History of painting

Cave painting of aurochs (Bos primigenius primigenius), Lascaux, France, prehistoric art

The history of painting reaches back in time to artifacts from pre-historic humans, and spans all cultures. It represents a continuous, though periodically disrupted, tradition from Antiquity. Across cultures, and spanning continents and millennia, the history of painting is an ongoing river of creativity, that continues into the 21st century.[1] Until the early 20th century it relied primarily on representational, religious and classical motifs, after which time more purely abstract and conceptual approaches gained favor.

Developments in Eastern painting historically parallel those in Western painting, in general, a few centuries earlier.[2] African art, Jewish art, Islamic art, Indian art,[3] Chinese art, and Japanese art[4] each had significant influence on Western art, and vice versa.[5]

Initially serving utilitarian purpose, followed by imperial, private, civic, and religious patronage, Eastern and Western painting later found audiences in the aristocracy and the middle class. From the Modern era, the Middle Ages through the Renaissance painters worked for the church and a wealthy aristocracy.[6] Beginning with the Baroque era artists received private commissions from a more educated and prosperous middle class.[7] Finally in the West the idea of "art for art's sake"[8] began to find expression in the work of the Romantic painters like Francisco de Goya, John Constable, and J. M. W. Turner.[9] The 19th century saw the rise of the commercial art gallery, which provided patronage in the 20th century.[10]

Pre-history

The oldest known paintings are approximately 40,000 years old. José Luis Sanchidrián at the University of Cordoba, Spain, believes the paintings are more likely to have been painted by Neanderthals than early modern humans.[11][12][13] Images at the Chauvet cave in France are thought to be about 32,000 years old. They are engraved and painted using red ochre and black pigment and show horses, rhinoceros, lions, buffalo, mammoth or humans often hunting. There are examples of cave paintings all over the world—in France, India, Spain, Portugal, China, Australia etc.

Various conjectures have been made as to the meaning these paintings had to the people that made them. Prehistoric men may have painted animals to "catch" their soul or spirit in order to hunt them more easily or the paintings may represent an animistic vision and homage to surrounding nature. They may be the result of a basic need of expression that is innate to human beings, or they could have been for the transmission of practical information.

In Paleolithic times, the representation of humans in cave paintings was rare. Mostly, animals were painted, not only animals that were used as food but also animals that represented strength like the rhinoceros or large Felidae, as in the Chauvet Cave. Signs like dots were sometimes drawn. Rare human representations include handprints and stencils, and figures depicting human / animal hybrids. The Chauvet Cave in the Ardèche Departments of France contains the most important preserved cave paintings of the Paleolithic era, painted around 31,000 BC. The Altamira cave paintings in Spain were done 14,000 to 12,000 BC and show, among others, bisons. The hall of bulls in Lascaux, Dordogne, France, is one of the best known cave paintings and dates to about 15,000 to 10,000 BC.

If there is meaning to the paintings, it remains unknown. The caves were not in an inhabited area, so they may have been used for seasonal rituals. The animals are accompanied by signs which suggest a possible magic use. Arrow-like symbols in Lascaux are sometimes interpreted as being used as calendars or almanacs, but the evidence remains inconclusive.[15] The most important work of the Mesolithic era were the marching warriors, a rock painting at Cingle de la Mola, Castellón, Spain dated to about 7000 to 4000 BC. The technique used was probably spitting or blowing the pigments onto the rock. The paintings are quite naturalistic, though stylized. The figures are not three-dimensional, even though they overlap

The earliest known Indian paintings were the rock paintings of prehistoric times, the petroglyphs as found in places like the Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka, and some of them are older than 5500 BC. Such works continued and after several millennia, in the 7th century, carved pillars of Ajanta, Maharashtra state present a fine example of Indian paintings. The colors, mostly various shades of red and orange, were derived from minerals.