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The History of Art Styles and Periods

The History of Art Styles
The history of art styles can be broken up into seven major categories:
The Medieval Period

The medieval period is considered to be the beginning of western painting. It spans from approximately 1200 - 1400 AD. Before the medieval period most artworks were either sculptures or mosaics. The figures portrayed in the mosaics were two-dimensional and lacked expression. Images from this period showed strong symmetry in both composition and colour.

The medieval period saw a break from tradition and the paintings became more realistic. Medieval paintings often portrayed Bible stories. The composition of the paintings was unusual in that the main action of the story appears in the foreground and events that happenned in the past are placed in the background. The size of objects or figures in the paintings are not relative to their distances from each other but relative to their importance in the story.

Artists of the period mostly painted directly onto a fresh plaster wall or wooden panels.

The technique of painting onto the plaster is called fresco. The dominant colours of the period were gold and blue. These colours were expensive to produce and thus the amount of them in the painting would show the status of the patron who had commissioned the work.

The Medieval Period
The Medieval Period
The Renaissance

The Renaissance, which means rebirth, began in 15th century Italy.

The major artistic breakthrough was the discovery of the mathematical laws of perspective. Artists were able to create a three-dimensional painting on a flat surface by constructing the painting around a single point on the horizon called the vanishing point. By drawing up a grid, artists could position figures and objects at the correct size in relation to each other. In the paintings there was only one light source and shadows were started to be used.

Religious subjects were still popular but other sources of inspiration, such as mythology, were also depicted. Portraits became popular, often in a profile format of just the head and shoulders. Prints started to be produced because they were cheaper than paintings.

The Renaissance
The Renaissance
The High Renaissance

The painting styles of the 16th century can be grouped into two categories:
• high renaissance
• mannerism

Paintings of the high renaissance exhibit a high level of technical competence. Colours, tones and composition are handled with total control by the artist. Techniques such as contrapposto, where the lower parts of the body faced one way with the shoulders twisted to face the other, became popular. Artists adopted an effect called chiaroscuro, where figures appear out of near darkness through a series of gradually decreasing shadows.

During the century, oil painting became the dominant medium and canvas started to replace the wooden panel.

Mannerist painters depicted the human form in precise anatomical detail with great emotion expressed in both the face and the body. There was increasing use of the nude figure and chiaroscuro effects were minimised.

The High Renaissance
The High Renaissance
The Age of Baroque
The two most important styles of the 17th century were:
• early baroque
• high baroque

Two main groups can be identifiied in the Early Baroque period:
• naturalists
• classicists

Naturalists developed a style of painting based on extreme realism. The light in their paintings often gives the effect of a spotlight. Many pictures are highly dramatic with sombre haunting scenes.

Classicists adopted the high renaissance practice of planning the whole composition but they looked to classical sculpture for their inspiration. Works of this movement often are of glowing monumental figures.

The High Baroque period is characterised by exuberant paintings often of large crowded scenes that convey a feeling of movement.

The Eighteenth Century

The eighteenth century can be broken into two distinct periods:
• rococo
• neoclassicism

The Rococo style was fashionable in the first half of the the eighteenth century. Rococo is associated with the reign of Louis XV in France. Paintings of the period are mostly light in colour with "S" and "C" curves appearing in the composition. Exotic fabrics and figures follow these curves in the composition. Most of the subjects of the paintings are taken from ancient history or from the Old Testament of the Bible. Artists had an informal approach to Rococo painting, their subjects tended to be painted out of doors with free and quick brushstrokes.

The latter half of the eighteenth century saw the advent of Neoclassicism; a total contrast to Rococo. Images were again taken from the Bible or mythology. Paintings were created with with orderly smooth brushwork and clean lines. Portraits of the day tended to convey the status and character of the subject. There was a demand for landscape painting as landowners wanted to emphasise their wealth. Hunting and sporting depictions became popular.


The Nineteenth Century

The Nineteenth century artists had a large range of media available for them to use. Pigments were available in powder form, in jars or mixed with oil in pig's bladders. In the 1840's the collapsible paint tube was invented and this gave the artist the freedom to paint anywhere.

The Nineteenth century can be divided into seven artistic movements:
• romanticism
• realism
• naturalism
• impressionism
• symbolism
• post-impressionism
• neo-impressionism

The Romanticist painter tried to project their own personal vision. They used techniques derived from Baroque paintings. The Romantics chose subjects which could be treated dramatically.

