Major Time Periods in Art History Prior to the Modern Age

Art evolved from the first humans' cave drawings in the prehistoric ages to Renaissance pictorial art to the contemporary period's wide range of art forms. So how different was art before it became the way it is today? This article will guide you through the major time periods in art history before the modern age.

Prehistory (2500000 BCE-800 BCE) covers the era when humans didn't have a written language. Hence, they used art primarily to convey the events of their time. The drawings in Lascaux Cave are not the only art works within this long era. As a matter of fact, the wonders that continue to boggle us today, like the Stonehenge in England and the Peruvian Nazca lines are all prehistoric art. As this period starts from the Stone Age, stones were the very first mediums of art, which the first people carved into figurines and sculptures, and used to sketch murals in their caves. As people moved out of their caves and built their own houses, they expanded their art to include pottery, weaving and architecture. People, primarily those from Asia from the Middle East and South Asia to as far as China, also began working with metal and made more sophisticated sculptures. Metallurgy then spread to the west, as well.

Art during period of Classical Antiquity (800 BCE-400 CE) started in Greece and the eastern Mediterranean, and was primarily Greek-inspired or Hellenic. During this time, most artworks were created to glorify warriors and pay tribute to the gods. The Iliad, which chronicles the Trojan War, was written during this time. Majestic temples of deities like the Sanctuary of Apollo in Delphi were also erected. Art and culture flourished across continents during this time. Greek rulers, especially Alexander brought Hellenic culture from Rome to Africa to West Asia, Even after the fall of the empire of Greece, Hellenic culture still prevailed in its former constituents. Hence, it can be argued that Classical Antiquity influenced the major time periods in art history that followed it. The poetry, drama, architecture and art produced during this period are considered canons in their respective fields to this day and age. Proof of this is the continued use of mythological references in works of modern poets like Louise Gluck, and the architecture of Supreme Court buildings.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, art and culture went through significant deterioration. Wars and the Black Death happened during this time so it dark for both cultural and human conditions.

After suffering through significant losses of life and dignity, Europe proceeded to a period of rebirth. The period between 1400 and 1530 was the period of Renaissance (meaning "rebirth"), which began in Italy and spread across Europe. People of this time took inspiration from the period of Classical Antiquity and concerned themselves with the values, worth and welfare of humans. The deaths and damage of the Dark Ages drastically impacted the artists of this age so their art focused on human dignity. People studied the Classics from the Greek and Roman ages from philosophy to literature to the visual arts to architecture.

Portraits and sculptures of this time were accurate depictions of subjects-- from flora and fauna to humans. Take Michaelangelo's "David" and Da Vinci's "Mona Lisa," for example. Religious art also flourished during this time. In fact, church leaders commissioned artists to paint the walls and ceilings of churches and chapels like the Sistine Chapel in Vatican. The invention of the printing press made literature more accessible, so many people were able to read major works like Cervantes' "Don Quixote" and Machiavelli's "The Prince."

The art of the present age still looks to the major time periods in art history mentioned for inspiration and challenges. Contemporary artists still carve figures out of stones. Current architects use Greek columns from Corinthian, Doric to Ionic in their buildings. Present-day writers still look up to the writing style of Cervantes.

Subject Matter Websites for Art Time Periods

  1. Baroque
  2. Gothic Painting
  3. Pre-Raphaelite Critic
  4. The Renaissance