Category Archives for Art History


Neoclassicism was a style of painting that was established after the Rococo movement. It came to fruition with the help of the French Royal Academy of the Arts in 1669. Its primary focus was historical painting, which included subjects from the Bible, classical mythology and events from history. Following this in terms of importance was portraiture, genre painting, landscapes, and still-lifes. This hierarchy was used to evaluate works submitted for the Salon or for prizes. Artists like Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain were revered as the ideal examples of history painting and both artists were primary influences on the Neoclassical art movement.
While both of those artists were French Baroque painters originally, it was their distinctive styles and their classical approach that interested the Neoclassical artists. Lorrain painted landscapes, well-observed, and with a focus on naturalistic detail and observation of light and its effects that was unparalleled. They often featured figures from mythological or Biblical scenes. An effect of orderly harmony was conveyed in many of his works, which appealed to the Neoclassical belief that art should express the ideal virtues of man. What these virtues are, is important to consider. In many ways, Rococo encouraged frivolity and opulence. Neoclassical art can be said to encourage the opposite and with a return to darker, richer tones, it pushes for a more stoic and dramatic outlook on life. Both Baroque art and Rococo art-infused society with a culture of vanity that was based on personal conceits and whimsy. Neoclassicism mirrored what was going on in the political and social arenas of the time, which incidentally showed the journey to the French Revolution. Its primary belief and aim were that art should not just express the virtues of life but also impart a moralizing message. It had the power to civilise, reform and transform society just as society itself was being transformed by the rising forces of the Industrial Revolution, governmental change, scientific discovery, and invention.
The same virtues that we see in Greek and Roman art were even replicated in Neoclassical architecture. Simplicity, symmetry, and mathematics were seen as important values to uphold in the creation of a structure. Much of these developments in art and architecture were, in large part, due to the popularity of the ‘Grand Tour’. This was a point in history where art students and the general aristocracy were given access to recently unearthed ruins in Italy. As a result, many became enamored with the aesthetics and philosophies of ancient art. This was seen as a traditional and educational right of passage and many people traveled there in search of art, culture and the roots of Western civilisation.
Another cornerstone for Neoclassical art was easily its link with the Enlightenment. This was a political and philosophical movement that primarily valued science, reason, and exploration. It was also called “The Age of Reason”. Now, for nearly the first time in recent history, the absolutes of the monarchy and religious dogma were questioned, and the ideals of individual liberty, religious tolerance, and constitutional governments were advanced. A catalog of sorts was even compiled, titled The French Encyclopedia (1751 – 1772), that represented a compendium of Enlightenment thoughts. It was the most significant publication of the century and had an international influence. Denis Diderot, who is also known as the founder of the discipline of art history, said the purpose of the book was to change the way people think. Historian Clorinda Donato wrote that it “successfully argued for the potential of reason and unified knowledge, to empower human will and shape society.”
The Neoclassicists took this view and ran with it, developing it into a visual tool for change that saw history unfold before its feet. It had its influence on painting, sculpture, architecture and interior design. We see in all of this a welcoming of classical styles as well as ideals. The betterment of man was key and if this meant questioning what was once thought to be unquestionable, then so be it. Neoclassicism helped bring Enlightenment to the general public and began a movement forward into a more liberal, more questioning artistic sphere.


