Wikipedia:Manual of Style/Visual arts

Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

This page sets out some guidance on special issues commonly encountered in writing about the visual arts, and has been developed by members of WikiProject Visual arts. It should be read in conjunction with the Wikipedia Manual of Style. Queries can be raised at the discussion pages here or at the Visual Arts Project.

Helpful Wikipedia links

  • Wikipedia:WikiProject Fact and Reference Check
  • Wikipedia:Advice for the cultural sector
    is a special page dealing with the concerns of editors who are museum curators, librarians or archivists.

Text issues

Using infoboxes and templates

There are dedicated infoboxes and some templates for Visual arts articles at Wikipedia:WikiProject Visual arts#Templates, in addition to the standard biography infoboxes and national/cultural templates. There may be a conflict for space between the need to illustrate visual arts articles and the use of infoboxes. This is decided on a case-by-case basis.

Templates at the bottom of the page are usually preferable to those at the side, where they may make it difficult to incorporate proper illustration of a VA article. If so, they are likely to be removed.

Information in an infobox contains basic introductory facts from the article. If something is not substantiated in the article, or would involve over-simplification, it should not be included in the infobox. An alternative to an infobox is to use a normal picture with caption.

Lead section

In general it is best and safest to use "artist" in the lead of a biography; very many artists were not just painters (many articles are currently defective in this respect). If the artist did significant work in several media, that should be indicated, as, for example:

Edgar Degas (19 July 1834 – 27 September 1917), born Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas (French pronunciation: [ilɛːʁ ʒɛʁmɛ̃ ɛdɡaʁ ɡɑ]), was a French artist, who worked in painting, sculpture, printmaking and drawing.

The lead section on individual works of art should give at least the following information (in roughly this order): Name(s)/title(s) of work, artist, date, type and materials, subject, nation or city of origin, present location. A reference to the style, school or movement it or the artist belongs to is usually appropriate. If there is a quotation from a

WP:LEAD the rest of the section should generally summarize, at least for longer articles, the material covered in the other sections, especially if "unexpected" – if the object is widely considered to be a fake, like the Getty kouros
, do not save this information for a later section. This is often called the "no surprises" principle – after reading the lead, there should be no major surprises in the rest of the article.

Capitalization and art movements

Capitalization of art movements and art style names is a complex issue.[1] The College Art Association style guide for Art Bulletin says (or, it seems, used to say):

In general, sharply delimited period titles are capitalized, whereas large periods and terms applicable to several periods are not: e.g., Archaic, Baroque, Early and High Renaissance, Early Christian, Gothic, Greek Classicism of the fifth century (otherwise, classicism), Imperial, Impressionism, Islamic, Mannerist, Middle Ages, Modernism, Neoclassicism for the late-eighteenth-century movement (otherwise, neoclassicism), Post-Impressionism, Pre-Columbian, Rococo, Roman, Romanesque, Romantic period, Xth Dynasty, antique, antiquity, classicism (see above), medieval, modern, neoclassicism (see above), postmodern, prehistoric, quattrocento.

In passing references to details of style, it may be appropriate to use lower case terms e.g.: baroque, gothic, mannerist, modernist – but always Renaissance, Impressionist, Middle Ages.

A style guide at suggests using a dictionary to determine capitalization. However, dictionaries vary on art movement/style capitalization. (See User:Sparkit/capitalization.) The Wikipedia Manual of Style does not touch on art movements and styles in particular, but Wikipedia:Manual of Style/Capital letters states that Wikipedia style is to use lower case when sources are inconsistent. See also the Association of Art Editors Style Guide, 2013.

  1. ^ :Association of Art Editors Style Guide, 2013. Art movements, periods, and styles: "The question of whether to capitalize or lowercase is one of the most common in the field of art history and one of the most difficult in which to attain any agreement."

Lists of works

Lists of works within a biography should be used cautiously; they are really only appropriate for major artists with a small oeuvre, like Leonardo da Vinci or Giorgione. Longer ones are best moved to separate articles like List of works by Caspar David Friedrich. If compiled from old sources like EB 1911, there are likely to be inaccuracies as (a) many works in private collections will have been sold and (b) some in museums will have been re-attributed. A short section on notable works is better, although care must be taken to give a worldwide view, not just covering works in the English-speaking world.

Lists of museums, galleries, or collections

Although these types of lists may be found in artist's resumes, they are not very useful to Wikipedia readers if they only list institutional names and nothing else. A reader can typically find much better information through a basic web search. A list of notable works, as described previously, may optionally be annotated with the location of the artworks, if known and not expected to change.

