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The history of European painting represents a continuous, though disrupted, tradition from antiquity until the present time. Until the mid-19th century it was primarily concerned with representational and Classical modes of production, after which time more modern, abstract and conceptual forms gained favor.
Initially serving imperial, private, civic, and religious patronage, Western painting later found audiences in the aristocracy and the middle class. From the Middle Ages through the Renaissance painters worked for the church and a wealthy aristocracy. Beginning with the Baroque era artists received private commissions from a more educated and prosperous middle class. The idea of "art for art's sake" began to find expression in the work of the Romantic painters like Francisco de Goya, John Constable, and J. M. W. Turner. During the 19th century commercial galleries became established and continued to provide patronage in the 20th century.
European painting reached its zenith in Europe during the Renaissance, in conjunction with the refinement of drawing, use of perspective, ambitious architecture, tapestry, stained glass, sculpture, and the period before and after the advent of the printing press. Following the depth of discovery and the complexity of innovations of the Renaissance, the rich heritage of European painting continued from the Baroque period to Contemporary art.
The timeline below presents major painters working in Europe from c. 1200 to c. 1850. By scrolling your mouse over the name of each artist, a tooltip pop-up will provide the artist's full name, the date and place of birth as well as a thumbnail example of his work. Click here to access brief summaries of various art movements during the same arc of time.
5th Century to 14th Century
Gothic Art is the style of art produced in Europe from the middle ages up to the beginning of the Renaissance. Typically religious in nature, it is especially known for the distinctive arched design of its churches, its stained glass, and its illuminated manuscripts. In the late 14th century, anticipating the Renaissance, Gothic Art evolved towards a more secular style known as International Gothic. One of the best-known artists of this period is Simone Martini.
The Renaissance was a period or great creative activity, in which artists broke away from the restrictions of Byzantine Art. Throughout the 15th century, artists studied the natural world, perfecting their understanding of such subjects as anatomy and perspective. Among the many great artists of this period were Paolo Uccello, Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, and Piero della Francesca. During this period there was a parallel advancement of Gothic Art centered in Germany and the Netherlands, known as the Northern Renaissance.
Fist quarter of the 16th century
A revival or rebirth of cultural awareness and learning that took place during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, particularly in Italy, but also in Germany and other European countries. The period was characterized by a renewed interest in ancient Greek and Roman art and design and included an emphasis on human beings, their environment, science and philosophy. The High Renaissance, which was centered in Italy, in the early 16th Century was the culmination of the artistic revolution of the Early Renaissance, and one of the great explosions of creative genius in history. It is notable for three of the greatest artists in history: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarroti, and Raphael. Also active at this time were such masters as Giovanni Bellini, Giorgione and Titian.
Mid to Late 16th Century
European art movement and style that developed between 1520 and 1600. It was a style that rejected the calm balance of the High Renaissance in favor of emotion and distortion. Works of art done in this style reflected the tension that marked Europe at this time in history. Mannerism gained popularity in the period following the High Renaissance, takes as its ideals the work of Raphael and Michelangelo Buonarroti. It is considered to be a period of tecnical accomplishment but of formulaic, theatrical and overly stylized work. Mannerist Art is characterized by a complex composition, with muscular and elongated figures in complex poses.
Baroque Art emerged in Europe around 1600, as a reaction against the intricate and formulaic Mannerist style which dominated the Late Renaissance. Baroque Art is less complex, more realistic and more emotionally affecting than Mannerism. This movement was encouraged by the Catholic Church, the most important patron of the arts at that time, as a return to tradition and spirituality. One of the great periods of art history, Baroque Art was developed by Caravaggio, Annibale Carracci, and Gianlorenzo Bernini, among others. This was also the age of Rubens, Rembrandt, Velázquez, and Vermeer.
Europe, 1715 to 1774
The Rococo style succeeded Baroque Art in Europe. It was centered in France, and is generally associated with the reign of King Louis XV (1715–1774). It is a light, elaborate and decorative style of art. Quintessentially Rococo artists include Watteau, Fragonard, François Boucher, and Tiepolo.
mid-18th Century to early-19th Century
In the eighteenth century Europe, efforts were began to make to systematically retrieval the glories of lost civilizations. The lesson of classical antiquity began to influence artistic style and the development of taste. The achievements of Raphael, Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain served as stimulus for a renewed interest in harmony, simplicity and proportion. Its rigidity was a reaction to the overbred Rococo style and the emotional Baroque style. It was of some importance in the American and French revolutions. Important Neoclassicists include the architects Robert Adam and Robert Smirke, the sculptors Antonio Canova, Bertel Thorvaldsen, and Jean-Antoine Houdon, and painters Anton Raphael Mengs, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, and Jacques-Louis David.
Late 18th Century to Mid 19th Century
Romanticism might best be described as anti-Classicism. A reaction against Neoclassicism, it is a deeply-felt style which is individualistic, beautiful, exotic and emotionally wrought. Although Romanticism and Neoclassicism were philosophically opposed, they were the dominant European styles for generations, and many artists were affected to a greater or lesser degree by both. Artists might work in both styles at different times or even mix the styles, creating an intellectually Romantic work using a Neoclassical visual style, for example. Great artists closely associated with Romanticism include J.M.W. Turner, Caspar David Friedrich, John Constable, and William Blake.
Realism is an approach to art in which subjects are portrayed in as straightforward manner as possible, without idealizing them and without following the rules of formal theory. The earliest Realist work began to appear in the 18th century, as a reaction against the excesses of Romanticism and Neoclassicism. This is evident in John Singleton Copley's paintings, and some of the works of Goya. But the great Realist era was the mid-19th century, as artists became disillusioned with the Salon system and the influence of the Academies. Realism came closest to being an organized movement in France, inspiring artists such as Corot and Millet, and engendering the Barbizon School of landscape painting. Besides Copley, American Realists included Thomas Eakins, and Henry Ossawa Tanner, both of whom also received formal training in France. French Realism was a guiding influence on the philosophy of the Impressionists.
Centered in France, 1860s to 1880
Impressionism is a light, spontaneous manner of painting which began in France as a reaction against the formalism of the dominant Academic style. Its naturalistic and down-to-earth treatment of its subjects has its roots in the French Realism of Corot and others. The movement's name came from Monet's early work, Impression: Sunrise, which was singled out for criticism by Louis Leroy on its exhibition. The hallmark of the style is the attempt to capture the subjective impression of light in a scene. The core of the earliest Impressionist group was made up of Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Alfred Sisley. Others associated with this period were Camille Pissarro, Edgar Degas, Gustave Caillebotte, Frederic Bazille, Edouard Manet, and Mary Cassatt.