Rococo art originated in early 18th century Paris and is characterized by soft colours and curvy lines. The subject matter is usually scenes of love, nature and amorous encounters with a play on light-hearted entertainment and the nature of youth. The word itself originates from rocaille, which is French for rubble or rock. That seems like a strange thing to derive an art movement from but it refers to the shell-work in small gardens and is used a descriptive word for the serpentine patterns we see often in the Rococo period.
The movement originated as a response to the Baroque period, particularly after the death of Louis XIV. The French court left Versailles and moved back to their old Parisian mansions, redecorating their homes using softer designs and gentler tones. The king enjoyed the Baroque movement and as such, surrounded himself and his subjects with rich colours and precious metals. The French aristocracy now lived in more intimate interiors. This style was new and different and we know the French have always been style setters. The style is characterized by asymmetry, graceful curves, elegance and delightful new paintings about daily life, courtly love, and the French landscape.
In the sense of painting, Rococo was primarily influenced by the Venetian School’s use of colour, erotic subjects and Arcadian landscapes, which refers to a vision of pastoralism and harmony with nature. Arcadia is a poetic space associated with bountiful natural splendor and harmony. It is an almost utopian space. When it comes to interior design, the School of Fontainebleau was the foundation of Rococo living spaces. The school of Fontainebleau is not a physical school but rather a style. It is split into two primary sections with the first being characterized by extensive stucco (moldings and picture frames), frescoes and an elaborate system of allegories and mythological iconography. Gilding was a key focus for this first school of art because even simple elements of Rococo interior decorating became highly accentuated. For example, clocks would be embedded into intricate, almost sculptural pieces that seamlessly complemented the overall look and feel of its surroundings. Renaissance decorative motifs are common as well as a certain degree of eroticism. The second school was overhauled by Henry the IV and leaned far more into mannerism styles than its predecessor did. Rococo art also eventually spread outside of France to places like Italy, England, and even Germany with each region bringing its own flavour to the mix.
Rococo art and the people associated with it embraced a sense of whimsy, certainly. But there was a sense of purpose in the decorative quality of the movement. Jean-Antoine Watteau said, “In my view, you must either do away with ornament – or make ornament the essence. It’s not something you add. It’s not icing on a cake. It’s everything – or its nothing.” Watteau was a french painter who spurred on the revival of colour and movement in French art. Rococo embraced an almost over-the-top quality and very successfully too. Everything was deliberate and designed to build on this aesthetic. Over time, Rococo veered towards more divergent paths but continued to be popular throughout the French provinces. Even today it has been a major influence on fashion, interior design, and art. The Neo-classical approach grew out of it and spawned many branches of further art movements. However, the term Rococo and the artists associated with it only began to be critically re-evaluated in the late 20th century when the movements of Pop Art and the works of artists like Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons. They created a new context for art expressing the same sort of ornate, stylistic and whimsical style. In conclusion, Rococo seemed to have arisen from Baroque as a breath of fresh air, which permeated through to art and design even now.


During the Renaissance, many artists found new sources of inspiration from a variety of channels The Italians, particularly found beauty in the subject matter of classical antiquity. They enjoyed the idealized forms and harmonious compositions that came from ancient Greek and Roman art. While we see this in the works of High Renaissance artists like Michelangelo and da Vinci, it also manifested in a style called Mannerism that emerged towards the end of the Renaissance movement.
Mannerist artists took the principles established during the Renaissance to new extremes, creating an aesthetic that puts a twist on the classic ways of art-making. Mannerism arose in the 1530s and lasted until the end of the century. It is named after the term, maniera, which is Italian for “style” or “manner” and refers to a stylized, exaggerated approach to painting and sculpture. Mannerism is also known as the Late Renaissance and is regarded as the bridge between the Renaissance and the Baroque period. It had its own ornate aesthetic and extravagance. While Mannerist artists were interested in the perfectionism portrayed in High Renaissance art, they did not seek to replicate it. Instead, they exaggerated these principles, which resulted in work that favoured self-expression over the pursuit of idealism. It is one of the first times we see this in art history. Self-expression has never been the focus in art, just the pursuit of perfection or religious and spiritual representation.

