Here is the way Giorgio Vasari, the first great art historian, saw it.
It reached its zenith in classical times, with the Greeks and Romans, then suddenly declined and died out altogether.
For a thousand years there wasn’t any art.
Skip the Gothic cathedrals and put the re-birth of all art with the Italian Renaissance, in the thirteenth century. Florentine artists like Cimabue and Giotto started the ball rolling.
Then came a second generation of geniuses: Brunellesci, Donatello, Botticelli, Ghiberti.
The apotheosis came with the last generation (the one just before Vasari’s own): Leonardo, Michelangelo, Rafael. But not in that order: no. The greatest of them all was Michelangelo.
Vasari believed that excellence in art during that blessed golden age progressed with each new artist, and led up to, and ended, with Michelangelo Buonarroti. He was supreme. “See his work and you never need to see any other.”
This was the prevailing view of art in Vasari’s day in Italy. It was certainly parochial (where are the Venetians, where are the Flemish?) and blind to art that was not naturalistic (Gothic, Romanesque, Bizantine). But it is still around.
Vasary is not the only art historian making mistakes ( they are only human, I know…)
But just take a look at THIS ONE : the great (truly great!) art historian Sir Ernst Gombrich, the faimous and revered author of THe History of Art (even if he says, not unwisely, that there is no art, only ARTISTS…) is writing at the page 435 (I know it by heart!) of his History that Vincent Van Gogh DIED IN JANUARY 1891 !
And this is about the 18th edition of his book! It’s an error so flagrant (who doesn’t KNOW vincent died the 29 of JULY 1890 !? and his brother Théo DIED IN JANUARY 1891 ?
Ok, it’s not so important the date on which somebody died… but from an authority such as Sir Gombrich you have some pretentions of exactitude, no? Because, if he did THIS mistake and did not correct it for 18th editions (he’s dead now and the mistake is still there!!!) he could have made OTHER mistakes too? It’s a very common sense conclusion, isn’t it?