“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 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
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
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
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.
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
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,
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
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
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.
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: