Home Magazine Art History Timeline with Kooness

  1. Before 2,000 BC North America

    Twenty thousand years ago, as the world's climate begins slowly to warm after the last major glaciation, and Asian peoples cross—or continue to cross—the Bering Strait between Siberia and Alaska, these new Americans spread out through the two large continents. Weapons and tools are fashioned from wood, stone, and bone. Cordage, netting, and basketry develop and fiber-tempered pottery is eventually fired. The practice of placing significant burials beneath earth-and-stone mounds is initiated.


    Hunters in North America pursued large animals for food. Skilled at the task, these Americans left evidence of activities throughout much of the continent where many of their living sites and hunt sites are now known. Blackwater Draw in eastern New Mexico, which evidences human activity from about 9,500 to 3,000 B.C., is one of the most important early hunter locations. Large animals were attracted to it for water - water sources being productive places for hunting - and the weapons with which the animals were brought down were principally of stone.


    The stone projectile, or spear, points used by the early hunters were beautifully made. Elegant as well as useful, the points of the first cultural complex to be defined for North America (around 9500 B.C.) are known as Clovis points. Found at Blackwater Draw, Clovis points were made by pressure flaking handsomely coloured chert, agate, or jasper and are distinctively shaped. Bifacial, meaning sharp on both sides, they have a large central, or "channel," flake removed from the bottom. This detail has given them the name of fluted points, and they are peculiarly American


    The best examples of these have been found at the site of Lovelock Cave, an open rock shelter in western Nevada , dated to around 3,000 BC. It was long inhabited, and remained in use until historic times. Large quantities of perishable materials such as bird decoys, baskets, basketry items, featherwork, and skin blankets have also been discovered there.


    Evidence of pottery making appears during the Early Neolithic period with the rise of agriculture and sedentary living. As villages develop into settled cultures, discrete ceramic traditions evolve that show a distinctive Chinese approach to form, decoration, and technique, leading to the identification of more than thirty Late Neolithic cultures throughout China. Other artefacts include the earliest multi-note instrument (flute) and reveal evidence of the earliest uses of lacquer, writing, and the themes of the tiger and dragon. Objects made of jade are thought to have played a ceremonial role in Late Neolithic cultures.

    Around 10,000–7000 B.C early evidence for pottery can be found, usually associated with the rise of agriculture and sedentary living, coming from rock shelters discovered at sites in the southern provinces of Zhejiang and Guangxi.

    During the Late Neolithic period, about 5000 B.C., numerous settled cultures, which increasingly interact with one another and are often highly stratified, flourish throughout China. In the early part of the twentieth century, only two such cultures were known, whereas nowadays more than thirty have been identified. They are distinguished from one another by the types of ceramics or jade carvings they produce, are usually named after specific archaeological sites, and are often subdivided into phases.
    Some of the earliest painted ceramics are produced by the Yangshao culture around 5000-1500 BC, which flourishes first in north central China and later in the northwest. Early Yangshao designs include masks, dancing figures, frogs, and creatures with feathers. Later examples are characterised by their vibrant geometric motifs.

    Between 3500–2500 B.C., cultures such as the Hongshan in the northeast and the Liangzhu in the southeast produce an astonishing range of figurines, adornments, and implements made of jade (nephrite), and often decorated with engravings or low-relief carvings. In addition, unusual (for China) clay sculptures of women with protruding stomachs, probably indicative of pregnancy, and therefore perhaps used as fertility charms. A few are lifesize, found in sites associated with the Hongshan culture such as Dongshangzui and the "Temple of the Goddess" in Liaoning Province.


    Early European history, otherwise known as the Palaeolithic period, is bursting with very early examples of rudimentary artistic practice, and the variety of materials used is broader than you might expect. Small rock carvings, such as the Venus of Willendorf, named after where it was found in Austria and thought of as a fertility talisman, have been found alongside carved ivory from mammoths from periods as early as 7,000BC, pottery from 5,000 BC onwards and even cave paintings made with natural pigments, the earliest known European examples of these in Europe being in the Lascaux caves in France. This already shows a breadth of human experimentation, as the pottery and other carvings are covered in linear, stylised markings, playing with repeated patterns in a geometric and abstract fashion for simple decoration

  2. 2,000 BC - 1 AD North America


    Gardening technology progresses, leading to the development of agriculture and the drawn-out transition to settled village life from hunter-gatherer lifeways. Corn and techniques for its cultivation, undoubtedly introduced from Mexico, are present in the Southwest. Corn becomes the most significant food crop in native North America, and the presence of pottery leads to major changes in the storing and transportation of food.


    In the eastern and western Arctic, small, delicately made stone tools are produced. The Arctic Small Tool Tradition, characterized by a technological similarity of tools, emerges in the Bering Strait region, and is subsequently found throughout both the western and eastern Arctic.


    In around 1500 B.C, large earthworks - human-made, above-ground constructions such as burial mounds, fortifications, and ridges - begin to be erected at what is now known to archaeologists as Poverty Point. Poverty Point is located in the lower Mississippi valley of Louisiana, near both the Gulf Coast and the confluence of six major rivers. Strategically placed on numerous trade routes, the site of Poverty Point was large and influential, dominating much of the surrounding region and serving as a focus for innovation and growth. The configuration of its earthen structures is thought to be unique, as they are notably concentric, semi-elliptical ridges of great size, and it had no equal in grandeur in its day.

    Earth-moving activities for the shaping of the wide plaza began about 1500 B.C. and while the construction history of the site is not well understood today, the earthen structures were built and enlarged for hundreds of years, with the site reaching its final plan at about 1000 B.C. The concentric semi-ellipses enclose an open plaza covering an area of about 34 acres. Aisle like openings run between the concentric rings, which are thought to have stood over six feet high. They may have functioned, at least partially, as living areas. The largest mound at the site rises to a height of over 70 feet and is adjacent to the eastern side of the great ridges. The mound has a complex plan and shape and is thought to be birdlike.

    Objects excavated at Poverty Point and related sites were often made of materials that originated in distant places, understandable due to its location on such a confluence of viable trade networks, and include chipped stone projectile points and tools, ground stone plummets, gorgets and vessels, and shell and stone beads. Hand-modeled clay objects, lowly fired, occur in a variety of shapes. Figurines and cooking balls are among them.



    The Poverty Point site was first reported in 1873, when the semi-elliptical ridges were thought to be natural formations. It was only in the 1950s, when the site was viewed from the air, that archaeologists realised they were manmade.


    Over the years, and past 1,000 BC, hunter-gatherer lifeways continue in the Eastern Woodlands, where peoples of the Adena culture build earthworks at floodplain locations along the Ohio River valley, and develop complex communal ceremonies. Burial customs are elaborated: grave goods include luxury materials and personal ornaments as well as tools. In the Southwest, while population mobility is still a factor, shallow pithouses are constructed. Pottery use is initiated.


    The Arctic Small Tool Tradition continues, and the Arctic peoples around the Bering Strait develop a successful marine hunting technology, probably based on Asiatic traditions, for the capture of sea mammals. Around 100 BC, the carving of walrus ivory is a consolidated and well defined tradition.  Across the whole continent, objects associated with hunting and burial are carefully made and decorated, implying ritual significance.



    From 2000 B.C. metals begin to be consistently used throughout China to make knives, awls, bells, and jewelry.

    The earliest Chinese bronzes were made by the method known as piece-mould casting - as opposed to the lost-wax method, which was used in all other Bronze Age cultures. In piece-mould casting, a model is made of the object to be cast, and a clay mould taken of the model. The mould is then cut in sections to release the model, and the sections are reassembled after firing to form the mould for casting.
    The area along the Yellow River in present-day Henan Province emerged as the centre of the most advanced and literate cultures of the time and became the seat of the political and military power of the Shang dynasty (ca. 1600–1050 B.C.), the earliest archaeologically recorded dynasty in Chinese history.

    Jade, along with bronze, represents the highest achievement of Bronze Age material culture. In many respects, the Shang dynasty can be regarded as the culmination of 2,000 years of the art of jade carving. Written records and archaeological evidence inform us that jades were used in sacrificial offerings to gods and ancestors, in burial rites, for recording treaties between states, and in formal ceremonies at the courts of kings.

    The late 6th to early 5th century B.C. was a critical period in the development of the art of bronze casting in the late Bronze Age in China, where techniques began to incorporate the surface decoration, intricate patterns composed of animal masks and interlacing bands ending in dragon heads and feathered tails, making use of motifs from earlier periods but in a manner that suggests a geometric arrangements.
    Although the surface decoration was executed entirely in the mould - the traditional method of metalworking in China - the introduction of the dentate copper moulding, cast in at the mouth of the vessel, heralds the beginning of a new style and technique of metalworking that was introduced into China from the West at this time. After this period, the use of metals other than bronze (copper, silver, and gold) as part of the decoration became more common.

    During the period of the Warring States (ca. 475–221 B.C.) China was divided into smaller, conflicting polities, was a period of technical and artistic brilliance noted for its bronze vessels with decoration inlaid in silver and gold.

    The earliest extant paintings on silk can be dated to 400–200 B.C., one showing a woman with a dragon and a phoenix, the other a man with the same mythological creatures, are excavated from sites associated with the state of Chu. The animal and creature motifs are firmly entrenched in Chinese decorative psyche now, and still persist to this day.

    By 100 B.C., monumental stone sculptures, valued for their aura of permanence, appear above tombs and in other public locations. By the first century A.D., "spirit roads," avenues of stone monuments and figures lining the approach to an imperial tomb, have replaced the terracotta armies common earlier.


    On the Italian peninsula between 2000–1000 B.C., the Ligurians and Rhaetians, both tribes of unknown origin, settle in the northwest and in the Alpine valleys. Italic tribes enter from the north, bringing with them the knowledge of bronze. With the spread of the use of metals, trade in obsidian dramatically decreases, with serious economic repercussions in the Lipari Islands and on Melos.
    Around 1800–1300 B.C. the sixth city of Troy arises (one of the many iterations of a settlement there in the same location). The sophistication of its military architecture can be compared with that of the palaces in Crete.
    Soon, it becomes common place across Europe for cremation to be the norm in place of inhumation burial; the ashes are interred, usually with a few grave goods, in urns placed in cemetery grounds. This gives the pottery, developed many years before, a specific ritual function other than for domestic use. The change seems to indicate new religious concepts, which hold the materiality of the body less important and leave precious objects largely to the living, giving larger emphasis to hereditary tradition and to the longevity of artistic and practical creation.
    By 1200 BC, metalworking production, already known in Europe for over a thousand years, increases dramatically. Smiths handle larger quantities of bronze and gold and exploit sophisticated techniques such as lost-wax casting and casting in moulds in many pieces. We are now firmly in The Bronze Age.

    In Ancient Greece, in 776 B.C, the Olympic games are founded. Held once every four years, the games honour the Olympian Zeus. The earliest games are held in one day and consist of running and wrestling. In the 7th century B.C., they are reorganized to include chariot races and single horse races. According to tradition, the blind bard Homer composes the Iliad and the Odyssey around 750 B.C. In accordance with the current trend towards civilisation, around this time the Greeks begin to venture overseas and establish colonies in southern Italy and Sicily.

    About 525 BC, the red-figure pottery technique is pioneered in Athens. This technique is the direct opposite of black-figure since the background of a vessel is painted with a black slip and the figures and other details are left in reserve as the colour of the clay. Contour lines and some interior details may be added with a dilute slip. Large bowls and kraters following the red or black figure pottery technique are used as prizes to the victors of sporting games, like the Olympics.

    In 447 BC–432 BC the Parthenon is built in Athens, the number one feat of architecture to that day, and still standing as a Wonder of the Ancient World. A masterclass combination of design, mathematics, religion and contemporary sculpture, the Parthenon is set as a bench mark for global architecture. The links between art and religion are growing ever closer every day.

    Across the Aegean sea, in 509 B.C. an aristocratic Republic is established at Rome. Then, in
    146 B.C, after years of shared trade, literature and culture, under the consul Mummius Achaicus, the Romans sack Corinth and dissolve the Achaean Confederacy. From this time onward, Greece is ruled by Rome.
    Many great ancient Greek masterpieces, such as the marble Venus de Milo which now stands in the Louvre, survive only as copies made by Roman craftsmen. When Greek statues and other works of art are imported into Rome, they spark such enthusiasm that local sculptors produce copies to satisfy market demands.

    Some of the most sumptuous examples of mosaics still left to us, have been found in Pompeii and dated to around 100BC, as even though the technique had been around for years the Pompeiians had refined and perfected them. Other such interesting techniques pioneered around this time include glass blowing, introduced to the Italian peninsula by eastern Mediterranean craftsmen, facilitated by the new stability afforded by the Roman empire, and which revolutionizes the Italian glassmaking industry.

