Review: The Master and His Apprentices

My academic background has largely been science and math, Art was never something I was good at, and don't even ask me about music! However, as I grow older, I've discovered a desire to not only coax out any artistic skills, but to learn about art itself. I've also discovered a love for history, so the chance to learn about Art History was too good a chance to pass up. I am delighted to review a homeschool art history book by The Master and His Apprentices.

The Master and His Apprentices

What it is

The Master and His Apprentices: Art History from a Christian Perspective, which is available both as a hardbound book or a downloadable PDF file, is a complete curriculum that can be used--in the United States, at least--as a full year's high school credit in either art or history. Or, you could use it as I did--as an adult geeking out on new things to learn. You could also use it as a supplement or additional reference with younger kids.

The selling point of the book is that it's written from a Christian perspective, without nudity or any objectionable materials. It highlights how we--even the artists that we revere--are all apprentices to the Master Artist who created all that we attempt to capture and copy. The author, Gina Ferguson, says, and I quote: "When an artist creates out of a heart overflowing with praise for God, the work of their hands is of great work." Art, which has been been deprioritized in favor of STEM subjects is still important because it "raises hearts and minds in praise and adoration to God Most High, the Master Artist."

The book itself is a hefty (well, imaginary hefty, because I have the PDF--although I'm dying to have it printed and bound) 380 pages with over 600 pictures. It starts with creation, and covers the following periods:

  • Ancient Cultures: Ancient Near East, Egyptian and Aegean
  • Classical Antiquity: Early Greek, Etruscan and Roman
  • Middle Ages: Medieval & Islamic, Early Christian & Byzantine, Romanesque and Gothic
  • Renaissance: Proto-Renaissance, Early Italian Renaissance, High Italian Renaissance and Northern Renaissance
  • Baroque and Beyond: Baroque, Rococo to Today (modern art) and Global Highlights (non-Western art)

There's an optional Teacher's Guide, to help make it easier to teach the curriculum. It comes with a syllabus, with a suggested reading and activity schedule, as well as worksheets per chapter, and four unit tests. The questions aren't always about facts, but also stimulate critical thinking. The main book comes with a timeline at the back, but you can also download a free timeline file (with cutting and taping guides) that shows the Biblical events, world events, and major art pieces through the millennia.

Reviewing this book is helping me brush up on my studying and note-taking skills

Who used it--and how

This is the first review I did that was purely for my own pleasure. I'm a spermologist at heart, and I am excited to learn all about art. It's my goal to be able to identify major works of art on sight, and to make it even more challenging, I'd love to identify art works by artist and period as well. I tried reading the book from the beginning, which was an introduction to art, and which laid down the foundation of how art and God and His creations are all intertwined. The second chapter went through the days of creation. I confess: I read Day 1, and skipped on to the next chapters on Ancient Near East and Egyptian art. I finally gave in to the temptation and flipped ahead to the Renaissance period. I printed out the worksheets/discussion guides and the tests, and answered questions as I went along. Since I skipped around so much, though, I discovered that I couldn't complete a unit test and get a decent grade.

Actually, the worksheets and the tests in this photo go with the Muslim and Islam chapter, but I so love the pop of red in this portrait by Piero della Francesca


I also printed out the timeline and assembled it. I love how you can see what events happened at the same times. I mean we read and discuss historical events, but to actually grasp that Aesop's Fables was at about the same time when Daniel was deported to Babylon, or that Virgil wrote the Aeneid was just a few years before Jesus was born--it really helped to see it all mapped out. I highlighted all the Biblical events (in pink), the historical events that the girls and I have discussed (yellow), and the artworks that I have personally seen, or read about (blue). The timeline is 11 sheets of 8.5"x11" paper--quite long! So I keep it rolled up, and I need to spread it out on the floor.

One minor annoyance though: I dislike how the sheets are not perfectly aligned (see photo below). The timeline is split into pages that you're supposed to trim and tape together, but when I printed the pages, the margins on each sheet seem to have shifted from side to side. Hence my timeline zigzags. Right now I'm ignoring it, but if I really can't stand it, I will trim those pesky, misaligned edges. Also, I saw several typos.

