Art Periods and Movements

Art Periods and Movements – Our Insanely Wide-Ranging Guide

We, as humans, have expressed ourselves creatively since prehistoric times, from crushing ochre to create rock art to Banksy spray painting walls to create street art. We have compiled an overview of art historical periods and movements, explaining each one in summary and including important artists and artworks. It is important to remember that this chronology is not linear, that periods and movements may overlap, and that artists were sometimes part of more than one movement. There are numerous cultures around the world and art movements, and we may miss a few, but we have tried to include a summary of as many notable ones as possible. For more in-depth information, we encourage you to read some of our other articles.




The Difference Between Art Eras, Art Periods, and Movements

The term “art period” refers to a section of time that includes various artists and their artworks and they are usually arranged by art historians after the period has passed. Therefore, more than a few art movements can be held within a period. “Art eras” refer to extended time periods. The Upper Late Paleolithic is a good example of an era that lasted for about 20,000 years. An “art movement” refers to a group of artists that have a shared style, aim, or idea, sometimes forming clubs that have a representative and specific philosophy.



Art History Timeline

Understanding the art history timeline can help us to comprehend the background history that contributed to the various art style periods and movements. Below is a table of the various art periods and movements that form the art history timeline.


Ancient/Classical Art Periods and Movements

Art Periods and MovementsDatesCharacteristics
Prehistoric Art
  • Paleolithic Era: About 2.5 million – 10,000 BCE
  • Mesolithic Era: About 10,000 BCE to 8,000 BCE
  • Neolithic Era: About 10,000 – 4,500 BCE
Before written records were kept. Examples are rock carvings, paintings, engravings, stone arrangements, and sculptures.
Asian Art38,000 BCE – PresentAsian art encompasses the art made by cultures from China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, and the Russian Far East.
Traditional African Art23,000 BCE – PresentAfrican art is made by various cultures on the African continent with different styles.
The Ancient Near East


  • Sumerian (4,500 – 1,900 BCE)
  • Akkadian (2,334 – 2,154 BCE)
  • Babylonian (1,895 – 539 BCE)
  • Assyrian (1,365 – 600 BCE)
  • Persian Art (3,500 – 1,700 BCE)
Stone relief with tales and warrior art.
Egyptian Art
  • Dynastic Period (3,000 BCE) and Old Kingdom (2,000 BCE)
  • Middle Kingdom (2040-1782 BCE)
  • New Kingdom (1,500 BCE) and Amarna Period (1,350 BCE)
Art focused on the gods and the afterlife as depicted in pyramids, tombs, and temples.
Greek Bronze AgeThe height of the Bronze Age of Greece included fresco murals and painted ceramics that depicted landscapes, humans and animals.
Pre-Columbian Art1,200 BCE – 1,535 CEThe art of America and its islands was created before the arrival of Columbus
Ancient Greek Art
  • Archaic Period (650 – 480 BCE)
  • Classical Period (480 – 323 BCE)
  • Hellenistic Period (323 – 27 BCE)
Greek idealism and the perfection of body proportions.
Etruscan Art700 – 509 BCEEtruscan art was a combination of Greek and Roman styles.
Ancient Roman Art735 BCE – 337 CECommemoration and Realism. The depiction of realistic features, rather than idealized proportions.
Early Christian ArtFrom the beginning of Christianity – 525 CEThe emergence of Christian imagery and sculpture.
Middle Ages (Medieval Art)In Europe, early Medieval art was a mixture of the Roman artistic tradition and Northern European culture, as well as the early Christian church.
  • Early Renaissance (1401 – 1490s)
  • High Renaissance (1490s – 1527)
  • Late Renaissance (1520 – 1600)
Greatly influenced by the ideas of the ancient Greeks and Romans, with an emphasis on balance and proportion.
Mannerism1527 – 1580Following the footsteps of Renaissance realism, but with exaggerated details and emphasis on figural composition.
Baroque1600 – 1750Art and architecture were over-the-top and ornate, and the artistic style was dramatic and complex.
Rococo1702 – 1780Theatrical, light, whimsical works painted in pastel colors and focusing on natural shapes and curves.
Neoclassicism1750 – 1850A resurgence of the character and styles of classical antiquity.
Romanticism1780 – 1850Romanticism commemorated intuition and imagination, valuing originality and emotion.
Realism1848 – 1900Turned away from idealism and painted events and subjects from real life in a naturalistic way.
  • Early Photography (1840 – 1900)
  • Modern Photography (1910 – 1960)
The invention of photographic images was initially used for practical purposes and eventually broadened in artistic expression.
Arts & Crafts Movement1860 – 1920The movement’s artists were linked with decorative arts and architecture rather than sculpture and painting of “high” art and stressed the importance of functionality in design.
Art Nouveau1890 – 1905Linear contours were important, and artists were inspired by forms found in nature, flattening and abstracting subjects to create elegant flowing patterns and shapes.
Art Deco1900 – 1945Art Deco was characterized by geometric, sleek symmetrical forms that were stylized and elegant. Visual art pieces included both mass-produced and extravagant works that were individually made.

Art from Different ErasLas Meninas or The Ladies-in-waiting by Diego Velázquez (1656) is widely regarded as one of the finest artworks of the pre-Modernist era; Diego Velázquez, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Modern Art Movements

Art Periods and MovementsDatesCharacteristics
Impressionism1862 – 1892Artists painted an impression of what they saw in everyday life depicted with loose, thick brushstrokes and an emphasis on color and light.
Symbolism1880 – 1910Symbolism used symbols in their artworks to express ideas and emotion, whether through imagery, colors, lines, or text.
Post-Impressionism1885 – 1914This movement rebelled against impressionism to create art that was more personal and that expressed their individual styles while still being an extension of it.
Fauvism1905 – 1910The Fauvist style of painting is characterized by using pure color applied in an expressive manner.
Expressionism1905 – 1933Artists depicted their emotional reality rather than the physical world. Their style is characterized by hard lines, exaggerated expressive brushstrokes, distorted forms, and striking combinations of color
Cubism1907 – 1922Cubism is characterized by the fracturing of objects or subjects into geometric forms, creating new points of perspective within a picture.
Futurism1909 – 1944Traditional ideas of art were replaced with an artistic vision that celebrated the age of technological and mechanical advancement.
Dada1916 – 1924Dada emphasized meaning over aesthetically pleasing artworks, often asking the viewer difficult questions about society and the world. The movement is well known for its readymades.
Surrealism1924 – 1966Surrealist artists were fascinated by the unconscious mind, blending fantasy and dreamlike imagery to create illogical scenes filled with symbolism.
Abstract Expressionism1943 – 1965The movement is characterized by personal expression and spontaneity, producing works that contain levels of abstraction, often with unrealistic forms, energetic brushstrokes, and mark-making
African Modernism20th CenturyAfrican Modernists created works using non-traditional media and subject matter and were influenced by modern movements, developing their own interpretation of modernist principles while staying true to their individual styles

Modernist Era Artworks The Chicago Picasso by Pablo Picasso (1967). The innovation and variety of works by Picasso perhaps best represent the creation of completely new representational languages in Western art during the Modern era; Caitriana Nicholson from 北京 ~ Beijing, 中国 ~ China, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Post-Modern Movements

Art Periods and MovementsDatesCharacteristics
Pop Art1950 – 1970Pop art challenged traditional fine art by introducing imagery from popular culture and media using bright colors, humor, satire, mixed media, collage, and printmaking.
Minimalism1960s – 1970sMinimalism can be understood as an extended form of abstract art, characterized by geometric shapes and block colors
Conceptual Art1960s – 1970sConceptual art emphasizes meaning over aesthetically pleasing artworks, often asking the viewer difficult questions about society and the world through works that do not look like traditional art pieces.
Photorealism1960s – PresentHyper-realistic art is created using photography rather than direct observation.
Feminism1960s – PresentArtworks were made from a woman’s perspective and often invited the viewer to ask questions regarding their social and political background and therefore, bring change to equality and rid of embedded stereotypes.
Neo-Expressionism1970s – 1990sNeo-Expressionism brought a resurgence of painting in an expressionist way.
Contemporary Art1970 – PresentContemporary art refers to all art made in the present time. Combining past styles and ideas, as well as advanced technologies, producing art pieces that are diverse in media and culture.

Post-Modern Era Installation ArtWith its roots in Conceptual art, Installation art is one of the premier forms of Contemporary artistic expression. Here workers are setting up Ai Wei Wei’s installation commemorating refugees trying to reach Europe at Berlin’s Gendarmenmarkt (2016); Fridolin freudenfett, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons



An Overview of Art Periods and Movements

Now that we have explored the art history timeline, we can dive deeper into the various art periods and movements in more detail, starting with the earliest known evidence of art made by humans and ending with contemporary art.


Prehistoric Art (40,000 – 4,000 BC)

The term, “prehistoric” refers to a time before written records. Therefore, prehistoric art refers to any visual art that was made before the start of written history and its timeline begins with the oldest evidence of art made by humans. It is important to note that there is evidence of art that is made by people who live in parts of the world today that do not have a writing system, but for the purpose of putting together a historical timeline, we will be using the traditional eras of human prehistory. The dates used to classify the periods below are approximations as art eras reached different parts of the world at different times across several thousand years.


The Paleolithic Era (2.5 Million – 12,000 Years Ago)

The Paleolithic era or the old stone age was the longest period of human history. The earliest evidence of human use of tools is from this era, dating to 2.5 million years ago when humans made simple stone-cutting tools by flaking rocks. The use of these tools came before the making of art, but scientists are not sure how long this was.

El Castillo Cave Art Panel of hands from the cave of El Castillo, Cantabria (Spain). The bison is Magdalenian era, but at approximately 40 000 years, some of the red symbols on this panel are the oldest paintings found in Europe; Gabinete de Prensa del Gobierno de Cantabria, CC BY 3.0 ES, via Wikimedia Commons

The two kinds of art that were produced in the Paleolithic era were portable and stationary. Portable art consisted of decorated objects or figurines that were small so that they could be portable. These were figurative works that were either animal or human in shape and appearance.

The only surviving art available to study are cave paintings and engravings, that were, except for the depiction of animals, more often non-figurative, meaning that they may have served largely symbolic functions that some recent studies have suggested include tracking the breeding seasons of the various species of animals people hunted.

While there is no means of determining their purpose with certainty, scholars have suggested that Paleolithic art appears to refer mainly to food and survival, as seen in animal carvings and depicted hunting scenes, as well as fertility, which can be seen in the depiction of females of child-bearing figures. Experts speculate that stationary works may have served ritualistic or magical purposes.

Paleolithic Artworks
ExamplesArtistDateLocation Discovered
Hand stencils and hand paintingUnknown39,000 BCESpanish Cantabrian cave of El Castillo, Spain
Rock engravingsUnknown37,000 BCEGorham’s Cave, Gibraltar, South coast of Spain
Venus of WillendorfUnknown25,000 BCEWillendorf, Austria
Venus of Laussel relief sculptureUnknown23,000 BCEIn the commune of Marquay, Dordogne region of southwestern France
Rouffignac Cave muralsUnknown14,000 BCEAlongside the La Binche river, Rouffignac-Saint-Cernin, Dordogne, France


Mesolithic Era (12,000 Years Ago – 10,000 Years Ago)

The Mesolithic era or middle stone age was a period of transition from the oldest period of human history (Paleolithic) to the rise of civilizations and farming during the Neolithic period. People during this time were semi-nomadic and thus their lives were not only centered on hunting and foraging for survival. They started experimenting with growing their own crops which allowed them more time to create art since they did not have to spend as much time foraging.

The Mesolithic period was also a time of the Holocene, the end of the Ice Age, which ushered in a warmer climate, and meant that cave art was largely taken over by rock art created outside in the open air.

Vulture Stone at Gobekli TepeThe Vulture Stone from Gobekli Tepe, Sanliurfa, South-east Anatolia, Turkey is considered to contain the world’s first surviving pictograph (9500 BCE); Sue Fleckney, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

What may be considered the most significant archaeological discovery of the Mesolithic era were megalithic temples and art, especially the temple complex of Gobekli Tepe in Southeastern Turkey dating to about 9,500 BCE. This shows the capability of hunter-gatherer societies to construct such a complex, although it is still unclear how they managed it exactly.

Mesolithic Artworks
ExamplesArtistDateLocation Discovered
Cave rock engravingsUnknown8,200 BCEWonderwerk Cave in the Northern Cape Province, South Africa
Anthropomorphic figurineUnknown8th and 9th millennium BCENevalı Çori in Şanlıurfa Province, Southeastern Anatolia, Turkey
Megalithic artUnknown9,500 BCEGobekli Tepe near Sanliurfa in Southeastern Turkey
Ceramic potteryUnknown11th millennium BCEXianrendong in Jiangxi province, China


Neolithic Era (10,000 – 4,500 Years Ago)

The Neolithic era or the new stone age was a period in prehistory when people had taken up farming and animal husbandry in place of the semi-nomadic lifestyle of hunting and gathering food. This period is regarded as the dawn of civilization and therefore, the art created by these societies became more varied and included pottery (considered an artifact indicative of this particular period, although some Chinese and Japanese pottery predate the Neolithic), terracotta sculpture, hand stencils, engravings, adornments, sculpted statuettes, as well as megalithic art, and religious temples.

