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Art Periods and Movements: A Brief History and Overview


The documented art history is divided into several periods and movements. The two significant differences between the two are time and intent. The known art periods are based on historical eras or ages and in contrast to art movements that are consciously formed by artists, themselves. Groups formed unconsciously due to being in the same timelines. In definition, a movement is the tendency or style in art having a specific similar philosophy or goal. This is followed by a group of artists during a restricted period, usually a few months, years or decades or within the heyday of the movement defined within a number of years.

The Creation of Adam, a scene from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling – photo by Wikipedia

What is the purpose of art?

The primary purpose of art is to communicate ideas that touch on different human perceptions such as politics, spirituality or philosophy to create a sense of beauty. It explores the nature of perception, either for pleasure or to generate strong human emotions. However, sometimes the purpose may seemingly be nonexistent.

Major Types of Art through the Periods and Movements

Some of the different well-developed types of art include animation, architecture, assemblage, calligraphy, ceramics, computer, Christian/religious, conceptual, artistic design, drawing, folk, graffiti, graphic, illuminated manuscript, illustration, mosaic, painting, performance, photography, sculpture, stained glass, tapestry and video.


Brief Summary of Art Periods

These are periods that are grouped according to their timeline, characteristics, chief artists and major works and historical events that happened during these periods respectively.

Early Art Periods (Pre-Christ)

Stone Age (30,000 b.c.–2500 b.c.)
• Cave painting, fertility goddesses, and megalithic structures
• Lascaux Cave Painting, Woman of Willendorf, Stonehenge
• Ice Age ends (10,000 b.c.–8,000 b.c.);
• New Stone Age and first permanent settlements (8000 b.c.–2500b.c.)

Red Cow & First Chinese Horse, Lascaux Cave – photo by N. Aujoulat | Lascaux Cave

Mesopotamian (3500 b.c.–539 b.c.)
• Warrior art and narration in stone relief
• Standard of Ur, Gate of Ishtar, Stele of Hammurabi’s Code
• Sumerians invent writing (3400 b.c.); Hammurabi writes his law code (1780 b.c.); Abraham founds monotheism

Egyptian (3100 b.c.–30 b.c.)
• Art with an afterlife focus: pyramids and tomb painting
• Imhotep, Step Pyramid, Great Pyramids, Bust of Nefertiti
• Narmer unites Upper/Lower Egypt (3100 b.c.); Rameses II battles the Hittites (1274 b.c.); Cleopatra dies (30 b.c.)

A view of the pyramids at Giza – photo by All Gizah Pyramids | Wikipedia

Greek and Hellenistic (850 b.c.–31 b.c.)
• Greek idealism: balance, perfect proportions; architectural orders(Doric, Ionic, Corinthian)
• Parthenon, Myron, Phidias, Polykleitos, Praxiteles
• Athens defeats Persia at Marathon (490 b.c.);
• Peloponnesian Wars (431 b.c.–404 b.c.); Alexander the Great’s conquests (336 b.c.–323 b.c.)

Roman (500 b.c.– a.d. 476)
• Roman realism: practical and down to earth; the arch
• Augustus of Primaporta, Colosseum, Trajan’s Column, Pantheon
• Julius Caesar assassinated (44 b.c.); Augustus proclaimed Emperor (27 b.c.);
• Diocletian splits Empire (a.d. 292); Rome falls (a.d. 476)

The Colosseum, Rome – photo by Britannica

Indian, Chinese, and Japanese(653 b.c.–a.d. 1900)
• Serene, meditative art, and Arts of the Floating World Gu Kaizhi, Li Cheng, Guo Xi, Hokusai, Hiroshige
• Birth of Buddha (563 b.c.); Silk Road opens (1st century b.c.);
• Buddhism spreads to China (1st–2nd centuries a.d.) and Japan (5th century a.d.)

Art Periods of Post Christ Age

Byzantine and Islamic (a.d. 476–a.d.1453)
• Heavenly Byzantine mosaics; Islamic architecture and amazing maze-like design
• Hagia Sophia, Andrei Rublev, Mosque of Córdoba, the Alhambra
• Justinian partly restores Western Roman Empire (a.d. 533–a.d. 562); Iconoclasm Controversy (a.d. 726–a.d. 843);
• Birth of Islam (a.d. 610) and Muslim Conquests (a.d. 632–a.d. 732)

