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Timeline of Western Art

Where did we come from? A timeline that presents how art movements have developed and the characteristics of specific ones.
by

Robbie Verhagen

on 22 August 2011

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Transcript of Timeline of Western Art

A Timeline of Western Art Art is, by definition, human emotion expressed in terms of a medium. But to humanity (to us) it is and has been much more than a simple expression of emotion. Art is our history, and in art can be found countless aspects of life, culture and philosophy. It is more than just paint on a canvas and can incorporate the thousands of years that make up humanity's story into as small a thing as a ceramic pot as well as a monumental piece of art, like the Greek Parthenon.
'No story is more interesting than that of man's progress through the ages, and no part of this narrative is more impressive than his activities in art.'
-Handbook of Art This timeline will run through the nine major art movements that have changed art over the centuries and will overview each one, beginning with the movement of Classical Greek. Classical Greek The Precursor of Renaissance Classical Antiquity Greek art movements date from around 1100 BC but more specifically, the Classical movement (Greek art's Golden Age), is one that spanned the short period between 480-360 BC. Classical Greek art was all about depicting a story and often drew tales of the gods and other mythological deities. Common medium included marble, bronze and terracotta. Greek art reached its climax in the golden age and it was the independence of Athens that propelled philosophy and fine arts to the forefront of thinking. It was their own perfection that inspired the creation of harmonious, ordered works. The art of this time exemplified the miracle of their civilisation and the feeling of 'tasteful accomplishment.' This Classical Greek art included stylistic features of idealism and flat patterned figures in a lot of relief sculptures. The subject of Classical Greek art was almost always life and a focus on daily routines, opposing that of others like Egyptian styles that focussed on death and the afterlife. It was a movement prevalent not only throughout Greece but the Roman Empire itself. Classical Greek art is seldom found in stand-alone paintings and was expressed wholly through sculpture and ceramics (most often with painted depictions on their surface). Artists of the period include Myron (famous for the 'Discus Thrower'-450BC) and Calamis ('Poseidon'-460BC). Other famous works include the 'Laocoön and His Sons' (sculpted by Agesander, Polydorus and Athanadorus) and various ornamental 'Lapith and Centaur' relief sculptures. After 350 BC we see a decline in the art of Classical Greece and over the next 600 years it undergoes a transition through Greco-Roman and Roman until Early Christian and Byzantine art comes about. By Robbie Verhagen. It displayed a sense of perfect order, balance, unity and elegance, setting the scene for future Renaissance art. This era of Classical Greek art proclaimed the importance of man above all else and it was their obsession with form and beauty that inspired a lot of the sculptures and art created. Early Christian - Byzantine An Illusionistic Roman Style The Early Christian and Byzantine art movements date from around 313 AD to 600 AD and then continuing until conclusion in 1453 AD. As an art style mainly employed by the church to display naturalistic piety, it was widespread through mainstream europe and the byzantine empire. A roman style inspired the early christian frescoes that appeared at the beginning of this movement. It was heavily influenced by the Christian faith and by Christendom collectively, thus gaining heavy use in Byzantium. After a 300 year long era of Christian persecution, Christianity flourished without the need to hide its face. The focus of Early Christian art and later on the Byzantine movement was life hereafter and reverence. In most Byzantine mosaics we see political and religious figures depicted in a pious way, a statement that reflected well for their image. Unlike that of Classical Greek (and later Renaissance) there was no stress on the physical beauty of man but the pure devotion to God and Christian ideas. In the Early Christian forms we see a lot of fresco work appear, inspired by the earlier underground Christian works common to hidden catacombs of religious refuge or burial sites. It was a proclamation of God's glory in a time when religion and the church was everything. There were a lot of naturalistic Christian symbols and even a sense of non-objectiveness. In the later years of the Christian art movement Byzantine forms began to thrive. Even in light of the East-West Schism (Great Schism), an event that divided the State Church of the Roman Empire into the Roman Catholic and Orthodox branches, the style was still heavily influencial throughout Europe