ART PERIODS AND MOVEMENTS: A Brief History and Overview

Artworks from various Art Movements - photo by Artyfactory

The documented art history is divided into several periods and movements. The two major differences between the two are time and intent. The known art periods are based on historical eras or ages and, in contrast to art movements that are consciously formed by artists themselves-groups formed unconsciously due to being in the same timelines. In definition, a movement is the tendency or style in art having a specific similar philosophy or goal. This is then followed by a group of artists during a restricted period of time; usually a few months, years or decades or within the heyday of the movement defined within a number of years.

What is the purpose of art?

The Creation of Adam, a scene from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling – photo by Wikipedia

The main purpose of works of art is to communicate ideas that touch on different human perceptions such as politics, spirituality or philosophically motivated art; so to create a sense of beauty that explores the nature of perception, either for pleasure or to generate strong human emotions. However, sometimes the purpose may seemingly be nonexistent.

Major Types of Art through the Periods and Movements

Some of the different well-developed types of art include animation, architecture, assemblage, calligraphy, ceramics, computer, Christian or religious, conceptual, artistic design, drawing, folk, graffiti, graphic, illuminated manuscript, illustration, mosaic, painting, performance, photography, sculpture, stained glass, tapestry and video.


These are periods that are grouped according to their timeline, characteristics, chief artists and major works and historical events that happened during these periods respectively.

Early Art Periods (Pre- Christ)

1. Stone Age (30,000 b.c.–2500 b.c.)

Red Cow & First Chinese Horse, Lascaux Cave – photo by N. Aujoulat | Lascaux Cave

Cave painting, fertility goddesses, and megalithic structures

Lascaux Cave Painting, Woman of Willendorf, Stonehenge


Ice Age ends (10,000 b.c.–8,000 b.c.);

New Stone Age and first permanent settlements (8000 b.c.–2500b.c.)

2. Mesopotamian (3500 b.c.–539 b.c.)

Warrior art and narration in stone relief

Standard of Ur, Gate of Ishtar, Stele of Hammurabi’s Code

Sumerians invent writing (3400 b.c.); Hammurabi writes his law code (1780 b.c.); Abraham founds monotheism

3. Egyptian (3100 b.c.–30 b.c.)

A view of the pyramids at Giza – photo by All Gizah Pyramids | Wikipedia

Art with an afterlife focus: pyramids and tomb painting

Imhotep, Step Pyramid, Great Pyramids, Bust of Nefertiti

Narmer unites Upper/Lower Egypt (3100 b.c.); Rameses II battles the Hittites (1274 b.c.); Cleopatra dies (30 b.c.)

4. Greek and Hellenistic (850 b.c.–31 b.c.)

Greek idealism: balance, perfect proportions; architectural orders(Doric, Ionic, Corinthian)

Parthenon, Myron, Phidias, Polykleitos, Praxiteles

Athens defeats Persia at Marathon (490 b.c.);

Peloponnesian Wars (431 b.c.–404 b.c.); Alexander the Great’s conquests (336 b.c.–323 b.c.)

5. Roman (500 b.c.– a.d. 476)

The Colosseum, Rome – photo by Britannica

Roman realism: practical and down to earth; the arch

Augustus of Primaporta, Colosseum, Trajan’s Column, Pantheon


Julius Caesar assassinated (44 b.c.); Augustus proclaimed Emperor (27 b.c.);

Diocletian splits Empire (a.d. 292); Rome falls (a.d. 476)

6. Indian, Chinese, and Japanese(653 b.c.–a.d. 1900)

Serene, meditative art, and Arts of the Floating World Gu Kaizhi, Li Cheng, Guo Xi, Hokusai, Hiroshige

Birth of Buddha (563 b.c.); Silk Road opens (1st century b.c.);

Buddhism spreads to China (1st–2nd centuries a.d.) and Japan (5th century a.d.)

