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Painting, branch of the visual arts in which color, derived from any of numerous organic or synthetic substances, is applied to various surfaces to create a representational or abstract picture or design. This article traces the history of Western painting; for its development in other cultures, see cross-references at the end of this article.

Prehistoric and Ancient Painting

The earliest known Western paintings were executed deep within caves of southern Europe during the Paleolithic period, some 15,000 to 20,000 years ago. The early development of painting continued in the Mediterranean littoral.

Cave Paintings

The paintings still preserved on the walls of caves in Spain and southern France portray with amazing accuracy bison, horses, and deer. These representations were painted in bright colors composed of various minerals ground into powders and mixed with animal fat, egg whites, plant juices, fish glue, or even blood and applied with brushes made of twigs and reeds, or blown on. The pictures may have been part of a magic ritual, although their exact nature is unclear. In a cave painting at Lascaux, France, for example, a man is depicted among the animals, and several dark dots are included; the purpose of the design remains obscure, but shows the cave dwellers' ability to record their thoughts with images, signs, and symbols.

Egyptian Painting

More than 5000 years ago the Egyptians began painting the walls of the pharaohs' tombs with mythological representations and scenes of everyday activities such as hunting, fishing, farming, or banqueting. As in Egyptian sculpture, two stylistic constants prevailed: The images, being conceptual rather than realistic, present the most characteristic anatomical features and thus combine frontal and profile views of the same figure; and scale indicates importance-thus, a pharaoh is shown taller than his consort, children, or courtiers.

Minoan Painting

The Minoans, ancestors of the Greeks, created lively, realistic paintings on the walls of their palaces in Crete and also on pottery. For example, the famous Toreador Fresco (1500? BC, Heraklion Museum, Crete) shows a ritual game in which performers somersault over a bull's back. Marine life was a popular subject, as in the Dolphin Fresco (1500? BC) on the walls of the palace of King Minos in Knossos, or on the Octopus Vase (1500? BC, Heraklion Museum), a globular container decorated with octopus tentacles that undulate around the pot, defining and emphasizing its shape.

Greek Painting

Except for a few fragments, Greek wall paintings and panels have not survived. The naturalistic representations of mythological scenes on Greek pottery, however, may shed light on what this large-scale painting was like. In the Hellenistic era, scenes and designs represented in mosaics are probably also echoes of lost monumental paintings in other media.

Roman Painting

The Romans decorated their villas with mosaic floors and exquisite wall frescoes portraying rituals, myths, landscapes, still-life, and scenes of daily activities. Using the technique known as aerial perspective, in which colors and outlines of more distant objects are softened and blurred to achieve spatial effects, Roman artists created the illusion of reality. In the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 and excavated in modern times, a corpus of Roman painting, both secular and religious, has been preserved.

Early Christian and Byzar Painting

Surviving Early Christian painting dates from the 3rd and 4th centuries and consists of fresco paintings in the Roman catacombs and mosaics on the walls of churches. Certain stylizations and artistic conventions are characteristic of these representations of New Testament events. For example, Christ was shown as the Good Shepherd, a figural type adopted from representations of the Greek god Hermes; the resurrection was symbolized by depictions of the Old Testament story of Jonah, who was delivered from the fish. Among the most extraordinary works of this Early Christian period are the mosaics found in the 6th-century churches in Ravenna, Italy. San Vitale, in particular, is noted for its beautiful mosaics depicting both spiritual and secular subjects. On the church's walls, stylized elongated figures, mostly shown frontally, stare wide-eyed at the viewer and seem to float weightlessly, outside of time.

This otherworldly presentation became characteristic of Byzantine art, and the style came to be associated with the imperial Christian court of Constantinople (present-day Istanbul), which survived from AD 330 until 1453. The Byzantine style is also seen on icons, conventionalized paintings on wooden panels of Christ, the Virgin, or the saints, made for veneration. Illuminated manuscripts both of non-Christian texts-for example, the Vatican Vergil (4th or early 5th century, Biblioteca Vaticana, Rome)-and Christian writings such as the Paris Psalter (10th century, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris) show remnants of Greco-Roman art style.

