The following brief introduction to the history of art provides necessary background information for any teacher using this unit. This introduction can also be presented to the students with the teacher determining the degree of detail to present. I plan to use a time-line that displays the time periods cited below. As I introduce each time period or art movement I will mark and label it on this time-line. I also plan to show my students samples of artwork that exemplify the particular period or movement we are looking at and so I will use two primary sources for this purpose: Anthea Peppin's
The Usborne Story of Painting
and Sir Lawrence Gowing's
A History of Art
. Both books contain a wealth of color reproductions of artwork reflective of the time periods we will be examining.
We can mark the appearance of the earliest paintings 30,000 years ago during the Old Stone Age. Using various colors of earth mixed with blood, fat, egg white or plant juice, prehistoric people made paints to create their pictures, largely of animals, on cave walls. Their purpose seemed to be for magical or religious reasons. Some of the most famous cave paintings were found in France and Spain.
Ancient Egyptians, (3100BC - 1500BC) in an effort to record things, painted scenes on temple walls, in tombs of dead people and even inside coffins. Through their paintings we have learned a great deal about their life and culture.
Classical Art includes paintings and sculpture of both the ancient Greeks and their conquerors, the ancient Romans (1700BC - AD300). They painted figures and scenes not only on walls of palaces and houses but also on vases.
In Europe during the Middle Ages (AD300 - AD1400) where the official religion of the Roman Empire was Christianity, paintings were largely of a religious nature telling of the life of Christ. This period showed a wide use of frescoes (painting done on damp plaster) on church walls and painting of wooden altarpieces. Also, monks made religious books where they painted elaborate pictures and decorations on parchment called vellum (illustrated manuscripts).
During the Early Renaissance in Italy (AD1400 - AD1500) painters, influenced by the classical art of the ancient Greeks and Romans, began experimenting more with styles of art. Using tempera pigments mixed with egg yolk and water, they painted people and scenes in more realistic ways. During this same time period, painters in Flanders and Germany were using oil paints rather than tempera and their paintings, many more of which were of a non-religious nature, were filled with detail and use of colors that were jewel-like. As in Italy, painting of portraits was very popular.
The High Renaissance in Italy (AD1500 - AD1527) produced such well-known artists as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael and is considered the period where artistic achievement reached its greatest height. Many religious paintings (including frescoes), commissioned by popes, were done on the ceilings and walls of various rooms in the Vatican.
In Italy from AD1530 to AD1600 many painters sought to initiate ways of painting that were markedly different from those employed in the High Renaissance. In one dramatic style called Mannerism, artists distorted the figures and space in their paintings. Venetian artists created their own style demonstrating dramatic use of color and light and employed this style in portraits as well as in scenes on altarpieces. This period also marked more prevalent use of oil paint on canvas rather than wood panels.
In the 17th century Italy, Flanders and Spain saw a new Baroque style of painting develop and flourish. Artists produced large-scale pictures, especially suitable for churches or palaces. Particularly fashionable was the painting of scenes on ceilings. During this same time-period, Holland, which had become an independent and prosperous trading nation, became the center where numerous painters thrived. Instead of religious paintings which the Protestants there did not approve of, subjects for paintings included still-life objects, landscapes of Holland's countryside, portraits of Dutch merchants and scenes of everyday life.
In the early 18th century the Rococo style of painting was developed in France. Houses for the wealthy were decorated in this style using large windows and mirrors, delicate colors and elaborate carvings. Rococo paintings portrayed colorful 'fairyland' scenes of life the way French aristocrats would like to have lived. The first public galleries were created during this time. In England the Neoclassical style of painting was developed during this same century. These artists imitated the more plain and simple style of the ancient Romans and often chose figures from ancient history and myths as their subjects.
In Europe during the early 19th century (AD1800 - AD1850) two new styles of painting arose: Romanticism and Realism. Using strong colors and dramatic effects, Romantic painters sought to express feelings and emotions in their art and were particularly drawn to painting historical scenes that were exciting and mysterious. In strong contrast were the Realist painters who sought to portray the world in realistic terms and often chose as their subjects peasants in their everyday lives.
The Impressionist movement in France flourished during the 1870s and continued well into the 1880s. The artists of this movement were more interested in expressing atmosphere through their creative use of light and color and were less interested in the actual subject matter of the painting. Because of their interest in light, impressionists painted outdoors. Favorite subjects included scenes of nature and life in the cafés of Paris.
By the 19th century there was a decline in patronage. Art works were no longer simply commissioned by the Church, royalty or rich people. Because art dealers began selling uncommissioned art to the public, artists themselves felt they now had more freedom to paint what and how they liked. This gave rise to modern art movements where such experimentation began to take place.
A variety of different styles was developed in the post-impressionist era. These artists were influenced by photography and Japanese prints that found their way to Europe in the late 19th century. The invention of photography in the 1830s, with its ability to produce highly accurate pictures, encouraged many artists to move away in different directions from painting realistically accurate scenes and figures.
In the 20th century in both Europe and America, abstract artists used colors and shapes to express their ideas and their feelings. Representational artists used new methods and subjects in representing real objects as in Surrealism and Pop Art.
Painting developed and flourished in other parts of the world as well. In India, from 600BC to AD1900, art was primarily influenced by Hinduism and Buddhism and later, as a result of Muslim invaders, the most famous of which were the Moguls, by Islam. The Moguls brought the Persian tradition of painting miniatures to India and the subject was never religious but rather involved scenes of life in palaces or were portraits of rulers and their families. Similarly, in the Far East, from AD200 to AD1900, art was influenced by religion, primarily Buddhism and Taoism. Chinese painters expressed simplicity and stillness in their paintings which were typically done on scrolls of paper. During the 18th and 19th century, Japanese artists produced colored prints by using carved wooden blocks that showed scenes of everyday life there.