The Mannerists created highly artificial compositions which were intended to show off their techniques and skills. They manipulated the composition and its elements to create a sense of sophisticated elegance. A primary way that the Mannerists took High Renaissance techniques a “step further” through the exaggeration. Led by the artist Parmigianino, an Italian artist, Mannerists rejected realistic proportions and instead painted their figures with impossibly elongated limbs and oddly positioned bodies. These stretched and twisted forms were used as a way of heightening movement and heighten the drama. Apparently, Parmigianino stumbled upon this unique style by accidentally doing a self-portrait using a convex barber’s mirror. He painted what he saw and what he saw was a series of bizarre effects produced by the roundness of the mirror, which twisted the beams of the ceiling into strange curves and elongated his body to a near alien form. The idea came to him to amuse himself but became so much more.
The Mannerists pushed the sensibilities of the Renaissance to the limits. They enjoyed the idea of elaborate ornamentation, covering canvases and sculptures in an overwhelming abundance of decorative elements. One artist who took this concept to astonishing new levels is Giuseppe Arcimboldo, a painter who crafted portraits out of vegetation, animals and found objects. They also abandoned the more natural colours of the High Renaissance in favour of more artificial and often garish tones.
A poignant way of describing the mannerists is to look at El Greco, a Spanish painter who adopted the Mannerist style when he moved to Rome. Like other Mannerists, he looked at earlier artists without attempting to reproduce their work. “You must study the Masters,” he said, “but guard the original style that beats within your soul and put to the sword those who would try to steal it.” This statement really encapsulated the way the Mannerists saw the world and the way they attempted to capture that vision. They found value in looking at the past but saw the appeal of putting one’s own stamp on the future. Mannerism is arguably one of the most impactful art-movements purely for the fact that it encouraged artists to express some part of how they were feeling. While it is not held in the same esteem as the Golden Age’s earlier work. Nevertheless, its distinctive aesthetic continues to enchant those who are aware of it, making it one of art history’s most fascinating hidden gems.

Baroque Art

Following the Renaissance period, with Mannerism bridging the gap, Baroque made a flamboyant entrance. The style was elaborate and characterized by an ornate, over-the-top aesthetic that evokes a sense of ethereality and aims to inspire awe. Even today, it remains one of the most celebrated cultural movements of Western art history.
It was named after the word Barroco, which is a Portuguese term for an irregularly shaped pearl. The Baroque period is defined by its grandeur and opulence and was not limited only to art. It had a staggering influence over the architecture of the time and even today we see examples of this scattered throughout Europe. It had its roots in Rome but the movement spread across Italy and other European countries between 1600 and 1750. It was particularly popular in France, Spain, and Austria.
Because the Baroque period overlapped with the Italian Renaissance it is not surprising that the two movements shared some stylistic similarities. Both Renaissance and Baroque artists employed realism, rich colour, religious and mythological subject matter. Architects working in both styles favorited balance and symmetry. What sets the Baroque style apart from its Renaissance counterpart, however, was its extravagance. This characteristic was evident in both its art and architecture.
So, with this in mind, it is important to note that despite varying subject matters, there was one thing all Baroque paintings, sculptures, and buildings had in common: drama. This can be seen even in the way the colour moves across a canvas, with looming shadows and beaming light. Artists like Caravaggio and Rembrandt were particularly good at this. Other artists like Gentileschi, Poussin and Rubens were able to achieve a heightened sense of drama through movement. Often, this action-packed iconography was inspired by tales from the bible and stories from ancient mythology. In addition to energetic compositions, Rubens captured drama through his rich and radiant colour palette. Figurative bronze and marble sculptures produced during this period show a deep interest in dynamic movement. Through swirling silhouettes, twisted contours and flowing drapery, sculptors like Bernini were able to evoke this movement. Added elements like water fixtures were often enhanced by this theatrical approach. Sculptures were often intended to adorn stately buildings and were commissioned for grandiose settings like gilded church interiors and royal gardens. Baroque churches became a pivotal example of the glory of Catholicism. One of the key features was a domed roof situated above a large central space, allowing light to illuminate the space below. The dome was one of the central symbolic features of baroque architecture, illustrating the union between the heavens and the earth. The interiors were intricate and filled with ornamentation. This allowed for a feeling of being fully immersed within an elevated and sacred space.
The association with the church aside, the defining characteristics of the Baroque style were all there to pursue the representation of infinity. The goal was to emphasise light and its effects with a focus on the theatrical to create this sense of the never-ending. Baroque artists would attempt to blur the lines between reality and art through the use of a number of different techniques. They also used colour and medium to achieve this and in general, One of the primary techniques used was a painting method called chiaroscuro, which involves the treatment of light and dark in an artwork to create dramatic tension.
Baroque art ushered in a new era, where the theatre of the mind was called upon to play out dramatic scenes and stories. Sensuality and richness in the work were embraced and even though it largely served the Catholic church, the Baroque style utilized mythology to tell these stories beautifully. The Baroque style declined in popularity at the end of the 17th century as it was criticized for not being sincere. This may be true and perhaps the fall of Baroque art was indicative of a need that had been fulfilled, but it marked its place in history with a flair.