Neolithic Pig-Dragon AmuletHongshan Culture Jade Pig Dragon (3800 BCE); Gary Todd from Xinzheng, China, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Agriculture took place at different times in various parts of the world; thus, there is no definitive date for the start of the Neolithic era. Agriculture contributed to the increase in population, and people became more protective over their territory and created large settlements, which in turn prompted them to become more organized and develop a hierarchical system.

All these social developments, including the increased belief in supernatural deities, impacted the art of the Neolithic.

Neolithic Artworks
ExamplesArtistDateLocation Discovered
Xianrendong Cave potteryUnknown18,000 BCESiberian border, Far East of Russia
Vela Spila potteryUnknown15,500 BCEKorcula Island, Croatia
Pig Dragon pendant of the Hongshan CultureUnknown3,800 BCEChina
Stonehenge Stone CircleUnknown2,600 BCESalisbury Plain, Wiltshire, England


Asian Art (38,000 BCE – Present)

Asia is a vast continent with a vast history and its people have produced many types of art that precede art in the West. Asian art encompasses art from China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, and the Russian Far East, and therefore would need an entire article dedicated to each.

First, ancient pottery appeared in China, as well as large bronze sculptures, Jade carvings, lacquerware, calligraphy, and sericulture. Terracotta sculpture, painting, and metalwork are outstanding contributions made by Chinese artists and Chinese culture has had a great influence on East Asian countries, such as Japan and Korea. The Japanese are renowned for their woodcuts and wood carving, ceramics, origami, and ink-wash painting.

Sanxingdui Bronze Head with Gold MaskSanxingdui bronze head wearing a gold foil mask (1100 BCE); momo, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

On the Indian subcontinent, art formed more independently from China, however, it was influenced during the Hellenistic era by Greek sculpture, and Islamic art. South-East Asia is known for its Buddhist sculpture, Khmer temple architecture, some types of metallurgy, and batik textiles.

With the exception of certain types of metalwork and stone, unfortunately, much of South-East Asian art has disintegrated because of the climate.

Asian Artworks
ArtworkArtistMediumDateLocation Discovered
Venus of KostenkiUnknownIvory30,000 BCERussia
Bronze Head with Gold Foil MaskUnknownBronze and gold1,100 BCESanxingdui, Sichuan, China
Terracotta ArmyQin Shi Huang (259-210 BCE)Terracotta246 – 208 BCEXian, China
Ajanta Cave PaintingsUnknownTempera501 – 600 CEMaharashtra, Western India
Pensive BodhisattvaUnknownBronze600 – 650 CEKorea
The Great Wave off KanagawaHokusai (1760-1849)Woodblock print1831Japan


Traditional African Art (23,000 BCE – Present)

African art is diverse as there are many different cultures and lineages that covered and still do cover the continent. African art dates to pre-historic times, as far as 70,000 BCE, but for this section, we will focus on traditional African art. The word “traditional” is used here to distinguish between art created with a traditional intention within the context of historical African culture and later African art that is more modern.

African art incorporates many different mediums, objects, and themes to create striking and unique works that have influenced Western movements, such as Cubism.

Traditional African art is well known for the spectacular masks made by many cultures, which often had a ritual or religious function. Despite the differences geographically, many types African art share certain common characteristics, such as the use of sculptures made to be used during ceremonies as vessels for communicating with ancestors. Pottery is also an important art form in many African cultures, with vessels and jugs not only having a useful function but possessing beauty with detail.

Iyoba Queen Mother MaskQueen Mother Pendant Mask from the Iyoba, Edo peoples  in Nigeria (16h Century); Metropolitan Museum of Art, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Traditional African art often favors symbolism, expressionism, and abstraction over naturalistic depictions and regularly incorporates the human figure in sculpture and images.

Traditional African Artworks
ArtworkMediumDateLocation DiscoveredCulture
Rock paintingPigments on rock3,000 – 2,000 BCEManda Guéli Cave, Chad, Central AfricaSahara
Queen Mother Pendant Mask: IyobaIvory, iron, copper16th centuryBenin City, NigeriaBenin
Zamble Helmet Crest MaskWood, pigment19th centuryIvory Coast, West AfricaGuro
Community Power Figure: Male (Nkisi)Wood, copper, brass, iron, fiber, snakeskin, leather, fur, feathers, mud, resin19th – 20th centuryDemocratic Republic of the CongoSongye
Tutu painting by Ben Enwonwu (1917 – 1994)Oil on canvas1974NigeriaInfluenced by Yoruba and other regional styles


Ancient Near East (3,500 – 636 BCE)

The Ancient Near East stretched from Turkey in the north, down the Mediterranean coast, and east into Iran and Mesopotamia, to the Indus River valley, covering more than three million square miles. The landscape of the region was diverse, with nomads and settled civilizations, deserts, river valleys, violence, and innovations. And therefore, the art was just as varied.

Most of the art of the Ancient Near East was religious and emphasized the relationship between the human and the divine. It was mainly used to honor the gods and goddesses or to be used in rituals. However, art was also political, and it was used by rulers to assert their power and status. The following are the five major periods of the Ancient Near East named after the groups that made them. 


Sumerian Art (4,500 – 1,900 BCE)

The Sumerians came before the Akkadians and lived in ancient Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) from at least 3,000 to 2,000 BCE, emptying the marshes for agriculture and establishing trade, becoming the first people  to live in complex societies in that area. Their life was more settled, and they had a steady food supply which allowed for a surge in population.

Mesopotamian Guennol LionessFound near Baghdad, the unusual Guennol Lioness depicts an anthropomorphic lioness (3rd Millennium BCE); Unknown sculptor, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Sumerian art provided the foundation for the rest of the art of the Ancient Near East. One of the first known scripts in the world, cuneiform was created by the Sumerians and was included in much of their art.

They invented new types of pottery and the stratification of their society into farmers, traders and craftsmen meant that specialized crafts like leatherwork, metalwork, and weaving, flourished. Similarly stonemasons and sculptors began creating ever larger free-standing sculptures and bronze statuettes. Evidence dating to the Third Millennium has been found of advanced techniques in bronze and copper casting.

Sumerian Artworks
ArtworkArtistMediumDateLocation Discovered
Warka (Uruk) VaseUnknownAlabaster3,200 – 3,000 BCETemple complex of the goddess, Inanna, City of Uruk, Mesopotamia
The Guennol LionessUnknownLimestone3,000 BCENear Baghdad, Mesopotamia
Ram in a ThicketUnknownGold, copper, lapis lazuli, limestone, and shell2,650 – 2,550 BCEUr, Southern Mesopotamia
The Queen’s LyreUnknownGold, mother-of-pearl, limestone, and lapis lazuli.2,600 BCEThe Royal Cemetery, Ur, Southern Mesopotamia


Akkadian Art (2,334 – 2,154 BCE)

The Akkadians were the successors of the Sumerians, overrunning them at around 2,270 BCE. Their leader, Sargon (reigned 2334-2279 BCE) joined the city-states of Sumer and created the first Mesopotamian empire, and thus their art focused on strengthening and declaring their power as conquerors. This was the beginning of the concept of kingship and the engendered loyalty to Sargon and those in power is reflected in the art of the time.

Akkadian Cylinder Seal and ImprintMesopotamian serpentine cylinder seal with impression in clay; Zunkir, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Akkadian art emphasized a greater degree of naturalism and complex visual narratives, as seen in bronzes, cylinder seals, and stone carvings that are more realistically rendered compared to the art of the Sumerians.

Cylinder seals were cylinder-shaped objects with engraved images that could be rolled on objects made of clay to leave an impression, serving as a signature that would identify the authority of the person responsible for the documents. A work considered to be a masterpiece of Akkadian art is the Bronze Head of a King (2,300 BCE), which is a piece of figurative sculpture that may have been of the king, Sargon.

Akkadian Artworks
ArtworkArtistMediumDateLocation Discovered
Bronze head of a kingUnknownBronze2,300 BCENineveh, Upper Mesopotamia
Cylinder SealUnknownChert rock2250 – 2150 BCEMesopotamia
Victory Stele of Naram-SinUnknownLimestone2254 – 2218 BCESippar, southwest of present-day Baghdad


Babylonian Art (1,895 – 539 BCE)

The Babylonians lived in Southeastern Mesopotamia between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. Akkadians and Ammonites arrived in Mesopotamia after 1,900 BCE and obtained control of the area, building an empire with Babylon as its main city. According to existing historical records, the city had many palaces and temples that were gloriously decorated. The king, Hammurabi reigned over Babylon and subjugated most of Mesopotamia and was one of the most powerful Babylonian leaders.

Hammurabi is an important name in Babylonian art because he is famous for creating The Code of Hammurabi (1792-1750 BCE), a set of 282 laws and punishments, the most complete and earliest legal code that later influenced the laws of the entire world. The saying, “an eye for an eye” might be familiar to you. These laws were inscribed onto a stele, which is a column built for ceremonial or memorial purposes, and this stele combined law, art, and literature. A relief sculpture at the top of the stele depicts the king receiving the laws from Shamash, a highly important god.

Babylonian Ishtar GateThe reconstructed front section of the Ishtar Gate in Berlin’s Pergamon Museum (604-562 BCE); Rictor Norton, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Babylonian art style started with clay, as it was widely available in that region of the Middle East. The Babylonians created fine pottery and built structures, such as earthen temples. Eventually, artists started using diorite stone, obtained through trade, to create sculptures that honored their leaders and gods. The next and most significant artistic style in Babylonian art included the use of multi-colored, glazed brick walls that depicted imagery of animals and deities. These images can be seen at the Ishtar Gate which was part of a huge walled processional way that led into the inner city of Babylon.

Babylonian Artworks
ArtworkArtistMediumDateLocation Discovered
The Burney Relief or “Queen of the Night” ReliefUnknownTerracotta plaque1,800 – 1,750 BCEBabylonia (find-site unknown), Mesopotamia
The Code of HammurabiUnknownBlack stone stele1792 – 1750 BCESusa, lower Zagros Mountains, Iran
The Ishtar GateUnknownGlazed ceramic bricks604 – 562 BCEIshtar Gate, Babylon, Mesopotamia


Assyrian Art (1,365 – 600 BCE)

The Assyrians dominated Northern Mesopotamia at the time of Hammurabi’s passing. During the 15th century BCE, they became an independent entity after being dependent on the Hatti and Mitanni kingdoms. Assyria eventually gained a dominant role over Mesopotamia, and by the eighth century BCE, most of the Middle East was united under their Empire. The culture of the Assyrians was one based on war and most of the empire was under the control of the military. The expansive empire had access to iron and stone, the first of which was very popular and contributed to the building of huge palaces.

Assyrian Lion Hunt ReliefGypsum reliefs depicting the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal hunting lions from the North Palace of Nineveh (c. 645-635 BCE); Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Assyrian art included narrative relief sculpture rendered with detail in alabaster and stone that depicted military activities and hunting events with animals being more detailed compared to the rigid human forms. The aim of these images that greeted visitors to the palace was to glorify the power of the Assyrian kings.

Apart from the enormous anthropomorphic figures and animals that stood at royal gateways or other entrances, very few statues were made by Assyrian sculptors. A variety of ancient pottery has been discovered, as well as some jewelry art and goldsmithing. The dawn of imperialism and expansion came in 885 BCE for the Assyrians, and art created during this time was devoted to wars, hunting scenes, and conqueror-kings with each campaign meticulously recorded by scribes and artists of the court.

Assyrian Artworks
ArtworkArtistMediumDateLocation Discovered
Human-headed Winged Bull and Lion (lamassu)UnknownGypsum883 – 859 BCEThe Gate of Ashurnasirpal’s palace at Nimrud, Tigris River, Mesopotamia
Sacking of Susa by AshurbanipalUnknownGypsum wall panel relief647 BCENorth Palace, Nineveh, Upper Mesopotamia
Ashurbanipal Hunting LionsUnknownGypsum wall relief645 – 635 BCENorth Palace, Nineveh, Upper Mesopotamia


Persian Empire Art (550 BCE – 330 BCE)

One of the oldest consistently inhabited regions in the world, Persia was home to one of the earliest civilizations in the history of art. It occupied the Persian plateau, surrounded by the Baluchistan and Elburz mountains in the east and north, and during the first Millennium BCE, Persian rule expanded into Central Asia and through Asia Minor, extending as far as Greece and Egypt. The Persian or Achaemenid Empire began with Cyrus the Great in 550 BCE and continued until Alexander the Great conquered it in 330 BCE. Although militaristic, the Persians allowed the people they conquered to live their lives and practice any religion they chose in exchange for taxes and tribute to the king.

A vast network of roads with strategically located resting places allowed for communication across this massive empire via equestrian messengers at a previously unimaginable speed.

Persian Art PeriodThe Gate of all Nations at Persepolis (486 – 465 BCE) formed part of a grand procession-way incorporating gardens, sculptures, and massive friezes, all designed to overawe the various visitors from across the vast Persian empire who came to prove their obeisance to the king; 13ehnam, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Because Persia brought together people of different cultures, languages, and sociopolitical organizations, it was influenced by Greek, Sumerian, and other Mesopotamian art, and Chinese art. Early Persian art featured a variety of artistic influences and styles in small bronze works and intricate ceramics taken from neighboring and conquered lands. Other artworks of ancient Persia included painting, goldsmithing, architecture, and sculpture.