as a whole. But there were some interesting effects that stemmed from the schism. The Great Schism can even explain how Byzantine and Early Christian inspired art forms made their way to Russia after the 11th century. With the division of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, the static and stable art movement unbroken by the religious cataclysm brought stylised and reverent techniques to the Orthodox Slavic Balkan lands. Saintly religious subject matter was adopted and stayed in fashion right up until the 1800's. Where the east continued using Early Christian styles into the Byzantine era, the disconnected west faded out into the Romanesque period, an anglicised version of the Byzantine movement. This is a perfect example of how history and art are tied together, an event in either one or the other affecting both. After 1300 AD, though it continued right up to 1453, we see the Byzantine style merge over a short period into that of the Renaissance and Proto-Renaissance. The movement did undergo a radical transformation through its medium and subject. Painting and sculpture again were revived in a rapidly changing time of discovery and worldly interest. The stiff decorative style of the Byzantine movement retained its serenity and conveyance of message but changed for a more natural and emotional style. It is through this change we see the Renaissance appear. High Renaissance The Rebirth of Man The Renaissance era spanned from the 14th to 17th centuries, the art of the time more specifically being prevalent from 1420 AD - 1520 AD. The High Renaissance was a time, like that of Classical Greek, where the period experienced a golden age, an influx of philosophy and art marking this dominant time from around 1490 AD. A movement best known to be Italian based, the Renaissance started in Florence and can have its origins traced back to the beginning of the 15th century where competition between skilled artisans for the contracts of wealthy patrons, a boom of trade and numerous other causes sparked a new style of art. Combined with the newly prevalent philosophical way of thinking, the art of this time was a rebirth of classical antiquity and grew all over Europe, in places like Germany especially. Prosperity, wealth and luxury all increased as did the political, social and economic outlook in Italy. Freedom of thought, science, skill, humanism and realism formed the backbone of Renaissance art with a harmonious and balanced style. The High Renaissance was a time when the nude human figure was used to express worthy ideas. Sfumato, the gradual merging of light and dark tones, was a popular technique amoung artists like Leonardo Da Vinci. Frescoes were again on the rise and probably the most popular of these was Michelangelo's painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. A majority of High Renaissance works shared a similar 'lyric mysticism' about them, where ideal beauty and dignified calmness portrayed an idealistic escape. The beautiful human figure was also depicted in monumental form to proclaim its importance and the perfection of its form, also a heavy religious statement as well. Closed form composition achieved balance through pyramidal structure and pictorial soldity was attained through the chief use of light-and-shade and colour. Famous art works of this time include 'The Last Supper' (1495-98) and 'Mona Lisa' (1503-6) (Leonardo Da Vinci), 'The Creation of Adam' (Michelangelo Buonarotti) and the 'School of Athens' (1509-11, Raphael). A Fantasy of Chaos and Unrest Beautiful human figure, perfectly exemplified through Michelangelo's 'David', the symbol of the Renaissance. After the Renaissance, the similar style with different themes and approaches lingered on and was developed differently in the air of wanted change. Styles began to blend into more of a personal interpretation rather than a strict idealistic view and thus Mannerism was born. Mannerism Mannerism was a European art movement that developed during the concluding years of the High Renaissance (around 1510-1520 in Florence or Rome). It contained the same harmonious and dignified essence that was so common in Renaissance art but brought about an early 'filtered' naturalism. Not as heavy as that of the future Baroque would be, Mannerism was aimed at achieving different goals to what would have been sought in Renaissance painting. Even with a lowered sense of Naturalism, there was still an opposition to classical calm order and Mannerism seemed to express tension in the art. Though Northern Mannerism did continue though right up until the 17th century, being prevalent after the introduction of Baroque around northern Europe in places like the Netherlands and France, the movement itself seemingly faded in the south with the start of the Thirty Years War, between Protestant and Catholic reformers. With the Catholic Reformation, aimed at winning back or winning over hesitant Protestants and borderline Catholics, art was once