Although some of the books listed above attempt a global approach, they are universally strong in western art history. The books use representative examples from each era in order to create a story that blends changing styles with social history. The Western narrative begins with prehistoric art such as Stonehenge, before discussing the ancient world. The latter begins with Mesopotamia, then progresses to the art of Ancient Egypt, which then transitions to Classical antiquity. Classical art includes both Greek and Roman work. With the decline of the Roman Empire, the narrative shifts to Medieval art, which lasted for a millennium. The high intellectual culture of the Medieval period was Islamic, but the era also included Early Christian art, Byzantine art, Gothic art, Anglo-Saxon art, and Viking art. The Medieval era ended with the Renaissance, followed by the Baroque and Rococo. Sometimes another period, Mannerism, is inserted between Renaissance and Baroque, which is a visual hybrid. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries included Neoclassicism, Romantic art, Academic art, and Realism in art. Art historians disagree when Modern art began, but it was either in the mid-eighteenth century with the artist Francisco Goya, the mid-nineteenth century with the industrial revolution or the late nineteenth century with the advent of Impressionism. The art movements of the late nineteenth through the early twenty first centuries are too numerous to detail here, but can be broadly divided into two categories: Modernism and Contemporary art. The latter is sometimes referred to with another term, which has a subtly different connotation, Postmodern art.
Although textbooks periodize Western art by movements, as described above, they also do so by century. Many art historians give a nod to the historical importance of Italian Renaissance and Baroque art by referring to centuries in which it was prominent with foreign terms. These include trecento for the fourteenth, quattrocento for the fifteenth, cinquecento for the sixteenth, seicento for the seventeenth, and settecento for the eighteenth.