In Britain a group formed known as the Pre-Raphaelites. Their work is characterized by paintings of feminine subjects in rich and decorative settings.

Portraits of the day were often informal with the artist trying to catch the expression of the subject rather than paint a true likeness. The sketching tour became popular with the landscape becoming the subject of many paintings.

The Realist painter chose subjects from everyday life. Many paintings resemble a modern photograph. The nude paintings of women shocked the public of the day because of their contemporary treatment. Nudes were no longer treated in mythological settings but in familiar settings.

The Naturalist portrayed the life of common and outcast people in the larger cities.

The Impressionist movement was the revolutionary movement of the the Nineteenth century. Impressionist painters took their media out doors and painted what they saw. They painted the effects of light and added their own impression of reality

Glowing and vibrant colours are characteristic of Impressionist paintings.

Symbolism was a reaction against the Impressionists. Paintings were flattenned due to the disregard for perspective. A primitive style developed with the paintings often having a stained glass look.

Post-Impressionists used colour as a means of modelling the structure of objects. There was a strong element of social comment in Post-Impressionist paintings. Subjects were taken from contemporary life. Very often the artist used photographs to influence their paintings.

Neo-Impressionist painters developed a method for constructing a painting that consisted of breaking down the colours into primaries and applying them in small dots or strokes. This technique was called pointillism.

The Nineteenth Century
The Nineteenth Century



The Impressionist
The Twentieth Century

The Twentieth century has seen the largest number of art styles developed. Artists moved away from traditional painting and many new experimental movements were formed:
• fauvism
• cubism
• futurism
• orphism
• dadaism
• rayonnism
• neo-plasticism
• expressionism
• surrealism
• abstract
• abstract expressionism
• op art
• pop art
• cyber-art

Fauvism is derived from the French, les fauves , the wild ones. Paintings were realistic and subjects were taken from everyday life. Their choice of colours is what earned them the name, fauve. They used brilliant and vibrant colours. Clashing colours were placed along side each other and many of the works were produced directly on the canvas without any preliminary sketches. Paintings were completed quickly and the artist did not bother to complete fine details.

Cubist painters believed that to give a true representation of an object it had to be painted from more than one angle.The artist would break-up the subject into a number of geometric planes. These planes were then rearanged to form a unified object in the painting. In traditional painting the artist painted what he saw. In cubist painting the artist painted what he conceived to be there.

Futurists were most concerned with capturing movement and energy. They chose subjects that were either in motion or as seen from a moving object. Futurists adopted principles linked to multiple exposure photography. They overlapped images of the same subject at different stages of movement to create an illusion of real movement.

Orphism was a simplified form of Cubism. Artists used very bright colours and they expressed movement through swirling concentric bands of colour.

Dadaist movement formed after World War 1. They rejected all traditional art and culture and replaced it with what they called "ready-mades" , discarded objects presented as a parody of high art.

Rayonnist painters tried to convey scientific theories in their paintings. They would try to depict light rays in movement. They were influenced by the Cubists in many ways.

Neo-Plasticist paintings consist of predominantly horizontal and vertical black lines that cross each other, with coloured squares in between. The paintings are two-dimensional and consist of only five colours; black, white, red, blue and yellow. The aim of the arstist was to produce a balanced harmonious painting.

Expressionism was the pursuit of capturing emotions and translating them into paintings.

Surrealist painters looked to their subconcious for inspiration to use in their paintings. There were two main styles of surrealist painting the natural and the abstract. In the natural style the picture would often convey the setting of a dream. In the abstract form, objects are less recognisable and the paintings are often suggestive of sex or death.

Abstract is the term given to paintings which have no recognisable subject matter. The Abstract artist believes that the colour, texture and shape of a painting can influence emotions rather than a recognisable object. Abstract art is left for the viewer to interpret in their own way.

Abstact Expressionism was a movement where the artists wished to convey their innermost feelings. Paintings of the movement are usually massive in scale and are very often executed in household paints.

Op Art paintings exploited optical illusion. Paintings were often abstract and geometrical and designed to give the feeling of movement.

Pop Art is associated with modern culture. Inspiration comes from advertisments, comic strips and everyday objects associated with mass consumption.

Cyber-Art is a name given to the growing use of computers and technology in creating art forms. Works may consist of computer generated images and could be controlled by the artist manipulating this new medium.



Op Art
Op Art

Pop Art
Pop Art



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