The wall reliefs that decorated the ancient city of Persepolis, for example, were symbolic and realistic, but also stylized images representing the procession of people bringing tribute to the king. Even though Persian art was heavily influenced by other cultures, it was still rendered in a distinctively Persian style.

Persian Artworks
ArtworkArtistMediumDateLocation Discovered
Gold Chariot from the Oxus TreasureUnknownGold600 – 400 BCETakht-i Kuwad, Tadjikistan
Archers friezeUnknownGlazed siliceous bricks510 BCEKing Darius’ palace at Susa
The Gate of All Nations (Gate of Xerxes)UnknownStone486 – 465 BCEThe ancient city of Persepolis, Iran
Central reliefs of the northern stairsUnknownStone486 – 465 BCEApadana in Persepolis, Iran


Egyptian Art (3,100 – 332 BCE)

Before Greek civilization, Egyptian art may be the most well-known ancient art form in the Mediterranean basin. Egypt was sustained by the Nile River and surrounded by borders of desert that protected it. Therefore, for many centuries Egyptian arts and crafts grew largely without disturbance or hindrance. Egyptian art was used to glorify and honor the gods (and the Pharaoh who was worshiped as a divine ruler) and to guide and assist the human journey into the afterlife.

Egyptian Period ArtThe book of Ani (c. 1300) was one of various copies of texts commonly known as the Book of the Dead. Varying greatly in quality depending on how much a client could afford to spend, these texts contained the various spells a deceased person would require to safely reach the afterlife; British Museum, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Statues served various purposes. Some served a political purpose and were made to provide the Pharaoh with a physical presence across the two kingdoms. Images of gods allowed the deity to inhabit their temple and to travel during ritual processions. Other statues were made to aid a divine recipient or someone that had died, such as the ka statue, which was intended to provide a resting place for the spirit or ka of a person after death.

Egyptian sculpture, monuments, paintings, and crafts were created predominantly during the dynastic periods of the first 3,000 years BCE. Egyptian art was tied heavily to their religion and mythology and was often found in tombs because of their fixation with the afterlife, as well as in temples. Important characteristics of Egyptian art were the composite view of the figures, the use of geometric shapes and simplicity, as well as idealism and symbolism.

The artistic style of the Egyptians changed very little, apart from becoming more naturalistic, as this formed part of their belief in timelessness and perfection. However, there was a short period of about 17 years when the style changed to be softer, distorted, and less idealistic by the order of Akhenaten during the New Kingdom (1,570-1,544 BCE). This style is known as the Amarna style and was related to Akhenaten’s religious reforms, but it was discarded after his reign and the old religion and art style was restored.

Egyptian Artworks
ArtworkArtistMediumDateLocation Discovered
The Narmer PaletteUnknownSiltstone3,000 – 2,925 BCETemple of Horus at Nekhen, Egypt
Khafre EnthronedUnknownAnorthosite gneiss2,570 BCEKhafre’s Valley Temple, in the Pyramids of Giza Complex, Egypt
Great Sphinx of GizaKhafre (4th dynasty)Limestone2,558 – 2,532 BCEGiza, Egypt
Colossal Statue of AkhenatenUnknownSandstone1,351 – 1,334 BCETemple of Aten, Eastern Karnak, Thebes
Papyrus of AniUnknownPapyrus1,250 BCETomb of Ani, Luxor, Egypt


Ancient Proto-Greek Art: Bonze Age Aegean Art (3,000 – 1,200 BCE)

The Bronze Age of Greece is categorized into three groups, the Cyclades, the Minoan, and Mycenaean civilizations that lived in different geographical areas of the Aegean. Each group had its own culture and their development overlapped. Below we will discuss these three categories and the art associated with them below.


Cycladic Art (3,200 – 1,050 BCE)

In the Southwestern Aegean lie a group of islands and smaller islands known as the Cyclades. Called kyklades by the ancient Greeks, these islands were understood to form a circle around the holy Island of Delos.

The Cycladic islands are rich in minerals such as copper, gold, silver, iron, lead, obsidian, emery, and fine marble. Neolithic settlements on the islands produced significant sculptures in marble stone.

By the Early Bronze Age, a civilization had emerged such as on important island sites like Halandriani on Syros and on Keros. The Cyclades became part of a favorable route for peoples traveling across the Aegean and they exported their rich mineral resources.

Proto-Greek Cycladic Art PeriodMarble Cycladic figurines from early to later periods. Most of the figures that have been found appear to have been intentionally broken prior to deposition in antiquity; Zde, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Cycladic culture had two main phases or periods: The Grotta-Pelos culture (3,200-2,700 BCE), and the Keros-Syros culture (2,700-2,400/2,300 BCE), and most of the marble sculptures and containers produced were made during these two periods. The Cyclades are best known for their marble sculptures with a distinctive stylized style. Most sculptures produced during the Early Cycladic phase consists of mostly female figures with some being made with natural proportions and some with idealized forms.

Cycladic Artworks
ArtworkArtistMediumDateLocation Discovered
Marble female figureUnknownMarble sculpture4,500 – 4,000 BCEThe Cyclades
Marble seated harp playerUnknownMarble sculpture2,800 – 2,700 BCENaxos Island
Terracotta kernos (vase for multiple offerings)UnknownTerracotta2,300 – 2,200 BCE.Melos Island
Terracotta jarUnknownTerracotta2,300 – 1,900 BCEMelos Island


Minoan Art (2,700 – 1,100 BCE)

One of the earliest Greek groups was the Minoan civilization that lived on an Island in the Mediterranean Sea called Crete from about 3,300 BCE. The Minoans traded goods with the surrounding regions and their pottery became quite popular. Many frescoes adorned the walls of Minoan homes, palaces, and other buildings. Unfortunately, much of the art produced during this period has deteriorated or has been destroyed, with most of the existing pieces in museums being fragments, but there are some whole artifacts that have survived, such as vases, murals, and figurines.

Octopus Minoan Period VaseThe Octopus Vase reflects the close observation of the natural world and curvilinear energy of Minoan painting (1500 BCE); Wolfgang Sauber, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Minoan art depicted the everyday life of common people and their physical environment, as well as gods, goddesses, and rituals. Images of the bull were regularly used in artworks to symbolize fertility and strength.

Minoan art was unusual in that symmetry was less commonly used than in the art of neighboring peoples, while a more fluid curvilinear style informed by natural forms executed in bright colors predominated. When this art was first excavated, audiences were quick to comment on its apparent ‘modernity’.

Minoan Artworks
ArtworkArtistMediumDateLocation Discovered
Faience figurine of the Minoan Snake GoddessUnknownFaience1,650 – 1,550 BCEThe main sanctuary of the Palace of Knossos, Crete.
Procession FrescoUnknownFresco1,600 – 1,450 BCEKnossos, Crete
Minoan Bull’s Head RhytonUnknownBlack steatite sculpture1,550 – 1,500 BCESmall palace, Knossos, Crete
Octopus vaseUnknownPottery1,500 BCEPalaikastro, Crete


Mycenaean Art (1,600 – 1,100 BCE)

The Mycenaean civilization flourished in mainland Greece during the last phase of the Bronze Age and adapted the artistic traditions of the Minoans. They made jewelry, goldwork, frescoes, pottery, and sculpture.

The Mycenaeans were influenced by the Minoan artistic style, such as their fluid design and natural shapes. However, their style was not as natural as the Minoans but was more stylized and they made use of geometric and abstract forms.

Proto-Greek Era Mycenean Period CupGold cup with a relief of a bull found at Vapheio in the Peloponnese (1500 to 1450 BCE). In the Homeric epics, high-value objects like these were given as guest-friendship gifts or as prizes in funerary games to serve a constant reminders of important social connections or events; Zde, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Mycenaean warrior culture is represented in their art through depicted scenes of war, hunting, and wildlife. They traded with other peoples in the Mediterranean and imported ivory, gold, copper, as well as glass, while the Mycenaeans exported pottery and other goods to places like Mesopotamia, Egypt, Sicily, Cyprus, the Levant, and Anatolia.

Mycenaean Artworks
ArtworkArtistMediumDateLocation Discovered
Mycenaean Octopus BroochUnknownGold2,000 – 1,001 BCEMycenae, Greece
Mycenaean jug UnknownPottery1,500 – 1,450 BCEKalkani tomb, Mycenae
Vapheio CupUnknownGold1,500 – 1,401 BCEVapheio tholos tomb, Lakonia
House of the Warrior VaseUnknownPottery1,200 – 1,101 BCEThe acropolis of Mycenae


Pre-Columbian Art (1,200 BCE – 1,535 CE)

Pre-Columbian art refers to the art of America and its islands that was created before the arrival of Columbus. The period focuses mainly on the art of Central America, Mesoamerica, and South America.


Mesoamerica and Central America

The Olmec culture of Central America (1,200-400 BCE) sculpted massive heads from boulders, and carved animals, birds, fish, and baby figurines from Jade. They were the first people in Central America to build ceremonial complexes and pyramids.

The Maya (200-900 CE) was mostly an agricultural civilization that carved and sculpted works from wood and rock and painted murals and petroglyphs.

The Mayans are known for creating an elaborate system of three calendars that recorded time over 1,000 years in advance and formed the basis for all other Mesoamerican calendar systems. The Mayans decorated their walls with vivid and unique murals that were, if not more so, as well-executed as the Mediterranean and European art of the same time.

Maya Period Lidded ContainerPolychrome lidded container in the form of a Maya diving god (c. 1500 CE); Daderot, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Toltec (901-1,199 CE) were warring peoples and are known for their relief carvings and huge statues that stand guarding their ceremonial complexes. One of the most powerful American empires was the Aztecs (1,300-1,521). Aztec artists were very advanced and used mosaics in both architecture and ceremonial mask designs, were skilled in creating adornments and decorations from metal, and in painting brightly colored frescoes.


South America

In the Andes mountains of Peru, the Chavin Civilization (1,000-300 BCE) created works of an anthropomorphic nature, producing pottery, sculptures, carvings, and murals that depicted human bodies and animal features.

Tiahuanaco Shell Ear PlugsThe quality of Tiahuanacan craftsmanship is evident in these shell earplugs made from mother-of-pearl, turquoise and shell mosaic on wood, found in the northern coastal region of Tiahuanaco/Huari in Peru (800–1200 CE); User:Helvetiker, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Nazca River valley culture created polychrome ceramics that depicted human and animal figures, sometimes in an abstract style. Nazca art is also known for its lines that decorate the desert landscape, depicting mysterious subjects and bird shapes in zigzags.

The Moche (1st – 8th century CE) that lived in the northern river valleys of Peru created art that was very realistic and detailed and were known for their vessels with portraits. Subject matter ranged from animals, the natural elements, sex, and gods and goddesses.

The Andes Wari Empire (600-1,100 CE) produced a variety of quality ceramics, sculpture, and architecture, and is known for depicting the oldest deity in the Americas to be visually documented, the Staff of God. On the Peruvian Coast, the Chimu Empire (900-1,470 CE) produced gold and silver portraits, and intricate feather work headdresses that included water and air animals.

Pre-Columbian Artworks
ArtworkArtistMediumDateLocation Discovered
The Staff God of TiwanakuUnknownCarved stone gatewayc. 200 CETiwanaku, Bolivia
Crescent Shaped Ornament with BatUnknownHammered copper300 CEMoche Culture, northern river valleys on the coast of Peru
Totanac HachaUnknownAndesite stone600 – 900 CEVeracruz, eastern Mexico
Olmec La Venta MonumentUnknownStone600 – 1,000 BCELa Venta, Tabasco, Mexico
Aztec CalendarUnknownStone1,502 – 1,521 CEMexico City


Ancient Greek Art (900 – 27 BCE)

The ancient Greek art that we commonly think of today properly appeared between 700-800 BCE. This style was preceded by the proto-Geometric and Geometric periods. The Geometric style was in use from around 900 BCE until 700 BCE. When people think of Ancient Greek art they generally do not envision anything from this period. It was the last truly Mycenean-Greek art before the development of the now familiar styles of Greek artistry.

As the name suggests, the Geometric style consisted mainly of rhythmic abstract geometric motifs applied in closely set horizontal bands. Towards the later stage, highly stylized human and animal figures begin to appear, first as decorative elements, but later in narrative scenes.

Greek Geometric Period ArtMost likely created specifically to serve as a funerary marker, this massive krater from the late Geometric period is decorated with a prothesis scene on the upper tier, and a procession of chariots and soldiers on the lower section (c. 750-735 BCE); Metropolitan Museum of Art, CC BY 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

It is important to keep in mind that apart from pottery, much of the original art from Greek Antiquity has been lost, leaving us reliant on written records and copies by Roman artists. Therefore, apart from a few exceptions like Phidias, we know quite little about individual Greek artists. Greek art is ordered into four or even five main periods, we will discuss three of these below.


Archaic Period (650 – 480 BCE)

The Archaic period in Greek Antiquity was a time of gradual experimentation. Greek pottery from the pre-archaic period involved large vases and other containers decorated in a geometric style with zigzags, triangles, and other shapes. An Oriental style can be seen in pottery from about 700 BCE as Greeks formed renewed contact with eastern parts of the world, such as the Black Sea basin, Anatolia, and the Middle East.

During the Archaic period itself, we see more figurative work with zoomorphs, animals, and gods, indicating the first signs of Greek fascination with the human form.

Black-figure-pottery was a style introduced by Corinth, depicting themes like the Labors of Hercules and the celebrations of Dionysus, and later led to red-figure-pottery dominated by the Athenians.