Pintura prehispánica en América

Las pinturas murales de Teotihuacán y las poblaciones vecinas de Tetitla y Tepentitla expresan la visión de la creación del universo según los antiguos mesoamericanos que poblaron esa zona situada en el norte y el centro de América, entre los siglos II a.C. y VII d.C. La descripción del viaje que emprende el alma a través de lo que en conceptos cristianos se llamaría cielo e infierno refleja la inquietud respecto a la trascendencia del ser humano que no se conforma con su existencia terrenal. Alegorías de lo más preciado como el agua, la sangre, la vida, la serenidad, están reflejadas en los frescos dedicados a Tláloc, deidad de la lluvia, y al paraíso que ofrece cada vez que se prodiga. Además de los códices, o escenas de la vida y la historia prehispánicas plasmadas en libros pintados, sobresalen las pinturas murales de Cacaxtla, en Tlaxcala, y de Bonampak, en Yucatán (México). En ellas quedaron plasmadas vivas escenas bélicas y ceremoniales donde resalta el dramatismo del dolor y el orgullo del triunfo. El uso de los colores -como el fondo azul característico maya- y del detalle, en los innumerables giros y atributos de las vestimentas de los personajes que lucen excelsos penachos, armamentos, joyería, calzados, máscaras, sientan las bases de un pilar fundamental de la plástica americana. En un detalle de los frescos de Bonampak (c. 785 d.C.) se ve a un prisionero desmayado sobre una escalinata en uno de los escorzos más logrados de la pintura antigua. Es digno de mención el hecho de que pasarían unos siglos hasta que las culturas de América tuvieran contacto con las europeas y, por tanto, se desarrollaron sin ninguna influencia extracontinental.

Medieval Painting

The art of the Middle Ages-that produced outside the Byzantine Empire and within what had been the northern boundaries of the Roman world-can be categorized according to its distinctive stylistic traits. Anglo-Irish art, which flourished from the 7th to the 9th century in monasteries in various parts of the British Isles, was largely an art of intricate calligraphic designs (see Celts: Art; Irish Art; Calligraphy). Highly decorative illuminated manuscripts were produced, such as the Lindisfarne Gospels (698?-721, British Museum, London), which display flat, elaborate linear patterns combining Celtic and Germanic elements. In the Romanesque period, during the 11th and 12th centuries, no single style appeared in the manuscripts of northern Europe; some illuminations were of classical inspiration, while others show a new, highly charged, energetic drawing style (see Romanesque Art and Architecture). In the Gothic period that followed, from the later part of the 12th century to the beginning of the Italian Renaissance, a larger repertoire of media was introduced, and painting ceased to be entirely the product of the monasteries.

Gothic Painting

During the early Gothic period, as cathedral structure gave more emphasis to windows, stained glass occupied a more prominent role in the arts than did manuscript illumination. Lay artists now established workshops in Paris and other major centers, producing elaborately illuminated manuscripts for royal patrons. Paintings of secular subjects also survive from this period, notably in Italy. Ambrogio Lorenzetti painted frescoes from 1338 to 1339 in the Palazzo Pubblico (Town Hall) in Siena, portraying 14th-century city and country life, and in the hall's Council Chamber, Simone Martini painted an equestrian portrait in 1328 of a local military hero, depicting his encampment against a landscape background.

International Gothic Style

A merging of the artistic traditions of northern Europe and Italy took place at the beginning of the 15th century and is known as the International Gothic style. Among the many characteristics that define painting in this style is an attention to realistic detail that shows the artist's acute observation of human beings and of nature. In the early 1400s the Limbourg brothers moved from Flanders to France and created a magnificent Book of Hours, the famous Très riches heures du Duc de Berry (1413-1416, Musée Condé, Chantilly, France). One of the greatest works in the International Gothic style, this manuscript was done for their patron, Jean de France, Duc de Berry. Its remarkable calendar pages portray peasant life as well as that of the nobility, providing a brilliant record of the clothing, activities, and architecture of the times. Although these are full-page illustrations, they reflect an older medieval style, in that the figures are small and must vie for attention with other imagery.


