Western art history

The history of Western art concerns the study, recording and discussion of the development of art in its manifestation in the evolution of Western society . This story presents significant differences in relation to the evolution of art in the Eastern world. Studies that have traditionally been done on art history usually took into account only the evolution of this field of art due to the current Eurocentrism in the Western world. This study, however, when considering Western cultureas a fundamental element of contemporary life, it is necessary in order to understand the reach of art around the world, receiving influences and being influenced by other movements. Scholars like Giulio Carlo Argan , for example, consider contemporary art to be an unfolding of the crisis of art as a European science.

This history can be considered predominantly restricted to the European context for more than three millennia: the main nucleus of Western art remained on the European continent until the middle of the 20th century , especially after World War II , when the axis moved from there to the United States .


  • 1Ancient Art
    • 1Classical art: Greece and Rome
  • 2Medieval art
  • 3The Renaissance
  • 4Mannerism and Baroque
  • 5Neoclassicism, romanticism, academicism, realism
  • 6Impressionism, post-impressionism
  • 7Modern art
  • 8Contemporary art
  • 9Bibliography
  • 10External links

Ancient art [ edit | edit source code ]

Main article: Ancient art

It is in antiquity that the first theoretical concepts about the systematization and study of the arts emerge. Although it covers a very long period, the formulation of classical aesthetics stands out , bringing together Greek and Roman cultures .

During practically all of Antiquity, art was closely associated with the formal needs of religious rituals: the various forms of artistic production ( painting , sculpture , architecture ), sought in some way to bring the values ​​of the divine world to the mortal world. This view of art is especially found in Egyptians and Babylonians. The Greeks and Romans , however, even though they cultivate this need, will move towards an art with new meanings. For them, art will become a form of humanism .

The notion of perspective did not exist , which was only (briefly) developed by the Greeks, in a concept called foreshortening , but not yet systematized (something that will be done only in the Renaissance ). In this way, Egyptian painting , for example, was characterized by proposing a reality in its paintings that proved to be not only two-dimensional but also symbolic: the most important characters, such as the pharaohs , were represented on a much larger scale than the other figures .

Classical art: Greece and Rome [ edit | edit source code ]

Main article: Classical art

Classic statue

The Greeks are responsible for the concept of art that will permeate virtually all Western production for more than 2000 years. The Greek word for art is tekné , which also means technique or craft . This concept is associated with the idea of mimesis , which considers that in the real world, artistic expression must represent the search for the ideal. The ideal, for the Greeks, is represented by the Perfection of Naturetherefore, the art must be perfect. Therefore, according to the classical point of view, art is an imitation of Nature, but it is not limited to a simple portrait of it, but to the search for an ideal and universal Nature. The search for this universal ideal of Nature is, for classical art, the search for universal Beauty , since Nature, being perfect, is beautiful. There is no separation, according to this point of view, between art , science , mathematics and philosophy : all human knowledge is aimed at the pursuit of perfection.

The Greeks are also responsible for a series of advances from the technical point of view of artistic production. The Greek art par excellence was sculpture : the Greeks developed it in an impressive way, considered as exemplars of other cultures of the same period. The search for perfect natural relationships also led the Greek statuary to establish certain standards of beauty that made it, although absolutely naturalistic, distant from everyday reality. The proportions of ideal human bodies followed strict rules, so that the sculptural production was a search and a consequence of these standards: as an example, the height of the male body should be approximately seven and a half times the height of the head. This canonizationit has reached the present day mainly because of the preservation of Vitruvian texts during the Middle Ages , but it is possible that different treaties had different rules.

Medieval art [ edit | edit source code ]

Main article: Medieval art

Medieval painting: pedagogical, religious

During the Middle Ages, art was predominantly committed to the project of diffusion and propaganda of European Christianity . During this period, since the vast majority of peasants were illiterate, the visual arts were the main method for communicating religious ideas to the faithful, along with the presentation of sermons . The Catholic Church was one of the few institutions rich enough to pay for the work of the artists, and therefore most of the works were of a religious nature (conditioning what is known as sacred art ).

Since the fall of the Roman Empire , many of the artistic techniques developed in Ancient Greece have been lost, which has led medieval painting to be predominantly two-dimensional. As there was no notion of perspective in the artistic production of the period, the characters portrayed were painted larger or smaller according to their importance and symbolism and not according to their position relative to the canvas and the eye of the observer. Alongside painting, tapestry was the most important medieval art form: tapestry pieces were necessary elements to maintain the internal warmth of castles in winter (which were built predominantly of stone)). The most famous medieval tapestry is the cycle known as The Lady and the Unicorn .

The two main architectural manifestations (mainly related to the construction of cathedrals ) were the Romanesque (until the middle of the 12th century ) and the Gothic (from the middle of the 12th century onwards). Although both are normally associated with different historical periods, they never stopped being built and eventually manifested in parallel. Also noteworthy is the formation of craft corporations , especially during the period of the commercial Renaissance , bringing together artisans who held a monopoly on practical knowledge of a given subject.

It is worth mentioning that the people during the Middle Ages did not have the habit of reading, since there were few who had access to writing and who could read. Therefore, the visual arts were one of the main means found by the Catholic Church to pass on the values ​​of Christianity to society .