Archaic Greek Art PeriodPlaster cast and reconstruction of the Archaic period Peplos Kore showing the use of color in ancient Greek statuary (530 BCE); Zde, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Greek Archaic sculpture was heavily influenced by the Egyptians and Syrians. Stone friezes, reliefs, and statues were created in stone, bronze, and terracotta, and smaller works were in bone and ivory. Daedalic style (650-600 BCE) free-standing sculptures by Daedalus, Skyllis, and Dipoinos depicted two stereotypes: kore and kouros (the draped standing girl and the nude youth), of which male nudes were considered more important.

Initially, the style of these sculptures was quite rigid and had the “frontal” style of Egyptian sculpture. As time progressed, sculptures became more realistic and less rigid with a more relaxed pose.

Most sculptures and vases were painted in bright colors and patterns. There is also evidence of fresco paintings on the walls of temples, tombs, and municipal buildings. However, few paintings have survived from the Archaic period due to vandalism, destruction, and erosion.

Archaic Artworks
ArtworkArtistMediumDateLocation Discovered
Two bronze helmetsUnknownBronzeLate 700 – 601 BCEAfrati, Crete
Terracotta dinos (mixing bowl)UnknownTerracotta; black figure painting630 – 615 BCECorinth, Greece
Marble statue of a kouros (youth)UnknownMarble590 – 580 BCEAttica, Athens, Greece
Terracotta amphora (jar)UnknownTerracotta; black-figure painting530 BCEEtruria, Italy


Classical Period (480 – 323 BCE)

The Classical period in Greek Antiquity saw Athens as being the strongest Greek city-state after defeating the Persians in 490 and 479 BCE. Their leading cultural influence would come to dominate Roman art and 2,000 years later represented the artistic standard for Renaissance art. Sculptors made great technical progress in the naturalistic depiction of the human body during this time. Subjects expanded from the usual religious subjects to broad types and specific individuals, such as politicians, athletes, philosophers, poets, etc.

Classical Greek Art PeriodReconstruction of the Parthenon frieze in its original location (443 – 437 BCE). Originally believed to depict a real-life ritual procession, Joan Breton Connelly has theorized that the frieze represents the sacrifice of the Athenian king’s daughter to save the city instead; Tilemahos Efthimiadis from Athens, Greece, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The introduction of the “Canon of Proportions”, a set of mathematical ratios used to create the idealized human figure (also used by the Egyptians), contributed to the highly realistic depiction of these sculptures. Contrapposto was also invented during this period, in which the figure is standing with most of their weight on one leg, with the other knee bent; a pose most of us recognize even today. 

Classical Greek painting was naturalistic in style and artists showed a good understanding of linear perspective. All types of painting thrived during this period, the highest form being panel painting according to Pliny (23-79 BCE), which depicted still-lifes, figurative scenes, and portraits. Fresco painting was done on the walls of public buildings, houses, temples, and tombs.

Classical Greek Artworks
ArtworkArtistMediumDateLocation Discovered
Terracotta amphora (jar)UnknownTerracotta490 BCENola, Italy
Parthenon FriezeUnknownMarble443 – 437 BCEThe Parthenon, Greece
Marble grave stele with a family groupUnknownMarble360 BCEAttica, Greece
Great Tomb at VerginaUnknownFresco painting326 BCEPhilip II tomb, Vergina, Greece


Hellenistic Period (323 – 27 BCE)

The Hellenistic period began at around the same time as Alexander the Great’s death in 356 BCE and when the Persian Empire was integrated into the world of the Greeks. All the civilized world had been influenced by Hellenism (ancient Greek culture) by this time and cities such as Alexandria, Miletus, Pergamum, and Antioch had become centers of Greek arts and culture. However, the death of Alexander led to a decline in the imperial power of the Greeks and the empire was divided among three of his generals.

The Greek cultural influence remained strong. Even as the ancient Romans had taken control of the Greek empire by 27 BCE, they admired the Greeks and copied their art for hundreds of years.

Hellenistic sculpture carried on the trend of the Classical period of depicting figures with even more naturalism. Now, animals and ordinary people of any age were used as sculptural subjects and were often commissioned by wealthy people to display in their gardens and homes. The idealized beauty and serenity that had been preferred before now gave way to more emotion and realism. A market for Greek sculpture grew from the overseas Greek cultural centers that had been established and statues and reliefs were being exported to places like Egypt, Turkey, and Syria.

Like sculpture, Hellenistic painting also became popular, the favorite subject matter being contemporary events and mythology, which were succeeded by genre painting, portraits, still-lifes, animal paintings, landscapes, and other subjects.

Hellenistic Artworks
ArtworkArtistMediumDateLocation Discovered
Hades abducting PersephoneUnknownFresco painting340 BCEVergina, Macedonia, Greece
Winged Victory of SamothraceUnknownMarble200 – 190 BCESamothrace Island, north of the Aegean Sea
Venus de MiloUnknownMarble130 – 100 BCEMilos, Greece
Alexander MosaicUnknownMosaic100 BCEHouse of the Faun, Pompeii, Italy


Etruscan Art (700 – 509 BCE)

The Etruscan civilization occupied central Italy between the Tiber and Arno rivers and spread as far as Campania in the south and the Po River valley in the north. They flourished until about 200 BCE when they were fully taken over by the Romans who succeeded them. The Etruscans were greatly influenced by the art of the Greeks, as Etruria imported it. The art of the Etruscans was mainly urban, funerary, and sacred. They were known for their two-dimensional style wall frescoes and realistically rendered terracotta portraits found in tombs.

Etruscan Art PeriodThe Chimera of Arezzo (c. 400 BCE). The inscription on the front right leg reads “tinścvil” meaning “Offering belonging to Tinia”; Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Bronze sculptures and reliefs were also produced, but the Etruscans are especially known for their free-standing sculpture and reliefs in terracotta.

Etruscan Artworks
ArtworkArtistMediumDateLocation Discovered
Bronze statuette of a young womanUnknownBronze600 – 501 BCEAsciano, Italy
Chimera of ArezzoUnknownBronze400 BCEArezzo, Tuscany, Italy
Etruscan Tomb of OrcusUnknownFresco350 BCETarquinia, Viterbo, Lazio, Italy
Sarcophagus of Seianti Hanunia TlesnasaUnknownPainted terracotta150 – 130 BCEPoggio Cantarello, Tuscany, Italy


Ancient Roman Art (735 BCE – 337 CE)

The Romans established themselves in central Italy and were influenced by cultures such as the Etruscans and later by the Greeks whose art they revered, but although the Romans absorbed aspects of these and other cultures, they still retained their own character. This is especially seen in portraiture, architecture, and relief. The Roman Empire expanded rapidly from the first century BCE and this spread Graeco-Roman art and culture to North Africa, Europe, and near Asia, allowing a multitude of provincial arts to develop. The legacy and remains of Roman architecture are especially widespread.

There is an immense variety of Roman art, and this makes it difficult to classify, however, the influence that it had on Renaissance and the Neo-Classical art makes it quite familiar to us.

A significant aspect of Roman public art was the honoring of important people, as demonstrated by the outstanding portraits of the later Roman Republic. Particularly under the Roman Empire, we see reliefs depicting the triumphs of emperors decorating columns, such as Trajan’s Column (110 CE) and commemorative arches. These images served as propaganda ensuring that every citizen knew who the emperor was, and what his most important achievements and attributes were. Commemoration can also be seen in Roman coinage, depicting beautiful portraits as well as divine imagery.

Roman Art PeriodAugustus of Prima Porta (1st Century CE); Vatican Museums, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Paintings lavishly decorated elite and public Roman interior space. Much of the evidence for Roman interior decoration during the first century BCE and the first century CE comes from the cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii that were destroyed when Mount Vesuvius erupted in the year 79 CE. Some of the styles show Hellenistic influence, such as the depiction of panels on colored marble, and mythological or landscape painting.

Mosaics are considered to be typically Roman, but they also came from Greece originally. Many Roman mosaics were geometric in form with different styles seen across the Empire, but subjects ranged from mythological subject matter to wild beast fights, landscapes, gladiatorial combat, and marine mosaics.

Ancient Roman Artworks
ArtworkArtistMediumDateLocation Discovered
Augustus from Prima PortaUnknownMarble1 – 100 CEVilla of Livia, Italy
The Alexander MosaicUnknownFloor mosaic100 BCEThe House of the Faun in Pompeii, Italy
Trajan’s ColumnArchitect Apollodorus of Damascus (2nd century CE)Marble110 CERome, Italy
Colossus of ConstantineUnknownMarble, wood, brick, gilded bronze312 – 315 CERome, Italy


Early Christian Art (About the 2nd Century – 525 CE)

Paleochristian art or Early Christian art was made by Christians from the beginning of Christianity until between the years 260 and 525. It is difficult to know when Christian art truly began as Christians were a persecuted group mainly consisting of followers from the lower classes and therefore the production of long-lasting art may have been limited before 100 CE. The same creative forms were used by the Early Christians as the pagans, such as sculptures, frescoes, illuminated manuscripts, and mosaics.

Scholars generally divide Early Christian art into two periods: Before and after the legalization of Christianity in the Roman Empire in 313 by the Edict of Milan. Imperial sponsorship thereafter made the religion quite popular and wealthy, and people from various classes of society became converts. Art of the Early Christian period was grounded in the classical Roman Style but grew into a more simplified artistic style.

Physical beauty was not the focus but the spiritual, with figures no longer being depicted as individuals but as categories of people with big eyes that stared at the viewer. Symbolism was important and often used, while compositions were flat and hierarchical.

Early Christian Artworks
ArtworkArtistMediumDateLocation Discovered
Noah Fresco in the Catacombs of PriscillaUnknownPainting on plaster201 – 300 CECatacombs of Priscilla, Rome, Italy
Christ and the Apostles, Catacombs of DomitillaUnknownWall painting301 – 400 CERome, Italy
Sarcophagus of Junius BassusUnknownMarble359 CENear the Confessio of the Vatican Basilica, Vatican City, Italy


Middle Ages or Medieval Art (About 500 – 1400/1500 CE)

Medieval art includes a variety of art and architecture that was produced during the Middle Ages, beginning from about 500 to 1400–1500 CE. In Europe, early Medieval art was a mixture of the Roman artistic tradition and Northern European culture, as well as the early Christian church. Below we will discuss the various art periods that fall within the Medieval Art category.


Byzantine Art (324 CE – 1453 CE)

Byzantine art refers to various types of art created in the Byzantine Empire, especially by people in the eastern region. Most of the artistic subject matter was Christian, as the original seat of the Catholic church resided in Constantinople, the center of the Byzantine Empire. Although various types of art were produced, this period is well known for its mosaics, and iconography. The Byzantine Art period can be divided into three sections: Early (330-730), Middle (843-1204), and Late (1261-1453) Byzantine.

Byzantine Period ArtMosaic of Emperor Justinian in the Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna (527 CE). Created two years before Justinian brought about the end of Ancient Greek culture by ordering the closure of Plato’s Academy in Athens; Sharon Mollerus, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It can be difficult for art historians to clearly mark when Early Christian art ended, and Byzantine art began. Many of the trends in Early Christian art find full expression in Byzantine art, such as mosaics.

Few works of Byzantine art survived as the Empire experienced more than a few periods of iconoclasm during which religious images were destroyed and many mosaics were damaged or wiped out. Much of the best examples of Byzantine art can be found in the west, not in the east where the Empire was stationed because iconoclasm did not come about there, and Islam never gained control.

Some of the characteristics of Byzantine art are a two-dimensional, abstract style, Christian themes with heavy Greek influence, and the imperial use of religious propaganda (as the Byzantine Empire was initially established as a Christian empire, and the Church was ruled by the emperor).

Byzantine Artworks
Mosaic of Emperor Justinian I, Basilica of San Vitale527 CEUnknownMosaic
Theotokos of Vladimir (Virgin of Vladimir)1131 CEUnknownTempera
Christ Pantocrator in the Hagia Sophia in Instanbul 1261 CEUnknownMosaic
Madonna and Child1300 CEDuccio di Buoninsegna (c. 1255-1260 – c. 1318-1319)Tempera


Romanesque Art (1000 – 1150 CE)

As 1000 CE drew near, many people believed that the second coming of Christ would take place at this time. However, as the millennium came and went, and the second coming did not take place, people were disappointed, and put their religious verve into the art of what is known as the Romanesque period.

Art and culture exploded across Europe as Christianity triumphed, trade routes reopened, commerce and manufacturing had been revived, cities and towns were re-established, and the middle class of merchants and craftsmen grew. 

Romanesque Art PeriodDetail of the Bayeux Tapestry showing the death of king Harold and the quality of the needlework (1070); Myrabella, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Romanesque period was influenced by both Byzantine and Roman art styles and focused on Christian religious subject matter. Romanesque art included wall murals, stained glass works, illuminated manuscripts, sculptures, and engravings on columns and building structures. It was also during this period that sculpture re-emerged, an art form that earlier Christians had been avoiding for many years as it was considered idolatry.

Romanesque art styles were first developed in France and from there spread to other parts of Europe, such as Italy, Germany, Spain, and England.