By contrast, some 100 years earlier than the Limbourg brothers, the Italian painter Giotto had given a monumental scale and dignity to the human figure, making it the bearer of the drama. His work had thereby revolutionized Italian painting; eventually, his discoveries and those of other artists affected painting in the north. Giotto's superb frescoes of the lives of Christ and the Virgin, painted from 1305 to 1306, are in the Arena Chapel in Padua. In addition, Giotto painted large wood-panel altarpieces, as did several other late medieval painters.

Renaissance Painting

The term Renaissance, meaning "rebirth," describes the cultural revolution of the 15th and 16th centuries; it originated in Italy with the revival of interest in classical culture and a strong belief in individualism See Renaissance Art and Architecture. The achievements of antiquity were revered, but at the same time a virtual rebirth of human potential occurred when new authority was accorded the individual's direct observations. For example, in the Brancacci Chapel of the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence, Masaccio-one of the great innovators of the period-executed a remarkable series of frescoes in about 1427 that reveal his keen observation of human behavior and at the same time demonstrate his knowledge of ancient art. In the The Expulsion from Paradise, Masaccio's Adam and Eve truly mourn; Eve's pose, arms attempting to hide her body, is based on a pose characteristic of classical sculpture, the so-called Venus Pudica (modest Venus) type. An enormous body of Italian Renaissance painting can be seen in the churches and secular buildings of Italy and in museum collections throughout the world.

Early Renaissance Painting

The development of the principles of linear perspective by various architects and sculptors early in the 15th century enabled painters to achieve in two-dimensional representation the illusion of three-dimensional space. Many of the early Renaissance artists-such as Paolo Uccello, Piero della Francesca, and Andrea Mantegna-employed dramatic perspectives and foreshortening, a method of drawing so as to produce the illusion of the extension of an object or figure into space. Innovations were also made in representing human anatomy and in exploiting new media, with oil painting competing with the general use of the tempera and fresco techniques. Painters exploiting the potential of the new medium worked by building up layers of transparent oil glazes, and the canvas surface replaced the older wood panel. Somewhat later, other artists, notably the Venetians, became noted for their glowing oil colors-in particular, Domenico Veneziano, Giovanni Bellini, and Giorgione.

High Renaissance Painting

The masters of the High Renaissance were Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Titian. Paradoxically, Leonardo left but a handful of paintings, so occupied was he with the scientific observation of phenomena and with technological inventions. Because of his experiments with the medium, attempting to use oil pigments on dry plaster, his surviving fresco paintings have badly deteriorated-as is the case, notably, with the Last Supper (1495-1497, Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan). Raphael perfected earlier Renaissance discoveries in matters of color and composition, creating ideal types in his representations of the Virgin and Child and in penetrating portrait studies of his contemporaries. The Vatican's Sistine Chapel in Rome, with its ceiling frescoes (1508-1512) of the Creation and the Fall and the vast wall fresco (1536-1541) of the Last Judgment, attest to Michelangelo's genius as a painter. In Venice, a tradition of coloristic painting reached its climax in the works of Titian, whose portraits demonstrate a profound understanding of human nature. His masterpieces also include representations of Christian and mythological subjects, and his numerous renderings of the female nude are among the most celebrated of the genre.


A self-conscious, somewhat artificial style known as Mannerism arose in Italy about 1520. Complexity and distortion were emphasized rather than harmony of line, color, or composition; even religious Mannerist paintings are disquieting to the viewer. Among the Mannerists were Pontormo, Rosso Fiorentino, Parmigianino, Tintoretto, and Agnolo Bronzino. Best known of the later painters in the Mannerist style was El Greco, who had studied in Italy but settled finally in Spain. His intensely emotional approach charged even landscape-as in his View of Toledo (1600?-1610, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City)-with apocalyptic meaning.

