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“Everyone wants to understand painting. Why is there no attempt to understand the song of the birds?”
- Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)



    ‘Venus with Cupid stealing honey’ after 1537, Lucas Cranach the elder

The history of painting is a long one. It reaches back into pre-historic time. Painting is common to all cultures and all times, right up to the present (21st century).
For a long time it relied on representational and religious motifs.
Since the beginning of the 20th century this changed. With the advent of photographic technology mankind was able, for the first time, to capture 'reality' with near complete objectivity. Experimentation with abstract and conceptual techniques became popular. Elements from the art of other cultures (African, Islamic, Chinese and Japanese) were included, significantly influencing western art.
It all started with cave paintings, mostly of animals, for example in France and Spain.


China, calligraphy in National Art Museum of China

Painting and art are deeply entrenched in the cultures of China and Japan, where they are strongly connected to the art of calligraphy and printmaking. Although most Europeans are unable to decipher oriental calligraphy, they can still enjoy these paintings. Precise balance between the brush strokes and white space of oriental paintings is critical; where landscapes seem to be the preferred subject. To this day, in the museum of modern art in Beijing, calligraphic works of modern painters are common.
The ideologies of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism have played an important role in East Asian art. In Tibet there are rocks, with painted Buddha’s in bright colors.

More information on Chinese and Japanese art, can be found here China  and here Japan.

Another place in the world that has a long and distinguished history in artistic paintings is Egypt. Ancient Egypt had a strong interest in architecture and sculpture. Although most of the buildings are almost colorless now, they were originally painted in bright colors. Mural paintings were common place in temples and buildings.  Another technique developed by the ancient Egyptians was painting on papyrus. The ancient Egyptians created paintings depicting the journey of the deceased in the afterlife. These often included heroic battles and deeds of valour, along with gods and goddesses.

Egypt, Dendera

Ancient Greece can also boast a long proud tradition of great painters, sculptors and architects. Pottery and ceramics painted in ancient Greece, often illustrating myths, have a uniquely realistic quality.

In Italy, one can still find remains of Roman wall paintings. Many from villas in Southern Italy.

When Christianity became wide spread, painting was devoted to religion. This didn’t change much, for hundreds of years.
Worth mentioning is the making of icons in Russia. These icons are typically religious paintings on wood, often small, sometimes large. Many religious homes in Russia have icons hanging on their wall in the krasny ugol, the “red”or “beautiful”(same word) corner. In Russian churches, the nave is separated from the sanctuary by an iconostasis. This is a wall of icons, with a door. Although these icons were made for  Christian purposes, they did not hold fast to the traditional way of painting. In about 1850, Western European realism crept in and modernized both religious and non religious Western and Russian art.  But the icons remained 'the Gospel in paint', and as such considerable effort was expended to ensure that this gospel was accurately and faithfully reproduced. To learn more about Russian art, go here Russia.

Much more can be said about the art of other countries. For example, in Romania's painted monasteries every inch of both the inside and the outside of its churches, including the ceilings, are covered in magnificent frescos, illustrating the lives of the saints and martyrs. Unfortunately there is not enough space, nor time, to do justice to this very significant topic. So..... we will have to leave it for now.
Besides, mentioning so many countries apart, would lead too far.

Let’s continue with  the periods in painting, after the Middle Ages.
The Renaissance. In this period, artists as Fra Angelico, Tintoretto, Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci revolutionized the art of painting. By the use of perspective, studies of the human body and its proportions, and improved techniques, painting was developed to a height which has not been surpassed to this day.
Flemish, Dutch and German painters of the Renaissance such as Albrecht Dürer, Lucas Cranach, Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Brueghel (see also ‘Saints and Sinners’) in developing a different approach from Italian painters, were able to produce equally compelling works of art, that were more realistic and less idealized. Genre painting (markets, interiors, street scenes etc.) became popular among some northern painters. A nice example is ‘The peasant dance’, ~1568, painted by Pieter Brueghel the Elder:

Pieter Brueghel, The peasant dance


Renaissance painting reflects the revolution of ideas and science, and the invention of printing press. Religion no longer dominated art. Artists felt free to use the world around them as a subject for their paintings. Those who could afford it, had portraits painted of themselves and their families. It is obvious that this period, the fifteenth and sixteenth century, panel painting became increasingly popular. Not only in private houses. In churches, paintings that could be hung on the wall became more popular than frescos.
In the sixteenth century several painters began to explore the expression of emotion through various painting techniques. In this period, beginning around 1600 and continuing for about two centuries, painting was characterized as Baroque. Caravaggio is an interesting example. His realistic approach to the human figure, painted directly from life instead from a statue, and his use of light and a dark background shocked his contemporaries. This process ushered in a new chapter in the history of painting. Baroque painting, often dramatized scenes using light to emphasize important parts of the painting and to provide atmosphere. This can be seen in works by the Dutch painters Rembrandt and Vermeer.



You are invited to help us to create a wonderful site as well. So please contribute your information, or - even better - send a picture of your paintings  to Cedar Gallery: cedars@live.nl