Romanesque Artworks
Bayeux Tapestry1070UnknownEmbroidered tapestry
Pórtico da Gloria of Santiago Cathedral1168 – 1211Master Mateo (c. 1150 – c. 1200 / c. 1217)Sculpture
Judgement of Solomon at Strasbourg Cathedral1200UnknownStained glass
Madonna and Child1230sBerlinghiero Berlinghieri (1175-1235)Tempera on wood


Gothic Period (1150 – 1375)

Gothic art started developing in the 12th century, growing from the Romanesque art period and eventually replacing it in popularity across Europe. “Gothic style” refers to sculpture and architecture (as seen in the grand Gothic cathedrals of France) in Europe that connected Romanesque art with the period of the early Renaissance.

Gothic Art PeriodThe Miracle of the child falling from the balcony by Simone Martini (1328); Simone Martini, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Gothic period is divided into three sections, Early Gothic (1150-1250), High Gothic (1250-1375), and International Gothic (1375-1450) and is characterized by the use of perspective, light and shadow, dimensions, and brighter colors that indicated a gradual shift back toward realism, a concept that had been cast out for some time. New subject matter was introduced, and experimentation took place as religion was no longer the most crucial aspect of art.

Gothic Artworks
The Western (Royal) Portal of the Chartres Cathedral1145UnknownArchitectural sculptures
Sainte Chapelle – Stained Glass Windows1242 – 1248UnknownStained glass
The Miracle of the child falling from the balcony1328Simone Martini (1284-1344)Tempera on panel
The Lady and the Unicorn: À Mon Seul Désir1401 – 1500 (late 15th century)Meister der Apokalypsenrose der Sainte Chapelle ([s.a])Wool and silk tapestry


The Renaissance (1400 – 1600s)

The Renaissance art period followed the Middle Ages and included works of art, architecture, and music made from the 14th to the 16th centuries, emerging in Italy and spreading to other parts of Europe. The term “renaissance” means “rebirth” and the period consisted of increased awareness and interest in nature, individualism, the resurgence of classical education, and humanism.

The Renaissance is divided into three main periods, the Early Renaissance (1401-1490s), the High Renaissance (1490s-1527), and the Late Renaissance (1520-1600) (otherwise known as Mannerism). Greatly influenced by the ideas of the ancient Greeks and Romans, the decorative art, painting, and sculpture produced during this period captured the beauty of nature and individual experience, emphasizing balance and figural proportion.

Renaissance Art Period PrimaveraLa Primavera or Spring by Sandro Botticelli (c 1480); Sandro Botticelli, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Major names from the Renaissance art period are Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Michelangelo (1475-1564), and Raphael (1483-1520).

Renaissance Artworks
TitleArtistDateDimensions (cm)MediumCurrent Location
The Kiss of JudasGiotto (1267 – 1337)1306200 x 185FrescoScrovegni (Arena) Chapel, Padua, Italy
DavidDonatello (1386 – 1466)1430 – 144051 x 158BronzeMuse Nazionale del Bargello, Florence, Italy
La PrimaveraSandro Botticelli (1445 – 1510)1477 – 1482202 x 314Tempera on panelUffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy
PietàMichelangelo (1475 – 1564)1498 – 1499174 x 195MarbleSt Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, Italy
DavidMichelangelo (1475-1564)1501 – 1504517 x 199MarbleGalleria dell’Accademia, Florence, Italy
The Mona LisaLeonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519)1503 – 150677 x 53Oil on poplar panelThe Louvre Museum, Paris, France


Mannerism (1527 – 1580)

Mannerism took over as the leading style in Italy from the end of the High Renaissance and continued until the Baroque period, spreading to Northern Italy, as well as to northern and central Europe. It was a reaction to High Renaissance naturalism and classicism, focusing instead on figural composition and solving complicated artistic problems. For example, depicting the nude figure in intricate unnatural poses.

Mannerism Art MovementMadonna with the Long Neck by Parmigianino (1535-1540). Her elongated neck is echoed by the lone column in the background and the leg of her attendant in the foreground; Parmigianino, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Figures often had elongated arms and legs, small hands, and other exaggerated and contrasting details that made Mannerists’ work more artificial and expressive compared to their Renaissance predecessors who were captivated by balance and proportion.

Mannerism Artworks
TitleArtistDateDimensions (cm)MediumCurrent Location
EntombmentJacopo da Pontormo (1494-1557)1528313 x 192Oil on panelSanta Felicità, Florence, Italy
Madonna with the Long NeckParmigianino (1503-1540)1535 – 1540219 x 135Oil on panelUffizi Gallery, Italy
Perseus with the head of MedusaBenvenuto Cellini (1500-1571)1545 – 155471.5 highBronzeLoggia dei Lanzi, Florence, Italy
Eleanor of ToledoBronzino (1503-1572)1545115 x 96Oil on panelUffizi Gallery, Italy
The Rape of the Sabine WomenGiambologna (1529-1608)1583410 (h)MarbleLoggia della Signoria, Florence, Italy


Baroque (1600 – 1750)

Deriving from the Portuguese word, barueco, which translates to “irregularly shaped pearl”, the Baroque period differed from the balance and harmony of the Renaissance and was intended to bring about emotion in the viewer and evoke awe. The Baroque period consisted of art and architecture that was over-the-top and ornate, and the artistic style was dramatic and complex.

High contrast was characteristic of Baroque art and artists painted light foregrounds with darker backgrounds, while subjects were often depicted as being in motion with torsion in the body.

Baroque Sculpture Art PeriodThe theatricality of the Baroque is exemplified in the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa in the Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome by Bernini (1647-1642). A Hidden window illuminates the golden rays behind the angel and the saint; Livioandronico2013, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Religion dominated and influenced artistic content and output at this time in history, and the Baroque themes and art styles between Northern and Southern Europe differed because of the impact of the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation.

Baroque Artworks
TitleArtistDateDimensions (cm)MediumCurrent Location
The Calling of St MatthewCaravaggio (1571-1610)1600322 x 340Oil on canvasSan Luigi dei Francesi, Rome, Italy
Judith Slaying HolofernesArtemisia Gentileschi (1593-1653)1612 – 1613158.8 x 125.5Oil on canvasNational Museum of Capodimonte in Naples, Italy
The Night WatchRembrandt (1606-1669)1642363 x 437Oil on canvasRijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Ecstasy of Saint TeresaGiovanni Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680)1647 – 1652350 (h)MarbleSanta Maria della Vittoria, Rome Italy
Las MeninasDiego Velázquez (1599-1660)1656318 x 276Oil on canvasMuseo del Prado, Madrid, Spain
Girl with a Pearl EarringJohannes Vermeer (1632-1675)166544.5 x 39Oil on canvasMauritshuis, The Hague, Netherlands


Rococo (1702 – 1780)

The Rococo art style originated in Paris in the early 18th century and was embraced throughout France and later in other parts of Europe, such as Austria and Germany. Artists of the Rococo period reacted against the heaviness of the earlier Baroque style, rather creating works characterized by theatricality, lightness, and elegance, with a whimsical flair.

The Swing Rococo Painting The Swing or The Happy Accidents of the Swing by Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1667); Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Design and architecture incorporated more natural curves based on the “S” and “C” shapes, and the major colors used were pastels, gold, and ivory.

Rococo comes from the French word, “rocaille”, which means rock or pebble and refers to the rock work covered in shells that decorated man-made grottoes and fountains.

Themes often featured in Rococo paintings were ones of playfulness, nature, love and romance, youth, and light-hearted entertainment painted in happy pastel colors.

Rococo Artworks
TitleArtistDateDimensions (cm)MediumCurrent Location
Soap BubblesJean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin (1699-1779)1733 – 173461 x 63.2Oil on canvasMetropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, United States
La Toilette de VénusFrançois Boucher (1703-1770)1751108.3 x 85.1Oil on canvasThe Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, United States
Portrait of Madame de PompadourFrançois Boucher (1703-1770)1756212 x 164Oil on canvasAlte Pinakothek, Munich, Germany
The Trevi FountainNiccolo Salvi (1697-1751)1732 – 17622000 x 2600Sculptural architectureRome, Italy
The SwingJean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806)176781 x 64.2Oil on canvasWallace Collection, London, United Kingdom


Neoclassicism (1750 – 1850)

The Neoclassical art movement (known as Neoclassicism or Classicism) was inspired by the ideas and styles of classical antiquity that came with a widespread revival of interest in ancient Greece and Rome art. The movement was initially a reaction against the lavish Rococo style and reflected the advances in areas of society during the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century, such as science and philosophy.

Various Art Periods and StylesThe mania for collecting art, artifacts, and curiosities that characterized the early Enlightenment is reflected in the enthusiasm for paintings depicting famous art collections like Tribuna of the Uffizi by Johann Zoffany (between 1772 and 1777); Johann Zoffany, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Mainly, the movement aimed to impart a moralizing message to the viewer through the ideal virtues expressed in art. Neoclassicism is characterized by harmony, idealism, and restraint, while emphasis was placed on closed compositions and line rather than color.

It was an exciting time when ancient places like Pompeii and Herculaneum were being discovered in archaeology, and paintings focused on Classical themes and subject matter that were placed in archaeological settings.

Neoclassical Artworks
TitleArtistDateDimensions (cm)MediumCurrent Location
Death of General WolfeBenjamin West (1738-1820)1770151 x 213Oil on canvasNational Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Canada
Psyche Revived by Cupid’s KissAntonio Canova (1757-1822)1777155 x 168MarbleLouvre Museum, Paris, France
Oath of the HoratiiJacques-Louis David (1748-1825)1784329.8 x 424.8Oil on canvasLouvre Museum, Paris, France
King Lear Weeping over the Dead Body of CordeliaJames Barry (1741-1806)1786 – 1788269.2 x 367Oil on canvasTate, London, United Kingdom
The Death of MaratJacques-Louis David (1748-1825)1793162 × 128Oil on canvasRoyal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels, Belgium


Romanticism (1780 – 1850)

Romanticism spread through Europe and the United States from the end of the 18th century into the 19th century, challenging the ideals of order and reason held during the Enlightenment, and calling attention to the equal importance of emotions and perception. In seeking individual rights and liberty, the movement embraced the struggles for freedom and equality.

Romanticism Art MovementThe Wanderer above the Sea of Fog by David Caspar Friedrich (1817); Caspar David Friedrich, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Romanticism celebrated intuition and imagination, valuing originality, and found its way not only into the visual arts but also music, literature, and architecture. Many artists of the Romantic movement began painting outdoors and turned to nature as inspiration in an effort to slow the influence of industrialization, emphasizing people as being at one with nature.

Romantic Artworks
TitleArtistDateDimensions (cm)MediumCurrent Location
The NightmareHenry Fuseli (1741-1825)1781101.6 x 127Oil on canvasDetroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan, United States
The Third of May 1808Francisco Goya (1746-1828)1814268 x 347Oil on canvasMuseo del Prado, Madrid, Spain
Wanderer Above the Sea of FogCaspar David Friedrich (1774-1840)181894.8 x 74.8Oil on canvasHamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany
The Hay WainJohn Constable (1776-1837)1821130.2 x 185.4Oil on canvasNational Gallery, London, United Kingdom
Liberty Leading the PeopleEugène Delacroix (1798-1863)1830260 × 325Oil on canvasThe Louvre Museum, Paris, France


Realism (1848 – 1900)

Realism is generally considered as being the first modern art movement, establishing itself in France during a time of extensive social change and revolution in Europe. Realism swapped the traditional idealistic subject matter and imagery in art with events and subjects from real life painted in a naturalistic way, abandoning the pictorial and narrative techniques of the Academies. A strategy that would later influence 20th-century modernism.

Courbet Realism Art MovementA Burial at Ornans by Gustave Courbet (1849-50); Gustave Courbet, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The fact that Realist artists chose to depict the modern world and everyday life in their art, not conforming to and re-evaluating traditional art systems, is why the movement is seen as the first movement in modern art as it broadened the ideas of what constituted art.

Realism Artworks
TitleArtistDateDimensions (cm)MediumCurrent Location
A Burial at OrnansGustave Courbet (1819-1877)1849 – 1850315 x 660Oil on canvasMusée d’Orsay, Paris, France
The Stone BreakersGustave Courbet (1819-1877)1849 – 1850170 x 240Oil on canvasDestroyed by a bombing during World War II in Dresden, Germany
The GleanersJean-François Millet (1814-1875)185783.8 x 111.8Oil on canvasMusée d’Orsay, Paris, France
OlympiaÉdouard Manet (1832-1883)1863130.5 x 190Oil on canvasMusée d’Orsay, Paris, France
Song of the LarkJules Breton (1827-1906)1884110.6 x 85.8Oil on canvasThe Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, United States



Photography is the process of recording an image of an object through the action of light (or radiation) on a surface that is light-sensitive, such as film. It is an art form that was invented in the 1930s and has become one of the most popular forms of creative expression in the world.


Early Photography (1840 – 1900)

Before photography, there was the Camera Obscura, which is believed to have been created in the 13th or 14th century. It was essentially a dark box with a hole on one side, allowing light to come through and produce an image on the surface it touches. In 1939, the first glass negative was invented by Sir John Herschel, who also came up with the term, “photography”. It comes from fos, which means “light” in Greek, and grafo, which means “to write”.

Art of Early PhotographyIn an early example of exploration of the possibilities of photography this set of images produced by Francis Galton comprise pictures of three sisters in front and profile with two composite “average” portraits of the three in the center (second half of the 19th Century); Francis Galton, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Initially, photography was used to aid artists in their work and followed the same artistic principles or was used for capturing portraits. As cameras developed and became more refined, they became available to people of the middle class.

