Study guide: famous artists: works, styles, periods medieval art


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Medieval art refers to the art completed during the period between 300 A.D. and the early 1300s. The main subject matter was the Christian religion.

Artists of this time period ignored perspective and gave their work a flat look. Most of the paintings were painted to tell a religious story, and symbols were used extensively, such as painting the sky gold to signify God’s supreme presence in the heavens. Because they were concerned about religion and life after death, they did not worry about painting the world as it really was.
Although almost all medieval art dealt with the subject of religion, several different styles were developed, based mainly upon the time frame and the location of the painter.


  1. BYZANTINE STYLE: This popular style was started in 300 A.D. and was centered around the city of Byzantium, which is now Istanbul, Turkey. It became the standard style for Eastern Europe and the Near East. All pictures focused on religion. The figures were very stiff and not life like. Much color was used, and most colors were used to symbolize religious ideas. One of the most famous paintings of the time was Enthroned Madonna and Child by an unknown artist. It now hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. It shows Mary holding baby Jesus, who is pictured as a small child, but created with the facial features of an adult male.


  1. CELTIC STYLE: This style developed in Ireland and Northern Europe. It became famous for its illuminations (illustrations) for Bibles. Each picture was formed by using many interacting lines, thus causing the pictures to have an abstract pattern.

  1. ROMANESQUE STYLE: This style became common in Western Europe from 1000 to 1100 A.D. At this time, many churches were being built, and artists painted lovely pictures on the walls of the churches. Bright colors were used, and all pictures still lacked perspective, causing a flat appearance. Most showed events described in the Bible.

  1. GOTHIC STYLE: This style replaced the Romanesque style during the 1200s. Gothic architectural styles featured many windows, which eliminated the wall space needed for the large Romanesque frescoes. Artists filled the windows with stained glass that told religious stories. Bright blues and reds were favorite glass colors.

Many other artists during this time made illuminations, or ornate pictures, for Gospel books and Bibles.

  1. REALISM: During the 1200s, many European artists turned toward realism. They began to paint and create art that resembled the real object, person, or scene. The main theme still continued to be religious in nature.

Giotto: An Italian painter was one of the more famous and influential artists of this time. He still continued to paint frescoes when possible. His painting called The Lamentation of Christ shows Mary holding onto Jesus after he was crucified. The sky is blue, as in real life, and the people appear lifelike. Giotto placed a painted frame around his painting to make the picture appear more like a window.

The Renaissance began in Italy in 1300, and it spread northward until it had reached almost all of Europe by 1600. During this time, people became very interested in the arts. Religious subject matter was still the main focus, but artists turned more toward realism and tried to portray people and nature as it really appeared. Florence, Italy was the center for art during this time. The Renaissance in Florence gave us many wonderful painters.

  1. Fra Angelico: He was a monk who painted religious topics. His most famous fresco was The Annunciation, where he painted the angel Gabriel telling Mary that she would become the mother of Jesus.


  1. Sandro Botticelli: He began Neo-Platonism, which combined religious ideas and mythology. His most important painting is The Birth of Venus. In this painting, Venus, the goddess of beauty and love, is shown emerging from the sea, where she was supposedly born. She is standing on a seashell. Botticelli also painted Primavera, a figure that represents the season, spring that is carried by the west wind. The three Graces from mythology are dancing in a circle in the center of the picture. Many of Botticelli’s works were painted upon wooden panels.

  1. Leonardo da Vinci: He was probably the greatest and best-known artist of the 1400s. Besides painting, he was an inventor and drew many sketches of interesting inventions, from which inventors devised many of their ideas in later times. His two most famous paintings were the Mona Lisa (now in the Louvre) and The Last Supper, which was a fresco showing Jesus and his 12 disciples at their last meal. They are seated at a long table. This fresco was painted on a damp wall with oil paint, which caused the paint to chip and crack. It is now so badly damaged that it can not be viewed by the public.


The Madonna of the Rocks

La Giocanda

Leonardo da Vinci: A Self-Portrait

While Italian painters loved creating frescoes, Flemish painters preferred to paint using oils. They painted realistically but added many details.

  1. Jan Van Eyck painted The Arnolfini Wedding, where a couple is being married by Jesus instead of by a priest. A pair of slippers is tossed to the side, and a dog is in the forefront of the picture. The people and their surroundings are realistic. Van Eyck is noted for the development of oil painting.

  1. Hieronymus Bosch painted The Temptation of St. Anthony, which is a collection of all types of grotesque creatures.


  1. Titian: He was the main painter from this area, and he painted mainly with oils on canvas. He used large brushes and made wide, sweeping movements. He chose warm, rich colors. One artist accused him of painting with a broom because his lines were so coarse and thick.

By the 1500s, Rome had replaced Florence as the center of Italian painting. The Pope spent much money on art and the decoration of the city. This time period in art was referred to as the High Renaissance.

