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Art History Timeline - A Guide for Teachers





Art is at the foundation of every culture, which is why it’s so important to show young people the visual depictions of the past world. It exposes children to different cultures and experiences, but also teaches them artistic techniques that they can use to help express themselves. There are so many different eras of art that have existed throughout history. Art styles are constantly changing, and sometimes, it can be hard to understand which art movements came first and where they took place. Art – in some shape or form – has probably existed for just about as long as humans have, so we won’t be able to point out every art style that ever existed, but there are many art movements that changed the course of art for the world that we live in today. Travel through art history with us by reading this simple overview of major art movements.


For more information on art history and for classroom posters, you can refer to our Art History Throughout the Ages Posters.




Prehistoric Art

40000 – 5300 BCE


Prehistoric cave paintings - Cave of Altamira, Sulawesi Cave, and Serra de Capivara
Cave of Altamira, Sulawesi Cave, and Serra de Capivara

Often found in caves around the world, prehistoric art was a way for people to record their beliefs, lifestyle, and social interactions. Humans, animals, and symbols were carved and sometimes painted onto rocks.


Ancient Art


Ancient art was used as a way for people to depict, enforce, and document religious and political beliefs that governed ancient societies. Ancient art thrived in countries like India, Mesopotamia, China, Greece, Egypt, Palestine, Japan, and Rome.



Egyptian:

3100 - 30 BCE


Ancient Egyptian art from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, 1275 BCE
Art from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, 1275 BCE

Artwork during Ancient Egypt wasn’t meant to be looked at like art today. Instead, each work served a religious or functional purpose. They were decorated household items and objects used as offerings to the gods. Artworks included statues, pottery, paintings, drawings, and jewellery. Art was used to create an idealized view of the world in order to worship gods and create an image of the afterlife.



Greek:

1000 BCE – 31 CE


Periods of Ancient Greek art - Geometric, Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic
Geometric Funerary Amphora, Phrasikleia Kore, Discobolus, and Laocoön and His Sons

Greek art is divided into four periods that changed with time: Geometric, Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic. As art in Greece evolved, it became more realistic. Like Egyptian art, it started off as a visual way to document life and to create useful items for the home. As time progressed, sculptures of Greek gods and goddesses became the standard of beautiful art.



Roman:

500 BCE – 476 CE


Ancient Roman portrait of Terentius Neo from Pompeii
Ancient Roman portrait of 'Terentius Neo' from Pompeii

Roman art was very influenced by Greek art. Think of it like Greek art 2.0. Rome looked at the sculptures in Greece and created Roman copies of their gods and goddesses. Rome also began sculpting Roman emperors as a way to spread their images across the Empire.




Medieval Art:

300 – 1400 CE


Medieval artwork of 'Mihrab' (1270 CE), 'The Effects of Good Government' by Ambrogio Lorenzetti (1338 CE),  'Cambrai Madonna' (1340 CE)
'Mihrab' (1270 CE), 'The Effects of Good Government' (1338 CE), and 'Cambrai Madonna' (1340 CE)

This period of art lasted so long that it’s hard to define it in one way. For the most part, Medieval art in Europe was influenced by Christianity and lacked an attention to realism like we see in Greek and Roman sculptures. Mosaics were often seen during this period, especially through Islamic art where beautiful patterns were created without representing human figures.


China:

221 BCE – 1911 CE


Chinese tiger art has been prevalent in Chinese culture for centuries, often representing strength, power, and protection. The Chinese believed that the tiger was a symbol of good luck and prosperity, making it a popular subject in art. However, the meaning of Chinese tiger art goes beyond its aesthetic appeal. In traditional Chinese beliefs, tigers were seen as guardians against evil spirits and were also associated with the emperor, making them a symbol of imperial power.



Renaissance Art:

1300-1700 CE


Renaissance paintings of 'The Creation of Adam' by Michelangelo, 'The Mona Lisa' by Leonardo da Vinci, and 'The School of Athens' by Raphael
'The Creation of Adam' by Michelangelo, 'The Mona Lisa' by Leonardo da Vinci, and 'The School of Athens' by Raphael

You may hear “Renaissance” and instantly think about Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo… but what does this period really mean? Renaissance art was created mostly throughout Europe and originated in Italy. The purpose of this style was to capture Christianity and beauty in the natural world with influence from Classical Greek art. It was known as the rebirth of classical art with a focus on nature, beauty, and the human experience.