again thrust back into the hands of religion, the south embracing Baroque as a tool of confirming Catholic piety and sole-prominence. A change from the Renaissance, the Mannerist movement showed a deep sense in 'what can be done different?' It was relaxed and displayed discord and violent emotion. Much early Mannerism produced off-balance poses and elongated forms as well as diverse and absurd enviornments or settings. If Mannerism was anything it was definitely theatrical. Many scenes depicted in paintings were crowded and set with peculiar lighting. Just like most other art periods, Mannerism was also accompanied by a drastic event in history. The Counter-Reformation, a time of the Catholic Churches revival, dated from 1560 and influenced the styles of the Mannerist movement. In many religious paintings, common of the artist Tintoretto, the dismay and perplexity reflects the unrest of the era, a time when Catholicism competed with Protestantism for dominance over Europe. Artists like Michelangelo, a Renaissance painter and sculptor, really imbedded themselves into the period. Though Michelangelo is an example of the later High Renaissance/Early Mannerist, his frescoes in the Sistine Chapel (more specifically The Last Judgement) are good examples of the crowded, chaotic, mannered style that became more common in later years. Those well known for their contribution to Mannerism include El Greco (1541-1614) and Tintoretto (1518-94). El Greco (named for his birthplace in Crete) is renowned for works like 'The Resurrection of Christ' (1600) and 'View of Toledo' (1618). Tintoretto created paintings like 'The Miracle of St. Mark' (1548). Baroque Naturalism and Religious Purpose With the Catholic-Protestant feud in play southern Europe plunged into the Baroque era, a time from 1580 to 1750 that revitalised the art of storytelling through painting. This type of art exacted the aims of the Catholic Church perfectly and yet again, art was made almost exclusively in the south with a religious purpose or background. The Baroque movement was heavily influencial in Italy, the religious centre of the south, and was restrained in places like England and Spain. The focus in Baroque was thrown back on realism and drama. Though naturalism was frowned upon as seemingly blasphemous (because of the religious aspect; religion demanding idealism) it became common, especially in the works of men like Caravaggio. We see, because of religious division, the Baroque art in northern Europe take on more regular and life-inspired subject matter, the Baroque art of Flanders, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands depicting portraits, daily scenes and dramatic events as opposed to biblical stories. Whether north or south, art was, again, beginning to be produced for luxury rather than antiquity. The calm and harmony of Renaissance art was brought back as a change from Mannerist styles. Determined to attract attention (this quality more common in the Catholic south where the establishment of Catholicism was paramount), it was the wealth of patrons that gave rise to extravagance again and with this extravagance, a more personal spin was put on painting (the personal, daily works common to the Lutheran, Protestant north). Realism replaced idealism, slowly but surely, and artists began experimenting with the use of deep space, life and vigour. Chiaroscuro, the contrasting of light and dark tones, was a common technique and added to the theatrical, dynamic, emotional feel that many Baroque paintings conveyed. Vastly different from the Renaissance, Baroque made use of asymmetrical and open style, paintings, 'The Lion Hunt' exemplifying this. Main artists that flourished during the Baroque era were men like Michelangelo Caravaggio (1571-1610), an Italian artisan who produced 'The Calling of St. Matthew' (1599-1600) amoung many other naturalistic religion based works, the dutch painter Rembrandt (1606-69), who painted the famous 'Syndics of the Cloth Guild' (1662) and 'The Night Watch' (1642) and Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) who is most famous for 'The Lion Hunt'. As Baroque progressed, its religious purpose lessened as the nobility became bored of meaningful, heavy art. Rococo soon replaced Baroque as the style of the aristocrat, a symbol of the carefree life a noble was entitled to. Rococo The Gaiety of the Rich At the turn of the 18th century, art of escape was on the rise. Paintings and art were commissioned for pleasure and lively charm as opposed to religious meaning and confirmation. Common to France in all of its extravagance, Rococo reflected a heavy court culture with all of its dainty fantasies and worldly pleasure-seeking. This art showed festive moods, classically inspired landscapes and ornamental decoration. It was the pleasure loving age where styles used included the 'Gothick Taste' (adapted Gothic forms), a light-hearted variation of Baroque and 'Chinoiserie' (a Chinese technique using remote