The High Renaissance

The High Renaissance is seen as the artistic pinnacle of the era and is a term given to a particular period within the Renaissance. This thirty-year period was exemplified by the groundbreaking and iconic works of art being made in Italy. This time general was considered a thriving societal prime. There was a deep rejuvenation of classical art that was married to an intense exploration into the humanities. This spurred artists on to wield their exceptional skills, exploring the concepts of science, anatomy, and architecture through their work. Even today, these works remain some of the most awe-inspiring artworks of history.

This was the dominant style in Italy during the 16th century and also saw the birth of Mannerism, which we explore in further essays. The High Renaissance period is traditionally taken as starting in the 1490s, with Leonardo da Vinci’s fresco of The Last Supper. It ended in roughly in 1527 with the Sack of Rome by the troops of Charles V. The term, “High Renaissance” was first used in the 19th century, some 300 years later. However, it is important to note that in recent history, many academic art historians criticize the term for oversimplifying the artistic developments that took place and ignoring historical context. There is also a notable focus on only a few iconic works and the era was truly blooming with culture and art.

High Renaissance is seen as being “high” because it was considered the period in which the artistic aims and goals of the Renaissance truly reached their pinnacle. The era is seen to have been dominated by three individuals: Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci. Michelangelo was an exquisite sculptor, painter, and architect and he demonstrated a true mastery of the human figure. His frescoes rank among the greatest works of Renaissance art. Raphael was skilled in creative incredible perspective and hailed for his delicate use of colour. Da Vinci painted two of the most well-known works of Renaissance art: The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa. Despite this, it is important to note that he was actually a generation older than Michelangelo and Raphael, though his work is still stylistically consistent with the High Renaissance. Because of this, he is therefore often seen as the father of the movement.

In terms of the artworks themselves, they followed a certain set of principles and ideologies. Stylistically, painters during this period were influenced by classical art and their works were harmonious. However, this can be said for Early Renaissance too. What separates the two eras was the unity of the image, for one. And two, it was during the High Renaissance that artists first began to use oil paints. Traditionally, tempera paint or was the only available painting medium and artists were therefore fairly limited. Tempera dries superbly fast but with oils, the artist could achieve a quality to the work that had simply not existed before. There was a restrained beauty to a High Renaissance painting. Coming back to the unity of the image, we see in these works a process where all the distinct parts and details of the works come together to support a cohesive whole.

One of the other furthering factors in the endeavors of the High Renaissance was that the number and diversity of patrons had increased tenfold and this allowed for greater development in art. For example, Da Vinci is credited for inventing the Sfumato technique, which allows tones and colours to shade gradually into one another, producing softened outlines or hazy forms. This can be seen especially in the Mona Lisa and is likely one of the reasons she is so revered. This technique originated in part due to the introduction of oil paint as a viable medium but also because artists like Da Vinci were given the space and freedom to explore and push boundaries.

It is easy to see how the High Renaissance is viewed as the pinnacle of artistic success but it truly was just the beginning. Finally, there was truly room for art to grow and not just follow the norms of the day. It is the beginning of a series of flowering into further art movements that would only serve to enhance man’s ability to communicate through art. And was this not the purpose of Renaissance art? To explore the possibilities of humanity?

