History painting is a genre in painting defined by its subject matter rather than artistic style. History paintings usually depict a moment in a narrative story, rather than a specific and static subject, as in a portrait. The term is derived from the wider senses of the word historia in Latin and Italian, meaning "story" or "narrative", and essentially means "story painting". Most history paintings are not of scenes from history, especially paintings from before about 1850.
In modern English, historical painting is sometimes used to describe the painting of scenes from history in its narrower sense, especially for 19th-century art, excluding religious, mythological, and allegorical subjects, which are included in the broader term history painting, and before the 19th century were the most common subjects for history paintings.
History paintings almost always contain a number of figures, often a large number, and normally show some type of action that is a moment in a narrative. The genre includes depictions of moments in religious narratives, above all the Life of Christ , as well as narrative scenes from mythology, and also allegorical scenes.These groups were for long the most frequently painted; works such as Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling are therefore history paintings, as are most very large paintings before the 19th century. The term covers large paintings in oil on canvas or fresco produced between the Renaissance and the late 19th century, after which the term is generally not used even for the many works that still meet the basic definition.
History painting may be used interchangeably with historical painting, and was especially so used before the 20th century.Where a distinction is made, "historical painting" is the painting of scenes from secular history, whether specific episodes or generalized scenes. In the 19th century, historical painting in this sense became a distinct genre. In phrases such as "historical painting materials", "historical" means in use before about 1900, or some earlier date.
History paintings were traditionally regarded as the highest form of Western painting, occupying the most prestigious place in the hierarchy of genres, and considered the equivalent to the epic in literature. In his De Pictura of 1436, Leon Battista Alberti had argued that multi-figure history painting was the noblest form of art, as being the most difficult, which required mastery of all the others, because it was a visual form of history, and because it had the greatest potential to move the viewer. He placed emphasis on the ability to depict the interactions between the figures by gesture and expression.
This view remained general until the 19th century, when artistic movements began to struggle against the establishment institutions of academic art, which continued to adhere to it. At the same time, there was from the latter part of the 18th century an increased interest in depicting in the form of history painting moments of drama from recent or contemporary history, which had long largely been confined to battle-scenes and scenes of formal surrenders and the like. Scenes from ancient history had been popular in the early Renaissance, and once again became common in the Baroque and Rococo periods, and still more so with the rise of Neoclassicism. In some 19th or 20th century contexts, the term may refer specifically to paintings of scenes from secular history, rather than those from religious narratives, literature or mythology.
The term is generally not used in art history in speaking of medieval painting, although the Western tradition was developing in large altarpieces, fresco cycles, and other works, as well as miniatures in illuminated manuscripts. It comes to the fore in Italian Renaissance painting, where a series of increasingly ambitious works were produced, many still religious, but several, especially in Florence, which did actually feature near-contemporary historical scenes such as the set of three huge canvases on The Battle of San Romano by Paolo Uccello, the abortive Battle of Cascina by Michelangelo and the Battle of Anghiari by Leonardo da Vinci, neither of which were completed. Scenes from ancient history and mythology were also popular. Writers such as Alberti and the following century Giorgio Vasari in his Lives of the Artists , followed public and artistic opinion in judging the best painters above all on their production of large works of history painting (though in fact the only modern (post-classical) work described in De Pictura is Giotto's huge Navicella in mosaic). Artists continued for centuries to strive to make their reputation by producing such works, often neglecting genres to which their talents were better suited.
There was some objection to the term, as many writers preferred terms such as "poetic painting" (poesia), or wanted to make a distinction between the "true" istoria, covering history including biblical and religious scenes, and the fabula, covering pagan myth, allegory, and scenes from fiction, which could not be regarded as true.The large works of Raphael were long considered, with those of Michelangelo, as the finest models for the genre.
In the Raphael Rooms in the Vatican Palace, allegories and historical scenes are mixed together, and the Raphael Cartoons show scenes from the Gospels, all in the Grand Manner that from the High Renaissance became associated with, and often expected in, history painting. In the Late Renaissance and Baroque the painting of actual history tended to degenerate into panoramic battle-scenes with the victorious monarch or general perched on a horse accompanied with his retinue, or formal scenes of ceremonies, although some artists managed to make a masterpiece from such unpromising material, as Velázquez did with his The Surrender of Breda .