Northern European Renaissance Painting

The influence of the Italian Renaissance affected northern Europe at the beginning of the 15th century, but this renewal of artistic and cultural activity was not based on classical antiquity. Rather, it was marked by an acute interest in human beings and their surroundings and by a meticulous recording of natural detail in paintings. Generally speaking, an interest in ancient art and a knowledge of linear perspective did not develop in the north until the 16th century, and even then, not all artists availed themselves of the discoveries that were made in Italy. 

One of the most important of 15th-century Netherlandish painters was Jan van Eyck who, with some assistance from his brother Hubert, painted the remarkable polyptych (many-paneled) Ghent Altarpiece (completed 1432, Church of Saint Bavon, Ghent, Belgium). Its 24 panels contain hundreds of figures, as well as a rich variety of vegetation so carefully rendered that more than 30 plant species can be identified. Other outstanding Flemish artists of the period were Rogier van der Weyden, who focused on emotional drama in his religious paintings; Hans Memling, who created delicate, graceful figures against ethereal backgrounds; and Hugo van der Goes, who painted a superb altarpiece (1476?, Uffizi, Florence) with a wealth of precise details for the Italian Portinari family. Characteristic of all these artists was the use of symbols, or iconography. 

Objects stood not simply for themselves but conveyed abstract ideas; a crystal vase, for example, meant purity. Linear perspective was unknown among the Flemish; nevertheless, their achievements with oil glazes and tempera have never been surpassed. In France, the most important painter of this period was Jean Fouquet, a superb portraitist as well as a miniaturist, who was influenced both by earlier Flemish art and contemporary Italian painting. Evidence of his visit to Italy in the 1440s is seen in the representation of an Italian Renaissance church in the background of one of the panels (1450?) of the two-panel devotional painting known as the Melun Diptych. One panel is in Berlin, Germany, at the Staatliche Museen and the other is in Antwerp, Belgium, at the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts. 

Great masterpieces were created in the early 1500s by painters who, more interested in the expressive value of their subjects, ignored perspective, anatomy, and correct proportions. An example is the Garden of Earthly Delights (1500?, Prado, Madrid), a triptych by the Netherlandish painter Hieronymus Bosch; it is a surreal conglomeration of sensuously suggestive human and animal shapes and strange plant forms. Another example of the characteristic 16th-century northern exaggeration of human form is the profoundly moving work, Isenheim Altarpiece (1512-1515?, Unterlinden Museum, Colmar, France), by the German painter Matthias Grünewald. In contrast, another German artist, Albrecht Dürer, truly the Renaissance genius of the north, is renowned for his superb rendition of the human figure.

 A Christian humanist whose scientific curiosity was comparable to that of Leonardo, Dürer was inspired by the Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus and by Martin Luther-as demonstrated in the engraving Knight, Death, and the Devil (1513) and the twin paintings the Four Apostles (1526?, Alte Pinakothek, Munich), both of which display his remarkable draftsmanship. Still another renowned German-born artist was Hans Holbein the Younger, who is principally remembered for his portraits, especially those of England's Henry VIII and Sir Thomas More. Among the 16th-century Netherlandish painters, Pieter Bruegel the Elder is most notable; his scenes of peasant life, many of which are satirical comments on human folly, are highly esteemed. Drawing on myth, parables, and proverbs, Bruegel's engaging paintings have charmed viewers for more than 400 years.

Baroque Painting

Baroque art of the 17th century is characterized by its dynamic appearance, in contrast to the relatively static classical style of the Renaissance (see Baroque Art and Architecture). Typical of the baroque style are diagonal compositional lines, which give a sense of movement, and use of strong chiaroscuro (contrasts of light and shadow). Both these techniques created a grandiose, dramatic style appropriate to the vital spirit of the Counter Reformation. Many painters of the early 17th century also began to turn away from the artificiality of Mannerism in an attempt to emulate more closely the natural world.