Mannerism:

1520 – 1590 CE


Mannerist paintings of 'Francesco Guardi as a Halberdier' by Pontormo, 'Madonna with the Long Neck' by Parmigianino, and 'Monsignor della Casa' by Pontormo
Francesco Guardi as a Halberdier' by Pontormo, 'Madonna with the Long Neck' by Parmigianino, and 'Monsignor della Casa' by Pontormo

Mannerism was an exaggerated European art style that did not focus on human anatomy, but instead on imagination. Artists began extending figures’ necks, arms, legs, and torsos. The goal wasn’t to create art that mimicked nature, but to exaggerate beauty.



Baroque:

1600 – 1750 CE


Baroque paintings of 'Portrait of Juan de Pareja' by Valezquez, 'Saint Jerome Writing' by Caravaggio, and 'Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting' by Artemisia Gentileschi
'Portrait of Juan de Pareja' by Valezquez, 'Saint Jerome Writing' by Caravaggio, and 'Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting' by Artemisia Gentileschi

Baroque art had two very specific purposes. First, to undo the exaggeration of the Mannerist movement so that art depicted real people and nature. Second, to create religious artwork that could convince viewers of the power of Christianity – as asked by the Church. Some artists wanted to return to the beauty of Renaissance art, while others created very natural – and sometimes imperfect – images of people, both to promote Christianity.



Rococo:

1700 – 1754 CE


Rococo paintings of 'Ca Rezzonico' Ceiling by Giovanni Battista Crosato, 'The Swing' by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, and 'The Love Letter' by François Boucher
'Ca Rezzonico' Ceiling by Giovanni Battista Crosato, 'The Swing' by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, and 'The Love Letter' by François Boucher

This period can be summed up in one word: extravagance. Curves, illusions, and movement were large focuses in Rococo art. The goal of the work was to catch viewers off guard with theatrical paintings. This was achieved with soft colours, rosy cheeks, and luxurious backgrounds.



Neoclassicism:

1770 – 1830 CE


Neoclassical paintings of 'Portrait de Juliette Récamier' by François Gérard, 'Oath of the Horatii' by Jacques-Louis David, and 'Cornelia, Mother of the Gracchi, Pointing to her Children as Her Treasures' by Angelica Kauffman
'Portrait de Juliette Récamier' by François Gérard, 'Oath of the Horatii' by Jacques-Louis David, and 'Cornelia, Mother of the Gracchi, Pointing to her Children as Her Treasures' by Angelica Kauffman

Neoclassicism can be thought of as New Classicism. Artists at the time rejected the extravagance of Rococo and instead focused on recreating Classical Greek art. Although it is similar to Renaissance art, Renaissance was about innovating with a Classical influence, while Neoclassicism was focused on returning to Classical art. It focused on symmetry and modesty.



Romanticism:

1800 – 1850 CE


Romantic paintings of 'The Soul of the Rose' by John William Waterhouse, 'Bridal Procession on the Hardangerfjord' by Hans Gude and Adolph Tidemand, and 'Wanderer above the Sea of Fog' by Caspar David Friedrich
The Soul of the Rose' by John William Waterhouse, 'Bridal Procession on the Hardangerfjord' by Hans Gude and Adolph Tidemand, and 'Wanderer above the Sea of Fog' by Caspar David Friedrich

Romanticism is when we start to see the artists’ emotions through their work. The artwork wasn’t made solely for the Christian church anymore, but to share the political and social views of the artist. We consider this period ‘romantic’ because of the emotional expression of the artists in a way that contrasts with Classical art.


Realism:

1848 – 1900 CE


Realist paintings of 'Whistler's Mother' by James McNeill Whistler, 'The Shepherdess' by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, and 'The Stone Breakers' by Gustave Courbet
'Whistler's Mother' by James McNeill Whistler, 'The Shepherdess' by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, and 'The Stone Breakers' by Gustave Courbet

Realist artists disliked Romanticism’s exaggerated emotions and decided to create art that represented real people and experiences. This movement originated in France and used neutral colours that did not focus on beauty. Instead, artists focused on depicting the lives of the lower class, rather than God, royalty, and the wealthy elite.


Modern Art


Modern art began after the Industrial Revolution when travel became more accessible and artists were more exposed to new ideas and cultures. Art became focused on the artists’ personal experiences and exploration. The invention of photography also pushed artists to explore new ideas in art, since no artist could capture the same images that photography did. The invention and easy access to tubed paint allowed for artists to create work outside of studios and at their leisure. This meant that art became a means for experimentation because of the new developments in the modern age and led to the creation of many different movements within the Modern art period.



