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Historical/Cultural Context

Art is not created in a vacuum. It is often to some degree a reflection of the time and place in which it was created. To attempt to fully understand a work, we must interpret its relationship to the social, political, religious, and/or philosophical currents during the era it was made. Considering these historical factors helps us to better interpret the work’s form and subject matter.

For example, Michelangelo’s David (pictured at right) represents the biblical hero David, who killed the giant Goliath; however, within Renaissance Florence, David became a popular symbol for the city of Florence itself, which had maintained its independence from outside aggressors.

Additionally, it is essential to think about the object’s function in its original context—where was it, what was it used for, and what was its importance? David, for example, was originally sculpted to be placed very high up on a buttress of Florence Cathedral, so the proportions of the upper half of David’s body are enlarged to account for the upward viewing angle (of course, once David was completed, it was so loved that it was placed in the main city square instead).

We might also consider a work’s style and how it fits in with the stylistic movements of the time. When the artist of a work is known, it can be worthwhile to explore whether the artist’s biography has any bearing on the piece.

You don’t have to broach all of these topics in your writing, but remember that it is essential to any art history paper to supplement your description of a piece with a relevant historical analysis.

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How to write a good comparison

A comparison of two works of art can be an effective method of uncovering meaning that may not have been evident at first. As the poet Howard Nemerov has said, “If you really want to see something, look at something else” (quoted in Sylvan Barnet, A Short Guide to Writing About Art, tenth edition, 135). The first step in writing a successful comparison is choosing two works that facilitate a meaningful comparison.

It helps to pick two pieces that have at least one thing in common (although it should be noted that if you pick two works that are too similar, you might not have enough to talk about). They might be from the same culture, or from the same period.

They might both be sculptures, or they might both be paintings. They could depict the same subject, or they could be two works from the same artist. Whatever common ground they share provides a jumping off point for discussing their similarities, and from there uncovering their differences. You don’t need to compare every similarity and difference you can find, but focus on the key points that support your thesis.

Your goal should be to write a comparison that enhances your interpretation and understanding of the works you have chosen to discuss. Because this is a relatively short paper, if you’re planning to compare two architectural works, it helps to choose similar features of each building to compare. For example, you may want to compare the façades of the buildings, or perhaps even their ground plans.

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Textbook work check list:

CHAPTER 18: Fourteenth-Century Art in Europe

18-5 | Cimabue, Virgin and Child Enthroned

18-6 | Giotto, Virgin and Child Enthroned

18-7 | Giotto, Scrovegni Chapel

18-9 | Giotto, Kiss of Judas

18-10 | Duccio, Maestà Altarpiece(front)

18-16 | Ambrogio Lorenzetti, The Effects of Good Government in the City and in the Country

18-23 | Thomas of Witney, Exeter Cathedral

18-24 | Vesperbild (Pietà)


CHAPTER 19: Fifteenth-Century Art in Northern Europe

19-3 | Claus Sluter, Well of Moses

19-6 | Paul, Herman, and Jean Limbourg, January, the Duke of Berry at Table

19-10 | Workshop of the Master of Flémalle, Mérode Altarpiece

19-12 | Jan van Eyck, Man in a Red Turban

19-1 | Jan van Eyck, Double Portrait of a Giovanni Arnolfini and His Wife

19-14 | Jan and Hubert (?) Van Eyck, The Ghent Altarpiece (closed)

19-13 | Jan and Hubert (?) Van Eyck, The Ghent Altarpiece (open)

19-15 | Rogier van der Weyden, Deposition

19-28 | Martin Schongauer, Demons Tormenting St. Anthony

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CHAPTER 20: Renaissance Art in Fifteenth-Century Italy

20-2 | Brunelleschi, Sacrifice of Isaac

20-3 | Ghiberti, Sacrifice of Isaac

20-4 | Brunelleschi, Dome of Florence Cathedral

20-8A | Brunelleschi (continued by Michelozzo di Bartolomeo), Interior of the Church of San Lorenzo