Italian Baroque Painting

In Italy, many innovative artists worked during the baroque period. Splendid ceiling frescoes by Annibale Carracci, Guido Reni, Guercino, and Pietro da Cortona decorate various palaces in Rome, all to some extent inspired by Michelangelo's murals in the Sistine Chapel. Perhaps the most influential of the Italian baroque innovators was Caravaggio; his use of powerful chiaroscuro effects in religious and genre paintings had a profound influence on other Italian painters, such as Orazio Gentileschi and his daughter Artemisia, and, indeed, on European art in general. This style has been called tenebrism, from the Latin word for "darkness."

French Baroque Painting

Two French painters in particular assimilated the Caravaggesque style. Georges de La Tour, primarily a painter of religious subjects, was a master of light and shadow, demonstrating his virtuosity at so illuminating faces and hands, by the light of a single candle, that flesh seems almost translucent. Louis Le Nain also used light and shadow dramatically in his monumental paintings of peasant life. In general, however, French baroque artists practiced a classical restraint that brought clarity, balance, and harmony to their pictures. This is seen both in the classical subjects painted by Nicolas Poussin and in the dreamlike landscapes of Claude Lorrain; significantly, both artists spent most of their careers in Italy

Spanish Baroque Painting

In Spain, Jusepe de Ribera and Francisco de Zurbarán absorbed Caravaggio's Tenebrism, but each brought different interests and tendencies to his work. Ribera could be brutally realistic, as in the Clubfooted Boy (1652, Louvre, Paris). Zurbarán imbued his religious paintings with Spanish mysticism; like Caravaggio, he also excelled in still life. Diego Velázquez, court painter to Philip IV, was the greatest Spanish painter of the age and a consummate master of tone and color. He approached his subjects with detachment, dispassionately but realistically portraying members of the royal family. The royal entourage can be seen in his masterpiece, Las meninas (The Maids of Honor, 1656, Prado); as symbol of its veracity, it even includes a portrait of Velázquez himself at his easel.

Flemish Baroque Painting

Peter Paul Rubens, the Flemish baroque master, was also strongly influenced by Caravaggesque Tenebrism as well as by the work of the great Venetian colorists Titian and Veronese. Such was Rubens's popularity that he established a large workshop of assistants in Antwerp to help him carry out the great number of commissions he received from the city, the church, royalty, and private patrons. His enormous oeuvre includes portraits; a great outpouring of religious paintings; and treatments of mythological themes, classical legends, and history-all expressing the exuberance of the baroque style and attesting to the painter's own vitality of spirit. 

Large in scale, these paintings are charged with vibrant color and light, dramatic in composition and fluid of line. Rubens's way of contrasting light and shadow, as well as his wide range of themes, can be seen by considering just two of his paintings: The Descent from the Cross (1611-1614, Cathedral, Antwerp), with its great compositional sweep, and the tender portrait of a beautiful young woman in Le chapeau de paille (1620?, National Gallery, London). Anthony van Dyck, one of Rubens's assistants, became famous for his portraits of members of the court of Charles I of England. These paintings are imbued with an elegance and attention to detail characteristic of Rubens; they had enormous influence on the style of 18th-century English portraiture.

Duch Baroque Painting

An extraordinary number of fine painters emerged in the Netherlands during the 17th century; all, however, were surpassed by Rembrandt. His early works, such as the Money-Changer (1627, Staatliche Museen, Berlin), were influenced by Caravaggio; his later paintings, for example the 1659 Self-Portrait (Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood House, London), display his incomparable chiaroscuro technique and psychological profundity. Other Dutch artists were Frans Hals, who, like Rembrandt, painted group portraits; and Jan van Goyen and Jacob van Ruisdael, who did magnificent landscapes. Numerous "little Dutch masters" excelled in genre scenes, portrayals of everyday life that delighted the newly rising middle classes, who were becoming art patrons. Foremost among these painters was Jan Vermeer, whose paintings-such as View of Delft (1660?, Mauritshuis, The Hague)-although small in actual size, give a sense of ordered space and are, above all, masterpieces of the effect of light.