    The principate of Augustus is established in 27 B.C. and, thus, begins the Principate or Roman imperial period. Augustus famous is quoted as saying “I found a city made of bricks. I left one made of marble.” This is in reference to the extensive building programmes he incepted around the city, building the city up to look worthy of an Emperor.

  3. 1 AD - 1,000 AD North America


    Interregional communication increases together with long-distance trade in precious materials, particularly in the Eastern Woodlands. Copper, mica, obsidian, and marine shell are widely traded, and objects made from them are status markers when they appear in burials. At Hopewell, on the North Fork of Paint Creek in Ohio, a great earthwork enclosure is built that surrounds a major earthen mound thirty feet high. The Hohokam peoples of the Sonora Desert in Arizona have ties to Mexico, as seen in ceramic objects of apparent ritual importance such as figurines. In the Arctic, marine hunting technologies are successful, and at Point Hope, Alaska, burial customs are elaborated with the significant carving of objects made from walrus ivory.


    Flourishing centres with enormous earthworks in geometric shapes as varied as octagons, trapezoids, and ellipses were present in the southern Ohio region of Hopewell. One such earthwork site, known today as Mound City, near Chillicothe, Ohio, has a particularly high concentration of burial mounds, leading to the supposition that it was primarily funerary, used for that purpose by adjacent living sites.


    An extensive trade network for exotic materials existed during the period, making enormous quantities of precious objects available for use by, and burial with, the powerful people of the communities. Burials in the so-called Mound of Pipes at Mound City produced over 200 stone smoking pipes depicting animals and birds in well-realized three-dimensional form. Objects in other materials, for instance copper from the Great Lakes area and mica from the southern Appalachians, were used to create elaborate plaques, ornaments, and profile cutout images. The copper ornaments included necklaces, bracelets, breastplates, and ear spools. A sophisticated ceramic tradition produced many short, round jars that have been found in burials throughout the Hopewellian trading area.


    Already we can see that with the vast landscape of the American continent, influence of creative tradition is coming from three distinct areas. Populations grow and permanent settlements increase throughout the period, while regional adaptations to environmental conditions and the consequent specialized lifestyles evolve. First from the south, through what is now Mexico, with strong ties to Arizona and what is now the deep south. By the end of the first millennium, distinctive and local ceramic decorations are developed, such as in the Mimbres Valley of New Mexico.

    Secondly from the Arctic tradition, close to the Bering Strait, where a different and specific hunting tradition has shaped cultural life and ritual practice. Whales are now successfully hunted, and yet the evidence of a new archery and armour equipment being developed at this time imply that there was serious competition among tribes for available resources.

    Finally, in the North East, near the Great Lakes and the Mississippi basin, flourishing trade routes have expanded individual settlements beyond only experiencing a local life, and sewn together the semblance of a larger identity.  In the central Mississippi region known as the American bottom, mound centres - some with structures placed around community plazas - become politically dominant.



    Li Yuan, a member of a northern aristocratic family with a long history of government service establishes the Tang dynasty (which will run 618 – 906), ruling as Emperor Gaozu. His mausoleum and those of his successors are enormous multi-chambered compounds capped with burial mounds, and approached along spirit roads lined with towering stone figures. Recently, several of these tombs, as well as the numerous burials of aristocrats and officials that accompany them, have been excavated, providing new material for the study of Tang painting, sculpture, ceramics, and metalwork.

    Under his rule and that of his ancestors, art and literature flourish, reflecting influences from the different cultures with which China maintains diplomatic and trade relations. In addition to painting and calligraphy, the Tang period is noted for its Buddhist sculpture, metalwork, and ceramics, and both its brightly glazed tomb figures and white-bodied vessels

    The Chinese textile industry is developed to a fantastically detailed level during the high Tang period. The structure is of a type known as jin, a compound weave, and is typically embellished with floral decorations, ubiquitous in Tang textiles and decorative arts. Certain elements of influence came from the eastern Mediterranean and were transmitted through Central Asia in the early centuries of the Christian era. By the beginning of the 8th century, the "Chinese" floral medallion was found in eastern Central Asia, which was then part of the Tang empire.