Impressionism:

1867 – 1886 CE


Impressionist painting of 'San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk' by Claude Monet
'San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk' by Claude Monet

This movement originated in Paris, France and drifted away from the realistic styles of past movements. Instead, artists would often paint outdoor scenes quickly to catch the changing light with short brush strokes. Claude Monet was one of the founding fathers of the impressionist movement.



Post-Impressionism:

1886 – 1905 CE


Post-Impressionist painting of 'Rue de l'asile et de la Chapelle de Saint-Rémy' by Vincent van Gogh'
'Rue de l'asile et de la Chapelle de Saint-Rémy' by Vincent van Gogh'

Like impressionists, post-impressionists used bright colours and thick paint, but where impressionists painted purely what they saw, post-impressionists brought in their imagination. Artists like Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin started to distort faces and scenes and used geometric shapes in their work.



Fauvism:

1905 – 1910 CE


Fauvist painting of 'Woman With a Hat' by Henri Matisse
'Woman With a Hat' by Henri Matisse

Fauvism was co-created by Henri Matisse, who began using unnatural colours in paintings. Instead of skin tones that we see in real life, faces were painted with blue, orange, red, and many other hues. Fauvist scenes were simplified to basic areas of colour on canvas.



Expressionism:

1905 – 1920 CE


Expressionist painting of 'The Scream' by Edvard Munch
'The Scream' by Edvard Munch

Expressionism can seem hard to define at times since it overlaps with so many other periods. The trait that makes it unique is that the artwork is distorted or exaggerated to show the artists’ internal feelings. It was a way for artists to express themselves… pun intended 🤓.


Cubism:

1907 – 1920s CE


Cubist painting titled 'Guernica' by Pablo Picasso
'Guernica' by Pablo Picasso

Created by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, cubism was a movement that was influenced by African art and masks. In cubist art, figures and scenes were distorted and rearranged to make an abstracted image. They didn’t look like people in real life, but like a collage of body parts joined together to make one figure.



Dadaism:

1916 – 1924 CE


Dada artwork of 'A Fountain' by Marcel Duchamp
'A Fountain' by Marcel Duchamp

Dadaism was a political art movement that was different from any movement prior. It didn’t focus on paintings or traditional ideas of art. Instead, the goal was to use sculpture, collages, and writing to create a political statement. Dada art was meant to be absurd and intentionally not make sense.



Surrealism:

1924 – 1966 CE


Surrealist painting of 'Roots' by Frida Kahlo
'Roots' by Frida Kahlo

Surrealist art is about creating a dream-like world that doesn’t really exist. Artists would make faces out of objects or never-ending landscapes that played with the viewer’s imagination. Salvador Dali was a surrealist artist that is known for painting objects that look like they’re melting. Frida Kahlo was a surrealist artist known for incorporating self portraits into her scenes.



Abstract Expressionism:

1943 – 1950s CE


Abstract Expressionist painting of 'Convergence' by Jackson Pollock
'Convergence' by Jackson Pollock

This style of art was created in New York, USA and was based on expressing emotion, in a similar way to expressionism. The main difference in Abstract Expressionism is that the artwork is not meant to look like anything specific. It could be created by simply splashing paint onto a canvas, like Jackson Pollock.



Pop Art:

1950s – 1960s CE


Pop art of 'Campbell's Soup Cans' by Andy Warhol
Campbell's Soup Cans' by Andy Warhol

Pop art was a way for artists to comment on the brands and celebrities that we see in popular culture. Artists, like Andy Warhol and Keith Haring, would show repeated logos or faces to show the impact of American pop culture on daily life. You may recognize pop art for its colourful icons and flat, vibrant colours.


Contemporary Art:

1960s – present


Contemporary artwork of 'Fountain of Light' by Ai Weiwei, 'Balloon Girl' by Banksy, 'Dacia Carter' by Kehinde Wiley, and 'All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins' by Yayoi Kusama
'Fountain of Light' by Ai Weiwei, 'Balloon Girl' by Banksy, 'Dacia Carter' by Kehinde Wiley, and 'All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins' by Yayoi Kusama

Not to be confused with Modern art, the definition of contemporary art is constantly changing because it refers to art that is created right now. The main difference in contemporary art is the way that we are influenced by cultures around the world because of easier access to travel and the internet. Ai Weiwei is a contemporary Chinese artist and activist that explores sculpture, architecture, photography, and videography in the name of activism.


For more information on art history, visit our YouTube series on Art History Videos for Classrooms!


Art Resources for Teachers:


If you’re a teacher, here are some related resources for your classroom!


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