Art Periods of Post Christ Age

1. Byzantine and Islamic (a.d. 476–a.d.1453)

Mosque of Cordoba – photo by Lumen Learning

Heavenly Byzantine mosaics; Islamic architecture and amazing maze-like design

Hagia Sophia, Andrei Rublev, Mosque of Córdoba, the Alhambra

Justinian partly restores Western Roman Empire (a.d. 533–a.d. 562); Iconoclasm Controversy (a.d. 726–a.d. 843);

Birth of Islam (a.d. 610) and Muslim Conquests (a.d. 632–a.d. 732)

2. Medieval/Middle Ages (300–1400)

Celtic art, Carolingian Renaissance, Romanesque, Gothic

St. Sernin, Durham Cathedral, Notre Dame, Chartres, Cimabue,

Duccio, Giotto Viking Raids (793–1066);

Battle of Hastings (1066);

Crusades I–IV (1095–1204);

Black Death (1347–1351);

Hundred Years’ War (1337–1453)

3. Early and High Renaissance (1400–1550)

Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci – photo by Wikipedia

Rebirth of classical culture

Ghiberti’s Doors, Brunelleschi, Donatello, Botticelli, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael Gutenberg invents movable type (1447); Turks conquer Constantinople (1453); Columbus lands in New World (1492); Martin Luther starts Reformation (1517)

Venetian and Northern Renaissance (1430–1550)

The Renaissance spreads northward to France, the Low Countries, Poland, Germany, and England

Bellini, Giorgione, Titian, Dürer, Bruegel, Bosch, Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden Council of Trent and Counter-Reformation (1545–1563);

Copernicus proves the Earth revolves around the Sun (1543

4. Mannerism (1527–1580)

Art that breaks the rules; artifice over nature

Tintoretto, El Greco, Pontormo, Bronzino, Cellini

Magellan circumnavigates the globe (1520–1522)

5. Baroque (1600–1750)

Splendor and flourish for God; art as a weapon in the religious wars

Reubens, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Palace of Versailles Thirty Years’ War between Catholics and Protestants (1618–1648)

6. Neoclassical (1750–1850)

Oath of the Horatii, Jacques-Louis David, 1784-85 – photo by Wikipedia

Art that recaptures Greco-Roman grace and grandeur

David, Ingres, Greuze, Canova

Enlightenment (18th century); Industrial Revolution (1760–1850)

7. Romanticism (1780–1850)

The triumph of imagination and individuality

Caspar Friedrich, Gericault, Delacroix, Turner, Benjamin West

American Revolution (1775–1783);

French Revolution (1789–1799);

Napoleon crowned emperor of France (1803)

8. Realism (1848–1900)

A Burial at Ornans, Gustave Courbet, 1850 – photo by Learnodo Newtonic

Celebrating working class and peasants; en plein air rustic painting

Corot, Courbet, Daumier, Millet

European democratic revolutions of 1848

9. Impressionism (1865–1885)

Capturing fleeting effects of natural light

Monet, Manet, Renoir, Pissarro, Cassatt, Morisot, Degas

Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871); Unification of Germany (1871)

Modernist Art Movements

Post-Impressionism (1885–1910)

The Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh, 1889 – photo by Wikipedia

A soft revolt against Impressionism

Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne, Seurat Belle Époque (late-19th-century Golden Age);

Japan defeats Russia (1905)


Fauvism and Expressionism (1900–1935)

Harsh colours and flat surfaces (Fauvism); emotion distorting form

Matisse, Kirchner, Kandinsky, Marc

Boxer Rebellion in China (1900); World War (1914–1918)

Cubism, Futurism, Supremativism, Constructivism, De Stijl (1905–1920)

Pre– and Post–World War 1 art experiments: new forms to express modern life

Picasso, Braque, Leger, Boccioni, Severini, Malevich

Russian Revolution (1917); American women franchised (1920)

Dada and Surrealism (1917–1950)

The Persistence of Memory, by Salvador Dalí, 1931 – photo by Encyclopedia Britannica

Ridiculous art; painting dreams and exploring the unconscious

Duchamp, Dalí, Ernst, Magritte, de Chirico, Kahlo

Disillusionment after World War I;

The Great Depression (1929–1938);

World War II (1939–1945) and Nazi horrors;

atomic bombs dropped on Japan (1945)

Abstract Expressionism (1940s–1950s) and Pop Art (1960s)

Post–World War II: pure abstraction and expression without form; popular art absorbs consumerism

Gorky, Pollock, de Kooning, Rothko, Warhol, Lichtenstein

Cold War and Vietnam War (U.S. enters 1965);

U.S.S.R. suppresses Hungarian revolt (1956) Czechoslovakian revolt (1968)

Postmodernism and Deconstructivism (1970– )

1024 Colours, Gerhard Richter, 1973 – photo by

Art without a centre and reworking and mixing past styles

Gerhard Richter, Cindy Sherman, Anselm Kiefer, Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid

Nuclear freeze movement;

Cold War fizzles;

Communism collapses in Eastern Europe and U.S.S.R. (1989–1991)