14TH TO LATE 16TH CENTURY
Early Renaissance in Italy
The Dark Ages came to an end and there was a rebirth or Renaissance of the ideas of Antiquity, i.e. of ancient Greece and Rome that took hold of Italian artists such as Giotto and Duccio.
Religious stories were being told in tempera on gold ground panels. The general population could not read.
Artists broke from the flat Byzantine Icons of Christ and the Virgin to scenes that incorporated perspective.
Look for fine detail and pure color. Faces express intense human emotions.
Early Netherlandish artists such as Jan van Eyck developed independently from the Italian Renaissance movement. Medieval manuscript illuminations and tempera painting influenced them. Oil painting was invented in Flanders at that time. The artists painted highly detailed religious scenes and small portraits. These faces are often set against detailed landscapes or towns in the background. People look real and express serious human emotions. Symbolism was important to artists such as Fouquet. Jan van Eyck’s Saint Barbara appears huge to emphasize her saintly existence.
Altdorfer produced the first landscape paintings.
With the Reformation that Martin Luther started in 1517, Protestant movements broke from the Catholic Church. Holbein’s portraits capture the essence of the Renaissance princes and their station in life.
In Brueghel’s post-Reformation paintings religious elements moved to the background. He used humor to show the human condition of peasants and regular folk.
Look for classical beauty, proportion and harmony in the Italian High Renaissance of mid 15th to mid 16th century Italy. Compositions tend to be balanced and centralized.
Leonardo was a Renaissance superstar. The Vatican frescos by Raphael and Michelangelo are powerful re-interpretations of the Antique. Titian painted all sorts of subjects focusing on color and vivid brushwork.
16th century Mannerism
These artists moved away from classical aesthetics. In their work you need to decipher strange compositions. Exaggerated forms, long necks and limbs can be seen in the works by Pontormo and Parmigianino. Arcimboldo’s work (p.) is about an idea and has nothing and everything to do with reality.
THE 17TH CENTURY
Find high drama, emotion and action! These pictures are about the triumph of good over evil. Chiaroscuco looks as though a strong flashlight highlights part of the painting.
The Counter-Reformation was the Catholic Church’s answer to the Protestant Reformation. The Catholic Church and its wealthy princes employed the great artists of the day such as Rubens and Velazquez to convey powerful visual messages.
You will see regular people, landscapes, still lifes, domestic scenes of everyday life and Rembrandt’s extraordinary power of psychology bathed in theatrical light. It was a prosperous period and many people in the Netherlands could read.
The Dutch style differs from Flemish, Italian and Spanish art of the 17th century. Religious themes take a back seat. Protestant churches were not decorated like Catholic ones. It is known as the Golden Age of Dutch painting and produced giants like Rembrandt, Frans Hals and Vermeer.
THE 18th CENTURY
Elegant ladies and gentlemen enjoy frivolous activities like garden parties, reading poetry, playing music or going shopping (see Watteau p…). It was also the Age of Enlightenment and new ideas changed the ways people thought. Chardin composed sensitive still lifes and quiet domestic scenes of the every day life of regular people in the vein of the Dutch 17th century artists. The century ended with the start of the French Revolution of 1789, which changed the power structure of Europe.
British and American art
In Britain Sir Joshua Reynolds founded the Royal Academy of Arts and a school of painters evolved that portrayed the rich British aristocracy and the intellectuals of the Enlightenment in “The Grand Style”. It actually was a good thing if someone had imperfect features or was near sighted. In the American Colonies a group of artists such as Copley were in close contact with those British artists.
Late 18th and early 19th century
Frill and powdered wigs are out the window.
Look for simpler dress, plain hairdos and heroic battles in the Greek and Roman style.
The French Revolution and later Napoleon influenced the artists as much as the political landscape. Artists’ schools called Academies, towered over by Jacques- Louis David, taught their pupils with a strict set of aesthetic rules inspired by the Antique. Here we witness the rise of the common man and the bourgeoisie. Ingres painted the French and English elite.
THE 19TH CENTURY
In France Delacroix and Géricault created their own individual styles and painted some shocking news of the day. They did not stick to the strict academic rules. Caspar David Friedrich’s melancholy views of nature and man lead the movement in Germany. Britain’s Turner was in awe of nature’s overwhelming powers and Constable held a gentler view of the English countryside. In Spain Goya’s Romanticism shows us the human drama of revolution, the terrors of war and religious persecution.
The quintessential Realist artist Courbet painted the world the way it was. Women look real and are not idealized beauties, animals devour other animals and the aesthetics of the Antique are no longer relevant.
The independent Manet, who admired Velaszquez, was the link between Realism and Impressionism.
It started in the late 19th century in France where a group of artists wanted to capture a moment or an impression. They loved painting en plein air, outside, and depict the natural light. They needed to paint fast and chose as their subject every day people. The invention of photography in 1839 with its ability to snap a fleeting moment had a huge impact on these artists.
This is a relatively vague term applied to a group of artists like Gauguin, van Gogh and Seurat who immediately followed the Impressionists. Simplified and not necessarily natural colors were being applied in thick brushstrokes by Vincent van Gogh. Seurat painted with tiny dots and Gauguin traveled to Tahiti to paint exotic scenes. They all had different visions but had in common the quest to break with the ideas of their predecessors.
TURN OF THE 19th to 20th CENTURY
At this time Vienna was the epicenter of intellectuals, artists, designers, philosophers, economists, writers, and scientists, including the famed founder of modern psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud. In the fine arts Klimt’s Symbolism reveals a new interpretation of Byzantine and Japanese art. A group of artists founded the Vienna Secession housed in a beautiful building in Vienna. They wanted to get away from the prevailing images of historic events.
Edvard Munch’s painting called “The Scream” is permanently etched in our memories. His intense pictures express psychological trauma. His work had a great impact on the German Expressionists.