Timeline Description: European art history began with early mobile anthropomorphic carvings in the Paleolithic era, as well as cave paintings reflecting the natural world. Europe took a distinct turn from other regions with the rise of the Greek empire, and Greek classical art and architecture influenced later European art for centuries. The Christian church influenced much of medieval art until the Renaissance, when a revival in classical ideas turned artistic attention to humanistic themes. Subsequent artistic movements were alternatively progressive and conservative, typically developing as reactions to previous movements.
|38,000 BC||Prehistoric anthropomorphic carvings are made in Europe.(c. 38,000 BCE)
The oldest known anthropomorphic animal carving in the world dates from 38,000 BCE. Discovered in a cave in southwest Germany, the Lion Man of Hohlenstein Stadel is an ivory carving of a lion-headed figure. Other prehistoric carvings date from similar eras in other parts of Europe. This figure, along with others, suggests that lions serve symbolic roles in the Upper Paleolithic era.
|15,000 BC||Humans paint the Lascaux caves.(c. 15,000 BCE)
Paleolithic art becomes more complex as humans begin to interpret and lend meaning to their surroundings. Around 15,000 BCE humans in southwestern France create a series of paintings on the walls of the Lascaux caves. These images depict animals in the surrounding landscape, including horses, mammoths, ibex, and wolves. The use of outlines and twisted perspective lends the animals a strong vitality.
|1900 BC||Minoan civilization peaks.(c. 1900 BCE)
Around 1900 BCE, Minoan civilization on Crete peaks, as the Minoans build palaces, or political and economic centers, featuring sophisticated masonry and colorful frescoes. Great prosperity and success in trade allows the Minoans to make technical advances in metalworking and pottery in a variety of media, including clay, gold, stone, and ivory.
|447 BC||Work begins on the Greek Parthenon.(447 BCE)
As part of Pericles' great building project to improve Athens, now the center of power in the Greek empire, work begins on the Parthenon in 447 BCE. Dedicated to Athena, the patron goddess of Athens, the Doric temple is built entirely of marble and decorated with some of the finest examples of high Classical sculpture. The Parthenon, along with other examples of Classical Greek art, continues to impact major works of art to the present day.
|843||The Middle Byzantine period produces religious iconography.(843 CE)
After the fall of the Roman empire, European art is primarily early Christian work. It is not until the Middle Byzantine period that religious iconography flourishes. In 843 CE, a controversy over iconography resolves in favor of the use of icons, and Byzantine artwork flourishes with the use of frescoes and mosaics featuring religious themes.
|1100||Gothic architecture experiments with innovations.(c. 1100)
From 1100 onward, Gothic architecture experiments with innovations to construct wider, taller buildings in stone. This results in innovations such as the pointed arch and flying buttresses, as architects compete across Europe to build ever-taller cathedrals. Gothic painting develops later, as artists focus on religious scenes painted on panels or frescoes.
|1408||The Renaissance begins in Italy.(c. 1408)
The Italian sculptor Donatello begins applying techniques studied from classical Roman art to his work around 1408. Other painters, writers, and thinkers draw on their interest in classical learning, as well. This sparks the Renaissance in Europe, a time of renewed focus on humanism, individualism, and classical ideas.
|1563||Baroque art responds to the Renaissance.(c. 1563)
Around 1563, the Council of Trent adopts a propagandistic stance in which art is to stimulate the public's interest and faith in the Roman Catholic church. This is partially in response to the Renaissance and its subsequent developments, such as the Reformation. Baroque art treats religious subjects in a naturalistic way, to make them more accessible to the viewer, while also using dramatic effects to encourage devotion and wonder.
|1730||Rococo art peaks in France.(c. 1730)
Rococo art develops in France in the early eighteenth century as a reaction to the rigid guidelines and symmetry of Baroque art. Highly decorative and ornate, with a loose, teasing style, Rococo art peaks in France around 1730 and is adopted in other European countries as a "French taste."
|1760||Neoclassicism develops in the visual arts.(c. 1760)
In response to the highly decorative visual art and architecture of the Baroque and Rococo styles, Neoclassicism develops around 1760. This style emphasizes simplicity and symmetry, recalling Greek and Roman influences as well as Renaissance influences. Subjects often reflect the influence of Romanticism as well as classical models.
|1760||English painters turn to Romanticism.(c. 1760)
Around 1760, English painters turn to Romanticism, a movement where artists depict the wildness and chaos of nature and storms in their landscapes. The movement, which is in part a backlash against the Industrial Revolution and Neoclassicism, spreads throughout Europe and America and gains followers throughout the nineteenth century. It peaks around 1850.
|1840||The Realist movement begins in France.(c. 1840)
Around 1840, the Realism movement begins in French art, and it lasts until the late nineteenth century. This movement, which develops in response to calls for democratic reform, aims to democratize art by depicting modern subjects from everyday working-class life. Painters reject the wild themes of Romanticism and the idealized subjects of Neoclassicism.
|1874||A Paris exhibition launches Impressionism.
In 1874, a Paris exhibition by painters including Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, and Camille Pissarro launches Impressionism. While initially panned by critics, the exhibition introduces a new style of unfinished, sketch-like painting. Impressionism focuses on depicting contemporary subjects in this innovative style while rejecting traditional motifs. It serves as the springboard for later avant-garde styles, including Post-Impressionism and Fauvism.
|1905||Fauvism emerges in France.
When Henri Matisse and André Durain exhibit their vivid, unnaturalistic paintings in 1905, the critic Louis Vauxcelles calls them fauves, or "wild beasts." Critics later use this term to describe the resulting avant-garde movement, Fauvism, which emerges in France in the early twentieth century. Painters use spontaneous brushstrokes and vibrant colors to depict their responses to nature, in a break with Impressionism.
|1914||Postmodern art emerges.(c. 1914)
Around 1914, at the outbreak of World War I, the movement later known as postmodern art emerges in Europe. Postmodern art both arises from and is a rejection of modernism, or avant-garde movements, and almost universally includes paradox. As suggested by Edouard Manet, paradox in art examines the difference between reality and representation.