Rococo Painting

Rococo art, which flourished in France and Germany in the early 18th century, was in many respects a continuation of the baroque, particularly in the use of light and shadow and compositional movement. Rococo, however, is a lighter, more playful style, highly suited to the decoration of, for example, the Parisian hôtels (city residences of the nobility). Among rococo painters, Jean-Antoine Watteau is known for his ethereal pictures of elegantly dressed lovers disporting themselves at fêtes galantes (fashionable outdoor gatherings); such pastoral fantasies were much emulated by other French artists. Highly popular also were mythological and pastoral scenes, including lighthearted and graceful depictions of women, by François Boucher and Jean Honoré Fragonard. J. B. S. Chardin, however, took a different view, portraying women in his genre scenes as good mothers and household managers; he also was outstanding in rendering still-life. 

The rococo style in Germany is exemplified by the work of the Italian painter Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, who spent some time in Würzburg, Germany; his huge illusionistic ceiling frescoes (1743-1752) decorate the staircase hall and the Kaisersaal (the main reception hall) of the Residenz, the episcopal palace in Würzburg. Paralleling the rococo tradition of the continent were the works of three major artists of 18th-century England. William Hogarth was known for his moralistic narrative paintings and engravings satirizing contemporary social follies, as in his famous series (first painted and then engraved) Marriage à la Mode (1745), which traces the ruinous course of marriage for money. Thomas Gainsborough and Sir Joshua Reynolds, following the tradition established by van Dyck, concentrated on portraits of the English aristocracy. The verve and grace of these paintings and their astute psychological interpretations raise them from mere society portraiture to an incomparable record of period manners, costumes, and landscape moods. See Rococo Style.

Neoclassical Painting

A revolution in painting took place in the latter half of the 18th century, as chaste neoclassicism superseded the exuberant rococo style. This classical revival in the arts was brought about by several occurrences. First, much archaeological excavation began to be done in the mid-18th century in Italy and Greece; books were published containing drawings of ancient buildings, which were eagerly copied by English and French architects. Second, in 1755 the German art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann published his influential essay Gedanken über die Nachahmung der Griechischen Werke in der Malerei und Bildhauerkunst (Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek Works in Painting and Sculpture), praising Greek sculpture. This work impressed, among others, four foreign artists living in Rome. 

They were the Scotsman Gavin Hamilton, the German Anton Raphael Mengs, the Swiss Angelica Kauffmann, and the American Benjamin West; all were inspired to create paintings with themes based on classical literature. It was, however, a French painter-Jacques-Louis David-who became the leading proponent of neoclassicism. He, too, was imbued with classical influences from his stay in Rome, as well as from an earlier source, the paintings of Poussin, the 17th-century French classicist. David's sober style was in harmony with the ideals of the French Revolution. Such a painting as the Oath of the Horatii (1784-1785, Louvre) inspired patriotism; others, such as the Death of Socrates (1787, Metropolitan Museum), preached stoicism and self-sacrifice. 

Not only did David's subject matter have its sources in ancient history and classical myth, but the form of his figures was based on ancient sculpture. David's great successor was Jean-August-Dominique Ingres, whose cool serenity of line and tone and painstaking attention to details-as in his striking portrait La comtesse d'Haussonville (1845, Frick Collection, New York City)-became identified with the academic tradition in France. Nevertheless, elements of the romantic trend soon to succeed neoclassicism can be found in Ingres's interest in non-European subjects, as demonstrated by several paintings of odalisques (concubines or women in a harem). 

Among the many other French painters influenced by David were several women who figured prominently among his followers. Some of the most outstanding were Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, Marie Guillemine Benoist, and Constance Marie Charpentier. Some of the works of these painters have in the past been mistakenly attributed to David; recent scholarship has been attempting to identify their individual contributions.

Romantic Painting

Closely succeeding neoclassicism, the romantic movement introduced a taste for the medieval and the mysterious, as well as a love of the picturesque and sublime in nature (see Romanticism). The play of individual imagination, giving expression to emotion and mood, superseded the reasoned intellectual approach of the neoclassicists. In general, romantic painters favored coloristic and painterly techniques over the linear, cool-toned neoclassic style.