Early Renaissance Art

Renaissance art is divided into two primary areas. Early Renaissance art had distinct characteristics that separated it from later developments. It began to emerge in Florence during the first decade of the 15th century. Building upon ‘Proto-Renaissance art’, which refers to the era just before renaissance art and was, in many ways, the foundation built on top of Medieval art that sculpted Renaissance art. It took from traditions of Byzantine, or Gothic art and pushed the movement into a new area. Artists like Brunelleschi, Donatello and Masaccio instigated a series of discoveries and improvements in all the visual arts, from architecture, sculpture, and painting. This revolutionized the face of art in Italy and beyond. Even though it eventually spread throughout Italy, the Early Renaissance was centered in Florence and primarily funded by the Medici family.
The Medici family were wool merchants and bankers and were incredibly wealthy. At that time in history and in Italy, power revolved around the major merchant families so it is no surprise that through their patronage, the Medici’s essentially funded the start of the Renaissance movements. The Medici family even produced four Popes and two Queens and they dominated their city’s government. Through this, they were able to bring Florence under their family’s power and created an environment in which art and humanism flourished.
So, with the aid of the Medici family and a new desire for change, Florence shook off the old ways of thinking, from religion, philosophy, and art. The reasons in general still remain fairly unclear as to why this shift happened but a change was desperately needed. The general theme that they then modeled themselves from actually originated out of a desire to bring back classical techniques. This was called Classical Antiquity and it was because they believed that Greek and Roman art was the absolute pinnacle of artistic worth. This also expressed the new ‘mood’ which arose in Italy at this time. This mood or desire called for a shift to a more human-focused art and not necessarily just religious representation. This was referred to as Humanism. Humanism was a way of thinking which attached more importance to Man and less importance to God. Although Christianity still remained the primary religion, Humanism just reinterpreted it to give it a human, relatable face. For example, religious figures like Evangelists, Saints, Apostles, and the Holy Family were portrayed as real people and not stereotyped, idealized figures. Humanistic philosophy placed Man at the center of things and in the visual arts, this led to a close study of the human body, a significant return to nude forms and then, leading on from this, a preoccupation with nature in all its forms.
In keeping with this new ideal of Humanism, Early Renaissance painting really strove to achieve greater realism in all their works. In contrast to the flat, stiff images of Byzantine art, human faces became more life-like, bodies were painted in more realistic postures and poses and figures began to express real emotion. At the same time, great efforts were made to create realistic depth in paintings using scientific perspective. With this greater interest in realism now a driving factor, artists had to really dive into the proper study of light, shadow and human anatomy. Although significant advances were made in these areas during the early and mid-15th century it wasn’t until the late Renaissance period that these techniques were mastered.
What is also important to note is the shift in the subject matter. Although most works still represented religion and stories from the Bible, Early Renaissance artists also introduced narratives and characteristics from Classical mythology. This illustrated their beliefs but it is noteworthy that during Medieval times, everything about Greek art and mythology was perceived as being pagan and despised for it. In the Renaissance, Greek art and mythology were associated more with enlightenment. This more than anything represents how times were changing. Early Renaissance art really was, more than anything that came before it, a real start for the practice of art and people were swiftly becoming more aware of its importance in all facets of life.

Medieval Art and the Middle Ages

Medieval art is a term that encompasses a general period of economic and social stagnation in Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean. It spanned roughly from the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 AD to the early stages of the Renaissance in the 1400s. Though art historians debate the exact styles and chronological separations in the Medieval period, it is generally accepted that it is divided into three sub-categories. These were Early Medieval Art or Byzantine Art, Romanesque Art and Gothic Art.

There was very little evolution during this period and much of the knowledge gained from the Romans and Greeks were discarded and destroyed. This was because they represented a belief in a pantheon of Gods, as opposed to the singular creator that represents Christianity. The evolution that did occur was through mankind addressing Biblical subjects, Christian dogma and
combining it with Classical mythology. During the Early Middle Ages, the Catholic Church funded many projects and the oldest examples of Christian art survive in Roman catacombs or burial crypts beneath the city. By 350 AD, the Church had two primary power hubs, Rome in the West and Constantinople in the East. Constantinople was also the capital city of the Byzantine Empire.

This played quite an influential role in the evolution of Medieval art and the Byzantine period. However, despite this seeming progress, this age of art is generally also referred to as the ‘Dark Ages’. This is the period of time from 500 to 1000 AD. The main form of art produced here is called Byzantine art and originated from the Eastern Roman Empire. Byzantine art was characterized by its lack of realism. The artists did not try to make their paintings realistic but
focused on the symbolism of their art. Paintings were flat with no shadows and the subject matter was usually very serious and somber. The subjects of the paintings were almost entirely religious with many paintings being of Christ and the Virgin Mary. After this period came the Romanesque art phase, which began around 1000 AD.