Articles to write

There is a need for more articles on non-Western historic art, and on applied or

decorative art from all times and places, where coverage is generally very poor at present. Digital art is also poorly covered.[1]

Generally, very short articles (say less than 200 words of main text) on individual works of art are to be avoided, as the information can be included in the main article on the artist, or incorporated with other similar short pieces in a dedicated article, such as Portraits by Vincent van Gogh.

When there is sufficient notability and information to merit a separate article on an individual work of art, all pertinent facts as specified in Image captions (below) should be included, as well as relevant material covering the content, iconography, style, significance in the artist's oeuvre, and provenance.

Shorter articles on artists (i.e. a

verification, with a sufficient number of independent reliable secondary sources (see sources

Multiples, copies and versions

Where a work of art is produced in multiple copies, as with a cast bronze sculpture, a print, or works of decorative art produced under factory conditions, the article should as far as possible cover all copies, and normally should reflect this in its title and text, rather than specifying one location. The same generally goes for objects produced as a matching set, even if they are now separated. If the articles get long enough, it may be appropriate to give individual members of a set their own articles, as with the six paintings in Marriage A-la-Mode (Hogarth). Examples: Bust of Winston Churchill (Epstein) (ten or more casts), Sèvres pot-pourri vase in the shape of a ship (in porcelain with several examples), and Raphael Cartoons (a set).

Article titles


If a biography needs disambiguating then

Lead section above). For other people John Smith (potter)
or "art historian", "silversmith" may be appropriate. For movements, or techniques, add (art) or a more specific term such as (sculpture) if appropriate.

Works of art

For articles on individual works of art:

The Third of May 1808 (in Spanish El tres de mayo de 1808 en Madrid; Los fusilamientos de la montaña del Príncipe Pío[2] or Los fusilamientos del tres de mayo) is a painting completed in 1814 by the Spanish master Francisco Goya.

  1. PMID 35928587
  2. ^ Prado, p. 141: "The third of May 1808 in Madrid; the shootings on Prince Pio hill".


These are covered at Wikipedia:Naming conventions (manuscripts)


Long lists of exhibitions should be avoided. It will rarely be useful to mention more than five exhibitions. For contemporary and modern artists the venue of exhibitions can be important evidence of

, but only the most important should be given.

For historic artists, or types of art, that are not extremely famous (so not Rembrandt), it may be worth listing dedicated exhibitions in major museums going back as much as say forty years, as these can be crucial to the reputation of the artist or topic, and scholarship on them. In such cases, when a major exhibition is actually running, it can be appropriate to add a sentence saying so to the end of the lead; but it should be moved down to near the end of the article when the exhibition closes.

Describing works

Museums and collections

It can be helpful to add the owner of works to texts or captions of works referred to, but is not necessary, except for articles about the specific work. If the owner is not included in the information in the picture file, and is known, it should be added there.

For works belonging to permanent public collections, avoid "... currently resides in", "is currently in the Louvre", "is on display at", "is located in", "is in the collection of", and similar phrases. Just give the name of the collection, "Metropolitan Museum", or say "is in the Louvre", "is owned by", "now in" or "belongs to". Locating in a "private collection" is fine but any specific private ownership needs a recent reference (in particular do not trust old sources like the 1911


Note on

old master paintings are normally in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, the Nefertiti Bust is in the Neues Museum, and so on. But where a location is not known, the object should be described as owned by or held by the Staatliche Museen. Western antiquities can also be described as belonging to the Antikensammlung Berlin
("Berlin Antiquities Collection"), a traditional umbrella term for this collection, now divided between several institutions.


for the distinction between this and "Dutch" or "Flemish" in art.


Avoid "an 1876 painting", use a "painting of 1876" or "his nude Jimbo Wales (1876)" etc.; "from 1876" is best avoided, except in a discussion of a chronological development of style or similar passage. This partly a matter of US/UK style: "an 1876 painting" is more acceptable in American English, but will rarely be found in American academic writing. For a painting that was completed over more than one year, either the range of years, or the year of completion should normally be given, or "completed in 1512", "commissioned in 1623", "begun in 1845" etc.


