Disclaimer: Due to the extensive subject matters inherent within this topic, efforts have been made to briefly represent significant movements throughout the history of art, with special attention to the two-dimensional, from antiquity unto the current age. By definition, inclusion of all art movements would be impossible, and still remain brief. Please feel free to add missed art movements, such as presented here in a quasi-chronological order, as long as no damages are done to the pre-existing sub topics.

Etruscan Art

The mysterious origins of this people, and consequently of their artistic style, dates back to the peoples who inhabited or were kicked out of Asia Minor during the Bronze Age and Iron Age, though other ancient cultures influenced Etruscan art (due to proximity or commercial contact), such as Greece, Phoenicia, Egypt, Assyria and the Middle East. However, its apparently simple character in the Hellenistic era conceals an innovative, characteristic and unique style whose apogee coincided with the Greek archaic period which would come to have a deep influence on the Roman art which would later entirely absorb it in the 1st century AD.


left: fresco from the tomb of the Lionesses, Tarquinia
middle and right: frescoes from the tomb of the Triclinium, Tarquinia
These frescoes display the seeming joviality of the Etruscan lifestyle. At the time, they were considered loose moralled and even unethical by other civilizations.

The Etruscan paintings that have survived to modern times are mostly wall frescoes from graves, and mainly from Tarquinia. These are incredibly important as the most important example of pre-Roman figurative art in Italy we know of.
The frescoes consist of painting on top of fresh plaster, so that when the plaster is dried the painting becomes part of the plaster and an integral part of the wall, which helps it survive so well (indeed, almost all of surviving Etruscan and Roman painting is in fresco). Colours were made from stones and minerals in different colours that ground up and mixed in a medium, and fine brushes were made of animal hair (even the best brushes are produced with ox hair). From the mid 4th century BC chiaroscuro began to be used to portray depth and volume. Sometimes scenes of everyday life are portrayed, but more often traditional mythological scenes. The concept of proportion does not appear in any surviving frescoes and we frequently find portrayals of animals or men with some body-parts out of proportion. One of the best-known Etruscan frescoes is that of Tomb of the Lioness at Tarquinia.

Roman Art

It is commonly said that Roman art was derivative from Greek and Etruscan art. Indeed, the villas of the wealthy Romans unearthed in Pompeii and Herculaneum show a strong predilection for all things Greek. Many of the most significant Greek artworks survive by virtue of their Roman interpretation and imitation. Roman artists sought to commemorate great events in the life of their state and to glorify their emperors as well as record the inner life of people, and express ideas of beauty and nobility. Their busts, and especially the images of individuals on gravestones, are very expressive and life-like, finished with skill and panache.

Pompeii PainterFayumMummyFrescovillamystpomp

left: Pompeian painter with painted statue and framed painting Pompeii, pre-79 AD,
middle: Fayum Mummy portrait, woman with famous Roman ringlet style hair
right: fresco from the Villa of the Mysteries. Pompeii, 80 BC

Our knowledge of Ancient Rome painting relies in large part on the preservation of artifacts from Pompeii and Herculanum, and particularly the Pompeian mural painting, which was preserved after the eruption of Vesuvius in 79. AD. Nothing remains of the Greek paintings imported to Rome during the 4th and 5th centuries, or of the painting on wood done in Italy during that period. Pliny explicitly states around 69-79 AD that the only true painting was painting on wood and that this had nearly disappeared by his time, to the benefit of the muralists, which was more indicative of the wealth of the owners than their artistic tastes.

Early Christian Art


wallpaintings from the Roman catacombs, 4th c. AD
left: Virgin and Child, middle: the Good Shepherd,
right: Samson in the Lion's Den

The Etruscans, like many other European peoples, used to bury their dead in underground chambers. The original Roman custom was cremation, after which the burnt remains were kept in a pot, ash-chest or urn, often in a columbarium. From about the second century AD, inhumation (burial of unburnt remains) became more fashionable, in graves or sarcophagi, often elaborately carved, for those who could afford them.
The first large-scale catacombs were excavated from the 2nd century onwards. Originally they were carved through soft rock outside the boundaries of the city, because Roman law forbade burial places within city limits. At first they were used both for burial and the memorial services and celebrations of the anniversaries of Christian martyrs (following similar Roman customs). They probably were not used for regular worship. Many modern depictions of the catacombs show them as hiding places for Christian populations during times of persecution.

There are forty known subterranean burial chambers in Rome. They were built along Roman roads, like the Via Appia, the Via Ostiense, the Via Labicana, the Via Tiburtina, and the Via Nomentana. Names of the catacombs – like St Calixtus and St Sebastian alongside Via Appia – refer to martyrs that might be buried there.

Catacombs Malning2

Christian excavators (fossors) built vast systems of galleries and passages on top of each other. They lie 7-19 meters (22-65 ft) below the surface in area of more than 2.4 km² (600 acres). Narrow steps that descend as many as four stories join the levels. Passages are about 2.5x1 meters (8x3 feet). Burial niches (loculi) were carved into walls. They are 40-60 cm (16-24 in) high and 120-150 cm (47-59 in) long. Bodies were placed in chambers in stone sarcophagi in their clothes and bound in linen. Then the chamber was sealed with a slab bearing the name, age and the day of death. Fresco decorations were typically Roman. The catacomb of Saint Agnes is a small church. Some families were able to construct cubicula which would house various loculi and the arquitectural elements of the space would be a support for decoration. Another excellent place for artistic programs were the arcosoliums.