Mosque of Cordoba – photo by Lumen Learning

Medieval/Middle Ages (300–1400)
• Celtic art, Carolingian Renaissance, Romanesque, Gothic
• St. Sernin, Durham Cathedral, Notre Dame, Chartres, Cimabue,
• Duccio, Giotto Viking Raids (793–1066);
• Battle of Hastings (1066);
• Crusades I–IV (1095–1204);
• Black Death (1347–1351);
• Hundred Years’ War (1337–1453)

Early and High Renaissance (1400–1550)
• Rebirth of classical culture
• Ghiberti’s Doors, Brunelleschi, Donatello, Botticelli, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael Gutenberg invents movable type (1447); Turks conquer Constantinople (1453); Columbus lands in New World (1492); Martin Luther starts Reformation (1517)
• Venetian and Northern Renaissance (1430–1550)
• The Renaissance spreads northward to France, the Low Countries, Poland, Germany, and England
• Bellini, Giorgione, Titian, Dürer, Bruegel, Bosch, Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden Council of Trent and Counter-Reformation (1545–1563);
• Copernicus proves the Earth revolves around the Sun (1543

Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci – photo by Wikipedia

Mannerism (1527–1580)
• Art that breaks the rules; artifice over nature
• Tintoretto, El Greco, Pontormo, Bronzino, Cellini
• Magellan circumnavigates the globe (1520–1522)

Baroque (1600–1750)
• Splendor and flourish for God; art as a weapon in the religious wars
• Reubens, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Palace of Versailles Thirty Years’ War between Catholics and Protestants (1618–1648)

Neoclassical (1750–1850)
• Art that recaptures Greco-Roman grace and grandeur
• David, Ingres, Greuze, Canova
• Enlightenment (18th century); Industrial Revolution (1760–1850)

Oath of the Horatii, Jacques-Louis David, 1784-85 – photo by Wikipedia

Romanticism (1780–1850)
• The triumph of imagination and individuality
• Caspar Friedrich, Gericault, Delacroix, Turner, Benjamin West
• American Revolution (1775–1783);
• French Revolution (1789–1799);
• Napoleon crowned emperor of France (1803)

Realism (1848–1900)
• Celebrating working class and peasants; en plein air rustic painting
• Corot, Courbet, Daumier, Millet
• European democratic revolutions of 1848

A Burial at Ornans, Gustave Courbet, 1850 – photo by Learnodo Newtonic

Impressionism (1865–1885)
• Capturing fleeting effects of natural light
• Monet, Manet, Renoir, Pissarro, Cassatt, Morisot, Degas
• Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871); Unification of Germany (1871)

Modernist Art Movements

Post-Impressionism (1885–1910)
• A soft revolt against Impressionism
• Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne, Seurat Belle Époque (late-19th-century Golden Age);
• Japan defeats Russia (1905)

The Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh, 1889 – photo by Wikipedia

Fauvism and Expressionism (1900–1935)
• Harsh colours and flat surfaces (Fauvism); emotion distorting form
• Matisse, Kirchner, Kandinsky, Marc
• Boxer Rebellion in China (1900); World War (1914–1918)

Cubism, Futurism, Supremativism, Constructivism, De Stijl (1905–1920)
• Pre– and Post–World War 1 art experiments: new forms to express modern life
• Picasso, Braque, Leger, Boccioni, Severini, Malevich
• Russian Revolution (1917); American women franchised (1920)

Dada and Surrealism (1917–1950)
• Ridiculous art; painting dreams and exploring the unconscious
• Duchamp, Dalí, Ernst, Magritte, de Chirico, Kahlo
• Disillusionment after World War I;
• The Great Depression (1929–1938);
• World War II (1939–1945) and Nazi horrors;
• atomic bombs dropped on Japan (1945)

The Persistence of Memory, by Salvador Dalí, 1931 – photo by Encyclopedia Britannica

Abstract Expressionism (1940s–1950s) and Pop Art (1960s)
• Post–World War II: pure abstraction and expression without form; popular art absorbs consumerism
• Gorky, Pollock, de Kooning, Rothko, Warhol, Lichtenstein
• Cold War and Vietnam War (U.S. enters 1965);
• U.S.S.R. suppresses Hungarian revolt (1956) Czechoslovakian revolt (1968)

Postmodernism and Deconstructivism (1970– )
• Art without a centre and reworking and mixing past styles
• Gerhard Richter, Cindy Sherman, Anselm Kiefer, Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid
• Nuclear freeze movement;
• Cold War fizzles;
• Communism collapses in Eastern Europe and U.S.S.R. (1989–1991)

1024 Colours, Gerhard Richter, 1973 – photo by

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