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.