20-14 | Donatello, David

20-16 | Ghiberti, Gates of Paradise, Florence Baptistery

20-17 | Ghiberti, Jacob and Esau

20-18 | Masaccio, Trinity with the Virgin, St. John the Evangelist, and Donors

20-22 | Masaccio, The Tribute Money

20-25 | Andrea del Castagno, The Last Supper

20-39 | Pierodella Francesca, Battista Sforza and Federico da Montefeltro

20-40 | Andrea Mantegna, Two Views of the Camera Picta

20-35 | Sandro Botticelli, Birth of Venus


CHAPTER 21: Sixteenth-Century Art in Italy

21-4 | Leonardo da Vinci, The Last Supper

21-10 | Raphael, The School of Athens

21-14 | Michelangelo, Pietà

21-15 | Michelangelo, David

21-18 | Michelangelo, Creation of Adam, Sistine Chapel ceiling

21-22 | Giulio Romano, Courtyard Façade, Palazzo del Té, Mantua

21-30 | Titian, “Venus” of Urbino

21-38 | Pontormo, Entombment

21-46 | Michelangelo, Last Judgment, Sistine Chapel

21-31 | Veronese, Feast in the House of Levi

21-32 | Tintoretto, The Last Supper

21-36 | Palladio, Exterior View of Villa Rotonda, Italy

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CHAPTER 22: Sixteenth-Century Art in Northern Europe and the Iberian Peninsula

22-5 | Matthias Grünewald, Isenheim Altarpiece (closed)

22-1 | Albrecht Dürer, Self-Portrait

22-7 | Albrecht Dürer, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

22-16 | Pierre Lescot and Jean Goujon, West wing of the CourCarrée, Palais du Louvre, Paris

22-19 | El Greco, Burial of Count Orgaz

22-20 | Hieronymus Bosch, Garden of Earthly Delights (open)

22-25 | Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Return of the Hunters

22-27 | Hans Holbein the Younger, The French Ambassadors


CHAPTER 23: Seventeenth-Century Art in Europe

23-2 | St. Peter’s Basilica and Piazza, Vatican, Rome

23-3 | Bernini, Baldacchino, St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican, Rome

23-4 | Bernini, David

23-1 | Bernini, St. Teresa of Ávila in Ecstasy

23-6A | Borromini, Façade, Church of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, Rome

23-12 | Caravaggio, The Conversion of St. Paul

23-13 | Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith Beheading Holofernes

23-15 | Gaulli, The Triumph of the Name of Jesus and the Fall of the Damned

23-21 | Velázquez, Las Meninas

23-26 | Rubens, The Raising of the Cross

23-30 | Peeters, Still Life with Flowers, Goblet, Dried Fruit, and Pretzels

23-36 | Rembrandt, The Night Watch

23-41 | Vermeer, Woman Holding a Balance

23-51 | Hardouin-Mansart and Le Brun, Hall of Mirrors, Palace of Versailles

23-60 | Wren, Façade of St. Paul’s Cathedral

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Example 2

Program plan

Instructions: “A vision of a preferred future can play a key role in focusing energy and commitment. Strategic planning is a way of developing organizational responses to an assessment of the agency’s mission and mandates, stakeholder expectations, opportunities and challenges in the environment” (Lewis et al, 2012, p. 74). Always within the environmental context, planning and program design depend on clear statements of mission and goals.

The process of planning and program design depends on a clear statement of mission and goals. Once stakeholders have been heard and goals have been clarified, planners must move on to identifying the specific objectives and activities that will make goal achievement possible.

Goal statements are stated in broad terms, and jam the use of such terms like: increase, improve, enhance, ensure strength and, explained, develop, sustain, encourage, or initiate. Objectives explain how a goal will be accomplished. They represent steps towards accomplishing the goals.

Objectives, on the other hand, are more specific and are often stated in the form of “Increase (something) from (some number) to (another number) by (deadline)” (Worth 2014, pg. 171). A new activity might be accomplishing something that constitutes achievement of the proposed goal. (For Example: Coordinate and enhance resources, or Increase access to experiential learning)


In Activity 1 you began the process of creating your own hypothetical human service program. After Activity 2 you should have a greater understanding of planning and program design, not only from prior classes, but from prior reading, lectures, and videos on the Strategic Planning Process. Now you are ready to answer the following questions:

As you think about a program that you would want to develop a strategic plan for, address the following questions:

What are the primary goals for this program?
Give some examples of specific, measurable objectives that would help meet one of the goals you have identified.
What are some activities or services that would be helpful in meeting the objectives?
Also consider the following:

Are the steps clear?
Are the completion dates realistic?
How will you know when the objective has been accomplished?
What program outcomes will determine whether the program has been successful?
What resources (e.g. time, personnel, talent, and money) are needed to accomplish each component or step?
Please read carefully and follow instructions accordingly

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Last Updated on February 10, 2019

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