An influential formulation of the hierarchy of genres, confirming the history painting at the top, was made in 1667 by André Félibien, a historiographer, architect and theoretician of French classicism became the classic statement of the theory for the 18th century:
Celui qui fait parfaitement des païsages est au-dessus d'un autre qui ne fait que des fruits, des fleurs ou des coquilles. Celui qui peint des animaux vivants est plus estimable que ceux qui ne représentent que des choses mortes & sans mouvement; & comme la figure de l'homme est le plus parfait ouvrage de Dieu sur la Terre, il est certain aussi que celui qui se rend l'imitateur de Dieu en peignant des figures humaines, est beaucoup plus excellent que tous les autres ... un Peintre qui ne fait que des portraits, n'a pas encore cette haute perfection de l'Art, & ne peut prétendre à l'honneur que reçoivent les plus sçavans. Il faut pour cela passer d'une seule figure à la représentation de plusieurs ensemble; il faut traiter l'histoire & la fable; il faut représenter de grandes actions comme les historiens, ou des sujets agréables comme les Poëtes; & montant encore plus haut, il faut par des compositions allégoriques, sçavoir couvrir sous le voile de la fable les vertus des grands hommes, & les mystères les plus relevez.
He who produces perfect landscapes is above another who only produces fruit, flowers or seashells. He who paints living animals is more than those who only represent dead things without movement, and as man is the most perfect work of God on the earth, it is also certain that he who becomes an imitator of God in representing human figures, is much more excellent than all the others ... a painter who only does portraits still does not have the highest perfection of his art, and cannot expect the honour due to the most skilled. For that he must pass from representing a single figure to several together; history and myth must be depicted; great events must be represented as by historians, or like the poets, subjects that will please, and climbing still higher, he must have the skill to cover under the veil of myth the virtues of great men in allegories, and the mysteries they reveal".
By the late 18th century, with both religious and mytholological painting in decline, there was an increased demand for paintings of scenes from history, including contemporary history. This was in part driven by the changing audience for ambitious paintings, which now increasingly made their reputation in public exhibitions rather than by impressing the owners of and visitors to palaces and public buildings. Classical history remained popular, but scenes from national histories were often the best-received. From 1760 onwards, the Society of Artists of Great Britain, the first body to organize regular exhibitions in London, awarded two generous prizes each year to paintings of subjects from British history.
The unheroic nature of modern dress was regarded as a serious difficulty. When, in 1770, Benjamin West proposed to paint The Death of General Wolfe in contemporary dress, he was firmly instructed to use classical costume by many people. He ignored these comments and showed the scene in modern dress. Although George III refused to purchase the work, West succeeded both in overcoming his critics' objections and inaugurating a more historically accurate style in such paintings.Other artists depicted scenes, regardless of when they occurred, in classical dress and for a long time, especially during the French Revolution, history painting often focused on depictions of the heroic male nude.
The large production, using the finest French artists, of propaganda paintings glorifying the exploits of Napoleon, were matched by works, showing both victories and losses, from the anti-Napoleonic alliance by artists such as Goya and J.M.W. Turner. Théodore Géricault's The Raft of the Medusa (1818–1819) was a sensation, appearing to update the history painting for the 19th century, and showing anonymous figures famous only for being victims of what was then a famous and controversial disaster at sea. Conveniently their clothes had been worn away to classical-seeming rags by the point the painting depicts. At the same time the demand for traditional large religious history paintings very largely fell away.
In the mid-nineteenth century there arose a style known as historicism, which marked a formal imitation of historical styles and/or artists. Another development in the nineteenth century was the treatment of historical subjects, often on a large scale, with the values of genre painting, the depiction of scenes of everyday life, and anecdote. Grand depictions of events of great public importance were supplemented with scenes depicting more personal incidents in the lives of the great, or of scenes centred on unnamed figures involved in historical events, as in the Troubadour style. At the same time scenes of ordinary life with moral, political or satirical content became often the main vehicle for expressive interplay between figures in painting, whether given a modern or historical setting.