Most medieval artists were anonymous and collective work was quite common. In addition, it is difficult to identify individual artists in the period.

The Renaissance [ edit | edit source code ]

Main article: Rebirth

The Vitruvian Man of Leonardo da Vinci is the humanist spirit symbol Renaissance . The art of the period reflects the characteristics of the drawing: classicism , reason and symmetry .

During the European Middle Ages, paintings and sculptures tended to focus on religion , most especially Christianity. As the Renaissance emerges, however, the focus of the artists takes off to the classic past , seeking influences in ancient Greece and Rome , leading to profound changes both in technical aspects as in the motives and themes of painting and sculpture. Painters then begin to increase the realism of their work using new techniques from the perspective(recently rediscovered and well developed), more authentically representing the three dimensions. The manipulation of light and shadow, like the contrast of tone evident in Ticciano’s works , was improved with the techniques of chiaroscuro and sfummato developed by Leonardo da Vinci . Sculptors, too, rediscovered many ancient techniques such as the opposite .

Following the humanist spirit of the period, art became more secular in its themes, looking for reasons in classical mythology in addition to Christian themes. This genre of art is often called Renaissance classicism . The three most influential Renaissance artists are Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarroti and Rafael Sânzio , belonging to the Italian Renaissance .

Another equally important but less well-known figure in the Renaissance (in this case, the Flemish Renaissance) is Jan van Eyck , a Dutch painter .

Relevant periods

  • Italian Renaissance . Late 14th to mid 16th century
  • Flamenco revival . century XVI

Mannerism and Baroque [ edit | edit source code ]

Main articles: Mannerism , Baroque “

Rembrandt portrait .

In European art, Renaissance classicism was split into two different movements: Mannerism and Baroque . The first, a reaction against the idealistic perfection of classicism, used the distortion of light and spaces in the work in order to emphasize its emotional content and the artist’s emotions. Baroque art took Renaissance representationalism to new heights, emphasizing details and movement in its search for beauty. Perhaps the best known Baroque painters are Rembrandt , Peter Paul Rubens and Diego Velázquez .

Baroque art is often seen as part of the Catholic strategy of Counter – Reformation : the artistic element of the revival of spiritual life in the Catholic Church . Furthermore, the emphasis that Baroque art placed on grandeur is seen as a reflection of Absolutism . Louis XIV said: ” I am the greatness incarnate“, and many Baroque artists served the kings looking for that same objective. However, the Baroque love for detail is often considered to result in excessive ornamentalism and, in a way, vulgar, especially when the Baroque evolves into the decorative style of the Baroque After Louis XIV’s death, the baroque flourished for a short period, then declined, in fact, the aversion to excessive ornamentation of the baroque was the impetus for the advent of neoclassicism .

Relevant periods

  • Mannerism . 16th century .
  • Baroque . From the 17th century to the mid- 18th century .
  • Rococo . mid- 18th century .

Neoclassicism, romanticism, academicism, realism [ edit | edit source code ]

Main articles: Neoclassicism , romanticism , academicism , realism

David is the paradigmatic neoclassical

As time went by, many artists opposed the ornamentalism of the previous styles and sought the simpler, earlier art of the Renaissance, forming what became known as neoclassicism . The neoclassical was the artistic component of the intellectual movement known as the Enlightenment , which was equally idealistic. Ingres , Canova and Jacques-Louis David are among the most well-known neoclassicals.

Just as Mannerism rejected classicism, Romanticism rejected Enlightenment ideas and neoclassical aesthetics. Romantic art focused on the use of color and gesture in order to portray emotion, but, like classicism, it used classical mythology and tradition as an important source of symbolism. Another important aspect of romanticism was its emphasis on nature and the portrait of the power and beauty of the natural world, always idealized according to a self . Romanticism was also a major literary movement, especially in poetry . Among the greatest romantic artists are Eugène Delacroix , Francisco Goya , and William Blake .

Freedom Guiding the People , by Eugène Delacroix , is one of the most famous paintings in Romanticism .

Many artists of this period tended to present a centralizing position that led them to simultaneously adopt different characteristics of the romantic and neoclassical styles, in order to synthesize them. The various attempts have taken place at the French Academy, and collectively are brought together in academic art . It is considered that William-Adolphe Bouguereau head into this trend of art.

At the beginning of the 19th century , however, Europe’s features became radically altered by industrialization . Poverty, misery and despair were to be the destiny of the new proletariat created by the “revolution”. In response to these changes taking place in society, the realistic movement. Realism sought to accurately portray the conditions and difficulties of the popular classes in the hope of changing society. For the movement, the artist must represent his time, without however taking a definite side: he must portray the points he deems appropriate, denouncing them to society. In contrast to the Romantics, who were essentially optimistic about human destiny, realism portrayed life in the depths of an urban land without order. Like romanticism, it also developed as a literary movement. Among the great realist painters are Gustave Courbet and Edouard Manet (this opens the way for impressionism ).

It is interesting to note that, although neoclassicism was left behind when the advent of new styles, it continued to exist on time and, in certain places, neoclassical architecture persisted until the beginning of the 20th century .


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