Styles in Painting: From Renaissance to Impressionism

Creation of Adam by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel

Baroque, Rococo, Classicism … These are all styles in painting. Some existed in a particular era. Then just look at the date of creation of the picture and understand what style it is.

But many intersected in time: one style is still in fashion, and the other is already stepping on its heels. In this case, the dates will not always help.

It would be nice to know the basic features of each style. Even better is to understand why a particular style arose.

Why suddenly the artists switched from a beautiful renaissance to a pretentious baroque.

And why strict classicism was supplanted by shaky impressionism.

Let’s analyze each style and start with the renaissance.

1. Renaissance

Behind – the Middle Ages and the triumph of the spirit over the body. Flat faces and shapeless clothes were inhabited by many Gothic cathedrals.

The Renaissance shifted the focus from the spiritual to the physical. On a beautiful and noble person.

Why did the Renaissance style originate

In Italy, at the end of the 15th century, paintings were ordered not only by churchmen, but by bankers as well.

They were not only rich, but also educated people. Read ancient Greek poets. And at the same time, they also saw the found sculptures of Ancient Rome.

Sandro Botticelli. Birth of Venus.
Sandro Botticelli. Birth of Venus. 1484. Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

The desire to admire physical beauty and the perception of a person as a thinking and dignified being – such was the mood of customers. Artists heard these wishes.

Renaissance lifetime

The Renaissance style flourished in the beginning of 15th century, starting with the artworks of Masaccio. And ended at the end of the 16th century with the artworks of Titian.

Titian. Venus of Urbino.
Titian. Venus of Urbino. 1538. Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

Renaissance style features

In Renaissance paintings, the whole focus is on man.

Therefore, at this time almost no landscapes are encountered and there are no still lifes at all.

Depicted one or more figures. More often in a calm and motionless pose. Beautiful and noble features. A confident look at the viewer.

Raphael. Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione.
Raphael. Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione. 1514-1515. Louvre Museum, Paris.

If this is a saint, then he is almost no different from an ordinary person.

Often, under the image of the Madonna or the ancient Greek goddess, lovers, spouses or daughters were hiding.

Botticelli, for example, in the image of Venus portrayed a real girl who admired him, Simonetta Vespucci.

Sandro Botticelli. Birth of Venus.
Sandro Botticelli. Birth of Venus. 1484. Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

The face or hands were made using the sfumato technique, that is, as if covered with a haze.

This technique was invented by Leonardo da Vinci. It allows you to make the image of a person more lively. His Mona Lisa is made with the sfumato effect.

Leonardo da Vinci. Mona Lisa (fragment).
Leonardo da Vinci. Mona Lisa (fragment). 1503-1519. Louvre Museum, Paris.

Renaissance paintings are often painted in bright colors. The era of halftones and delicate shades come later.

Artists cared little about color. In fact, they simply painted beautiful shapes.

Michelangelo. Libyan Sibyl.
Michelangelo. Libyan Sibyl. 1508-1512. Sistine Chapel, Vatican.

A typical example of the Renaissance style

Rafael is the most classic Renaissance artist. He created the most beautiful and noble images of this era. Here is his Madonna of the Meadow.

Rafael Santi. Madonna of the Meadow.
Rafael Santi. Madonna of the Meadow. 1505-1506. Museum of Art History, Vienna, Austria.

It has almost everything that the Renaissance is famous for. Beauty, nobility and sfumato.

Renaissance artists

Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Tintoretto, Titian.

The Renaissance style did not disappear with the death of Titian. Each subsequent style has incorporated its features.

Artists of all stripes idolized Raphael. The gestures and smiles of his heroes are repeated hundreds of times in paintings over 300 years.

The point in this universal love for the Renaissance was put by the impressionists. About them – later.

About the Renaissance artists, please read in my article “6 great masters of the Renaissance.”

2. Baroque

The Renaissance is certainly beautiful. But static and ascetic. Renaissance artists didn’t particularly work with color. Therefore, often their artworks are similar to coloring-book (not counting Titian, of course).

But the Baroque style took into account all these points. Baroque is movement, luxury and masterful coloring.

Peter Paul Rubens. Assumption of Mary.
Peter Paul Rubens. Assumption of Mary. 1618. Kunstpalast Museum, Dusseldorf.

Why did the baroque style originate

Belief in man and the republic, as a form of government, did not last long in Italy. The monarchy has returned. And the monarchs needed a different painting.

Customers wanted to show themselves in all their glory and decorate their palaces on a grand scale. They needed splendor and brilliance.

Artists quickly realized where the wind was blowing. So the Baroque appeared.

Peter Paul Rubens. Arrival of Mary de Medici at Marseille.
Peter Paul Rubens. Arrival of Mary de Medici at Marseille. 1622-1625. Louvre Museum, Paris.

Baroque lifetime

The heyday of this style is the 17th century. But baroque pictures were created until the beginning of the 19th century.

This is the style that lasted the longest in the history of art. Luxury and blinding brilliance have been in fashion for 200 years.

