Western art history

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Medieval art

Main article: Medieval art

Most surviving art from the Medieval period was religious in focus, often funded by the Church, powerful ecclesiastical individuals such as bishops, communal groups such as abbeys, or wealthy secular patrons. Many had specific liturgical functions - processional crosses and altarpieces, for example.

One of the central questions about Medieval art concerns its lack of realism. A great deal of knowledge of perspective in art and understanding of the human figure was lost with the fall of Rome. But many also point out that realism was not the primary concern of Medieval artists. They were simply trying to send a religious message, a task which demands clear iconic images instead of precisely rendered ones.

Time Period: 6th century - 15th century

Romanesque

During the 11th and 12th centuries, for the first time since the Roman Empire, all of Europe felt the influence of a single artistic style. This Romanesque style was spurred on by the increased monasticism and the pilgrimages that became more and more popular during the period. Abbeys and pilgrimages churches were constructed to accommodate the influx of monks and pilgrims, and as the number of worshippers grew, so did the scale of the buildings.

Increased size created new architectural challenges for the builders of the Romanesque cathedrals. Wood roofs, which were easily destroyed in fire, gave way to stone vaulting. The mainstay of Romanesque architecture, the barrel vault, necessitated a large amount of support. The result was thick, load-bearing walls with few windows, giving the cathedrals a heavy-looking and simple style.

As its name suggests, the Romanesque cathedrals were based off the ancient Roman basilica plan, with a nave, transept, and apse. To house the increasing number of relics that became immensely popular during this period, radiating chapels were added around the apse. A large, second-floor gallery and an ambulatory surrounding the nave made room so that crowds of pilgrims could visit without disturbing an abbey's monks at prayer.

The Renaissance

The Renaissance is characterized by a focus on the arts of Ancient Greece and Rome, which led to many changes in both the technical aspects of painting and sculpture, as well as to their subject matter. It began in Italy, a country rich in Roman heritage as well as material prosperity to fund artists. During the Renaissance, painters began to enhance the realism of their work by using new techniques in perspective, thus representing three dimensions more authentically. Artists also began to use new techniques in the manipulation of light and darkness, such as the tone contrast evident in many of Titian's portraits and the development of sfumato and chiaroscuro 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 in addition to Christian themes. This genre of art is often referred to as Renaissance Classicism. In the North, the most important Renaissance innovation was the widespread use of oil paints, which allowed for greater color and intensity

From Gothic to the Renaissance

Early Renaissance

The ideas of the Renaissance first emerged in the city-state of Florence. The sculptor Donatello returned to classical techniques such as contrapposto and classical subjects like the unsupported nude - his second sculpture of David was the first free-standing bronze nude created in Europe since the Roman Empire. The sculptor and architect Brunelleschi studied the architectural ideas of ancient Roman buildings for inspiration. Masaccio perfected elements like composition, individual expression, and human form to paint frescoes, especially those in the Santa Maria Novella, of surprising elegance, drama, and emotion.

The Florence Cathedral
Enlarge
The Florence Cathedral

A remarkable number of these major artists worked on different portions of the Florence Cathedral. Brunelleschi's dome for the cathedral was one of the first truly revolutionary architectural innovations since the Gothic flying buttress. Donatello created many of its sculptures. Giotto and Lorenzo Ghiberti also contributed to the cathedral.

High Renaissance

High Renaissance artists include such figures as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarroti, and Raffaello Santi.

Northern Renaissance

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).

Northern Renaissance art was not as concernced with perspective and the figure as that of the Italian Renaissance. The cornerstone of the Northern Renaissance was the development of oil painting.

Time Period:

Mannerism, Baroque, and Rococo

In European art, Renaissance Classicism spawned two different movements— Mannerism and the Baroque. 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, movement, lighting, and drama in their search for beauty. Perhaps the best known Baroque painters are Rembrandt, Peter Paul Rubens, Diego Velázquez, and Caravaggio. 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 who tried to realize this goal. However, the Baroque love for 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 were Eugène Delacroix, Francisco Goya, J.M.W. Turner, John Constable, 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.

In the early 19th century the face of Europe, however, became 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 light 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 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

pt:História da arte européia sv:Europas konsthistoria

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