History painting

History painting

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History painting is a genre
Genre
Genre , Greek: genos, γένος) is the term for any category of literature or other forms of art or culture, e.g. music, and in general, any type of discourse, whether written or spoken, audial or visual, based on some set of stylistic criteria. Genres are formed by conventions that change over time...

 in painting
Painting
Painting is the practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a surface . The application of the medium is commonly applied to the base with a brush but other objects can be used. In art, the term painting describes both the act and the result of the action. However, painting is...

 defined by subject matter rather than an artistic style, depicting a moment in a narrative story, rather than a static subject such as a portrait. The term derives from the wider senses of the word historia in Latin and Italian, and essentially means "story painting", rather than the painting of scenes from history
History
History is the discovery, collection, organization, and presentation of information about past events. History can also mean the period of time after writing was invented. Scholars who write about history are called historians...

 in its narrower sense in modern English, for which the term historical painting may be used, especially for 19th century art. There is almost always a number of figures shown, often a large number. Depictions of moments in religious narratives, above all the Life of Christ
Life of Christ
The Life of Christ as a narrative cycle in Christian art comprises a number of different subjects, which were often grouped in series or cycles of works in a variety of media, narrating the life of Jesus on earth, as distinguished from the many other subjects in art showing the eternal life of...

, are included in the definition, as are narrative scenes from mythology
Mythology
The term mythology can refer either to the study of myths, or to a body or collection of myths. As examples, comparative mythology is the study of connections between myths from different cultures, whereas Greek mythology is the body of myths from ancient Greece...

, and these two groups were for long the most frequently painted; works such as Michelangelo
Michelangelo
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni , commonly known as Michelangelo, was an Italian Renaissance painter, sculptor, architect, poet, and engineer who exerted an unparalleled influence on the development of Western art...

's Sistine Chapel ceiling
Sistine Chapel ceiling
The Sistine Chapel ceiling, painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512, at the commission of Pope Julius II, is a cornerstone work of High Renaissance art. The ceiling is that of the large Papal Chapel built within the Vatican between 1477 and 1480 by Pope Sixtus IV after whom it is named...

 are therefore history paintings, as are most very large paintings before the 19th century. The term essentially covers large paintings in oil on canvas
Oil on Canvas
Oil on Canvas is a live album by the British band Japan, released in 1983 by Virgin Records. Although it is a live recording of their established material, the album also contains three new studio tracks , recorded separately by Sylvian, Sylvian/Jansen and Barbieri respectively...

 or fresco
Fresco
Fresco is any of several related mural painting types, executed on plaster on walls or ceilings. The word fresco comes from the Greek word affresca which derives from the Latin word for "fresh". Frescoes first developed in the ancient world and continued to be popular through the Renaissance...

 produced between the Renaissance and the late 19th century, after which the term is generally not used even for the many works that still meet the basic definition.

The history painting was traditionally regarded as the highest form of Western painting, occupying the most prestigious place in the hierarchy of genres
Hierarchy of genres
A hierarchy of genres is any formalization which ranks different genres in an art form in terms of their prestige and cultural value....

, and considered the equivalent to the epic
Epic (genre)
An epic is traditionally a genre of poetry, known as epic poetry. However in modern terms, epic is often extended to other art forms, such as novels, plays, films, and video games where the story is centered on heroic characters, and the action takes place on a grand scale, just as in epic poetry...

 in literature. In his Della Pictura of 1436 Leon Battista Alberti had argued that multi-figure history painting was the noblest form of art, as being the most difficult, which required mastery of all the others, because it was a visual form of history, and because it had the greatest potential to move the viewer. He placed emphasis on the ability to depict the interactions between the figures by gesture and expression. This view remained general until the 19th century, when artistic movements began to struggle against the establishment institutions of academic art
Academic art
Academic art is a style of painting and sculpture produced under the influence of European academies of art. Specifically, academic art is the art and artists influenced by the standards of the French Académie des Beaux-Arts, which practiced under the movements of Neoclassicism and Romanticism,...

, which continued to adhere to it. In some 19th or 20th century contexts the term may refer specifically to paintings of scenes from secular history, rather than those from religious narratives, literature or mythology.

Development



The term is generally not used in art history in speaking of medieval painting, although the Western tradition was developing in large altarpiece
Altarpiece
An altarpiece is a picture or relief representing a religious subject and suspended in a frame behind the altar of a church. The altarpiece is often made up of two or more separate panels created using a technique known as panel painting. It is then called a diptych, triptych or polyptych for two,...

s, fresco cycles, and other works, as well as miniatures
Miniature (illuminated manuscript)
The word miniature, derived from the Latin minium, red lead, is a picture in an ancient or medieval illuminated manuscript; the simple decoration of the early codices having been miniated or delineated with that pigment...

 in illuminated manuscripts. It comes to the fore in Italian Renaissance painting
Italian Renaissance painting
Italian Renaissance painting is the painting of the period beginning in the late 13th century and flourishing from the early 15th to late 16th centuries, occurring within the area of present-day Italy, which was at that time divided into many political areas...