The Romanesque art movement lasted around 300 years. The focus here was much the same as the Dark Ages, with religious subject matter being at the fore. However, they explored other areas like stained glass detailing, large murals on walls and domed ceilings and carvings on buildings and columns. Following immediately from this was Gothic art. Here we see a move towards more realism, with proportion and perspective being more closely examined. The
Gothic artists also used brighter colours and began to play more with shadow and light. With these new techniques, they found themselves more interested in trying varied subject matter and themes, shifting to include mythical scenes in their art, as well as religious representation.

It is important to look at all facets of life during this time and acknowledge that the majority of literature from this time also focused heavily on religion. Most people who were literate were clerics and monks. Very few people knew how to read and write and relied on these figures to relay information to them. It is only natural then that the perception of knowledge was very much skewed to show but one side of the coin. The reason this era was called the Dark Age was because of the lack of progression. People were not taught to think for themselves and relied only on the word of others. Past cultures were even seen as being ‘Pagan’ and thus to be feared and destroyed. Progress simply halted because there was nothing to be learned from the past and no way through the lack of information. It was only when the bloom of the Renaissance took hold that more and more people had the skills to question and critique the world around them.

After Ancient Art

Somewhere between Ancient Roman art and Cubism lies a period of art that we consider to be the relative middle section. This comprised of a few movements and for the most part, saw development within the era that was inspired in and of itself.
Many of the movements in this ‘in-between’ period fed off of each other and in some cases, there isn’t a lot of separation at the start. Though there is an organic flow between these periods, they do still carry their own unique qualities and can be identified as stand-alone movements through this. Within this time frame, which started around the 5th century and lasted until nearly the 19th century, which is a substantial amount of time, there were roughly six primary movements involved here and we will cover them all in more depth as standalone essays but for now, let us briefly cover the general timeline.
Medieval Art and the Middle Ages
Art during the Middle Ages was different based on where in Europe it was being made. However, in a general sense, it can be divided up into three main periods and styles – Byzantine
Art, Romanesque Art and Gothic Art. Much of the art in Europe during the Middle Ages was religious art with Catholic subject matter and themes. The art covered here included work like painting, sculpture, metalworking, engraving, stained glass windows and manuscripts.
Early and High Renaissance Art
The End of the Middle ages is often hailed as the start of the Renaissance Period. There was a large shift in art with the start of Renaissance art. Many of the new ideas and attitudes that marked the Renaissance times were portrayed through the art. There was a larger focus on human interests, needs, and abilities. This new idea changed how artists painted their subjects as well as the choice of subjects they painted. Renaissance art is often divided up into two periods. Early Renaissance, which saw artists trying to emulate classical artists and a focus on creating the perfect form and High Renaissance, which gave art even more room for realism
through a rising interest in perspective and space.
Mannerism can be a confusing term and is subject to radically different interpretations. It is a 16th-century art movement that created highly artificial compositions that showed off their
techniques and skills in manipulating compositional elements to create a sense of sophisticated elegance. However, it is generally used to describe the art in Italy that directly followed from the Renaissance, preceding the Baroque era. Paintings in this era were large, complicated and
filled with such an abundance of human forms that it was almost too difficult to view without being overwhelmed. For many years Mannerism was said to be negative because the association with it held a disturbing psychological tension but around the mid-20th century, Mannerism was equated rather with exceptional skill.
Baroque Art
The Baroque is a period of artistic style that started around 1600 in Rome, Italy. It spread further
after this to the majority of Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries. In an informal way, Baroque describes something that is elaborate and highly detailed. Baroque was closely linked to the Catholic church and primarily communicated religious themes. The style is characterized
by exaggerated motion and clear details that produce a sense of drama, exuberance and grandeur through the use of sculpture, painting, architecture, literature, dance and music.
Baroque iconography was direct, obvious and deliberately dramatic and it attempted to appeal, above all else, to the senses and the emotions.
Rococo Art
Rococo art follows directly from Baroque and in fact, overlaps it somewhat. Highly inspired by the Baroque movement, Rococo developed in the early 18th century in Paris and is characterized by soft colours and curvy lines. Rococo scenes often depicted scenes of love, nature, amorous encounters and light-hearted entertainment and youth. After the death of Louis XIV the French court moved out of Versailles palace and back to their old Parisian mansions, choosing to adopt a softer and gentler style than that of the late king. The style is characterized by its asymmetry and elegance and had more of a sense of whimsy than Baroque art did.
Neoclassical Art
Neoclassicism was a direct opposition to the frivolous nature of the Rococo movement. Artists involved with the Neoclassical art movements believed that art should be cerebral, not sensual and that a strong drawing was more rational and therefore, morally better. At this point in history, France was on the brink of its first revolution and the Neoclassicists wanted to express rationality and seriousness that was fitting for their times. Before this point, the French
monarchy had nearly driven the country into the ground with their self-interest and extravagant lifestyles. Thus the natural response was to steer away from that and produce work that showed more moral strength. Neoclassicism was a child of the Age of Reason, also referred to as the Enlightenment. Here philosophers believed that we would be able to control our destinies by learning from and following the laws of nature. It is from these ideals that Neoclassicism grew. It is characterized by its clarity of form, sober colours and strong horizontal and vertical lines.

