By Jesse Bryant Wilder

The history of art is immense, the earliest cave paintings pre-date writing by almost 27,000 years! If you’re interested in art history, the first thing you should do is take a look at this table which briefly outlines the artists, traits, works, and events that make up major art periods and how art evolved to present day:

Art Periods/
Movements
Characteristics Chief Artists and Major Works Historical Events
Stone Age (30,000 b.c.–2500 b.c.) Cave painting, fertility goddesses, 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.–2500 b.c.)
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
Egyptian (3100 b.c.–30 b.c.) 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.)
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.)
Roman (500 b.c.– a.d. 476) 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)
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.)
Byzantine and Islamic (a.d. 476–a.d.1453) 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)
Middle Ages (500–1400) 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)
Early and High Renaissance (1400–1550) 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 north- ward 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
Mannerism (1527–1580) Art that breaks the rules; artifice over nature Tintoretto, El Greco, Pontormo, Bronzino, Cellini Magellan circumnavigates the globe (1520–1522)
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)
Neoclassical (1750–1850) Art that recaptures Greco-Roman grace and grandeur David, Ingres, Greuze, Canova Enlightenment (18th century); Industrial Revolution
(1760–1850)
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)
Realism (1848–1900) Celebrating working class and peasants; en plein air
rustic painting
Corot, Courbet, Daumier, Millet European democratic revolutions of 1848
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)
Post-Impressionism (1885–1910) 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 colors 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) 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– ) Art without a center 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)