Measurements should always be given for a work that is the article subject, but are not usually needed in captions (see that section), unless there is a particular point being made, or the size of the object might be thought to be radically different from the real size. Always give measurements in the order: height, width, & depth/diameter etc. if appropriate. Centimetres (very rarely millimetres) are now standard in academic art history, even in the US (though not always in museum captions), but ideally convert by template, as the MOS requires. Measurements are normally at the maximal place, but sometimes an explanation of where the measurement was taken is given in the source, which may need to be repeated in the article. Very full measurements of a painting may give the "visible area" of the framed work, the "painted area", often not exactly rectangular, and the measurements to the edge of the stretcher frame underneath a canvas.


Avoid "an oil-on-canvas painting" – it is "an oil painting on canvas" (unless it is actually a panel painting, etc.)

Right and left


proper right
for ways of unambiguously describing right and left in images.


Avoid "copper engraving" etc. (often found in pre-1900 material, or that half-translated from German and other languages where the term remains current)  – just use

wood-engraving" as a term for woodcuts (rather than true wood engravings, only invented in the late 18th century), which is not acceptable now. Original prints, or reproductive ones of before about 1800 could be linked to old master print or popular print (the latter not date-limited), if the technique, such as engraving, etching, linocut etc. is not known. Descriptions of print techniques on Commons descriptions should be treated with great caution; many if not most are inaccurate. "Engraving" is often treated as a generic term for all prints, which is to be avoided. See printmaking
for a summary of the techniques, but just use "print" if the actual technique is unknown.

Using images of art

If an image shows only part of a work, especially a painting or other 2D work, the caption should specify it is a "detail". Reversed images should very rarely be used, for example to make a particular point, and they should be very clearly captioned as reversed.

Images of buildings illuminated at night are often pretty, but almost always very poor at showing the building. They should be used very sparingly, and never as the lead picture where there is an alternative.

Basic formatting and size

The basic formatting code for an image is:

[[File:Name of image.jpg|thumb|Name of artist. Name of artwork.]]

"Thumb" has four effects:

  1. It allows the caption to display
  2. Default position is on the right of the page (specifying "right" is therefore redundant)
  3. Default size is 220 pixels wide
  4. If registered users have changed the thumb size in their preference settings (anything up to 400 pixels wide) then the image will appear for them at their selected size.

Most images will be left at this default size and not have a "forced" image size. Specifying "225px", for example, means all users are forced to see the image at that size, as it over-rides their preference setting. Another reason for not forcing large image sizes, is that the result can be ugly on some, particularly low res, screen settings. It is therefore a sound practice to look at a page on different screen settings.

There are exceptions to this, when an image size is specified. This might be because there is a lot of detail, or because it is the lead image on the page. In such cases, 300px is a good size to consider, as anything less will have the reverse effect to enlargement for users who have their preference setting at the maximum 400 px.

There are some other options which can be put into the basic image coding:

[[File:Name of image.jpg|thumb|upright|left|Name of artist. Name of artwork.]]

"Left" positions the image on the left of the page. The default sets the width at 220 pixels, which is fine for "landscape" images which are wider than they are tall. Where the reverse is the case, "upright" may be used to compensate for this. Even so, some very narrow images need a forced smaller size.

Image captions

The minimum information to be included is:

  • Artist name –
    for at least their first caption, except where the article is a biography. The name should not be in bold text.
  • Title of work in italics, – wikilinked if there is an article on the work. This may not apply to older works where there is no original title, and the subject is obvious, such as in a
    . Include the title of the work in English whenever possible; adding the original language is unnecessary unless there is no English translation available.

Optional additional information:

  • Date of work—usually date completed if it took more than one year,
  • Medium and support, especially if not oil on canvas,
  • Size—particularly helpful for unusually large or small works. There is not usually room to do this in both inches and centimetres, as the MoS prefers. Always put height before width.
  • Collection or whereabouts (optional, as should be on image data), linked in most cases.

Note: some editors prefer "Title, Artist" to the other way round. This should be consistent within an article. A short explanatory caption is often desirable, showing why the picture has been included, if necessary at the expense of some of the more technical information. Bear in mind image size preferences when writing long captions – a long caption may look good at 300px, but not at 180px. If any of the above is known, but is not included in the image file details, then it should be added there.


In general, portraits and other strongly directional works should face into the page. Remember the issues described in the "size" section above when placing images; at some settings images may either create large white spaces or overlap at left and right, leaving a narrow strip of text in the centre.

It will often be better to place a work by the artist at the top of a biography; this is especially the case for imaginary portraits of early artists, or photographs of more recent ones.

Available templates

Too many pictures, too little text?


a) Write some more text.
b) Use a gallery
c) Link to specific works, either by a piped link in the text, or from a footnote. This is especially useful as the links can go to Commons or the web in general, although generally web links should be in the notes.

