History Painting Term Paper

Artistic works are often referenced in categorized by their particular genre or style. For example, in painting there are a number of different genres such as Abstract, Impressionism, Modernism etc. (Harrison, 2009). The term “history paintings” or sometimes called “historical paintings” refers to a particular genre of painting where the genre is defined by the subject matter as opposed to the artistic style of painting (Wolfflin, 2012). The distinction between “history paintings” and “historical paintings” is a fine one; however, historical paintings are typically considered to be scenes from secular history, whereas history paintings can include depictions from history, mythology, or can simply contain allegorical material. Thus, most of the works of art that would be classified as his store coal paintings most likely are subsets of history; however, history paintings are not limited to the depiction of historical scenes. The term “history painting” has been traced back to the word historia in Latin or the Italian istoria which roughly translates as narrative or story (Harrison, 2009). History paintings typically have serious storylines or are examples of didactic presentations (Harrison, 2009). Overarching themes or scenes with deep meaning are typically depicted.

History Paining and the Italian Renaissance

It appears that history paintings came to the forefront in Italian Renaissance painting where many of these depictions were religious in nature or portrayed contemporary historical scenes (Wolfflin, 2012). Giotto’s Scrovegni Chapel fresco paintings are considered to be a decisive turning point in pre-Renaissance painting and the major influence in early Renaissance paintings (Harrison, 2009) by reducing the Biblical narrative into much smaller depictions of important dramatic moments. Likewise Botticelli depicted non-religious and historical scenes in a similar context (Wolfflin, 2012).

Following Giotto major Renaissance painters such as Leonardo da Vinci (e.g., The Last Supper), Michelangelo (e.g., Creation of Adam), Raphael (e.g., Entombment of Christ), and Altdorfer (e.g., The Battle at Issus) produced major and enduring works (Harrison, 2009).

Seventeenth Century Works

Caravaggio’s non-idealistic approach to painting religious scenes (e.g., Supper at Emmaus), Rubens’ historical paintings (e.g., Allegory of War and Peace), and Rembrandt (The Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis) are examples of 17th century history paintings (Harrison, 2009).

Eighteenth Century

The 18th century became a turning point in the growth of history painting (Harrison, 2009). Often discussed in this period is the “Death of General Wolfe” by Benjamin West noted for portraying the scene in contemporary dress. Copley’s “Watson and the Shark” is often regarded as an example of the insignificance of many history paintings from this time period (Wolfflin, 2012). By the end of the 18th century the popularity of history painting diminished with both mythological and religious paintings loosing popularity, but a greater demand for paintings depicting secular history, especially contemporary history (Harrison, 2009). These types of paintings became the dominant form of academic paintings in the latter 18th and most of the 19th century (Harrison, 2009).

Nineteenth Century

Many art historians…

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