    As well as Mediterranean merchants making their way East, by 650 AD Arab traders and diplomats had arrived, introducing Islam to China. Due to these increased amounts of trade, both internationally and internally, "Exchange notes," negotiable certificates dubbed "flying money," came into circulation. They are thought to be the precursors of banknotes, widespread by the early 11th century.

    The quality of potting and the production of fine ceramic wares seem to have been unaffected by the political turbulence that gripped China as the Tang dynasty (618–906) lost its pre-eminence at the beginning of the tenth century. After the fall of the dynasty in 907, China is once again divided into north and south, ruled by competing dynasties and kingdoms.


    Under the auspices of the Roman emperors, the Italian peninsula, particularly Rome and its surrounding areas, experiences great achievements in literature, architecture, and the arts.

    In 43 A.D, the Roman conquest of Britain begins. Roman culture becomes well established among the Britons, which up until this point had not developed much further than the Bronze age standard of artistic practice. In the 130s A.D., Emperor Hadrian builds a wall many miles long across the Northumbrian hills, marking the north-western limit of the Roman empire.

    Interestingly, the Romans considered works in bronze to be more prestigious than those made of marble, and bronze statues were common in the Roman period. However, lifesize bronzes are a rarity in modern collections because they were routinely melted down in the Middle Ages for their inherent metallic value.

    Following the custom of a distinctly Roman trend since Augustus’ leadership, in 101 the Emperor Trajan commissioned a spiral frieze to memorialize his victorious overseas military campaigns. This would become known as Trajan’s column, and echoed the marmoreal propaganda than Augustus utilized in his Ara Pacis, a large public monument demonstrating a carefully orchestrated public image to the world.

    By 200 AD, paintings often called Faiyum portraits (although not all of them come from the Faiyum oasis), are typical products of the multicultural, multiethnic society of Roman Egypt. These are not found decorating walls as frescos, but are some of the earliest examples of a standalone work of art, aside from sculpture. Most of them are painted in the elaborate encaustic technique, in which pigments were mixed with hot or cold beeswax and other ingredients. This versatile medium allowed artists to create images that in many ways are akin to oil paintings. This manner of painting, which is very different from the traditional Egyptian style but was well known in Ptolemaic Egypt, originated in Classical Greece in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.

    Moving away from Roman influence, by 350 AD the Byzantine empire was the dominant political and cultural power in the Balkans during these early medieval centuries. Major urban centers include Constantinople, the empire's political and religious capital, and Thessaloniki, strategically situated along the major land route connecting Byzantium with the West. The development of a large, domed, centrally planned building type is among the great advances in Byzantine architecture of the period. In the arts, silk weaving and cloisonné enameling emerge as new techniques for which Byzantine craftsmen become famous throughout the medieval world.

    By 530 AD, Christianization of the classical city of Athens was in full force, as schools for ancient philosophy were closed by the emperor Justinian I (r. 527–65). During the sixth century, the Parthenon is converted for use as the city's cathedral and the temple's interior is decorated with Christian frescoes. In 537, the monumental Hagia Sophia is dedicated by the emperor Justinian I, as a cathedral for Constantinople and the seat of the Byzantine patriarch.
    The power that many religious believers in that time conferred onto artistic practice is very interesting. Not only are depictions of religion used in worship, but in 626 an icon of Christ is said to have repelled the Sasanian-Persian and Avar assault on Constantinople. Throughout the history of the Byzantine capital, icons are credited with the city’s defence. In the Arab attack on Constantinople (674–78), a painted panel icon of the Virgin defends the city.

    An intense interest in systematizing knowledge and preserving past traditions is seen in Byzantine culture in this period, under the patronage of tenth-century emperors, including Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos (r. 945–59). Treatises on imperial ceremony, as well as history, foreign affairs, and the military, are undertaken during Constantine's reign. Classicizing, naturalistic styles in tenth-century manuscript painting and ivory carving are linked to this increased interest in the past. Contemporary historians praise Constantine himself as a painter of realistic, lifelike images.