Orazio Gentileschi. Danae.
Orazio Gentileschi. Danae. 1621. Getty Museum, Los Angeles, USA.

Baroque style features

Chaos of naked bodies, spears and exotic animals – are attributes of Baroque style. If the words “how emotionally and dynamically” come to mind when considering a picture, then this is baroque.

Peter Paul Rubens. Crocodile and Hippo Hunting.
Peter Paul Rubens. Crocodile and Hippo Hunting. 1616. The Alte Pinakothek, Munich.

Baroque is a mixture of painting and theater. A dim light grabs a dramatic action from the darkness.

Plots were chosen appropriate: scenes of torture of Christian martyrs, murders and turning points in the life of saints.

Caravaggio. Conversion on the Way to Damascus.
Caravaggio. Conversion on the Way to Damascus. 1601, church of Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome.

A typical example of the Baroque style

Rubens loved the mess of people and animals. His “Lion Hunt” is proof of this.

Rubens. Lion Hunt
Rubens. Lion Hunt. 1621 Old Pinakothek, Munich.

But the master of theatrical baroque painting was Caravaggio. He has less movement than Rubens. But he has more than enough emotions and drama. Like in the picture “Entombment of Christ”.

Caravaggio. Entombment of Christ.
Caravaggio. Entombment of Christ. 1602. Vatican Pinakothek.

Main baroque artists

Dynamic Baroque is Rubens, Simon Vouet and Tiepolo.

Theatrical baroque (the so-called caravagism) — Rembrandt, Gentileschi (both father and daughter), as well as Murillo.

One more thing to keep in mind. Baroque is not only picturesque excesses. A huge canvas and a massive gilded frame – go, as a rule, in addition.

3. Rococo

Baroque and Rococo are often confused. But they have a fundamental difference. Baroque – about pomp. Rococo is about grace.

Baroque is about strong emotions, even emotional stress. Rococo – about superficial feelings.

Francois Boucher. Jupiter and Callisto.
Francois Boucher. Jupiter and Callisto. 1744. Pushkin Museum, Moscow.

Why did the rococo style originate

Once customers are tired of drama and passions. They wanted easy chatter, flirting and kisses. This is how the rococo style came about.

Jean-Honore Fragonard. Stolen Kiss.
Jean-Honore Fragonard. Stolen Kiss. 1780s. State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.

The appearance of the style was promoted by Madame Pompadour, the mistress of the King Louis XV. She loved angels, floral ornament and delicate colors.

Rococo lifetime

The rococo century was short. The style lasted only 50 years (from the middle of the 18th century until the outbreak of the civil war in France). Frivolous images went poorly towards the Bloodthirsty Guillotine.

Francois Boucher. Madame Pompadour.
Francois Boucher. Madame Pompadour. 1756. Alte Pinakothek, Munich.

Rococo style features

Most of the heroes are pink-cheeked (but not puffy, like in Baroque) girls among flowers and gentlemen. Everyone is happy. Baroque drama as never happened.

Thomas Gainsborough. Portrait of a Lady in Blue.
Thomas Gainsborough. Portrait of a Lady in Blue. 1778-1782. State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.

Rococo artists used a thin brush. Their paintings were filled with tiny details.

Antoine Watteau. Embarkation for Cythera.
Antoine Watteau. Embarkation for Cythera. 1717. The Louvre, Paris.

A typical example of the rococo style

The classic rococo painting is Fragonard’s Swing. Here we see flirting, as well as a thin-legged girl.

Jean Honore Fragonard. Swing.
Jean Honore Fragonard. Swing. 1867 Wallace Collection, London.

Main Rococo Artists

Mentioned Jean-Honore Fragonard, Antoine Watteau, Francois Boucher, Thomas Gainsborough.

I’d like to add that Rococo is not always idleness. The Swing by Fragonard is not as superficial as it might seem at first.

You can feel the upcoming drama in a relationship by looking at the gloomy branches of the trees.

So a brilliant artist can write a deep artwork, even in the Rococo style.

4. Classicism

Classicism arose in parallel with baroque. But it is the exact opposite.

Instead of passions – impassivity.

Instead of intertwined bodies, verified proportions and order. As if the pictures were drawn by mathematicians.

Nicola Poussin. Shepherds of Arcadia.
Nicola Poussin. Shepherds of Arcadia. 1650. The Louvre Museum, Paris.

Why did the classicism style originate

The reason is to look for the difference in tastes of customers.

Some of them loved harmonious proportions of antiquity. Classicism is a return to the Renaissance, but in a more strict version, to match the prim aristocrats.

Jacques-Louis David. Oath of Horatii.
Jacques-Louis David. Oath of Horatii. 1784. The Louvre Museum, Paris.

The more extrovert dukes and princes preferred magnificent baroque.

So two camps appeared: lovers of classicism and lovers of baroque.