  1. Raphael: He painted a series of paintings of Madonnas. The term “Madonna” was the title for The Virgin Mary, and most of them were pictured with the infant, Jesus. His Madonnas were graceful and very real in appearance. He is best known for Madonna and Child. He is also known for The School of Athens.


The Tempi Madonna

Madonna of the Goldfinch

St. George and the Dragon
Raphael was also hired to decorate four rooms in the apartment of the Pope in the Vatican.

  1. Michelangelo: He decorated the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, which took four years to complete. The Creation of Adam is one of the paintings (frescoes) done on the ceiling. In this fresco, God and the angels are reclining on a cloud. God reaches out toward Adam, the first man, to give Adam the spark of life.

He also created the statue of David. The statue was created from marble, and it showed David shortly before he went to slay Goliath.

  1. El Greco was often called “The Greek.” His real name was Kyriakos Theotokopoulos. He distorted natural forms and used even stranger, more unnatural colors. He started a style called Baroque in Europe. El Greco painted View of Toledo, depicting a storm raging above the stillness of the city. The entire picture is done in cold blues, greens, and bluish-white colors.

This period in art began in Europe during the 1600s, or 17th century. The Protestant religion was increasing in strength, and people in these countries were beginning to develop a strong sense of patriotism. Patriotism became a strong theme, and it was emphasized by clear strokes, realistic portrayals, and a show of emotion.


  1. Caravaggio: He painted directly from life and copied nature faithfully. He showed the poor people of the time in a realistic fashion.

  1. Carracci: He painted Hercules at the Crossroads, where Hercules is trying to decide whether he wants to go the easy route, and sin, or go the hard route and obtain pleasure through work.


  1. Peter Paul Ruebens: He painted Elevation of the Cross, which pictures Jesus upon the cross as it is being raised. It is a very emotional picture with realistic people and surroundings.

  1. Anton Van Dyck: He was an assistant to Ruebens in his studio. He became the painter to the Court of King Charles I of England. He painted the king on a hunting excursion in his painting called Portrait of Charles I Hunting.


  1. Diego Velazquez: He was one of the greatest Spanish painters of all times. He painted mainly portraits in the rich, baroque style. His subjects appear very personable and are painted with much color. Some of his more famous paintings are of Prince Phillip IV. In The Maids of Honor, he painted the Spanish princess, Margarita, surrounded by her friends and maids.


  1. Rembrandt van Rijn (called just Rembrandt): He became the greatest master of all Dutch artists. He painted religious subjects even though he, himself, was not very religious and followed no particular faith. He liked to paint the Bible stories so that the emotions of the people were shown.


Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph

The Night Watch

ROCOCO STYLE: This was style during the late Baroque Period that appeared mainly toward the end of the 1600s in France. It was most popular from 1720 to 1780. Rococo paintings were relaxing and lighthearted, with very few serious topics.

Jean Antoine Watteau, Francois Boucher, and Jean Honore Fragonard were the three most famous rococo painters. They painted pictures of dreamlike picnics in the park and girls on swings.
ART IN THE 1800s
ROMANTICISM: Romantic painters expressed the imagination and feelings of the artist. Pictures showed much activity, and they could even be violent in nature. The movement started in France during the late 1700s, and it progressed into the early 1800s.

  1. Francisco Goya: He was a Spanish painter who was a forerunner of romanticism. He painted a wide variety of topics, such as kings, common people, insane people, and soldiers. He also made many portraits of the Royal Family.

His most famous painting, The Third of May, 1808, shows a group of Spanish rebels being executed by French soldiers.

  1. Eugene Delacroix: He was a French Painter who considered color the most important element in his work. He chose unusual events and faraway places.

  1. Edouard Manet: He was a French artist who was mainly interested in creating lovely pictures. Viewers could find little meaning in his work.

One of his more famous paintings is Luncheon on the Grass. He also painted many street and café scenes.

This art movement was started in France about 1870. The three most famous impressionist artists were Claude Monet, Pierre Auguste Renoir, and Edgar Degas. They chose to paint nature exactly as it was.

The impressionists did not think that every picture needed to tell a story. Most of their subjects were everyday people like the painters themselves. They used bright colors. They based their paintings upon the idea that nature continually changes, and their paintings should reflect these changes, like a camera would capture shadows and light.

Claude Monet often painted the same scene at different times during the day to capture the changes. He dealt mainly with outdoor scenes. Impression: Sunrise is one of his more famous paintings.
Renoir mainly painted scenes showing the Parisian life. He used very small brush strokes, and chose red as the dominant color in his paintings. His most famous works were The Bathers, and Dance at Bouvigal.

