific writer, Taine published his lecture courses on the history of art. 

Works: Philosophie de l'art (1865), De l'idéal dans l'art [On the Ideal in Art] (1866), as well as his lectures on the philosophy of art in Italy (1866), The Netherlands (1868) and Greece (1869).

Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-1852)

English architect, author, theorist and participant in the English Roman Catholic and Gothic revivals. Son of the architect Augustus Charles Pugin (1762-1832), he received his early training as an architect and draftsman. Pugin became a Roman Catholic in 1835 and believed that decline in the arts was a direct result of a spiritual decline caused by the Reformation.

Works: Contrasts, or A Parallel between the Noble Edifices of the Middle Ages and Corresponding Buildings of the Present Day: Shewing the Present Decay of Taste... (1836), Designs for Iron Brass Work in the Style of the XV and XVI Centuries (1836), and An Apology for the Revival of Christian Architecture in England (1843).

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781)

German dramatist, social critic and aesthetician concerned with promoting, through his plays and essays, religious and intellectual tolerance and an unbiased search for truth. He is best recognized for conceiving the idea of a German national theater. Late in his career, Lessing studied philosophy and aesthetics.

Through his treatise Laokoon: oder über die Grenzen der Malerie und Poesie [Laocoon; or, On the Limits of Painting and Poetry] (1766) Lessing challenged art historian Johann Winckelmann's interpretation of the Laokoon, a famous Hellenistic sculpture from the 1st century BC.

Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571)

Italian Mannerist sculptor, goldsmith and writer. A flamboyant figure, Cellini received commissions from such figures as Pope Clement VII, Cosimo de' Medici of Florence, and King Francis I of France. Although many of his works in precious metals were melted down, drawings and notes remain. His treatise and autobiography, written in an exaggerated, almost boastful tone, is one of the primary reasons why Cellini holds a lasting place in the history of art. 

Work: Due trattati: uno intorno alle otto principali arti dell'oreficeria... [The treatises of Benvenuto Cellini on Goldsmithing and Sculpture] (1568).

John Addington Symonds (1840-1893)

English essayist, poet and biographer of cultural history of the Italian Renaissance. Symonds is best known for his Renaissance in Italy, 7 vol. (1875-86). In his short lifetime he completed the biographies of Benvenuto Cellini (1888) and Michelangelo (1893), and translated The Sonnets of Michael Angelo Buonarroti and Tommaso Campanella (1878)--the first English translation of the poetry of Michelangelo.

North (above):

Washington Allston (1779-1843)

American painter and author, commonly regarded as the first U.S. Romantic painter. After graduating from Harvard, Allston studied at the Royal Academy in London and visited the museums of Paris and Italy. Although his production of paintings was small, he is credited with setting the style of American landscape painting by using dramatic light and atmosphere to create portrayals of mood. His theory of art was posthumously published as Lectures on Art, and Poems (1850).

Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792)

English portrait painter, aesthetician and one of the founders of the Royal Academy in London. Through his art and teachings at the Academy Reynolds dominated English artistic life in the middle to late 18th century. Throughout his career he traveled and studied the techniques of the master painters of Europe. His Discourses Delivered at the Royal Academy, an annual series of lectures published between 1769 and 1791, were considered the most important art criticism of the time. In them he suggests that the means of achieving excellence in art is through rigorous academic training and study of the old masters of art.

Eugene Emmanuel Viollet Le Duc (1814-1879)

French Gothic Revival architect, writer and restorer of French medieval buildings. Although it can be said that Viollet Le Duc dominated 19th-century architectural preservation, historians later found that he often took a "creative approach" with his restorations. However, his numerous writings are where he earned his reputation.

His encyclopaedic works, Dictionnaire raisonné de l'architecture française du XIe au XVIe siècle [Dictionary of French Architecture from the XIth to the XVIth Century] (1854-68), and the Dictionnaire raisonné du mobilier française de l'époque carolingienne à la Rénaissance [Dictionary of French Decor from the Carolingian Era to the Renaissance] (1858-75), contain extensive structural and design information; they sustained the intellectual inspiration of the Gothic Revival movement.

North (below):

Daniel Hudson Burnham (1846-1912)

Chicago architect, businessman, and city planner who, with his partner John Wellborn Root, made Chicago the leader in commercial architecture in the 19th century. Three landmark buildings, The Rookery (1886), The Reliance Building (1890), and the Monadnock Block (1891), still stand as a lasting testament to the firm's success. After Root's death in 1891, Burnham became Director of Works for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. In 1909, Burnham published his Plan of Chicago, a proposal on the planning and development of Chicago as a growing metropolis.

Helen Gardner (1878-1946)

Chicago art historian, author and teacher at the Art Institute of Chicago for 25 years. Gardner was the author of Art Through the Ages. First published in 1926, it is still being used as a standard textbook by art history students. It was the first one-volume universal history of art.