By the later 19th century, history painting was often explicitly rejected by avant-garde movements such as the Impressionists (except for Édouard Manet) and the Symbolists, and according to one recent writer "Modernism was to a considerable extent built upon the rejection of History Painting... All other genres are deemed capable of entering, in one form or another, the 'pantheon' of modernity considered, but History Painting is excluded".
Initially, "history painting" and "historical painting" were used interchangeably in English, as when Sir Joshua Reynolds in his fourth Discourse uses both indiscriminately to cover "history painting", while saying "...it ought to be called poetical, as in reality it is", reflecting the French term peinture historique, one equivalent of "history painting". The terms began to separate in the 19th century, with "historical painting" becoming a sub-group of "history painting" restricted to subjects taken from history in its normal sense. In 1853 John Ruskin asked his audience: "What do you at present mean by historical painting? Now-a-days it means the endeavour, by the power of imagination, to portray some historical event of past days."So for example Harold Wethey's three-volume catalogue of the paintings of Titian (Phaidon, 1969–75) is divided between "Religious Paintings", "Portraits", and "Mythological and Historical Paintings", though both volumes I and III cover what is included in the term "History Paintings". This distinction is useful but is by no means generally observed, and the terms are still often used in a confusing manner. Because of the potential for confusion modern academic writing tends to avoid the phrase "historical painting", talking instead of "historical subject matter" in history painting, but where the phrase is still used in contemporary scholarship it will normally mean the painting of subjects from history, very often in the 19th century. "Historical painting" may also be used, especially in discussion of painting techniques in conservation studies, to mean "old", as opposed to modern or recent painting.
In 19th-century British writing on art the terms "subject painting" or "anecdotic" painting were often used for works in a line of development going back to William Hogarth of monoscenic depictions of crucial moments in an implied narrative with unidentified characters,such as William Holman Hunt's 1853 painting The Awakening Conscience or Augustus Egg's Past and Present , a set of three paintings, updating sets by Hogarth such as Marriage à-la-mode .
History painting was the dominant form of academic painting in the various national academies in the 18th century, and for most of the 19th, and increasingly historical subjects dominated. During the Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods the heroic treatment of contemporary history in a frankly propagandistic fashion by Antoine-Jean, Baron Gros, Jacques-Louis David, Carle Vernet and others was supported by the French state, but after the fall of Napoleon in 1815 the French governments were not regarded as suitable for heroic treatment and many artists retreated further into the past to find subjects, though in Britain depicting the victories of the Napoleonic Wars mostly occurred after they were over. Another path was to choose contemporary subjects that were oppositional to government either at home and abroad, and many of what were arguably the last great generation of history paintings were protests at contemporary episodes of repression or outrages at home or abroad: Goya's The Third of May 1808 (1814), Théodore Géricault's The Raft of the Medusa (1818–19), Eugène Delacroix's The Massacre at Chios (1824) and Liberty Leading the People (1830). These were heroic, but showed heroic suffering by ordinary civilians.
Romantic artists such as Géricault and Delacroix, and those from other movements such as the English Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood continued to regard history painting as the ideal for their most ambitious works. Others such as Jan Matejko in Poland, Vasily Surikov in Russia, José Moreno Carbonero in Spain and Paul Delaroche in France became specialized painters of large historical subjects. The style troubadour ("troubadour style") was a somewhat derisive French term for earlier paintings of medieval and Renaissance scenes, which were often small and depicting moments of anecdote rather than drama; Ingres, Richard Parkes Bonington and Henri Fradelle painted such works. Sir Roy Strong calls this type of work the "Intimate Romantic", and in French it was known as the "peinture de genre historique" or "peinture anecdotique" ("historical genre painting" or "anecdotal painting").