Ancient Islamic Art

Islamic art will typically encompass all visual arts produced from the seventh century onwards by culturally Islamic populations. It is not art from a specific region, time or place and is not encompassed by a single medium. It spans across about 1400 years and covers many lands, populations and includes a wide range of artistic fields from architecture to calligraphy, painting, glass ceramics, and even textiles, among others.

One of the key identifiers of Islamic art is that it does not usually show the human form. Unlike other religious arts, Islamic culture believes that the depiction of the human form is idolatry and is thereby a sin against God. It is forbidden in the Qu’ran, which it the central text of Islam. Calligraphy and architectural elements are given more important religious significance in Islamic art for this reason. However, despite this, it is a misconception to say that all Islamic art is free from figurative representation. Most of it is because most of it stems from religious or public spaces. In secular, private areas, one has a bit more freedom to explore. The areas where this is a bit more gray is usually in secular, or non-religious representations of Islamic art. Depictions of the human form can be found in these instances. Often private residences of sovereign rulers were filled with vast figurative paintings, mosaics, and sculpture.


Islamic art also developed from a variety of sources. From Roman art and early Christian influences to Byzantine styles. Even the influence of central Asian styles brought by various nomadic excursions can be seen in Islamic painting, pottery, and textiles. In general, however, Islamic art encompasses the visual arts produced from the seventh century onwards by both Muslims and non-Muslims who lived within territories that were inhabited or ruled by a culturally Islamic population. It is thus a very difficult art to define because of how wide spread it was. Islamic art is not necessarily restricted to religious representation and can include art from all manner of different, culturally rich walks of life. Because figurative representations were and still are generally forbidden in Islam, the written word takes on religious meaning in art through calligraphic inscription. Calligraphy and the decoration of manuscript Qu’rans is an important aspect of Islamic art as here the written word takes on the religious and artistic significance, instead of a figure meant to represent a god or angels.



Islamic architecture is also particularly important to look at. Architecture such as mosques are embedded with religious significance. There are repeating elements in Islamic art and architecture. Wall decorations or murals will typically be stylized, feature geometric floral or vegetative designs in a repeating pattern known as the arabesque. The arabesque in Islamic art is often used to symbolize the transcendent, indivisible and infinite nature of God. Some scholars believe that mistakes in these patterns may be a deliberate show of humility by artists who believe that only God can produce true perfection. This carries through to many different iterations of their craft, from an imperfect stitch in a carpet to a missed repetition on the decoration of a vase. The focus primarily in Islamic art was on the depiction of patterns and calligraphy.