Color photography came onto the market in 1907 after several methods were explored. The first color plate used a screen of filters that allowed light through in the colors red, green, and blue, which developed into a negative and turned into a positive later. 


Modern Photography (1910 – 1960)

A momentous visual change was brought about by the birth of Modern Photography as well as in the production of photography and how it was used and appreciated. The shift in Modern Photography from early photography is marked by a deviation from traditional art limits, broadening what constituted art and which subject matter was acceptable in the production of it.

Modern Art Photography PeriodsThe Library of Congress file card for Dorothea Lange’s iconic photograph “Migrant Mother” (1936); Dorothea Lange, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Modern photography became integrated into modern art movements such as Surrealism and Dada, providing a new medium for expression.

Modern Photography Works
TitleArtistDateDimensions (cm)MediumCurrent Location
BlindPaul Strand (1890-1976)191634 x 25.7Platinum printThe Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, United States
Workers ParadeTina Modotti (1896-1942)192621.5 x 18.6Gelatin silver printThe Museum of Modern Art, New York, United States
Noire et blancheMan Ray (1890-1976)192617.1 x 22.5Gelatin silver printThe Museum of Modern Art, New York, United States
Migrant Mother, Nipomo, CaliforniaDorothea Lange (1895-1965)193628.3 x 21.8Gelatin silver printThe Museum of Modern Art, New York, United States
Uruapan 11Aaron Siskind (1903-1991)195536.6 x 49.5Silver gelatin printThe Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, United States


Arts & Crafts Movement (1860 – 1920)

The Arts & Crafts movement reacted to the Industrial Revolution and the increasingly mechanized way of living. However, as those part of the movement in the United Kingdom had a negative attitude towards industrialization, those in America leaned more towards embracing it.

The Arts & Crafts movement sought a more fulfilling way of living that was simple and beautiful, believing that art could transform society through the connection forged between the artist and handcraft.

Morris Arts and Crafts MovementArts and Crafts-style stained-glass window Norwich Cathedral by William Morris (c. 1901); Jules & Jenny from Lincoln, UK, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The movement is known for its stressing the importance of functionality in design and for using materials of high quality, its artists being linked with decorative arts and architecture rather than sculpture and painting of “high” art. Their style varied but they were most greatly influenced by imagery found in nature as well as medieval art.

Works from the Arts & Crafts Movement
TitleArtistDateDimensions (cm)MediumCurrent Location
Tulip and RoseMorris & Co. (1861-1939)187683.2 x 41.7Wool curtain, triple-cloth weaveCooper-Hewitt Museum, New York, United States
Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury TalesWilliam Morris (1834-1896)1896N/AEngraved, woodcut prints, paper, and inkThe British Library – Boston Spa, Wetherby, West Yorkshire, United Kingdom
SideboardCharles F. A. Voysey (1857-1941)1897150.81 x 137.16 x 62.55Oak and brassLos Angeles County Museum of Art, United States
The FairyDuilio Cambellotti (1876-1960)1917Diameter: 64Stained GlassMusei di Villa Torlonia, Rome, Italy
VaseSarah Agnes Estelle Irvine (1887-1970), and Joseph Meyer ([s.a])1922N/AGlazed CeramicThe Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, United States


Art Nouveau (1890 – 1905)

Art Nouveau included creators from various areas, such as architecture, and the graphic and decorative arts from all over Europe and elsewhere in the world. Therefore, it has different names, such as Jugendstil (in German) or the Glasgow Style. Art Nouveau, meaning “new art”, endeavored to transform design to adapt to a more modern world and leave behind the previously favored historical designs.

Klimt Art Nouveau MovementThe Kiss by Gustav Klimt (1907-8); Gustav Klimt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons 

The movement challenged the traditional hierarchy in the art world, aiming to eliminate the gap between craft and decorative arts and painting and sculpture considered as “high” art. Linear contours were important in the style of Art Nouveau, more so than color.

Artists were inspired by forms found in nature, flattening and abstracting subjects to create elegant flowing patterns and shapes, many with arches and curves that became signature to the style.

Art Nouveau Artworks
TitleArtistDateDimensions (cm)MediumCurrent Location
Wren’s City ChurchesArthur Heygate Mackmurdo (1851-1942)188329 x 23Woodcut on handmade PaperDallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas, United States
La Goulue at the Moulin RougeHenri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)1891168 x 118.7LithographThe Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, United States
The Dancer’s RewardAubrey Beardsley (1872-1898)189434 x 27Block PrintPrivate collection
RêverieAlphonse Mucha (1860-1939)189872.7 x 55.2Color lithographPrivate collection
The KissGustav Klimt (1862-1918)1907 – 1908180 x 180 cmOil and gold leaf on canvasÖsterreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, Austria


Art Deco (1900 – 1945)

Art Deco was a modern style that spanned across painting, architecture, sculpture, and decorative arts and, like Art Nouveau, sought to combine functional objects with an artistic aesthetic. However, it differed from Art Nouveau and the Arts & Crafts Movement in that it did not focus on handmade objects that were original but made aesthetically pleasing items that were often machine produced and available to everyone.

Art Deco Modern MovementTipsy by Kobayakawa Kiyoshi (1930) is a prime example of how successfully Japanese Art Deco blended old and new; Kobayakawa Kiyoshi, died in 1948, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Art Deco originated in Paris and spread to the rest of Europe, America;, and then the world its style was characterized by geometric, sleek, symmetrical, stylized, and elegant forms. Visual art pieces included both mass-produced and extravagant works that were individually made.

Art Deco Artworks
TitleArtistDateDimensions (cm)MediumCurrent Location
Le miroir rouge / The Red MirrorGeorges Lepape (1887-1971)191427.5 x 22Pochoir with metallic paintSylvan Cole Gallery, Sitges, Barcelona, Spain
VictoireRené Lalique (1860-1945)192823 x 24.6Glass, metal and woodCorning Museum of Glass, New York United States
Green turbanTamara Lempicka (1898-1980)


192941 x 33Oil on cardboardPrivate collection
Tipsy Kobayakawa Kiyoshi (1897-1948)193043 x 27Woodblock printHonolulu Museum of Art, Honolulu, Hawaii
RythmeSonia Delaunay (1885-1978)1938182 x 149Oil on canvasCollection of Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris, France
Nude with Calla LiliesDiego Rivera (1886-1957)1944157 x 124Oil on panelPrivate collection


Modern Art (c. 1860 – c. 1970)

Modernism was a movement that took over the Western world during the 19th and 20th centuries and was influenced by modern progress and industrial life. Various political and social agendas also drove Modernism, which was often utopian and idealistic in the strive for progress.

Modernism and Modern art are both terms that represent a departure from traditional art styles and conservative values with artists from around the world individually and collectively pursuing new ways of making art and experimenting with form.

Although modern art properly began with Realism around 1850, art styles and approaches to art were determined and revised throughout the 20th century with artists looking for new ways of representing the times in which they lived and developing styles that were original. Below we list some of the most influential Modern art movements and notable artworks.


Impressionism (1862 – 1892)

Impressionism arose mainly in France and is one of the most important modern painting movements. The artists did not wish to paint mythology, history, or anything grandeur, but rather what they saw in everyday life, such as landscapes and portraits. To the critic Louis Leroy these artists painted an impression of what they saw instead of a completed artwork, a moment in time depicted with loose, thick brushstrokes. This loosely affiliated group of painters preferred to call themselves “independents” although some did adopt the term that had initially been derisively used to describe their technique.

Pissarro Impressionism Art MovementRoute de Versailles, Louveciennesi by Camille Pissarro (1872); Camille Pissarro, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Impressionist artists often worked en plein air, which means outdoors and their use of light and shadow, as well as bright colors helped them to portray the changing effects of light they saw as they painted.

Impressionists rejected traditional painting competitions and official exhibitions, but rather organized their own group exhibitions, which took some time for the public to accept.

Impressionist Artworks
TitleArtistDateDimensions (cm)MediumCurrent Location
OlympiaÉdouard Manet (1832-1883)1863190 x 130Oil on canvasMusée d’Orsay, Paris, France
Impression, SunriseClaude Monet (1840-1926)187250 x 65Oil on canvasMusée Marmottan Monet, Paris, France
The CradleBerthe Morisot (1841-1895)187256 x 46Oil on canvasMusée d’Orsay, Paris, France
L’AbsintheEdgar Degas (1834-1917)187692 x 68Oil on canvasMusée d’Orsay, Paris, France
Luncheon of the Boating PartyPierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)1880 – 1881129.9 x 172.7Oil on canvasThe Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., United States


Symbolism (1880 – 1910)

Symbolism was an art and literary movement that used symbols in their artworks to express ideas, whether through imagery, colors, lines, or text. The subject matter had a deeper meaning than what met the eye, marking the end of traditional representational art and the transition to modernism in that it emphasized feelings and subjectivity, reflecting the artists’ personal ideologies and beliefs.

Symbolist Art MovementJupiter and Semele by Gustave Moreau (between 1894 and 1895). While the theme is traditional, the maximalist profusion of elements on a relatively flat plane is unprecedented; Gustave Moreau, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Symbolism art is characterized by an interest in morbid, the occult, dream-world, and life and death, reflected in their subject matter through an array of religious, decadent, and erotic imagery.

Symbolism Artworks
TitleArtistDateDimensions (cm)MediumCurrent Location
The Eye Like a Strange Balloon Mounts Toward InfinityOdilon Redon (1840-1916)188245 x 31.6LithographThe Museum of Modern Art, New York, United States
Masks Confronting DeathJames Ensor (1860-1949)188881.3 x 100.3Oil on canvasThe Museum of Modern Art, New York, United States
Jupiter and SemeleGustave Moreau (1826-1898)1895213 x 118Oil on canvasGustave Moreau Museum, Paris, France
The Dance of LifeEdvard Munch (1863-1944)1899 – 1900125 x 191Oil on canvasNational Gallery, Oslo, Norway
Death and LifeGustav Klimt (1862-1918)1908 – 1916178 x 198Oil on canvasLeopold Museum, Vienna, Austria


Post-Impressionism (1885 – 1914)

The Post-Impressionist movement rebelled against impressionism while still being an extension of it. Most of the artists from this movement started as Impressionists, later abandoning it to create more personal art that expressed their individual styles.

Post-Impressionism Art MovementVision after the Sermon or Jacob Wrestling with the Angel by Paul Gauguin (1888); Paul Gauguin, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The art created was no longer based solely on what was in front of them, but on what was inside their minds, acting as a window into their emotions and souls. However, Post-Impressionists owe thanks to the Impressionist influence of bright colors and the use of short loose brushstrokes to depict these images.

Post-Impressionist Artworks
TitleArtistDateDimensions (cm)MediumCurrent Location
Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande JatteGeorges Seurat (1859-1891)1884 – 1886208 x 308Oil on canvasThe Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, United States
Vision After the SermonPaul Gauguin (1848-1903)188873 x 92Oil on canvasNational Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, Scotland
Portrait of Doctor GachetVincent van Gogh (1853-1890)189067 x 56Oil on canvasPrivate collection
The Large BathersPaul Cézanne (1839-1906)1900 – 1906210 x 251Oil on canvasThe Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, United States


Fauvism (1905 – 1910)

Fauvism was a style of painting that emerged in France and is characterized by using pure color, often applied to the canvas straight from the tube.

The term, Fauves which means “wild beasts” in French was used by the critic, Louis Vauxcelles in 1905 to describe the violently vibrant works of André Derain and Henri Matisse at the Salon d’Automne in Paris.

Fauvism Modern Art MovementHouses at Chatou or The River Seine at Chatou by Maurice de Vlaminck (1906); Fuzheado, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Fauvists were influenced by the Impressionists before them, but their work was different in the expressive manner in which they portrayed their subjects. Fascinated by the scientific color theories during this period, artists were drawn to using complementary colors in their paintings. Three-dimensional space was approached in a new way, depicting subjects using flat sections of color.

Fauvist Artworks
TitleArtistDateDimensions (cm)MediumCurrent Location
Portrait of Henri MatisseAndré Derain (1880-1954)190533 x 41Oil on canvasCollection of the Tate, London, United Kingdom
The Green StripeHenri Matisse (1869-1954)190540 x 32Oil on canvasStatens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, Denmark
Le Bonheur de VivreHenri Matisse (1869-1954)1905 – 1906176.5 x 240.7Oil on canvasThe Barnes Foundation, Merion, PA, United States
The River Seine at ChatouMaurice de Vlaminck (1876-1958)190681.6 x 101Oil on canvasMetropolitan Museum of Art, New York, United States
Pinède à Cassis (Landscape)André Derain (1880-1954)190754 x 65Oil on canvasMusée Cantini, Marseille, France


Expressionism (1905 – 1933)

Expressionism started in Northern Europe and spread throughout the rest of the continent, including France, Germany, and Austria. It came about as a reaction to Impressionism, but also to the changes happening in the world in the early 20th century which caused much anxiety and stress for many people. It was a wide-ranging modernist movement that extended into many creative fields such as music, literature, theater, and visual art.

Expressionism Modern Art-MovementThe complete refusal of the Expressionists to create art that conformed to then conventional notions of beauty is evident in Carcass of Beef by Chaïm Soutine (c. 1925); Chaïm Soutine, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Artists of the Expressionist movement endeavored to depict their emotional reality rather than the physical world around them, and their style is characterized by hard lines, exaggerated expressive brushstrokes, distorted forms, and striking combinations of color.

