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European art history

 This is article is part of the
Art history series.
Pre-historic art
 Arts of the ancient world
 European art history
 Islamic art history
 Arts of the Far East
 Contemporary art

Table of contents
1 Medieval Art
2 The Renaissance
3 Mannerism, Baroque, and Rococo
4 Neoclassicism, Romanticism, Academism, and Realism
5 Modern Art

Medieval Art

Art during Medieval times was almost exclusively concerned with Christianity. During this period, since the vast majority of the peasantry was illiterate, art was the main method of communicating religious ideas besides sermons. The Church was one of the few institutions wealthy enough at the time to commission artists, and thus most art was religious in nature. Since the fall of the Roman Empire, many of the artistic techniques of Ancient Greece were lost. Thus, during the Middle Ages, most figures were painted as entirely two-dimensional. Since there was no concept of perspective in art, figures were painted larger or smaller according to their significance. Besides painting, tapestries were also an important art form in the Middle Ages, since they were necessary to preserve the heat in stone castles during the winter. The most famous medieval tapestry cycle is The Lady and the Unicorn.

Most artists during the Middle Ages were anonymous; thus, it is difficult to identify individual artists from the period.

Time Period: 6th century - 15th century

The Renaissance

In the Middle Ages in Europe, paintings and scultptures tended to focus on religion. However, as the Renaissance emerged, the focus on the arts of Ancient Greece and Rome led to many changes in the technical aspects of painting and sculpture as well as subject matter. For instance, during the Renaissance, painters began to enhance the realism of their work by using new techniques in perspective, creating a more authentic representaion of three dimensions. Artists also began to use new techniques in the manipulation of light and darkeness, such as the tone contrast evident in many of Titian's portraits and the development of sfumato by Leonardo da Vinci. Sculptors, too, began to rediscover many ancient techniques such as contrapposto. Following with the Humanist spirit of the age, art became more secular in subject matter, depicting ancient mythology as well as Christian themes. This genre of art is often reffered to as Renaissance Classicism. The most influential Renaissance artists include such figures as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarroti, and Raffaello Santi, all of whom contributed to the Italian Renaissance to flourish.

Another equally important but less well-known figure of the Renaissance is Jan van Eyck, a Flemish painter often attributed with "bringing the Renaissance North." (see: Early Renaissance paintings).

Time Period:

Mannerism, Baroque, and Rococo

In European art, Renaissance Classicism spawned two different movements -
Mannerism and Baroque art. Mannerism, a reaction against the idealist perfection of Classicism, employed distortion of light and spatial frameworks in order to emphasize the emotional content of a painting and the emotions of the painter. Baroque art took the representationalism of the Renaissance to new heights, emphasizing detail and movement in their search for beauty. Perhaps the best known Baroque painters are Rembrandt and Peter Paul Rubens. Baroque art is often seen as part of the Counter-Reformation - the artistic element of the revival of spiritual life in the Catholic Church. Additionally, the emphasis that Baroque art placed on grandeur is seen as Absolutist in nature. Louis XIV said, "I am grandeur incarnate," and many Baroque artists served kings seeking after this very goal. However, The Baroque love of detail is often considered overly-ornate and gaudy, especially as it developed into the even more richly decorated style of Rococo. After the death of Louis XIV, Rococo flourished for a short while, but soon fell out of favor. Indeed, disgust for the ornateness of Rococo was the impetus for Neoclassicism.

Time Period:

Neoclassicism, Romanticism, Academism, and Realism

As time passed, many artists were repulsed by the ornate grandeur of these styles and sought to revert to the earlier, simpler art of the Renaissance, creating
Neoclassicism. Neoclassicism was the artistic component of the intellectual movement known as the Enlightenment, which was similarly idealistic. Ingres, Canova, and Jacques-Louis David are among the most well-known neoclassicists.

Just as Mannerism rejected Classicism, so did Romanticism reject the ideas of the Enlightenment and the aesthetic of the Neoclassicists. Romantic art focused on the use of color and motion in order to portray emotion, but like classicism used Greek and Roman mythology and tradition as an important source of symbolism. Another important aspect of Romanticism was its emphasis on nature and portraying the power and beauty of the natural world. Romanticism was also a large literary movement, especially in poetry. Among the greatest Romantic artists are Eugène Delacroix, Francisco Goya, and William Blake.

Most artists attempted to take a centrist approach which adopted different features of Neoclassicist and Romanticist styles, in order to synthesize them. The different attempts took place within the French Academy, and collectively are called Academic art. Adolphe William Bouguereau is considered a chief example of this stream of art.

However, in the early 19th century, the face of Europe was radically altered by industrialization. Poverty, squalor, and desperation were to be the fate of the new working class created by the "revolution." In response to these changes going on in society, the movement of Realism emerged. Realism sought to accurately portray the conditions and hardships of the poor in the hopes of changing society. In contrast with Romanticism, which was essentially optimistic about mankind, Realism offered a stark vision of poverty and despair. Similarly, while Romanticism glorified nature, Realism portrayed life in the depths of an urban wasteland. Like Romanticism, Realism was a literary as well as an artistic movement. The great Realist painters include Gustave Courbet and Edouard Manet.

Time Period:

Modern Art

Out of the naturalist ethic of Realism grew a major artistic movement,
Impressionism. The Impressionists pioneered the use of light in painting as they attempted to capture life as seen from the human eye. Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, were all involved in the Impressionist movement.

Following the Impressionists came Fauvism, often considered the first "modern" genre of art. Just as the Impressionists revolutionized light, so did the fauvists rethink color, painting their canvases in bright, wild hues. After the Fauvists, modern art began to develop in all its forms, ranging from Expressionism, concerned with evoking emotion through objective works of art, to Cubism, the art of transposing a three-dimensional reality onto a flat canvas, to Abstract art. These new art forms of pushed the limits of traditional notions of "art" and corresponded to the similar rapid changes that were taking place in human society, technology, and thought.

Surrealism is often classified as a form of Modern Art. However, the Surrealists themselves have objected to the study of surrealism as an era in art history, claiming that it oversimplifies the complexity of the movement (which is not an artistic movement), misrepresents the relationship of surrealism to aesthetics, and falsely characterizes ongoing surrealism as a finished, historically encapsulated era.

Other forms of Modern Art (some of which border on (Contemporary art) include:

Time Period: First half of the 20th century