The style of the catacomb painters is most often the quick, sketchy impressionism seen in earlier Roman painting of the late Pompeian period, and the execution ranges from good to inferior - most often the latter. We must take into account that the catacombs were very unpromising places for the art of the mural decorator. The air was spoiled by decomposing corpses, the humidity was excessive, and the lighting (provided largely by oil lamps) was entirely unfit for elaborate compositions or painstaking execution.
Gardner's Art Through the Ages,ninth edition

In 380, Christianity became a state religion. At first many still desired to be buried in chambers alongside martyrs. However, the practice of catacomb burial declined slowly, and the dead were increasingly buried in church cemeteries. In the 6th century catacombs were used only for martyrs’ memorial services. Apparently Ostrogoths, Vandals and Lombards that sacked Rome also violated the catacombs, possibly looking for valuables. By the 10th century catacombs were practically abandoned, and holy relics were transferred to above-ground basilicas.

Byzantine Art

Byzantine art is the term commonly used to describe the artistic products of the Byzantine Empire from about the 4th century until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453.

The term can also be used for the art of Eastern Orthodox states which were contemporary with the Byzantine Empire and were culturally influenced by it, without actually being part of it (the "Byzantine commonwealth"), such as Bulgaria, Serbia, or Rus; and also for the art of the Republic of Venice and Kingdom of Sicily, which had close ties to the Byzantine Empire despite being in other respects part of western European culture. Art produced by Eastern Orthodox Christians living in the Ottoman Empire is often called "post-Byzantine." Certain artistic traditions that originated in the Byzantine Empire, particularly in regard to icon painting and church architecture, are maintained in Greece, Bulgaria, Russia and other Eastern Orthodox countries to the present day.

Just as the Byzantine empire represented the political continuation of the Roman Empire, Byzantine art developed out of the art of the Roman empire, which was itself profoundly influenced by ancient Greek art. Byzantine art never lost sight of this classical heritage.
And indeed, the art produced during the Byzantine empire, although marked by periodic revivals of a classical aesthetic, was above all marked by the development of a new aesthetic.

Hagiasophia-christAngel gabrielVladimirVirgin

left: Byzantine icon, Christ in Hagia Sophia, Istanbul. 1280 AD
middle: Archangel Gabriel, 13th century AD, Holy Monastery of Saint Catherine, Sinai, Egypt
right: Virgin of Vladimir (Vladimirskaya Theotokos), the holy protectress of Russia, purportedly painted by St. Luke, also cause of a miracle connected to St. John Damacus, 12th century AD

The most salient feature of this new aesthetic was its “abstract,” or anti-naturalistic character. If classical art was marked by the attempt to create representations that mimicked reality as closely as possible, Byzantine art seems to have abandoned this attempt in favor of a more symbolic approach.
Icons did not change very much over the centuries. This is true even though they have been painted by many different artists in many different countries over many different centuries. Icon artists had to obey strict church rules (canons) about the way they could paint. These rules limited the styles they could use.

Religious art was not, however, limited to the monumental decoration of church interiors. One of the most important genres of Byzantine art was the icon, an image of Christ, the Virgin, or a saint, used as an object of veneration in Orthodox churches and private homes alike. Icons were more religious than aesthetic in nature: especially after the end of iconoclasm, they were understood to manifest the unique “presence” of the figure depicted by means of a “likeness” to that figure maintained through carefully maintained canons of representation.
The canons were made so that artists could not paint their own versions of God or holy people. Icons were supposed to show unchanging spiritual truths. The people thought, If God doesn’t change, why should the way we show Him change? In religious terms, icons are much more than pictures--they are symbols. They could never be just portraits of saints or divine figures. They are a "likeness" (podobi e) of what the figures represent.
There was an advantage to creating all icons with the same rules. Everyone could agree on the meaning of the symbols used in the paintings. This meant that the icons could be used to teach lessons about God, scripture, and church history. This was important in a time when very few people knew how to read.

Two events were of fundamental importance to the development of a unique Byzantine art. First, the Edict of Milan, issued by the emperors Constantine I and Licinius in 313, allowed for public Christian worship, and led to the development of a monumental Christian art. Second, the dedication of Constantinople in 330 created a great new artistic centre for the eastern half of the Empire, and a specifically Christian one.

St.cleopatra icon Mater Dolorosa

left: St. Cleopatra, Iconostasis, St. Nicholas Church, Nea Sinopi, Greece
right: Mater Dolorosa, El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos, 1541-1614)

The Byzantine era properly defined came to an end with the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, but by this time the Byzantine cultural heritage had been widely diffused, carried by the spread of Orthodox Christianity, to Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania and, most importantly, to Russia, which became the centre of the Orthodox world following the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans. Even under Ottoman rule, Byzantine traditions in icon-painting and other small-scale arts survived, especially in the Venetian-ruled Crete and Rhodes, where a "post-Byzantine" style under increasing Western influence survived for a further two centuries, producing El Greco and other significant artists.

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