My 7-foot timeline. I do not have the wall space for this, so on the floor it goes


What I think about it

Overall rating: a keeper that I will savor, and I dream of owning the hardbound version.

Now on to the nitty-gritty. First, I still need to get used to having discussions about my faith and my God so intimately worked into our history (Mystery of History, Sonlight), science (Apologia, Answers in Genesis), and now, art history lessons. I'm so used to discussing God only in Bible classes, or in church. But now that I am homeschooling my kids, I realize that I would like them to integrate God into their daily lives, whether we're in church, doing school, or getting work done.

That said, some parts of the book I found a little hard sell. I know that the book is written from a Christian perspective, and I appreciate the enlightenment from the introduction on how God is the Master Artist. But there were some lines like, "While Lippi was an exceptionally skilled artist, one can't help but wonder what he could have achieved, had he, like Fra Angelico, painted for God and spent his time perfecting his craft rather than getting caught up in illegal and otherwise degrading enticements." Also, I found the second chapter on creation ran a bit long and preachy for me. But that's me.

Moving on the rest of the book--I appreciate the thoroughness in each chapter. Breeze and I have been going through world history from the Ancient Times, and I have been able to add more meat the bare-bones knowledge I have. I also like how facts that we know separately are interwoven so that you can see how things are actually related. I also appreciate the timelines per chapter/period. I actually find these easier to read compared to my kilometric timeline, so I will be printing out the individual timelines to use as handy references.

The early chapters are very history-heavy, and sort of feels like not much art going on. The focus of the early periods is the architecture. I guess the structures that these ancient civilizations have left behind are the only evidence we have of the artistic inclinations of those periods. However, as you move to the later chapters, you get more on actual 'art' or what we typically consider art (which is why I skipped ahead).

The book lays down so much information that I found myself reading and rereading pages because there was too much for my mommy brain to contain (most of my brain space these days is occupied by homeschool schedules, menus, and possible jam recipes). It's rather alarming to realize that at this point in life, I may not be able to keep up with a regular class! Reading The Master and His Apprentices has made me exercise my note taking skills.


I appreciate the timelines in each time period.


As a visual art history book, I expected it to have much bigger images. I do realize that there are printing and layout costs to factor in, but it would have been nice. At least you can zoom in when reading the PDF file.

When you view the PDF on a big desktop screen, you can appreciate the art better


A page as viewed from an iPad. I still wish the images were bigger in the textbook!

Also, the layout of the Teacher's Guide was not the easiest to read, or to use. I wish there was more style applied to the pages! It was just a huge block of text and lines. Not the most engaging to work on. The questions do make you think, though. And, thankfully, there is an answer key provided at the back.

Visually, the pages of the guide are not a pleasure. They are helpful though.


Like most art history books (I suppose), the focus is on Western art. There is a brief chapter at the end about non-Western art, but not much. What I would like to do (which is why I printed out the timeline) is to insert the Philippines' own historic events and works of art. For example, Juan Luna's Spoliarium, which won a gold medal in the Madrid Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes in 1884. The huge oil painting, which depicts bloody Roman gladiators being dragged off, reflects the political condition of the Filipinos under the Spanish colonial rule at that time. The Philippines also has a bounty of relics and artworks from the ancient times, way before we were 'discovered' by the Westerners.

Anyway, I will use The Master and His Apprentices as the main reference, and I will add in the Philippine facts as I find them.

Examples of early Philippine artifacts (from the Kasaysayan series of books that I am using as reference)


Final thoughts

I am still enjoying The Master and His Apprentices: Art History from a Christian Perspective, and I will go back to the chapters I skipped. And I will get those unit tests done! I am grateful for the opportunity to review this book.


Other families have also reviewed the book. Click below to read about their experiences.


The Master and His Apprentices: Art History from a Christian Perspective {The Master and His Apprentices Reviews}

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