Painting World: Painting History Recap

Studying this creative discipline requires passion, patience and open-mindedness. Moreover, it will take you time to really know the whole history of painting– not days, not weeks, not months, not years. It takes a lifetime. However, if you want a quick read about the magnificent history of the world of painting, continue reading this article then!

A man standing in front of numerous paintings

We all know the basics– Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Rembrandt, Vincent Van Gogh, Jackson Pollock, and Andy Warhol. We’re familiar with artworks such as the Mona Lisa, Starry Night and Campbell’s Soup Can. But are you familiar with the historical development of art, specifically in this creative discipline? What’s the real definition of painting, how it all started, and so forth? Well, there’s nothing to be ashamed of if you don’t fully know the history and that’s what we’ll try to unravel today.

Since the world of painting is vast and the history itself spans for centuries and the discussion would be lengthy, this article will focus on painting’s historical development. We’ll try to discuss Pre-history, Western and Eastern Art by giving mention to the most notable movement/s and paintings, innovations and artists of those periods.

What is Painting?

There’s a lot of definitions attributed to painting, most of them are poetic and beautiful to read. By conventional standards, a painting is a work of art applied on a surface – be it paper wood, etc. using pigments of color applied using a brush. Painting is an expression of feelings and emotions through visual language with the help of different elements of art.

Historical Development of Art 

Pre-historic Era
Pre-historic era cave painting

A lot of prehistoric paintings can be found in caves. The oldest painting ever known to man which can be located both in Western Europe and Indonesia is approximately 40,000 years old. According to historians, prehistoric people during the ancient times used charcoal, ash and animal blood as pigments for their wall paintings. The usual subjects of their painting were animals and humans, assumed to be depictions of animal hunting/gathering during their time.

How do they date and determine whether it’s a Prehistoric Art?

We can determine the approximate date of Prehistoric Art thanks to technology such as radiocarbon dating, radiometric testing and thermoluminescence, as well as Uranium/Thorium dating. 

Eastern Paintings

A painting of Chinese men fishing

Eastern art is very rich in culture and traditions, influenced by various religions, lifestyles and philosophies–mainly Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism. The countries’ painting styles at the time were marked with unique, elegant patterns which were attached to calligraphy, as well as printing. 

Chinese paintings are considered as one of the oldest, living art traditions in the world. They’re known for ornamental-like designs and geometric patterns which consist of spirals, dots and even animals. Japanese paintings, on the other hand, are refined and influenced by a different variety of styles and genres. They’re known for the Japanese woodblock painting technique which influenced French Art during the 19th century.

Japanese inspired artwork

Egyptian Paintings

Egyptian inspired artwork in a museum

Eygptian art is no stranger to the world of painting, in fact, it’s one of the most iconic and recognizable artworks known to man. They’re not only known for their advanced sculptures and architecture during the ancient times, they’re also known for their paintings which were believed to be a “guide” for the deceased to go to a pleasant place in the afterlife. Some paintings are also about their gods and goddesses, symbols, civilizations and pharaohs.

Greek and Roman Paintings

Greek and roman inspired artwork

Greece is known for its skilled and talented painters and sculptors during the ancient times. They’re most famous for paintings in ceramics and pottery which reflected their culture and traditions. Roman art, on the other hand, was influenced by the Greeks. They’re best known for their wall paintings and frescoes which can be found in places like Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Medieval Paintings
Painting of Christ from Medieval times

The spread of Christianity had a big impact on the arts during the Middle Ages. If you try to explore this era, you will notice that most, if not all, of the paintings are attributed to Christianity: portraits of Jesus Christ and Mary, the crucifixion and other biblical stories.


Beautiful paintings from the renaissance period

The Renaissance is arguably the most well-known cultural art movement in human history. This period, from the 14th century to the mid-17th century, was the golden age of classical art, science and philosophy. Moreover, this period gave way to the use of oil paintings for naturalism and perspective which was attributed to artist Jan van Eyck. Other famous artworks and painters of this era include Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, The School of Athens by Raphael, The Birth of Venus by Sandro Boticelli, and many more.

19th Century Arts
Starry sky by Vincent van Gogh

“Art for art’s sake”— doing art for the sake of doing art even without recognition: this was one of the main ideals of 19th century artists.


Full of revolutionary changes that altered the world in every way possible, the 19th century paved the way to different artistic movements. This century is known for its diverse artistic styles such as Neoclassicism, Romanticism, Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, etc. Moreover, we recognize a lot of painters during this period: artists such as  Vincent van Gogh, Edvard Munch and Claude Monet. 

20th Century Arts

The iconic American Gothic painting

American Gothic, painted by Grant Wood (the photo shown above) is one of the most iconic artworks in the 20th century for social realism. This century also gave birth to modern art– cubism, fauvism, abstract art, futurism, etc.

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