One of the most famous monuments of Islamic art is the Taj Mahal, a royal mausoleum which is located in Agra, India. Hinduism is the majority religion in India however because Muslim rulers dominated large areas of modern-day India for centuries. As such, India has a vast and dynamic range or Islamic art and architecture. In general, Islamic empires and dynasties controlled territories from Spain to Western China at differing points in history. However, few artists from these areas would have labeled themselves as Islamic artists. An artisan from Spain would have just been a Spanish painter. As such, it makes it difficult for art historians to use the term “Islamic Art” as an umbrella term. Places like the Metropolitan Museum of Art have decided instead to omit the term “Islamic” from their new galleries. They will instead call them things like “Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, and Central Asia.” This stresses more the regional styles and individual cultures associated with Islamic art. Despite this, there are still themes and types of objects that link the arts of the Islamic world together. Certain building types, for example, appear throughout the world. Mosques, gardens, mausoleums and religious schools can all be found across the Islamic world.


Byzantine Art

Byzantine art, architecture, paintings and other visual arts were produced in the Middle Ages in the Byzantine Empire, which was centred at Constantinople and in other various areas that came under its influence. The styles that emerged from this period were all particularly similar or homogeneous. It began this way in the 6ht century and continued on until Constantinople was captured by the Turks in 1453. Byzantine art was almost entirely concerned with religious expression and more specifically, with a very carefully controlled church theology. Essentially in that, the church controlled the artistic terms of the period. Its architecture grew out of this, as well as its paintings and for the most part, remained fairly uniform and anonymous.

In the Byzantine Empire, there was little to no distinction between artist and craftsperson. Both created beautiful objects for a specific purpose, whether it be a box to keep a precious belonging or an icon to stir feelings of piety and reverence. In addition, many artists were monks or priests, particularly the creators of illustrated manuscripts. An illustrated or illuminated manuscript would typically spread their gospel or scripture. Byzantine Christian art had a triple purpose. It beautified buildings, instructed the illiterate on matters of the soul and encouraged the faithful that were on the correct path to salvation.
Byzantine art was perfected within a structure of rigid tradition rather than the typical artistic approach, which deals more with whims and spontaneity. The result was a spirituality of expression rarely paralleled in Western art. The earliest kinds of Byzantine architecture developed in Italy and favoured the extensive use of large domes and vaults. This architecture is impressive, certainly, but is not well suits to wall arrangements. The circular nature of the domes and walls meant that more structured walls had to be built inside and followed a radial plan that allowed for art and frescoes to be placed on interior walls. This lent itself well to representing their hierarchical view of the universe. For example, the All-ruling Father would be placed in the top of the central dome and below him would be angels, archangels and on the walls, figures of the saints. The Virgin Mary was often pictured high up in a half-dome that covered one of the four radial arms. The lowest realm was that of the congregation. The whole church thus formed a microcosm of the universe.
The interiors of these churches would typically be decorated with lavish mosaics and frescoes. They served as static, symbolic images of the divine and the Absolute. The mature Byzantine style evolved through the stylization and standardization of late classical forms of Early Christian art. It was based on the lines and flat areas of colour rather than form. Individual features were suppressed in favour of a standard facial type. Figures were flattened and draped fabric was reduced to patterns of swirling lines. The total effect was one of the disembodiment of the individual. The three-dimensional representation of the human figure was replaced by more of a spiritual presence and this was represented in the strength of the line and brilliance of colour. Most figures were shown as being frontal facing with large eyes and a gaze that could be described as penetrating. Gold was also often used in the background. Very little sculpture was produced in this era but those that were made were small relief carvings, usually in ivory. These would be used for book covers, reliquary boxes and other similar objects. Miniature arts, embroidery, gold work and enamel work were highly prevalent in the upper-class societies of Constantinople. The Byzantine people were able to spread their style and iconography throughout Europe through the use of manuscript illumination. It showed just a hint of what was displayed on the impressive walls of cathedrals and churches.
 The historical effect of the Byzantine era cannot be overlooked or overestimated. Because the Byzantine style was spread to Italy and Sicily, it had significant influences on Italian Renaissance art, which followed shortly after the end of the Byzantine era. Overall the Byzantine Empire was continuously expanding and shrinking over the centuries but the last impression of their art is important to acknowledge. They connected man to the divine in ways not truly seen before.
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