space). For this brief period, the centre of European art switched from Rome to Paris. It was not for long, however, as Rococo was violently guillotined with feudalism and court culture all together in 1789 with the French Revolution. How interesting that the art movement so symbolic of how perfect and tranquil life as a noble was, was removed by those who didn't see life through a rich naivety and rather lived in the real world, of poverty and hardship. Though Rococo ended, Classicism was still very much alive and growing and it wasn't long until Romanticism came about in Western Europe. Rococo art was dainty and charming, beginning humbly with the design of rooms to express the owners wealth through ornaments and natural curved patterns. It was an enthusiastic style of art, famous works being the 'Embarkation for the Island of Cythera' (1717) and 'Fête Champêtre' (1718-21), both by Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721). Romanticism Ones Own Interpretation Spanning the 19th century, Romanticism was heavily prevalent throughout Western Europe and encompassed the artists personal interpretation of subject matter. As a reaction against Classicism and Rococo, Romanticism showed a new emotional attitude. It valued poetic themes, vigour, rich colour and dramatic lighting. A lot of landscape painting was produced during the Romanticist era, especially in England and France. A lot of the artistic means used were varied and flexible, common medium including painting, etching, aquataint, lithography and drawing. We see in Romanticist art the opinions and feelings of the artist reflected. There was a whole lot more personal freedom and as a vast contrast to what had been only just over 200 years before a time glorifying the significance of man, Romanticism recognised the power of nature in comparison to man and the grandure of it. Perfect examples of the flexibility of this time sit with men like Goya, Constable and William Blake. Romanticist thinking saw great difference in what these men painted and how they conveyed what was depicted. William Blake was an English artist largely unrecognised in his time who drew upon mystical and religious inspiration. He produced linear art of drawing, water-colour and etching form, the themes of his works reflecting deep reverence. John Constable (1776-1837) preferred landscape painting and was awestruck by nature. This English artist found inspiration in the earth's tranquility, meadows, trees, cottages, rain and most anything typical to England's culture and country. Francisco Goya (1746-1828) favoured cruelty and pity, the Spanish court painter having knowledge of corruption and destruction of life. Though Romanticism was dominant during the 19th century, it shared the tail end of the 1800's with Impressionism, a new movement born from the independence of a cluster of Paris-based artists. Impressionism Fleeting Visions Impressionist artists worked to capture the fleeting vision of joy in everyday scenes and used colour and light effectively in doing so. Solidity of form and atmosphere were valued more highly than individual detail and research behind an artwork. Broken colour technique with short brush strokes and pure spectrum colours became standard of the Impressionist movement. There was a heavy focus on light and intensity as well as natural discovery and interest. Most paintings retained a sketchlike quality because of the fact their artists had to work rapidly when reproducing the effects of light at a certain time of day. 'Plein air' painting was common and consisted of works being created outside as to affect the sensation of open air. Though landscape was prevalent, it should not be mistaken that Impressionism was exclusively natural depictions. Many Impressionists painted worldly subjects that displayed joy and bright emotion. Compositions were not painstakingly planned but painted in a relaxed manner that pleased viewers. These laid back, life were snap shots of awesome life and joyous life, where both physical and symbolic/emotional light were used. Famous paintings of this period include Monet's 'Houses of Parliament' (1900-04), Renoir's 'The Luncheon of the Boating Party' (1880-81) and Pissarro's 'Boulevard Montmortre' (1897). An art movement that started in France, Impressionism was prominent from 1870-1890. With no direct influences, it was formed through the diverse decisions of like-minded artists in Paris. These men (like Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro and Pierre-Auguste Renoir) possessed different views and new approaches that came out in the works they produced. Art is our history, and in art can be found countless aspects of life, culture and philosophy. It is more than just paint on a canvas but rather the pages of a history book, of a timeline. By studying art, Western Art, it is astounding how much one can learn about the origins of our culture and who we are as people.
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