Joseph Alsop   The Rare Art Traditions: A History of Art Collecting and Its Linked Phenomena.
Harper and Row/Princeton University Press, 691 pages, $59.95

The present extraordinary expansion of the history of art has meant that greater interest is being taken in aspects of the subject that were previously only rarely explored. The decided taste for a sociology tinged with Marxism, no less typical of our time, has spread to writing about art. Inquiries concerning patronage and the nature of taste are now properly considered valuable in assessing the arts at any given period. Of course, the investigation or elucidation of such matters in the end counts for little in the evaluation of a work of art per se.

One fillip in the study of the vagaries of taste has been the numerous revaluations of past periods that have occurred during the last quarter of a century. Mannerist and Baroque art,...

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