Degas painted inside and outside scenes. He’s especially well known for his ballet dancers and landscapes.
Jean Francois Millet was another impressionist who was not as well known. However, his painting called The Gleaners was much admired and hangs in the Louvre today. It pictures three stooped-over women who are working in the fields.
The three most important postimpressionists were Paul Cezanne, Paul Gauguin, and Vincent Van Gogh. Other postimpressionist painters were George Seurat and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Van Gogh was Dutch, while the others were all French.
These artists stressed form and mass to make their paintings have a more durable appearance. They reacted against the realism that the impressionists had shown.
Paul Cezanne believed that all forms of nature could be reduced to cones, cylinders, and cubes. His paintings became rather abstract. He liked to paint still-life, which he also painted using geometric shapes.
Gauguin settled on the island of Tahiti, and his paintings reflected this area. He made his people look puzzled because he believed that humans were always searching for answers and meaning in life. Many of his paintings were of Polynesian women.

Van Gogh expressed his feelings through the use of strong color. His art was very intense. He is known for his Starry Night and Sunflowers paintings. In his painting called Field of Yellow Corn, he just squeezed a tube of yellow paint directly onto the canvas. In a fit of depression, he cut off one of his ears, and eventually he committed suicide.

Toulouse-Lautrec painted and drew pictures of the night life of Paris. His paintings were lively paintings of actresses, dance hall girls, circus performers, and singers.
George Seurat created a style called pointillism. He painted by creating tiny dots that blended from a distance to form a picture. Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte is a huge picture painted in the pointillism style.

ART IN THE 1900s
This began in 1907 and became an important form of modern art. The two main cubists were George Braque of France and Pablo Picasso of Spain. They based their paintings on Cezanne’s earlier ideas and used geometric figures to create objects or people.
Pablo Picasso began this movement. His most important works are Three Musicians and Guernica, which was done in black, white, and gray, and emphasized the horrors of war. Picasso also created many sculptures from metal cutouts. One of his 50-foot sculptures stands in Chicago’s Daley Plaza.
Most of this art portrayed Mexican heroes and the history of the country. Huge murals were the common form of art.

  1. Diego Rivera: He is known for his large murals that depicted poor Mexican peasants or for his war scenes. One of his main paintings was Agrarian Leader Zapata, which showed the life history of a Mexican revolutionary leader named Emiliano Zapata.

  1. Jose Clemente Orozco: He is known for his paintings that mixed Aztec mythology with modern themes. His best known work is An Epic of American Civilization.


  1. James Audubon: An artist and naturalist of the nineteenth century who painted hundreds of different pictures of birds. These pictures are shown in his book called The Birds of America.

  1. Alexander Calder: An American sculptor of the twentieth century who is known for his elaborate mobiles.

  1. Mary Cassatt: An artist of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who spent much of her life in France, learning from the French impressionists. She mainly painted pictures of mothers and their children.

  1. Nathaniel Currier and J. Merritt Ives: Two business partners who joined together to produce colorful prints of everyday American life during the nineteenth century.

  1. Rube Goldberg: An American sculptor and cartoonist of the twentieth century who was known for his diagrams of detailed machines, which he designed to carry out simple tasks in progressive non-stop fashion.


  1. Winslow Homer: Known for his watercolor paintings of seascapes.

  1. Grandma Moses: An American artist of the twentieth century who began to paint when she was in her seventies. She painted mainly farm life, in a very simple way, similar to the art of a child. This style was called primitivism.

  1. Georgia O’Keefe: An American painter of the twentieth century who painted many Southwestern scenes, showing deserts, wildlife, and Indian artifacts.

  1. Jackson Pollock: An American painter of the twentieth century who created abstract paintings by pouring and swirling paint on the canvas.

  1. Norman Rockwell: An artist and illustrator known for his illustrations for The Saturday Evening Post magazines. He portrayed rural scenes very realistically and showed the lifestyles of people who lived in rural locations.

  1. Gilbert Stuart: Known for his portraits of the Presidents and his entire series of George Washington portraits.

  1. Archibald M. Willard: An artist who painted scenes during the Revolutionary War. His most famous work is The Spirit of ‘76, which shows three wounded soldiers who are still marching along with spirit. One is playing a fife, while the other two are playing drums. A company of soldiers is following them.

  1. James Whistler: A nineteenth century painter who painted his mother, dressed in black, and seated on the edge of a straight chair. The original name of the painting is Arrangement in Grey and Black, Number 1, but it has become known as Whistler’s Mother.

  1. Grant Wood: The artist known for American Gothic, which shows a farmer and a woman standing in front of a farmhouse. They both wear stern expressions, and the farmer is holding a pitchfork.

  1. Frank Lloyd Wright: An American sculptor who created the philosophy of organic architecture. He believed that the building should develop out of its natural surroundings. He created the “prairie houses,” which were single-family residences located on the prairies during the very early 1900s. The Robie House in Chicago is an example of this style. He also designed the Larkin Building in Buffalo, New York, which was the first office building to use air-conditioning, double glass windows, and metal furniture.


Imperial Hotel in Tokyo; Millard House in Pasadena, California; The Guggenheim Museum in New York City; and Falling Water at Bear Run, Pennsylvania


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