Rococo style features

Classicists chose plots that were far from life: about the gods and goddesses, about the rulers of ancient Rome, gladiators and Spartans.

Mussini. Spartan boy observes the effects of drunkenness.
Mussini. Spartan Boy Observes the Effects of Drunkenness. 1850. The Louvre Museum, Paris.

Classicism not only satisfied the tastes of individual customers, but also became an official art. The classicists had their own academies, so they were called academics.

They taught students the clear rules of painting. The correct proportions, perspective, modeling volume chiaroscuro, three-color scheme.

William Bouguereau. Dante and Virgil in hell.
William Bouguereau. Dante and Virgil in Hell. 1850. Museum d’Orsay, Paris.

Therefore, classicism is the most common style of painting. Perhaps in this style created the most paintings in the history of art.

Classicism lifetime

It was in fashion in the 17th century. And then bloomed again in the late 18th century. Mainly due to love from Napoleon. But it was already called Neoclassicism.

Jacques-Louis David. Napoleon Crossing the Alps (fragment).
Jacques-Louis David. Napoleon Crossing the Alps (fragment). 1798. Belvedere Gallery in Vienna.

For classicism, you should turn to the French artist Poussin. In his artworks you will meet all the features of this style.

Nicola Poussin. Continence of Scipio.
Nicola Poussin. Continence of Scipio. 1640. Pushkin Museum, Moscow.

In The Continence of Scipio everything is ordered and logical. Heroes stand in a row. No one is leaning on anyone, as in artworks of Rubens.

The artist uses the classic three-color scheme “blue-red-yellow.”

Emotions are muffled: they are not as important here as the gestures and poses of the heroes.

Main artists

Nicolas Poussin, Jacques-Louis David, Anibale Carracci, William Bouguereau.

Classicism was not lucky. Freethinking artists fought fiercely with it. Those who wanted to do so at the behest of the heart, and not as taught in academies.

As a result, the classicism was broken by the impressionists.

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5. Impressionism

There is something that unites all the styles that exist before impressionism.

This is a smooth painting. Hiding strokes, naturalness and attention to detail were almost always important, starting from the 14th century.

But impressionism boldly shook all these traditions.

Claude Monet. Impression. Sunrise.
Claude Monet. Impression. Sunrise. November 13, 1872, 7 hours 35 minutes in the morning. Mormatten-Monet Museum, Paris.

Why did the impressionism style originate

In the 19th century, photography was invented. There was no sense in depicting reality with a brush and paints. An aristocrat could go to a photo studio and make his realistic portrait. Very quick to do.

Artists realized that reality no longer needed their services. They focused on their own impressions of what they saw – on living people, sunny bunnies and the rustle of grass.

Claude Monet. Haystack at sunset near Giverny.
Claude Monet. Haystack at Sunset near Giverny. 1891. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, USA.

Impressionism style features

Impressionism is characterized by vitality. Artists of this direction painted their contemporaries in cafes or on walks. Unlike the classicists, who portrayed ancient Roman heroes or gods with goddesses.

Konstantin Korovin. Paris cafe.
Konstantin Korovin. Paris Cafe. 1890. The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

Impressionists also developed their own technique. Instead of smooth painting, they applied visible, quick strokes. With the help of them, they created the illusion of air vibration and sun glare.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Portrait of actress Jeanne Samari.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Portrait of Actress Jeanne Samari. 1877. Pushkin Museum, Moscow.

Impressionism lifetime

Actively in the style of impressionism artists worked in the second half of the 19th century. Not for long. Like Rococo, this style also lasted no more than 50 years.

But its heyday ended for a completely different reason than that of rococo.

Edgar Degas. Blue dancers.
Edgar Degas. Blue Dancers. 1897. Pushkin Museum, Moscow.

Impressionists have changed the way artists think. They showed that you can depict not only visible reality. But something else. In their case, the fleeting effects of the sun, fog, and twilight.

Other artists went further. And they began to depict their inner world (expressionism), invented reality (abstractionism), or almost nothing (minimalism).

A typical example of the impressionism style

Impressionism originated in France. So the most striking impressionists are the French. Typical Impressionism artwork – The Swing by Renoir.

Auguste Renoir. Swing.
Auguste Renoir. Swing. 1873. Museum d’Orsay, Paris.

Here, ordinary citizens of the 19th century relax in the park. No historical plots, as classicists loved. Everything is depicted using large multi-colored strokes. Even shadows are colored.

Main artists

Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Konstantin Korovin.

Check yourself

I suggest you check out how you learned the basic styles.

Which of these pictures is painted in the rococo style?

Which of these paintings is painted in the Renaissance style?

If you answered all questions – “on the left”, then you are well versed in painting styles.

On the first collage on the left is The Bolt of Fragonard.

On the right is Rubens’s painting “Wolf and Fox Hunt” (Baroque).

On the second collage on the left is Raphael’s “La Fornarina”.

On the right is Renoir’s “Nude in the Sunlight” (Impressionism).


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Photos: Wikimedia Commons

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