We Value Your Privacy

This site uses cookies to improve user experience. By continuing to browse, you accept the use of cookies and other technologies.


10 Intriguing Art History Books

From art thieves and forgers to every shocking twist in between.

art history books
  • camera-icon
  • 'Las Meninas' (1656) by Diego Velázquez.Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Across the globe, art galleries hold some of the most famous and celebrated works of art in existence. Artists like Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, Leonardo da Vinci, and Andy Warhol revolutionized the art world, and their masterpieces are some of the most sought-after pieces in existence.

But with the fame, prestige, and artistry of these famous paintings comes a darker, lesser-known side, from art thieves attempting to rob galleries to forgers working to make a quick buck by copying priceless artwork. The books on this list take us behind the scenes to examine scandals in the art world, the history behind famous pieces of art, and the secret lives of the artists who created these masterpieces.

The Boston Raphael

The Boston Raphael

By Belinda Rathbone

The night before the Boston Museum of Fine Arts was to celebrate its centenary, it announced that it had acquired an unknown and uncatalogued painting by Raphael. As headlines around the world spread the news of this discovery, an Italian art sleuth decided to investigate the details of the painting’s export from Italy—ultimately challenging the museum’s right to ownership. 

Related: The 18 Greatest War and Battle Paintings of All Time

The ensuing scandal, including the resignation of the museum’s director, Perry T. Rathbone, played out in front of the public. However, only in The Boston Raphael is the full story finally revealed.

Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol

By Arthur C. Danto

Arthur C. Danto provides a raw look into the world of pop artist Andy Warhol and the impact his work has had on American society. From the early reception of Warhol's work to his relationships with other artists, Danto looks at the complexity of his personality, his art, and his philosophy. 

Related: 10 Illuminating Andy Warhol Books

Danto also gives informed and detailed interpretations of Warhol’s most famous works. He looks to the social context and philosophical foundation of each piece while comparing them to Warhol’s predecessors and successors. Warhol’s multidimensional life as an artist, activist, writer, filmmaker, and philosopher are explored and celebrated.

Everything is Happening

Everything is Happening

By Michael Jacobs

Esteemed art historian and travel author Michael Jacobs was haunted by Diego Velázquez's masterpiece Las Meninas ever since he saw it in the Prado as a young teenager. He spent years searching for the ultimate significance of the painting and developing his own relationship to the piece.

Related: 8 Essential Books About the Spanish Civil War

In this groundbreaking memoir, Jacobs recounts his first trip to Spain, his encounter with the man responsible for saving Las Meninas during the Spanish Civil war, and more. He succeeds in connecting the past with the present in this personal manifesto. The Financial Times describes Everything is Happening as a fascinating journey by "one of the great non-fiction writers of this and the last century."

art that changed the world

Art That Changed the World


This book delivers a visual journey of 2,500 paintings and sculptures created by over 700 artists, from Leonardo da Vinci to Vincent Van Gogh. Exploring different eras of art and how its cultural influences spread across the globe, Art That Changed the World explains the details behind each transformative piece. From China's Ming dynasty to pre-colonial Australia, Art That Changed the World  explores world art, all while analyzing the significance and history behind famous and lesser-known works of art alike.

i was vermeer

I Was Vermeer

By Frank Wynne

Han van Meegeren was considered a paranoid, drug-addicted, second-rate painter. However, his forgeries of Johannes Vermeer masterpieces easily made him a secret star of the art world. During van Meegeren’s career as a forger, he made 50 million dollars, gained the attention of the world’s press, and had the satisfaction of exploiting the Nazis. 

Related: 21 Essential World War II Books That Examine Every Angle of the Conflict

However, with the end of the war, van Meegeren was arrested as a Nazi collaborator. The only way to prove his innocence was to confess to his true crime...I Was Vermeer is the true story of van Meegeren's unpredictable life and career.



By Jennifer Dasal

Jennifer Dasal, host of the ArtCurious podcast, explores some of the strangest, funniest, and most fascinating stories behind the world’s most famous artists and their works. Dasal reveals that Van Gogh’s suicide may have actually been an accidental killing, or possibly even murder, and she gives a behind-the-scenes look into the private life of Andy Warhol.

ArtCurious dives into the hidden truths behind some of the world’s most recognized work. After all, there are two sides to every story.

what are you looking at

What Are You Looking At?

By Will Gompertz

When it comes to art, different movements and styles are always subject to criticism and questions. With modern art, people have often asked, “What am I looking at?” and “Is this really art?”

Related: Explore the Dazzling History of Film With 9 Illuminating Books

Will Gompertz, the former art director of London's Tate Gallery and now BBC arts editor, has made it his mission to delve into the world of modern art and teach others how to not only understand it but also celebrate it. Through stories and anecdotes, he explains the history and foundation of modern art, what makes it art, and why a five-year-old couldn’t do it after all.

art of rivalry

The Art of Rivalry

By Sebastian Smee

Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic Sebastian Smee investigates the competitive friendships between four sets of artists: Manet and Degas, Picasso and Matisse, Pollock and de Kooning, and Freud and Bacon.

Related: 10 Fascinating Cave Paintings That Illuminate the Prehistoric World

All eight are now household names, but it was the challenges and competition they faced within their relationships that helped push them to this state of recognition. From shared ideas to stolen paintings and mistresses, the truth of these rivalries is finally revealed.

stealing the show

Stealing the Show

By John Barelli

John Barelli spent nearly 40 years working as the chief security officer at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Now retired, he was once in charge of one of the world’s largest collections of treasures. He also oversaw the museum’s staff, thousands of daily visitors, and even visits from presidents, royals, and heads of state from around the world.

Being in the dark corridors of the Met after hours is an experience few get to witness. Barelli takes us along with him through the highs and lows of protecting some of the world's most famous masterpieces. Stealing the Shows dives into the crimes that occurred on his watch. From attempted robberies, accidents, and recovered artwork to mysteries that remain unsolved, Barelli’s first-hand account goes into details the public has never heard before.

lost painting

The Lost Painting

By Jonathan Harr

400 years ago, the artist Caravaggio roamed the streets of Rome getting into brawls, drinking away his money, and moving from home to home. He was also a master of Italian Baroque—a genius and a revolutionary whose greatest challenge was his own inner demons.

Related: The Mystery of the Vanishing Amber Room

Author Jonathan Harr takes readers on a journey in search of a lost Caravaggio masterpiece, The Taking of Christ. When a graduate student named Francesca Cappelletti finds a vital clue in an untouched archive, she sets out to piece together the puzzle of what happened to the Caravaggio painting, once and for all.