Church commissions for large group scenes from the Bible had greatly reduced, and historical painting became very significant. Especially in the early 19th century, much historical painting depicted specific moments from historical literature, with the novels of Sir Walter Scott a particular favourite, in France and other European countries as much as Great Britain.By the middle of the century medieval scenes were expected to be very carefully researched, using the work of historians of costume, architecture and all elements of decor that were becoming available. And example of this is the extensive research of Byzantine architecture, clothing and decoration made in Parisian museums and libraries by Moreno Carbonero for his masterwork The Entry of Roger de Flor in Constantinople. The provision of examples and expertise for artists, as well as revivalist industrial designers, was one of the motivations for the establishment of museums like the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
New techniques of printmaking such as the chromolithograph made good quality monochrome print reproductions both relatively cheap and very widely accessible, and also hugely profitable for artist and publisher, as the sales were so large.Historical painting often had a close relationship with Nationalism, and painters like Matejko in Poland could play an important role in fixing the prevailing historical narrative of national history in the popular mind. In France, L'art Pompier ("Fireman art") was a derisory term for official academic historical painting, and in a final phase, "History painting of a debased sort, scenes of brutality and terror, purporting to illustrate episodes from Roman and Moorish history, were Salon sensations. On the overcrowded walls of the exhibition galleries, the paintings that shouted loudest got the attention". Orientalist painting was an alternative genre that offered similar exotic costumes and decor, and at least as much opportunity to depict sex and violence.
Baroque painting is the painting associated with the Baroque cultural movement. The movement is often identified with Absolutism, the Counter Reformation and Catholic Revival, but the existence of important Baroque art and architecture in non-absolutist and Protestant states throughout Western Europe underscores its widespread popularity.
Jan Brueghelthe Elder was a Flemish painter and draughtsman. He was the son of the eminent Flemish Renaissance painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder. A close friend and frequent collaborator with Peter Paul Rubens, the two artists were the leading Flemish painters in the first three decades of the 17th century.
Genre art is the pictorial representation in any of various media of scenes or events from everyday life, such as markets, domestic settings, interiors, parties, inn scenes, and street scenes. Such representations may be realistic, imagined, or romanticized by the artist. Some variations of the term genre art specify the medium or type of visual work, as in genre painting, genre prints, genre photographs, and so on.
A still life is a work of art depicting mostly inanimate subject matter, typically commonplace objects which are either natural or man-made.
Academic art, or academicism or academism, is a style of painting, sculpture, and architecture produced under the influence of European academies of art. Specifically, academic art is the art and artists influenced by the standards of the French Académie des Beaux-Arts, which was practiced under the movements of Neoclassicism and Romanticism, and the art that followed these two movements in the attempt to synthesize both of their styles, and which is best reflected by the paintings of William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Thomas Couture, and Hans Makart. In this context it is often called "academism," "academicism," "art pompier" (pejoratively), and "eclecticism," and sometimes linked with "historicism" and "syncretism."
A hierarchy of genres is any formalization which ranks different genres in an art form in terms of their prestige and cultural value.
In art history, "Old Master" refers to any painter of skill who worked in Europe before about 1800, or a painting by such an artist. An "old master print" is an original print made by an artist in the same period. The term "old master drawing" is used in the same way.
Iconography, as a branch of art history, studies the identification, description and interpretation of the content of images: the subjects depicted, the particular compositions and details used to do so, and other elements that are distinct from artistic style. The word iconography comes from the Greek εἰκών ("image") and γράφειν.
Landscape painting, also known as landscape art, is the depiction of natural scenery such as mountains, valleys, trees, rivers, and forests, especially where the main subject is a wide view—with its elements arranged into a coherent composition. In other works, landscape backgrounds for figures can still form an important part of the work. Sky is almost always included in the view, and weather is often an element of the composition. Detailed landscapes as a distinct subject are not found in all artistic traditions, and develop when there is already a sophisticated tradition of representing other subjects.
French art consists of the visual and plastic arts originating from the geographical area of France. Modern France was the main centre for the European art of the Upper Paleolithic, then left many megalithic monuments, and in the Iron Age many of the most impressive finds of early Celtic art. The Gallo-Roman period left a distinctive provincial style of sculpture, and the region around the modern Franco-German border led the empire in the mass production of finely decorated Ancient Roman pottery, which was exported to Italy and elsewhere on a large scale. With Merovingian art the story of French styles as a distinct and influential element in the wider development of the art of Christian Europe begins.
Dutch Golden Age painting is the painting of the Dutch Golden Age, a period in Dutch history roughly spanning the 17th century, during and after the later part of the Eighty Years' War (1568–1648) for Dutch independence.
