Guest post by Pat Knepley
The history of visual art through the ages is generally broken down into movements –periods of time when artists were like-minded and worked around a set of core beliefs…whether they knew each other or not! Since the time of the Italian Renaissance in the fifteenth century, there have been many of these periods in Art, most of which end in the suffix “ism”. The suffix “ism” at the end of English words means pertaining to the root word or signifying a belief, as is seen in the words racism, atheism, and terrorism.
Throughout history, the term that is attributed to a period of art is usually given not by the artists that are known for the style, but by critics who are trying to understand the movement, or historians at a much later time. Here are some of the major “isms” of art movements after the Renaissance and a brief explanation. But not every period in art history is covered by this list; there are many periods that do not end in “ism”, like the Baroque era and Rococo periods of the late 17th and early 18th century.
Mannerism – (mid 1500s) This movement developed in Europe as the Renaissance was ending in the late 1520s. The most well know mannerist was Michelangelo Buonarotti who painted the Sistine Chapel. Mannerism is often considered as anti-classical, where the human form is elongated and twisted into exaggerated poses. Another mannerist painter is El Greco, a Greek artist who spent most of his years living and working in Toledo Spain.
Neo-Classicism – (the mid-late 1700s). Due to recent archeological discoveries in the mid-1700s, there was a resurgent interest in classical Roman and Greek antiquities, and this prompted a return to classical forms and ideals for contemporary painters.2 Some of the neoclassical painters include Anton Mengs, and Jacques-Louis David in Europe and Benjamin West and John Singleton Copley in the newly formed United States. This art movement is defined by a return to reason and classical ideals and virtue.
Romanticism – (late 1700s-early 1800s) Gericault, Delacroix, JMW Turner; intuition and emotion over rationalism, grand heroics over the commonplace. This is also a time when the exotic was embraced…different locales and extraordinary landscapes. There is an air of mysticism to the landscapes of English artist John Constable, and his successor, JMW Turner. In France, the romantic period of painting spanned two wars, the French Revolution, and the Napoleonic wars, and was, therefore, a counter-punch and escape from the reality of a hard French life at that time.
Realism – (France, mid-1800s) The Romantic movement was characterized by depicting the world as it really was- ordinary people doing ordinary things. People were represented as they really were rather than an idealized version, so if the local banker was a heavy set man with a wart on his nose, then the artist would paint exactly that. The realism movement was primarily in France and is signified by the works of Millet, Gustav Courbet, and Edouard Manet.
Impressionism – (the late 1800s) The Impressionist era started in France started in the 1860s and is probably the most famous “ism” of the art movements in history. It is characterized by a great attention to the play of light on colors in nature at particular times of the day. Artists could now take their paint tubes out into the world and paint in the open air to capture the impression of a moment in time. Some famous Impressionists in France were Claude Monet, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, and Edgar Degas. The most well-known American impressionist (though she studied in Paris) was Mary Cassatt.
Following is a short video that explains what Mannerism is:
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