In the introduction to this edition, Anthony Janson (whose father, H.W. Janson, still has top billing for the volume) talks about the long tradition he and his father have had toward this volume and the larger work that carries the same name. It has been a standard in Western art education for decades, and the revisions periodically placed serve to bring new interpretations, perspectives and finds into the mix of history.
Prior to diving into the depths of art, Janson provides a primer - art history is a relatively new discipline, and often studied by historians and others with interest but relatively little training in artistic areas themselves. This book is about the visual arts (those of drama, music, etc. are not included here, but architecture is to some degree); Janson gives a brief survey of key concepts that are critical to understanding the mediums (artists, Janson states, prefer to use the plural of medium as mediums rather than media). Geometric and visual appreciation concepts are introduced, as are philosophical/aesthetic ideas.
The majority of the text is divided into four broad sections: The Ancient World, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance through the Rococo, and the Modern World. This is a book that really a survey or history of Western art - it does have a brief section at the beginning of the Ancient World on cave art and neolithic art in North America, but apart from this never wanders outside the main courses of Western art even in the modern period. As an introductory text, this is not surprising - many of the values and concepts of art in non-Western cultures require more explanation for adequate aesthetic appreciation of their art than an introductory survey course could cover. Still, it is a deficit worthy of note for those who are looking for a more comprehensive volume.
The Ancient World covers art of Egypt, the Fertile Crescent and Persia, Aegean/Greek art, Etruscan art, and Roman art. The section on the Middle Ages begins primarily with the rise of Christendom as the dominant political power - this includes Byzantine art, early Medieval art (Carolingian and Ottonian times), Romanesque, and the ascendancy of the Gothic style, including the great Abbey of St-Denis. The Renaissance focusses early on Italy, but also explores the Renaissance influences in Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, France, and England. The Modern Period is the most diverse, with movements such as Neoclassicism, Romanticism, Realism, Impressionism, Art Nouveau and other schools that had a greater tendency to cross national boundaries. The twentieth century brought about a great explosion of artistic expressions, in architecture, sculpture, painting and photography, each of which get a chapter. While the fourth section begins with a discussion of modernism, it ends with the discussion of post-modernism, a period of transition.
The colour reproductions throughout are stunning, and the use of black-and-white images to highlight details is also useful. Two-thirds of the 600 illustrations are in colour. The photographs showing architectural styles are interesting, far from being boring 'sample' shots. The text is engaging and informative, achieving a good balance between the artistic, the philosophical and the historical. There are maps, chronological tables, a glossary of terms, suggestions for further readings arranged topically, and a very useful index (always a plus for students and scholars).