Genre painting, a form of genre art, depicts aspects of everyday life by portraying ordinary people engaged in common activities. One common definition of a genre scene is that it shows figures to whom no identity can be attached either individually or collectively—thus distinguishing petit genre from history paintings and portraits. A work would often be considered as a genre work even if it could be shown that the artist had used a known person—a member of his family, say—as a model. In this case it would depend on whether the work was likely to have been intended by the artist to be perceived as a portrait—sometimes a subjective question. The depictions can be realistic, imagined, or romanticized by the artist. Because of their familiar and frequently sentimental subject matter, genre paintings have often proven popular with the bourgeoisie, or middle class.
Taking its name from medieval troubadours, the Troubadour Style is a rather derisive term, in English usually applied to French historical painting of the early 19th century with idealised depictions of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. In French it also refers to the equivalent architectural styles. It can be seen as an aspect of Romanticism and a reaction against Neoclassicism, which was coming to an end at the end of the Consulate, and became particularly associated with Josephine Bonaparte and Caroline Ferdinande Louise, duchesse de Berry. In architecture the style was an exuberant French equivalent to the Gothic Revival of the Germanic and Anglophone countries. The style related to contemporary developments in French literature, and music, but the term is usually restricted to painting and architecture.
Frans Francken the Younger was a Flemish painter and the best-known member of the large Francken family of artists. Francken created altarpieces and painted furniture panels, but his reputation chiefly relies on his small and delicate cabinet pictures with historical, mythological, or allegorical themes. He played an important role in the development of Flemish art in the first half of the 17th century through his innovations in many genres including genre painting and his introduction of new subject matter. He was a frequent collaborator of leading Antwerp painters of his time.
Marine art or maritime art is a form of figurative art that portrays or draws its main inspiration from the sea. Maritime painting is a genre that depicts ships and the sea—a genre particularly strong from the 17th to 19th centuries. In practice the term often covers art showing shipping on rivers and estuaries, beach scenes and all art showing boats, without any rigid distinction - for practical reasons subjects that can be drawn or painted from dry land in fact feature strongly in the genre. Strictly speaking "maritime art" should always include some element of human seafaring, whereas "marine art" would also include pure seascapes with no human element, though this distinction may not be observed in practice.
A tronie is the name given to a type of work common in Dutch Golden Age painting and Flemish Baroque painting that depict an exaggerated facial expression or people in costume. These works were not intended as portraits but as studies of expression, type, physiognomy or an interesting character such as an old man or women, a young woman, the soldier, the shepherdess, the Oriental, or a person of a particular race, etc.
Realism, sometimes called naturalism, in the arts is generally the attempt to represent subject matter truthfully, without artificiality and avoiding speculative fiction and supernatural elements. Realism has been prevalent in the arts at many periods, and can be in large part a matter of technique and training, and the avoidance of stylization.
The world landscape, a translation of the German Weltlandschaft, is a type of composition in Western painting showing an imaginary panoramic landscape seen from an elevated viewpoint that includes mountains and lowlands, water, and buildings. The subject of each painting is usually a Biblical or historical narrative, but the figures comprising this narrative element are dwarfed by their surroundings.
Realism was an artistic movement that emerged in France in the 1840s, around the 1848 Revolution. Realists rejected Romanticism, which had dominated French literature and art since the early 19th century. Realism revolted against the exotic subject matter and the exaggerated emotionalism and drama of the Romantic movement. Instead, it sought to portray real and typical contemporary people and situations with truth and accuracy, and not avoiding unpleasant or sordid aspects of life. The movement aimed to focus on unidealized subjects and events that were previously rejected in art work. Realist works depicted people of all classes in situations that arise in ordinary life, and often reflected the changes brought by the Industrial and Commercial Revolutions. Realism was primarily concerned with how things appeared to the eye, rather than containing ideal representations of the world. The popularity of such "realistic" works grew with the introduction of photography—a new visual source that created a desire for people to produce representations which look objectively real.
The Pastoral Concert or Le Concert Champêtre is an oil painting of c. 1509 attributed to the Italian Renaissance master Titian. It was previously attributed to his fellow and contemporary Giorgione. It is in the Musée du Louvre in Paris.
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