Try to avoid just stringing images down the side opposite white space (although some white space may occasionally be necessary at the end of a short article, depending on screen size and file settings).


Galleries are often necessary within the body of a VA article. These galleries should relate clearly to the text, be proportionate to it and provide adequate information in the captions. Galleries are important, not just for decoration, but to reinforce and amplify the meaning of the article and to demonstrate meaning and nuance, which cannot be made by words alone.

A Wikipedia article gallery should not just replicate a Commons gallery, but should use images with editorial judgement, as would be given to text, with the validity of inclusion of each image considered. See

for the policy from the Wikipedia Manual of Style.

A particular image may be better used as a stand-alone one in the body of the text, if:

  • It is an outstanding example of work
  • It is specifically referred to in the text
  • It demonstrates an aspect (e.g. a particular period or style feature) referred to in the text: make this clear in the image caption.

Small galleries can be inserted in the body of the text: this is useful for general topics, such as Western painting. In a single artist biography, it may be more appropriate to include one gallery at the end of the article, such as in Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Claude Monet has two galleries within the text, one for earlier and one for later works. Self-portrait has both section galleries and a general gallery at the end. Mostly a gallery will be arranged chronologically.

There are options in formatting galleries which make them appear wider, or alter the number of images in a row, but these can cause visibility problems with different screen resolutions and should normally be avoided. See Help:Gallery tag.

In a Rfc on the use of "packed" format galleries in an art article (Paul Signac), the consensus was against their use.

Image rationales

Rationales should be added to the file for all Fair Use images used, detailing the reasons why the image is needed for each article in which it appears.


Where possible upload to Commons, and remember to categorize as thoroughly as possible (not always easy there – look at comparable images and see what categories they are in). Images available for Fair Use only cannot be uploaded there however, which affects many 20th century images, and those of three-dimensional objects.

  • Before you upload an image of art, know the following:
    • The source of the image. Usually the URL from which you downloaded it.
    • Who is the artist(s)?
    • The name of the piece?
    • When was the piece completed?
    • What are its dimensions?
    • What is the medium (oil and canvas/marble/mixed media ...)?
    • Where is it displayed?
    • fair use
  • Upload the image.
    • Include all of the above information when uploading or add it to the
      image page
      after you've uploaded the file.
    • Using the {{Image information art}} template for the above information formats the data easily.
  • Add the image to an article.
  • Add {{
    commonscat}}, or {{commons
    }} in the External links section to provide a link to the commons gallery or article.

Image resources

  • Commons – very large, rather chaotic, and with very many washed-out old scans (from out-of-copyright books). Everything on Commons can be used without further worries.
  • Google Images – can be very good, especially for portraits etc.


References are essential

Many articles, particularly on contemporary artists, groups and "movements", are

Referencing for beginners

Useful external resources

Unfortunately, 19th century books available online are likely to be out of date and often contain serious errors, and thus should generally be avoided.

  • There are over 1,500 books published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, which are fully available as PDFs online (though the copyrights are still reserved). They can be found at this page
  • United Kingdom residents can get online access to Oxford Art Online (The Grove Dictionary of Art) through their local library. Contact here if there are difficulties. Many US libraries also have online access for library card holders.
  • ULAN Getty Foundation, formerly "Union List of Artist's Names" – Lists names, including variants, dates and family relationships to other artists. The "preferred" name should generally be used.
  • The Bridgeman Art Library Image Search – useful for finding the current location of art works and details about them (museum, size, date created, etc.), though Google images gives wider coverage
  • Getty AAT "The Art & Architecture Thesaurus (AAT) is a structured vocabulary of around 34,000 concepts, including 131,000 terms, descriptions, bibliographic citations, and other information relating to fine art, architecture, decorative arts, ..."
  • Cameo database from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston – highly specialized database on pigments and materials
  • – search to locate resources about an artist
  • ArtLex art dictionary – definitions of terms
  • Art UK – project by
    Public Catalogue Foundation

External resources for writing about art


Example image and caption


[[File:La familia de Carlos IV, Francisco de Goya.jpg|thumb|[[Francisco Goya]], 
''Charles IV of Spain and His Family''. 1800–1801. 
280 × 336 cm. Oil on canvas. [[Museo del Prado]], [[Madrid]].]]


Francisco Goya, Charles IV of Spain and His Family. 1800–1801. 280 × 336 cm. Oil on canvas. Museo del Prado, Madrid.