How to Analyze and Appreciate Paintings

by Dianne L. Durante

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How to Analyze

Via discussions of Holbein’s Sir Thomas More and Bellini’s St. Francis in the Desert, we work through a series of questions to help you systematically observe the details of a painting, state what effect they have, and set them in the context of the rest of the work. As we go, we work out tentative themes and then a final statement of the theme. Then we evaluate the works in emotional, esthetic, philosophical, and art historical terms. As practice for doing this independently, I include a series of questions on Vermeer’s Officer with a Laughing Girl.

You could think of this essay as part 2 of Getting More Enjoyment from Art You Love (which dealt with sculpture), but it can also be read on its own. The paintings illustrated are mostly in the Frick Collection, New York.

Originally published as “How to Analyze and Appreciate Paintings in The Objective Standard, A Journal of Culture and Politics, vol. 2, no. 3 (Fall 2007). The print version is sold out. TOS subscribers have access to this issue online, but unfortunately without illustrations, since the permissions have expired.