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Glossary of Painting and Sculpture

PRE-HISTORY 30 000-1000 BC

Cave art. Animals and hunting scenes painted on cave walls with burnt wood, chalk and ground earth. The pictures probably had a magical influence.

Neolithic Age. Distinctive for painted and decorated pottery introduced from the near-east.

Bronze and Iron Ages. Fine castings and carved jewellery. Celtic art abounded with ornamental crosses, metalwork and pottery decorated with intricate designs and stylized plants and animals.

The Near East. Most Sumerian and Persian art represented the gods, people and animals in carved reliefs on buildings. Egypt specialized in funerary art; monumental sculptures such as the Sphinx, sculptured reliefs and complex painted wall murals.


Archaic. Mainly sculpture with Egyptian influences. Statues were stiffly posed, usually of wood or marble sheathed in gold. Buildings were covered with painted marble reliefs. Gold and silver were used extensively for tableware and jewellery.

Classical Greek. Sculptures became more relaxed, reflecting serenity and movement. Bronze now used as well as marble. Gold, silver and ivory still in extensive use.

Hellenistic. Similar to classical Greek but much grander. Statues now portrayed movement and emotion.

Roman. Similar to the Hellenistic style. Buildings were covered with exotic marbles, mosaics and frescoes. Statues and carvings became more decorative, with preference for reclining sarcophagi and busts of heroic and respected leaders. Columns and walls were decorated with narrative 'comic strips'. Widespread use still made of gold.

MIDDLE AGES 400-1300

Byzantine. The spread of Christianity throughout Europe brought stylized, religious mosaics for wall and floor decoration plus formal paintings and icons.

Anglo-Saxon. The Dark Ages following the fall of the roman empire produced mainly portable art (metalwork and jewellery with distinct Celtic links) and illuminated manuscripts (The Lindesfarne Gospels and Books of Kells).

Romanesque (Norman). A combination of classical Roman and Celtic styles. Relief sculptures, carved statues of fantastic beasts and inhabited scrolls; animals hidden in illuminated manuscripts.

Gothic. (12th-14th century). Predominately monumental, religious sculpture, the identifying mark of which was the Gothic sway, an S shaped curve in the body. The period also produced stained glass, frescos and later, richly coloured wall panels.


The Classical Revival. The revival of classical Greek and Roman art centred at first in Florence. Merchants and bankers vied for patronage of the arts which, as buildings, sculpture and painting grew in splendour, resulted in a new respectable status for artists and craftsmen. It is considered the greatest period of artistic development bringing about such innovations as oils and especially perspective. Artists: Donatello, Botticelli, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael.

Mannerism. Post-renaissance religious art, an arid style portraying emotion through an exaggeration of form.


Baroque. Baroque art (and later classicism) was concentrated in Catholic Italy and France. It was an extravagant and emotional style noted for its detail, vivid colours and movement. Rubens typified the Grand Baroque style with his voluptuous women. Artists: Rubens, Velasquez and the sculptor Bernini.

Classicism. Baroque colour combined with Roman harmony and balance. Much of the art was in the form of landscapes. Poussin, Lorraine, Rosa.

The Netherlands. Free of Spanish colonial rule, art in the Netherlands re-established itself with still-lifes, landscapes and portraiture. Artists: De Hooch, Vermeer, Hals and the most accomplished Dutch artist of the period, Rembrandt.

Rococo. A development of Baroque, it was frivolous but elegant with elaborate and superficial decoration. Watteau, Chardin, Canaletto, Neumann, Gainsborough, Hogarth.

Neo-classicism. Inspired by the Palladian movement in the re-creation of Greek and Roman art (see renaissance architecture).


Romanticism. A rebellion against Neo-Classicism and the industrial age. There was no single style, the Romantics believed in the purity of the soul and chivalry, ideals which the artists expressed through their art. Much use was made of light and primary colours. Constable, Turner, Goya, Palmer, Delacroix.

Realism. Originating from France it spread throughout the rest of Europe and America. It suppressed the emotional freedom of the Romantics and concentrated on precise paintings, often depicting scenes from life. Courbet, Rousseau.

The main sculptor of the period was Rodin whose passionate sculpture reflected both romantic and realistic ideals.


Impressionism. As the name suggests it was the impression portrayed in the art not the detail. There were a range of styles which were bonded by the tendency to paint 'live' directly onto the canvas, the colours were bright and often full of light. Manet plus the impressionist group: Monet, Renoir, Degas, Pissaro, Sisley.

Post-Impressionism. Taking the impressionist ideas further, post-impressionist art emphasised emotion and colour. Cézanne, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec.

Symbolism. Extravagant dreamlike paintings, painted for the imagination. Colours were often unnatural and settings bizarre. Moreau, Redon, Munch.


The wide range of styles in the 20th Century reflect the experimental mood of the artists. Examples of these many styles are:

Fauvism. The use of jarring colours. Matisse, Derain.

Cubism. Non-objective representative art, The subject is fragmented and reassembled geometrically. Picasso, Braque.

Expressionism. From Germany, it sought to portray the inner convictions of the artists. Kirchner, Schmidt-Rotluff, Kandisky.

Dada. Anarchic art from Switzerland, its intent was to provoke. Tzara, Arp, Duchamp.

Surrealism. The successor to Dada, influenced by Freud it explored the dreamlike world of the sub-conscious. de Chirico, Dali, Magritte, Nash.

Abstract Expressionism. Development of Surrealism but freer and more improvised, centred in New York. Pollock, Rothko.

Pop Art. From the American fascination with advertising and comic strips it reflected the consumer society. Warhol, Hockney, Lichtenstein.

Contemporary art. An artistic trend which emphasises the creation of the art rather than the product itself. For example: minimal art reduces the art to the essentials, a notorious example was 'Equivalent VIII' 120 arranged bricks. Land art features the land's topography, one work encircled an island with pink plastic.

Photography. Although the camera obscura was often used as an aid by artists, it was the late 19th century invention of the camera that saw a fundamental change in the representation of life by an artist. Photography is now used worldwide not only by amateurs (replacing the sketchbook?) but also by professionals for portraiture, landscapes and all manner of other pictorial representation.

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