Expressionist Artworks
TitleArtistDateDimensions (cm)MediumCurrent Location
The ScreamEdvard Munch (1863-1944)189391 x 73.5Oil on canvasNational Gallery, Oslo, Norway and Munch Museum, Oslo, Norway
Street, BerlinErnst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938)1913120.6 x 91.1Oil on canvasMuseum of Modern Art, New York, United States
Portrait of a ManErich Heckel (1883-1970)191946.2 x 32.4Painted WoodcutThe Museum of Modern Art, New York, United States
Self-Portrait with Chinese Lantern PlantEgon Schiele (1890-1918)1912398 x 322Oil on canvasLeopold Museum, Vienna, Austria
Carcass of BeefChaim Soutine (1893-1943)1925140.3 x 107.6Oil on canvasBuffalo AKG Art Museum, New York, United States


Cubism (1907 – 1922)

Cubism was one of the most influential movement of the 20th century as it rejected traditional representational techniques, such as chiaroscuro and perspective, representing a new fragmented reality in their artworks. Early Cubism was deeply influenced by the work of the “first Cubist” Paul Cezanne, who placed significant emphasis on understanding the underlying form of the world when creating a visual representation of it. Early Cubists like Picasso also found inspiration in the stylized forms of the archaic art of ancient Mediterranean cultures like Greece, and the absence of naturalism or illusionism in artworks from Africa that were being imported into France at the time.

This phase of Cubism is characterized by the fracturing of objects or subjects into geometric forms, creating new points of perspective within a picture. Many of these forms were ‘open forms’ meaning that instead of representing them as solid, space flowed through them, merging foreground with background. 

Analytic Cubism Art MovementGuitar and Glasses by Juan Gris (1912) is a fine example of Analytic Cubism. In the Synthetic phase, Gris’ work is characterized by a more literal and less metaphorical use of collage than Braque and Picasso, with vivid colors in graphic block-like style; Juan Gris, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The background and foreground of compositions also became interchangeable, as subjects were depicted in a dynamic way from various angles. Known as analytic Cubism, this phase was followed by Synthetic Cubism where Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Juan Gris began experimenting with collage by using everyday materials as abstract signs. In Picasso’s hands this appropriation and transformation of material elements developed into the three-dimensional art-from known as sculptural assemblage.

While many subsequent painters would adopt the stylistic language of Cubism, it was the underlying ideas behind Cubism, the revolutionary understanding of what a representational language can be, that would inspire multiple Modernist movements.

Cubism Artworks
TitleArtistDateDimensions (cm)MediumCurrent Location
Still-Life with Chair CaningPablo Picasso (1881-1973)191229 × 37 cmOil and printed oilcloth on canvas edged with ropeThe Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, United States
Houses at L’EstaqueGeorges Braque (1882-1963)190840.5 x 32.5Oil on canvasHermann and Margrit Rupf Foundation, Bern, Switzerland
Tea TimeJean Metzinger (1883-1956)191175.9 x 70.2Oil on cardboardThe Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, United States
Portrait of Pablo PicassoJuan Gris (1887-1927)191293 x 74Oil on canvasSchool of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, United States
GuitarPablo Picasso (1881-1973)191366.4 x 49.6Newspaper, wallpaper, paper, chalk, pencil, charcoal, and ink on paperThe Museum of Modern Art, New York, United States


Futurism (1909 – 1944)

Futurism began in Italy and was headed by the poet, Marinetti. As its name suggests, Futurism focused on modernity, replacing traditional ideas of art with a new and dynamic vision that suited the age of advancement. Artists began including aspects of mechanical technologies, such as cars, airplanes, trains, and the urban environment into their work, often exalting the working class in their mission for change.

Futurism Modern Art MovementDynamism of a Dog on a Leash by Giacomo Balla (1912); Giacomo Balla, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Various art forms were covered by Futurist artists, including music, theater, sculpture, architecture, and surprisingly food. Ideas of Futurism spread to Britain, Japan, and the United States during its revival after the First World War.

Futurism Artworks
TitleArtistDateDimensions (cm)MediumCurrent Location
The City RisesUmberto Boccioni (1882-1916)1910199 x 301Oil on canvasThe Museum of Modern Art, New York, United States
Funeral of the Anarchist GalliCarlo Carrà (1881-1966)1910 – 1911199 x 259Oil on canvasThe Museum of Modern Art, New York, United States
Dynamism of a Dog on a LeashGiacomo Balla (1871-1958)191289.8 x 109.8Oil on canvasAlbright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, United States
Unique Forms of Continuity in SpaceUmberto Boccioni (1882-1916)1913 – 1931111 x 88BronzeMuseo de Arte Contemporáneo de la Universidad de São Paulo, Brazil


Dada (1916 – 1924)

The Dada movement began in Switzerland as a reaction to the First World War and to the nationalism and folly that many believed led to and resulted from it. Dada artists expressed themselves in various ways, from poetry to performance art, sculpture, collage, sculpture, and painting. Nationalistic attitudes were often mocked by Dada artists and their unique aesthetic influenced artists from various parts of the world, such as Paris, Berlin, Cologne, New York, and Hanover.

Duchamp's Fountain and Dada ArtFountain by Marcel Duchamp (1917) is a landmark work in the development of Dada and Conceptualism; Marcel Duchamp, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Dada was a precursor to conceptual art, which emphasizes meaning over aesthetically pleasing artworks, often asking the viewer difficult questions about society and the world. Known as the anti-art movement, Dada is characterized by its opposition to bourgeois culture, creating works that were often deliberately illogical and satirical.

The movement is well known for its concept of the “readymade” which is an everyday objects that has had little handling by the artist and is presented to the public as art. These works asked questions about what can be defined as art and what the purpose of it is.

Dada Artworks
TitleArtistDateDimensions (cm)MediumCurrent Location
Untitled (Collage with Squares Arranged according to the Laws of Chance)Hans Arp (1886-1966)1916 – 191748.5 x 34.6Cut-and-pasted colored paperThe Museum of Modern Art, New York, United States
FountainMarcel Duchamp (1887-1968)191761 x 36 x 48UrinalThe Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, United States
L.H.O.O.Q.Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968)191930.3 x 23CollotypeMuseum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, Netherlands
Cut with a Kitchen Knife Dada through the Last Weimar Beer Belly Cultural Epoch of GermanyHannah Höch (1889-1978)1919114 x 90Cut paper collageNational Gallery, State Museum of Berlin, Berlin, Germany
The Art CriticRaoul Hausmann (1886-1971)1919 – 192031.8 x 25.4Lithograph and printed paper on paperTate Modern, London, United Kingdom
Spirit of the Age: Mechanical HeadRaoul Hausmann (1886-1971)192032.5 x 21 x 20Wooden mannequin head with attached objectsCentre Pompidou, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris, France


Surrealism (1924 – 1966)

Surrealism sprouted from the Dada movement and gained traction in Europe between the First and Second World Wars. Its members were fascinated by the unconscious mind, blending fantasy and dreamlike imagery to create illogical scenes filled with symbolism.

The most famous Surrealist is undoubtedly Salvador Dalí. Less familiar is the influence that Surrealism had on Mexican artists like Remedios Varo, Leonora Carrington, and Bridget Bate Tichenor. Even Frida Kahlo’s Magic Realism movement owes a debt to the Surrealists.

Surrealism Modernist MovementPortrait of Joella by Salvador Dali, Man Ray, and Paul Hamann (1933-34); Ivo Jansch from Netherlands, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

André Breton, the leading representative of the movement, was heavily influenced by theories from the neurologist Sigmund Freud, and viewed the unconscious as the source of imagination and believed that tapping into this part of our minds would give us access to artistic genius.

Surrealism Artworks
TitleArtistDateDimensions (cm)MediumCurrent Location
The Tilled FieldJoan Miro (1893-1983)192466 x 92.7oil on canvasSolomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City, United States
The LoversRené Magritte (1898-1967)192854 x 73Oil on canvasMuseum of Modern Art, New York, United States
The Persistence of MemorySalvador Dalí (1904-1989)193124 x 33Oil on canvasMuseum of Modern Art, New York, United States
GuernicaPicasso (1881-1973)1937349.3 x 776.6Oil on canvasMuseo Reina Sofía, Madrid, Spain
The BarbariansMax Ernst (1891-1976)193724.1 x 33Oil on cardboardThe Museum of Modern Art, New York, United States
MannequinMan Ray (1890-1976)193818.9 x 14 cmGelatin silver print of wood assemblage, oil, metal, on board, with artist’s frameNational Gallery of Australia, Parkes, Australia


Abstract Expressionism (1943 – 1965)

Abstract Expressionism was started in New York America by artists that believed in expressing themselves through artistic practice. Art was seen as a universal language that was borne from emotion. Abstract Expressionism was heavily influenced by Surrealism and its emphasis on extracting the unconscious, with many Surrealist artists leaving Europe for New York during a period of political instability in the 1930s.

Abstract Expressionism Art MovementDetail of Lavender Mist by Jackson Pollock (1950); Jackson Pollock, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Leaders of the New York school credited Arshile Gorky’s unique painterly language of “lyrical abstraction” as a major contribution to their understanding of painting.

Abstract Expressionist art is characterized by personal expression and spontaneity, producing works that contain levels of abstraction, often with unrealistic forms, energetic brushstrokes, and mark-making.

Abstract Expressionist Artworks
TitleArtistDateDimensions (cm)MediumCurrent Location
Woman IWillem de Kooning (1904-1997)1950192.72 x 150oil paint, canvas, metallic paint on canvasThe Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, New York, United States
Autumn Rhythm (Number 30) (1950)Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)1950266.7 x 525.8Enamel on canvasThe Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, United States
Mountains and SeaHelen Frankenthaler (1928-2011)1952220 x 297.8Oil and charcoal on canvasNational Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., United States
Green and MaroonMark Rothko (1903-1970)1953231.45 x 139.38Oil on canvasThe Phillips Collection, Washington D.C., United States
1957-D-No. 1 (1957)Clyfford Still (1904-1980)1957287.02 x 403.86Oil on canvasAlbright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, United States


African Modernism (20th Century)

During the 1940s, African art was not considered serious and was mostly associated with primitivism and its influence on cubist artists and other modern Western art movements. African Modernists only started gaining recognition in the late 1960s after the publication of the book, Africa’s Contemporary Art and Artists (1967) by the Harmon Foundation in the United States which documented works by African artists since the 1920s.

African Modernism MovementReborn sounds of Childhood Dreams I by Ibrahim El-Salahi (1961-65) reflects a fusion of religious iconography, Arabic calligraphy, with Western art techniques; Gautier Poupeau, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

African Modernist artists were no longer held captive by primitivism or “authenticity” and created works using non-traditional media and subject matter.

Some artists studied in Europe and America and were influenced by modern movements, developing their own interpretation of modernist principles while staying true to their individual styles.

African Modernist Artworks
TitleArtistDateDimensions (cm)MediumCurrent Location
Prison YardGerard Sekoto (1913-1993)194460.8 x 50.8Oil on canvasThe African Sky Trust from Burr and Muir Antiques
UntitledErnest Mancoba (1904-2002)1957 45.8 x 26.9Oil on canvasTate Modern, London, United Kingdom
Seated womanSydney Kumalo (1935-1988)1958 – 195931.5 (h)BronzeWall SA Art, Cape Town, South Africa
Girls in waitingBen Enwonwu (1917-1994)1959107.5 x 61.5Oil on canvasUnknown
Vision of the TombIbrahim El-Salahi (1930-Present)196591.5 x 91.5Oil on canvasMuseum for African Art, New York, United States
Untitled (Man and Guitar)Dumile Feni (1942-1991)196936 x 26Ballpoint ink on paperGrosvenor Gallery, London, United Kingdom



If Modernist artists tackled artmaking with a forward-thinking approach, driven by new ideas and progress, artists of the Postmodernist period undermined the ideas of originality and authenticity, with the belief that not all progress is good.

Postmodernism questioned and deconstructed long-held narratives and canonical viewpoints within Modernism and other periods in art history, such as the idea that only men are able to create art, the colonialist idea of inferior races, the purpose of art needing to have a goal, the notion that history and knowledge can be held within totalizing theories, and that an artwork can only have one meaning (that of the artist), allowing the viewer to be included in its interpretation.

A new artistic freedom emerged from Postmodernism as it tore down the established rules of art, style, and what art should be, often reusing and mixing past styles with the new. Below we list some of the most influential Post-Modern art movements and notable artworks.


Pop Art (1950 – 1970)

Pop Art developed in post-war Britain and America and challenged traditional fine art by introducing imagery from popular culture and media. By presenting everyday objects and celebrities or media stars in their paintings and sculptures, artists blurred the boundary between what was considered “low” culture and “high” art.

Artists now borrowed imagery from various sources, such as comics, advertising, books, product labels, and mass-produced objects without considering the cultural hierarchy, and this had an influential impact on the art world.

Pop Art Modern PeriodFlying Pins by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen (2000) demonstrates the extraordinary longevity of Oldenburg’s humorous Pop Art sculptural style; FaceMePLS from The Hague, The Netherlands, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Pop artists are known for their use of bright colors, humor and satire, mixed media and collage, as well as innovative methods such as printmaking. It remains one of the most popular art movements with the broader public.