, where a series of increasingly ambitious works were produced, many still religious, but several, especially in Florence, which did actually feature near-contemporary historical scenes such as the set on The Battle of San Romano
The Battle of San Romano
The Battle of San Romano is a set of three paintings by the Florentine painter Paolo Uccello depicting events that took place at the Battle of San Romano between Florentine and Sienese forces in 1432. They are significant as revealing the development of linear perspective in early Italian...

by Paolo Uccello
Paolo Uccello
Paolo Uccello , born Paolo di Dono, was an Italian painter and a mathematician who was notable for his pioneering work on visual perspective in art. Giorgio Vasari in his book Lives of the Artists wrote that Uccello was obsessed by his interest in perspective and would stay up all night in his...

, and the abortive Battle of Cascina
Battle of Cascina (Michelangelo)
The Battle of Cascina is an influential lost artwork by Michelangelo.-Origins:The painting was commissioned from Michelangelo by Piero Soderini, statesman of the Republic of Florence. It was intended to be a fresco painted on a wall of the Salone dei Cinquecento in Palazzo Vecchio...

by Michelangelo and Battle of Anghiari
The Battle of Anghiari (painting)
The Battle of Anghiari is a lost painting by Leonardo da Vinci at times referred to as "The Lost Leonardo", which some commentators believe to be still hidden beneath later frescoes in the Hall of Five Hundred in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence...

by Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci was an Italian Renaissance polymath: painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist and writer whose genius, perhaps more than that of any other figure, epitomized the Renaissance...

, neither of which were completed. Writers such as Giorgio Vasari
Giorgio Vasari
Giorgio Vasari was an Italian painter, writer, historian, and architect, who is famous today for his biographies of Italian artists, considered the ideological foundation of art-historical writing.-Biography:...

 followed public opinion in judging the best painters above all on their production of large canvases of history painting, and artists continued for centuries to strive to make their reputation by producing such works, often neglecting genres to which their talents were better suited.

By the late 18th century, with both religious and mytholological painting in decline, there was an increased demand for paintings of scenes from history, including contemporary history. The unheroic nature of modern dress was regarded as a serious difficulty. When, in 1770, Benjamin West
Benjamin West
Benjamin West, RA was an Anglo-American painter of historical scenes around and after the time of the American War of Independence...

 proposed to paint "The Death of General Wolfe
The Death of General Wolfe
The Death of General Wolfe is a well-known 1770 painting by Anglo-American artist Benjamin West depicting the death of British General James Wolfe during the 1759 Battle of Quebec of the Seven Years' War. It is an oil on canvas of the Enlightenment period...

" in contemporary dress, he was firmly instructed to use classical costume by many people. He ignored these comments and showed the scene in modern dress. Although George III refused to purchase the work, West succeeded both in overcoming his critics' objections and inaugurating a more historically accurate style in such paintings. Other artists depicted scenes, regardless of when they occurred, in classical dress and for a long time, especially during the French Revolution
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

, history painting often focused on depictions of the heroic male nude. Théodore Géricault
Théodore Géricault
Jean-Louis André Théodore Géricault was a profoundly influential French artist, painter and lithographer, known for The Raft of the Medusa and other paintings...

's The Raft of the Medusa (1818–1819) was a sensation, appearing to update the history painting for the 19th century, and showing anonymous figures only famous for being victims of what was then a famous and controversial disaster at sea. Conveniently their clothes had been worn away to classical-seeming rags by the point the painting depicts.

In the mid-nineteenth-century there arose a style known as historicism
Historicism (art)
Historicism refers to artistic styles that draw their inspiration from copying historic styles or artisans. After neo-classicism, which could itself be considered a historicist movement, the 19th century saw a new historicist phase marked by a return to a more ancient classicism, in particular in...

, which marked a formal imitation of historical styles and/or artists. Another development in the nineteenth century was the blending of this genre with that known as genre painting: the depiction of scenes of everyday life. Grand depictions of events of great public importance were supplemented with scenes depicting more personal incidents in the lives of the great, or the everyday life in historical settings. The artists who depicted them sometimes connected the change with the moral messages conveyed by the public events; they asserted that moral messages were also instructive in the ordinary life, and indeed, were even superior because more people would be able to apply the lesson implicit in a depiction of family life than in one of a heroic death on the battle field.

History painters



A history painter is not only a painter
Painting
Painting is the practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a surface . The application of the medium is commonly applied to the base with a brush but other objects can be used. In art, the term painting describes both the act and the result of the action. However, painting is...

 of historical motifs but depicts, in a "grand" style, man in general, and particularly the great events of Greek and Roman fable and history, the capital subjects of scripture history, a scene from a great literary work, or a famous event in the life of a baroque potentate. The subject commonly ought to be either some instance of heroic action or heroic suffering, with characters painted in classical poses. Artists frequently take great liberties with historical facts in portraying the scene.

