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“Isms of Art”- Tracing the Timeline of The Most Famous Movements of Art History (Part 1)

The strings of our contemporary art are riddled with our past nodes. With puffed sleeves being back in fashion again, open kitchens being sold in the name of modular architecture, to black and white pixels being forever embraced, many design trends from ages-old art movements remain in fashion.

The “isms of art” are like exciting ancient tales that leave us reminiscing about the struggles of art becoming rebellions and revolutions. These art styles and movements popularised by prominent themes or artists, in a set time frame, preached fundamental concepts and ideas. They depicted the core subject matter of cultures in a particular era, along with political and social influences. The art movements serve a good deal of influence on modern art since all of the consecutive isms are considered a new avant-garde.

These influential genres of art can be traced back thousands of years and laid the foundation of art history. With many modern artists still taking inspiration from historical art movements, understanding the cultural, social, and historical significance of diverse artworks through a comprehensive art history timeline is vital.

Though various historians have differential interpretations of the beginnings and endings of art eras, we can broadly categorize them into 4 parts-

Ancient Art 30,000 B.C.–A.D. 400

Ancient art was created by advanced ancient civilizations, which developed an established written language. These famous civilizations were Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and some of the Americas.

The medium of artwork from this broad period varies depending on the civilization that created it. However, most of the art produced similar purposes: depicting stories (majorly of rulers, gods, and goddesses), decorating utilitarian objects like bowls and weapons, displaying religious and symbolic imagery, and demonstrating social status.

One of the most celebrated works from ancient Mesopotamia is the Code of Hammurabi. It was created around 1792 B.C.; the unique art piece bears a Babylonian set of laws carved in stone, adorned by a pictorial representation of King Hammurabi—the sixth King of Babylonia—and Shabash, the Mesopotamian god.

Medieval to Early Renaissance Art (500–A.D. 1400)

The Middle Ages also referred to as the “Dark Ages,” symbolized a historical period of cultural and economic deterioration due to the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 A.D. Most of the artwork created in the early years of the medieval period reflects that darkness, illustrated by grotesque imagery and brutal scenes. Art created during this time mainly focused on the Church. After the first millennium, more sophisticated and decorated churches appeared with windows and silhouettes adorned with the biblical subject matter and depictions from classical mythology.

This period also led to the emergence of the illuminated manuscript and Gothic and Romanesque styles of art and architecture. Illustrative examples of influential artwork from this period are the Lindisfarne Gospels, one of the most famous examples of the illuminated manuscript, and Notre Dame, a Parisian cathedral and exemplary example of Gothic architecture.

Renaissance to Early Modern Art

This enormously creative art period is characterized by a focus on concepts like nature, individualism, the idea of man's freedom, and becoming self-reliant. Although these ideas paved their way during the late Medieval period, they actually flourished in the 15th and 16th centuries, paralleling social and economic transformations and concepts like secularization.

The Renaissance reached its epoch in Florence, Italy, due to the Medici’s acquisition. This wealthy merchant family emphasized the propagation of arts and humanism and other varieties of beliefs and philosophies that support the human realm. Italian designer Filippo Brunelleschi and sculptor Donatello are the infamous artists of this period.

The High Renaissance, stretching from 1490 to 1527, witnessed influential artists such as da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael, discovering creative power and acquainting the world with spearheaded ideals of emotional expression. Artwork during this iconic phase of history was characterized by Realism, attention to detail and a thorough study of human anatomy. Artists portrayed linear perspective and created depth through intense lighting and shading in their artwork. Art began to change styles shortly after the High Renaissance when clashes between the Christian faith and humanism paved the way for Mannerism.

Modern Art

1880 to 1970 were the years of Modern Art. These were an extremely busy 90 years for the history of art. For instance, Impressionists opened the floodgates on new frontiers, and individual artists such as Picasso and Duchamp created a storm of impactful movements.

The last two decades of the 1800s were charged up with movements like Neo-Impressionism, Symbolism, Expressionism, and Fauvism. Moreover, several art schools and groups popped up such as The Glasgow Boys and the Heidelberg School, The Band Noire (Nubians) and The Ten American Painters.

Fast forward to the 1900s, art became extremely diverse and confusing. Movements such as Art Nouveau and Cubism kicked off the new century with Bauhaus, Dadaism, Purism, Rayism, and Suprematism following the lead. Styles like Art Deco, Constructivism, took over and Abstract Expressionism emerged in the 1940s.

By mid-century, the world experienced even more revolutionary styles. Funk, Junk Art, and Pop Art became the norm in the 50s. The 60s then welcomed Minimalism, Op Art, Psychedelic Art, and much, much more.

A Broad Art History Timeline

Owing to this hustle of artists and creative minds being unstoppable since the last century, it’s nearly impossible to cover the details of each and every form and style of art that erupted. However, some of them have the most glaring impact and contribution to shaping modern art, making it essential for us to unravel them.

Diving into the art timeline more comprehensively segregates each popular movement. A brief outline is mentioned below-

Ancient Art

30,000 B.C.–A.D. 400


A.D. 500–A.D. 1400















rt Nouveau














Abstract Expressionism


Pop Art




Conceptual Art


Contemporary Art


So, let’s take an artistic ride into the intriguing stories of each art movement. We have covered all the art movements sequentially, along with the famous artists and artwork of each era.