Pop Art Artworks
TitleArtistDateDimensions (cm)MediumCurrent Location
Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing?Richard Hamilton (1922-2011)195626 x 24.8CollageKunsthalle Tubingen, Germany
Pastry Case, IClaes Oldenburg (1929-2022)1961 – 196252.7 x 76.5 x 37.3Painted plaster sculptures, ceramic plates, and glass and metal case.The Museum of Modern Art, New York, United States
Campbell’s Soup Andy Warhol (1928-1987)196250.8 x 40.6 eachSynthetic polymer paint on thirty-two canvasesThe Museum of Modern Art, New York City, United States
Drowning GirlRoy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)1963172 x 170Oil and synthetic polymer paint on canvasThe Museum of Modern Art, New York City, United States
A Bigger SplashDavid Hockney (1937-Present)1967242.5 x 243.9Acrylic on canvasTate Britain, London, United Kingdom


Conceptual Art (1960s – 1970s)

Conceptual art emphasizes meaning over aesthetically pleasing artworks, often asking the viewer difficult questions about society and the world. It began in the 1960s until the mid-1970s making artworks that rejected prevailing ideas of art. This was done through many forms, such as performances, happenings, and other works made of minimal materials.

Conceptual Postmodern ArtOne and Three Chairs by Joseph Kosuth (1965). In a typically Conceptualist material, linguistic, and semiotic puzzle, the artist presents the viewer with the question of “what is and is not a chair?”; Gautier Poupeau, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Conceptual artists were influenced by Dada and Marcel Duchamp’s readymades and created art that was simple and often did not look like art but focused on its conceptual meaning. Many artists believed that if an artist created the work, then once placed in a gallery or museum, the institution and viewers would then complete it.

Conceptual Artworks
TitleArtistDateDimensions (cm)MediumCurrent Location
Erased de Kooning DrawingRobert Rauschenberg (1925-2008)195364.14 x 55.25 x 1.27Erased drawing by Willem de Kooning that was done in charcoal, pencil, crayon, and ink.San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, United States
One and Three ChairsJoseph Kosuth (1945-Present)1965Chair: 82 x 37.8 x 53

Photographic panel: 91.5 x 61.1

Text panel: 61 x 76.2

Wood folding chair, a photograph of a chair, and a dictionary definition of “chair”.The Museum of Modern Art, New York, United States
What Is PaintingJohn Baldessari (1931-2020)1966 – 1968172.1 x 144.1Acrylic on canvasThe Museum of Modern Art, New York, United States
SeedbedVito Acconci (1940-2017)197220.1 x 29.7Gelatin silver printThe Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, United States
II-bHanne Darboven (1941-2009)1970 – 197328 panels: each 29.3 x 83.8Ink and 28 typewritten pieces of paperThe Museum of Modern Art, New York, United States


Minimalism (Early 1960s – 1970s)

Minimalism developed in the United States in the early 1960s and can be understood as an extended form of abstract art, characterized by geometric shapes and block colors.

Minimalism Art MovementSponge Relief in the Revier Music Theatre by Yves Klein (1959). Klein’s sponge paintings inspired the musician Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s composition Photoptosis (Incidence of Light); Die Bildrechte liegen beim Musiktheater im Revier sofern die Bilder für Representations- und Werbezwecke genutzt werden. Fotograf: Pedro Malinowski, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE, via Wikimedia Commons

Unlike much other art that in some way represents an aspect of real life (a person, an object, a landscape, and so on), Minimalist art is intended not to imitate anything else, but to have its own reality. The viewer is expected to react to what they see in front of them, not to be made to think of what the artwork represents or to connect on an emotional level. Therefore, the form and medium are minimal and often extremely simple, rejecting the formal limitations set on painting and sculpture.

Minimalism Artworks
TitleArtistDateDimensions (cm)MediumCurrent Location
Die Fahne Hoch!Frank Stella (1936-Present)1959308.6 x 185.4Enamel paint on canvasWhitney Museum of American Art, New York, United States
DieTony Smith (1912-1980)1962182.9 x 182.9 x 182.9SteelThe National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., United States
LeverCarl Andre (1935-Present)196211.4 x 22.5 x 883.9137 firebricksNational Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Canada
Yellow PieceEllsworth Kelly (1923-2015)1966190.5 x 190.5Synthetic polymer paint on canvasThe Museum of Modern Art, New York, United States
Untitled (in honor of Harold Joachim) 3Dan Flavin (1933-1996)1977243.8 x 243.8 x 25.4Fluorescent light fixtures and tubesCollection of the artist


Photorealism (1960s – Present)

Photorealism was a name selected for artists who relied heavily on photographic references for their work instead of direct observation, often using a projector to cast images onto the canvas to allow images to be reproduced with accuracy. Photorealist artists were greatly interested in and inspired by realism in art.

Noticeably American, subjects often featured in their work are fast-food restaurants, trucks, cars, motorcycles, and machines, acknowledging themes of the modern world in what is portrayed as well as how they managed to depict it (through photography).

Photorealist and Hyperrealist Art MovementMan on a Bench by Duane Hanson (1977). One of the strategies of sculptural hyperrealism is to devote intense scrutiny to commonly overlooked aspects of everyday life, an approach that brings it closer to the conceptualist strain in art that so many of the early photorealists despised; metropilot, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

With developments in imaging technology Photorealism has generated an offshoot called Hyperrealism which extends to sculpture and marks a return of technical processes and the capacity to visually scrutinize the world and accurately reflect those observations, as opposed to creating impressions or formal re-interpretations of reality.

Photorealist Artworks
TitleArtistDateDimensions (cm)MediumCurrent Location
Big Self-PortraitChuck Close (1940-2021)1967 – 1968273.05 x 212.09Acrylic on canvasWalker Art Center, Minneapolis, United States
McDonalds PickupRalph Goings (1928-2016)1970104.1 x 104.1Oil on canvasUnknown
Strawberry Tart SupremeAudrey Flack (1931-Present)1974137.16 x 152.4Oil over acrylic on canvasLouis k. Meisel Gallery, New York, United States
The Ultimate GumballCharles Bell (1935-1995)1978 – 198310.2 x 12.7TransparencyThe Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, United States
TackleMalcolm Morley (1931-2018)2004UnknownOil on linenPrivate collection
Diogenes IIDenis Peterson (1944-Present)200960.96 x 60.96Acrylic on panelPrivate collection


Feminism (1960s – Present)

The Feminist art movement started in the West during the 1960s during a time when a light was being shone on queer, civil, and gender rights around the globe as well as anti-war demonstrations. Although there are women artists who had made great contributions to the art world, such as the Dada artist Hannah Höch and the Surrealist artist Frida Kahlo, art history had been largely male dominated, with female artistic voices being silenced or ignored.

The aim of the Feminist art movement was to challenge the art canon and rewrite a male-dominated art history and make an impact on the world through their art. This movement did not only contribute to the awareness of women artists but also created opportunities for minority artists to find space.

Feminist Art MovementThe Dinner Party by Judy Chicago (1974-79); Gabriel Fernandes from São Paulo, Brasil, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Artworks created by Feminists were made from a woman’s perspective and often invited the viewer to ask important questions regarding their social and political background and therefore, bring change to equality and rid of embedded stereotypes. Artists often used a variety of alternative materials that were considered typically female, such as textiles and ceramics, expanding the definition of fine art through their use of non-traditional media and broadening artistic perspectives.

Feminist Artworks
TitleArtistDateDimensions (cm)MediumCurrent Location
Some Living American Women ArtistsMary Beth Edelson (1933-2021)197271.8 x 109.2Mixed media collageMuseum of Modern Art, New York, United States
WomanhouseJudy Chicago (1939-Present) and Miriam Schapiro (1923-2015)1972N/AInstallation inside an abandoned mansion with mixed mediaTook place at: 533 N. Mariposa Ave, Hollywood, United States
Interior ScrollCarolee Schneemann (1939-2019)1975N/APerformance art with paint, text and the artist’s own bodyTook place at: East Hampton, New York, United States
The Dinner PartyJudy Chicago (1939-Present)1974 – 19791463,04 x 1463,04 x 1463,04Painted porcelain plates, silverware, chalices, fabric, tilesThe Brooklyn Museum, New York, United States
Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get Into the Met. Museum?Guerrilla Girls (Founded 1985-Present)198936.1 x 79.1 x 3Screenprint on paperTate Modern, London, United Kingdom
Untitled (Your body is a battleground)Barbara Kruger (1945-Present)1989284.48 x 284.48Photographic silkscreen on vinylThe Broad, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, United States


Neo-Expressionism (1970s – 1990s)

Neo-Expressionism brought a resurgence of painting in an expressionist way. Initiated by the German artist Georg Baselitz, soon an international revival of expressive art took place that reacted against Minimalism and Conceptualism which had become very cool and distant.

Neo Expressionist Art MovementArmalamor by Georg Baselitz (1994); Stefan Bellini, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Neo-Expressionism is characterized by its intense color usage, texture, and reintroducing subjects like mythological and historical imagery in their works, which had been rejected by Modernists. The movement had a big impact on the art market in Europe and the US during its time, gaining commercial popularity in galleries.

Neo-Expressionism had many critics who accused the artists of engineering he movement purely to make art for profit and that it was the reason for the movement’s decline. 

Neo-Expressionism Artworks
TitleArtistDateDimensions (cm)MediumCurrent Location
AdieuGeorg Baselitz (1938-Present)1982250 x 300.5Oil on canvasTate Modern, London, United Kingdom
Bad BoyEric Fischl (1948-Present)1981140 x 198.3Oil on canvasPrivate Collection, Zurich, Switzerland
Nanny, Small Bears and BogeymanPaula Rego (1935-2022)1982120 x 152Acrylic paint on paperTate Modern, London, United Kingdom
CatherineFrank Auerbach (1931-Present)198926 x 21.5EtchingTate Modern, London, United Kingdom
Dancing MenLeon Golub (1922-2004)199362.9 x 55.9Color lithographInstitute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, United States
Scissors and ButterfliesFrancesco Clemente (1952-Present)1999233.7 x 233.7Oil on linenThe Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, United States


Contemporary Art (1970 – Present)

Contemporary art refers to all art made in the present day, from the 1970s until now. Many past styles and ideas are combined and used in contemporary art, as well as advanced technologies, bringing forth an amalgamation of art pieces that are diverse in media, culture, and globally influenced.

Contemporary Art PeriodMural on a bombed building in Irpin, Ukraine by Banksy (2022). Note how the void in the structure reads as a solid form in a visual strategy reminiscent of the Cubists; Rasal Hague, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Many contemporary artists use their work as a way of exploring the changing world we live in, cultural identity, criticizing social and political structures, and even how art is defined.

Contemporary Artworks
TitleArtistDateDimensions (cm)MediumCurrent Location
Infinity Mirror RoomYayoi Kusama (1929-Present)1965(Room) N/AInstallation with mirrors, plastic, wood, acrylic, aluminum, and LED lights.Tate Modern, London, United Kingdom
Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures),David Hockney (1937-Present)1972210 x 300Acrylic on canvasPrivate collection
Maman,Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010)1990927.1 x 891.5 x 1023.6Bronze, Marble, stainless steelLong Museum, Shanghai, China
The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone LivingDamien Hirst (1965-Present)1991213 x 518 x 213 The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, United States (2007–2010)
Balloon Dog (yellow)Jeff Koons (1955-Present)1994307.3 x 363.2 x 114.3Stainless steel with transparent color coatingShuwaikh Industrial Area, Kuwait City, Kuwait
Girl with Balloon Banksy (1974-Present)2002N/AStreet muralLocations include Shoreditch, Waterloo bridge and other places in London
The 99 SeriesAïda MulunehN/AN/APhotographyVarious
Denialism #ThisGoldIsMineBlessing NgobeniN/AN/AAcrylic and collage on canvasEverard Read, South Africa



In conclusion, the art history timeline includes many interesting and diverse art movements and art style periods that have not only impacted art but influenced the world, and it is still growing. It is interesting to see how ideas have formed and changed over time, and how things like politics, society, and war can affect the creation of art through its artists and even the elite. There are many articles on our website covering various art periods and movements in more depth, and if you liked this article, we encourage you to continue your journey of study into the history of art.



Frequently Asked Questions


Why Is It Important to Understand the Art History Timeline?

Understanding the art history timeline can help us to comprehend the background history that contributed to the various art style periods and movements. This knowledge helps us to draw conclusions and to better evaluate artworks from a broader perspective of what was going on in society and the world at different times in history.


What Is the Most Influential Art Period in History?

Prior to the modern period with its multitude of art-redefining movements and global impact, the Renaissance is seen by many to be the most influential art period as it was the time of new knowledge and invention and consisted of increased awareness and interest in nature, individualism, the resurgence of classical education, and humanism. It produced famous artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Donatello.


Cite this Article

Jaycene Fay, Ravenscroft, “Art Periods and Movements – Our Insanely Wide-Ranging Guide.” artfilemagazine – Your Online Art Source. January 20, 2023. URL:

Ravenscroft, J. (2023, 20 January). Art Periods and Movements – Our Insanely Wide-Ranging Guide. artfilemagazine – Your Online Art Source.

Ravenscroft, Jaycene Fay. “Art Periods and Movements – Our Insanely Wide-Ranging Guide.” artfilemagazine – Your Online Art Source, January 20, 2023.

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