French Romantic Painting

A follower of David who ultimately turned more to the romantic style was his pupil Baron Antoine Jean Gros, noted for his portrayals of Napoleon in full regalia and for large canvases vividly depicting Napoleonic campaigns. Gros's colleague Théodore Géricault was especially renowned for his dramatic and monumental interpretation of an actual event. His masterpiece, the Raft of the Medusa (1818-1819, Louvre), endows the suffering of the survivors of a shipwreck with a heroic quality. This painting deeply impressed Eugéne Delacroix, who pursued the theme of suffering humanity in such energetic, intensely dramatic works as Massacre at Chios (1822-1824) and Liberty Leading the People (1830), both in the Louvre. Delacroix and other romantics also drew their subject matter from literature and from travels to the Middle East. 

Delacroix's divided-color technique (that is, color laid on in small strokes of pure pigment) was to influence the impressionists later in the 19th century. During the romantic period, several French painters concentrated on picturesque landscape views and sentimental scenes of rural life. Jean François Millet was one of a number of artists who settled at the village of Barbizon, near Paris; taking a worshipful view of nature, he transformed the peasants into Christian symbols (see Barbizon School). Camille Corot, a painter of poetic, silvery-toned woodland scenes and landscapes, included visits to Barbizon among his extensive travels, portraying the lyrical aspects of nature there, as well as in other parts of France and Italy.

English Romantic Painting

Romantic landscape painting also flourished in England; the trend began early in the 19th century and is exemplified in the works of John Constable and Joseph Mallord William Turner. Although distinctly different in their styles, both artists were ultimately concerned with depicting the effects of light and atmosphere. Despite Constable's factual and scientific approach-working outdoors, he painted numerous studies of cloud formations and made notes on light and weather conditions-his canvases are poetic, expressing the cultivated gentleness of the English countryside. Turner, on the other hand, sought the sublime in nature, painting cataclysmic snowstorms or depicting the elements-earth, air, fire, and water-in a sweeping, nearly abstract manner. His way of dissolving forms in light and veils of color was to play an important role in the development of French impressionist painting.

German Romantic Painting

Of Germany's romantic artists, Caspar David Friedrich was the leading figure. Landscape was his favored vehicle of expression. He imbued his hypnotic pictures with religious mysticism, portraying the earth undergoing transformations at dawn and sunset, or in the fog and mists, perhaps alluding thereby to the transience of life. Philipp Otto Runge also devoted his brief career to painting mystical landscapes. Morning (1808-1809, Kunsthalle, Hamburg) is part of an otherwise unfinished allegorical landscape cycle, The Four Phases of the Day.

American Romantic Painting

America's first truly romantic artist was Washington Allston, whose paintings are mysterious, brooding, or evocative of poetic reverie. Like other romantics, he was inspired by the Bible, poetry, and novels, as is evident in numerous works. Several artists working between 1820 and 1880 are now distinguished as the Hudson River school; their enormous canvases reveal their reverence for the beauty of the American landscape. Thomas Cole, the most noteworthy of these painters, charged his scenes with moral implications, as is evident in his epic series of five allegorical paintings, The Course of Empire (1836, New-York Historical Society, New York City). In mid-19th-century landscape painting there appeared a new trend, now defined as luminism, an interest in the atmospheric effects of diffused light. Among the luminist painters were John F. Kensett, Martin J. Heade, and Fitz Hugh Lane. A sense of "God in nature" is apparent in their pictures, as in the earliest works of the Hudson River school. In contrast to the smaller and more intimate luminist works-for example, Kensett's scenes along the Rhode Island shore-Frederick E. Church and Albert Bierstadt painted the spectacular scenery of South American jungles and the American West on enormous canvases.
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"Painting," Microsoft(R) Encarta(R) 98 Encyclopedia. (c) 1993-1997 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.