Mannerist artists were inspired by the ideals of Michelangelo, Raphael, and other Late-Renaissance artists. However, their focus on the style and technique outweighed the essence of the concept. Often, the figures had elongated limbs, tiny heads, stylized features and exaggerated detailing. This led to even more complex, stylized compositions rather than clinging to the classical ideals of harmonious composition and linear perspective passed down by their Renaissance predecessors.

Famous artists- Some of the most celebrated Mannerist artists are Giorgio Vasari, Francesco Salviati, Domenico Beccafumi, and Bronzino.

Popular Artwork- View of Toledo, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz by El Greco, and The Wedding at Cana by Paolo Veronese are some of the most iconic artworks of the Mannerist period. As seen in the image above.


The decline of the Renaissance witnessed the emergence of the Baroque art movement in Italy. Similar to its preceding genre, Baroque art showcased an artistic focus on realism and rich color. However, unlike Renaissance art and architecture, the Baroque period also emphasized extravagance.

Affluence is prominent in Baroque paintings, sculptures, and architecture. Caravaggio, the famous painter of this era, suggested drama through indulgence of light and depiction. Sculptors like Bernini gained a sense of theatricality through dynamic contours and detailed drapery. And architects across Europe widely used embellishments in their designs with ornamentation like intricate carvings and imposing columns.

Famous Artists- Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Bernini

Popular Artwork: The Calling of Saint Matthew by Caravaggio, The Night Watch by Rembrandt, The Ecstasy of St. Teresa by Bernini, As seen in the image above.


Following the extravaganza and powerful depiction of Baroque art came the cheerful and flirtatious Rococo movement, which blossomed in 18th-century France before reaching other European countries. Rococo is a derivative of the word ‘rocaille’, meaning a method of using pebbles, seashells, and cement for the decoration of grottoes and fountains in the Renaissance. The pattern was prevalent during the 1730s, inspiring scrolling curves in ornamental furniture and interior design. In paintings, this adorning style converted to a love of whimsical narratives, use of pastel colors, and fluid forms.

Famous Artists- Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Antoine Watteau, François Boucher

Popular Artwork- The Swing by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, As seen in the image above.

Classicism and Neoclassicism

As the name suggests, this ancient art style was inspired by classics or antiques. It dates back to the time of Greece and Rome's dominance when art and sculptures were entrenched in classic form, proportion, and simplicity. The underlying idea of the concept was to create objective or non-subjective art. Post classicism, Neoclassicism, rooted in the upheaval of Classicism, saw its emergence. The two art styles are often used interchangeably by many modern artists who follow and rely on Classicism as their artistic inspiration. The interest of the style lies in simplicity and harmony that was partially inspired as a negative reaction to the overly frivolous depiction in the decorative Rococo style.

Famous Artists- Nicolas Poussin, Jacques-Louis David, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Antonio Canova

Popular Artwork- The Oath of the Horatii, The Death of Socrates, Death of Marat by Jacques-Louis David, and The Grande Odalisque by Ingres, As seen in the image above.


Risen in the late eighteen century to the mid-nineteenth century, Romanticism was the idyllic expression of art for artists immersed in their imagination. It was focused on the eventual subject matter and included many mythical scenes and historical events. Nature, along with mystical, mysterious and satanic ideas, ruled this era.

This period also witnessed an awakening of acknowledging sentiments and artistic freedom. Eugene Delacroix and J.M.W. Turner were famous and courageous artists who led the movement of Romanticism. Contemporarily, glimpses of the period can be seen in the famous Beauty and the Beast by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. The intellectual orientation of this rebellious phase of art has impacted modern-era literature, painting, music, and architecture immensely.

Famous Artists- Joseph Mallord William Turner, Eugène Delacroix, Theodore Gericault, Francisco Goya

Popular Artwork- Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich), Liberty Leading the People by Delacroix, As seen in the image above.


Realism is an art genre that began in France after the great French Revolution. The style came as a clear rejection of Romanticism, the dominant preceding art movement. Realist painters captured scenes of contemporary people and daily life. While this may seem completely normal today, during the era of the French Revolution, this was seen as revolutionary as artists before only depicted mythological or biblical scenes or portraits of clergy and nobility.

French artists like Gustave Courbet along with international artists like James Abbott McNeill, started to focus on all social classes in their artwork, giving voice to oppressed members of society for the first time. They also represented social issues stemming from the Industrial Revolution.

Famous Artists- Gustave Courbet, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Jean-François Millet, James McNeill Whistler

Popular Artwork- The Gleaners by Jean-François Millet, The Burial at Ornans by Gustave Courbet, As seen in the image above.


Each art movement's history and substance have influenced the later or preceding movements. Therefore, tracing every art style is paramount for building a thoughtful and cohesive artistic perspective. So, stay tuned for “Isms of Art”- Tracing the Timeline of The Most Famous Movements of Art History part 2 to track the successive swath of diverse and influential styles.

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