History painting was the dominant form of academic
Academic art
Academic art is a style of painting and sculpture produced under the influence of European academies of art. Specifically, academic art is the art and artists influenced by the standards of the French Académie des Beaux-Arts, which practiced under the movements of Neoclassicism and Romanticism,...

 painting (the painting that came from the various national academies) in the 18th century, in particular, but also in the post-revolutionary France as well. As such, history painting was a target for later movements. The Impressionists
Impressionism
Impressionism was a 19th-century art movement that originated with a group of Paris-based artists whose independent exhibitions brought them to prominence during the 1870s and 1880s...

 rejected all historical subjects and tableau, aside from Édouard Manet
Édouard Manet
Édouard Manet was a French painter. One of the first 19th-century artists to approach modern-life subjects, he was a pivotal figure in the transition from Realism to Impressionism....

's war paintings. In other nations, such movements as the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of English painters, poets, and critics, founded in 1848 by William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti...

 in England focused on subjects from national literature and myth, rather than classical subjects. At the turn of the 20th century, it was possible to see paintings emerging from the official national academies depicting Nausicaa
Nausicaa
Nausicaa is a character in Homer's Odyssey . She is the daughter of King Alcinous and Queen Arete of Phaeacia. Her name, in Greek, means "burner of ships".-Role in the Odyssey:...

 at the same time that other painters were leaving the studio to paint in available light and focus only on humble subjects and pure sensation. History painters like Henri Jean-Baptiste Victoire Fradelle
Henri Jean-Baptiste Victoire Fradelle
Henri Jean-Baptiste Victoire Fradelle , was a Franco-English Victorian painter and portraitist, specializing in literary, historical and religious subjects. For more than a hundred years, he was confused with his son, Henry Joseph Fradelle , who was trained as an artist but had several professions,...

, Antoine-Jean, Baron Gros, Jacques-Louis David
Jacques-Louis David
Jacques-Louis David was an influential French painter in the Neoclassical style, considered to be the preeminent painter of the era...

, Claude Joseph Vernet, Carle Vernet, Pierre-Narcisse Guérin
Pierre-Narcisse Guérin
Pierre-Narcisse, baron Guérin was a French painter.-Biography:Guérin was born in Paris.A pupil of Jean-Baptiste Regnault, he carried off one of the three grands prix offered in 1796, in consequence of the competition not having taken place since 1793...

 and others attracted a following of students among younger painters several of whom developed the Romantic movement
Romanticism
Romanticism was an artistic, literary and intellectual movement that originated in the second half of the 18th century in Europe, and gained strength in reaction to the Industrial Revolution...

 in the early 19th century. Artists including Théodore Géricault
Théodore Géricault
Jean-Louis André Théodore Géricault was a profoundly influential French artist, painter and lithographer, known for The Raft of the Medusa and other paintings...

, Eugène Delacroix
Eugène Delacroix
Ferdinand Victor Eugène Delacroix was a French Romantic artist regarded from the outset of his career as the leader of the French Romantic school...

, and Paul Delaroche initially were considered History painters.

See also

  • Academic art
    Academic art
    Academic art is a style of painting and sculpture produced under the influence of European academies of art. Specifically, academic art is the art and artists influenced by the standards of the French Académie des Beaux-Arts, which practiced under the movements of Neoclassicism and Romanticism,...

  • Classicism
    Classicism
    Classicism, in the arts, refers generally to a high regard for classical antiquity, as setting standards for taste which the classicists seek to emulate. The art of classicism typically seeks to be formal and restrained: of the Discobolus Sir Kenneth Clark observed, "if we object to his restraint...

  • Neoclassicism
    Neoclassicism
    Neoclassicism is the name given to Western movements in the decorative and visual arts, literature, theatre, music, and architecture that draw inspiration from the "classical" art and culture of Ancient Greece or Ancient Rome...

  • Genre
    Genre
    Genre , Greek: genos, γένος) is the term for any category of literature or other forms of art or culture, e.g. music, and in general, any type of discourse, whether written or spoken, audial or visual, based on some set of stylistic criteria. Genres are formed by conventions that change over time...

  • Grand manner
    Grand manner
    Grand Manner refers to an idealized aesthetic style derived from classical art, and the modern "classic art" of the High Renaissance. In the eighteenth century, British artists and connoisseurs used the term to describe paintings that incorporated visual metaphors in order to suggest noble qualities...

  • Military art
    Military art
    Military art is a term describing works of art on military themes. The genre of military art is characterized by its subject matter rather than by any specific style or material used. The battle scene is one of the oldest types of art in developed civilizations, as rulers have always been keen to...


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