    Looking back to westwards, where the pull of Christianity was strongest, in 962 Otto I, Duke of Saxony and King of the Germans, is crowned Emperor by Pope John XII. This revival of the Roman empire in the West, will come be known as the Holy Roman Empire. Until the dissolution of the empire in 1806, every candidate for election to the throne must be able to trace his ancestry back to Otto I. In 968 Emperor Otto I completes and dedicates a new cathedral at Magdeburg in Saxony and soon after in 972 Otto II marries a Byzantine princess, Theophano, thus creating an alliance between the Ottonian and Byzantine empires. The granddaughter of Otto I, Mathilde becomes an extraordinary patron of the arts, contributing many extravagant items such as candelabra and bejewelled processional crosses to the religious church foundation. The grandest expression of Mathilde's munificence is a golden statue of the Virgin, which is one of the earliest surviving large-scale sculptures from medieval Germany.
    In around 1000 AD, Emperor Otto III commissioned a sumptuous gospel book illustrated with miniatures notable for their linear expressiveness and debt to Byzantine models. Other Ottonian commissions include magnificent altar frontals, treasury objects, and architectural sculpture. Ottonian artists expand the gestural language and narrative potential of many-figured scenes, experiment with ways to express emotion, and bring both weight and grace to depictions of the human form.

  4. 1,000 AD - 1,800 AD North America


    At the beginning of the fifteenth century, many native peoples populate North America. They speak countless languages and follow diverse patterns that are adapted to, and vary with, their environments.


    The arrival of Europeans at the end of the century, followed by the coming of fishermen, fur traders, gold seekers, and colonists, alters Native American lifeways forever. Contacts between Europeans and Native Americans increase during the following century, particularly in the Northeast, where trade expands and the arts of the region begin a period of integration of foreign elements into objects of everyday use. Such integration, in one measure or another, occurs throughout the continent, the specifics varying with time, place, and groups involved. New diseases, too, arrive with the Europeans, beginning a cycle of decimation that will last until the nineteenth century.


    In 1492, Christopher Columbus lands on an island in the Caribbean, and claims it for the kings of Spain. Soon after this in 1497, John Cabot claims Newfoundland for England. Life on the North American continent will never be the same. European fishermen investigate the possibilities of trade in animal furs. The fur trade becomes a major economic force throughout North America, and revolutionises fashion in Europe.


    From the early 17th Century onwards, Europeans colonize North America motivated by religious and economic goals. Tens of thousands of English migrants settle along the Atlantic seaboard of North America between 1607 and 1675; they occupy lands previously the territory of Native Americans in three major regions known today as New England, the Middle Atlantic, and the Chesapeake. The English bring distinct traditions across the Atlantic with them, but their experience in the coastal colonies pushes them into new modes of social life and material culture. By the turn of the eighteenth century, colonial elites emerge in the maturing colonies; plantation owners in the South and the colonial merchants in the North stand out as leading patrons of the arts.


    However, the British desire to raise revenues to finance the operations of the empire, thus generating a crisis in the political relationship between the mother country and the colonists, one that eventually ignites a war for independence, 1775 – 1783.


    After the American Revolution, a new federal government and federal culture emerge in the United States of America. An innovative arrangement of sharing power between the electorate, the states, and the national government is created with the drafting and ratification of the U.S. Constitution. However, divisions remain between the North and South as to how rebuild a new nation and patrons and artists also devise a distinctive nationalist culture around Neoclassical principles, looking to the ancient republics of Greece and Rome for inspiration for their new republic.




    From 1100–1125 AD, the most famous emperor-aesthete in Chinese history, Huizong, reigns. He is renowned as a painter and patron of the arts, but assessed as a weak ruler who loses the empire to the invading Mongols. A catalogue of his painting collection, published in 1123, numbers some 6,000 works. Huizong is also famous for establishing a painting academy in 1104 and for his taste in ceramics, favouring blue/green-glazed Ru wares over the white-glazed Ding. The collecting of antiquities becomes fashionable during his reign.

    Slightly shifting focus to 1400s Japan now, at this point in history Japan is utterly feudal, broken into more autocratic provinces than the mainland, even though it is a much smaller country. Due to this constant warring, a military way of life was instilled into all walks of their culture, and through rare surviving examples of medieval yoroi (armour), we can see how their traditional artistic designs fed into their practical needs. The yoroi is characterized by a cuirass that wraps around the body and is closed by a separate panel (waidate) on the right side and by a deep four-sided skirt. In use from around the tenth to the fourteenth century, yoroi were generally worn by warriors on horseback.
    This armor was originally laced in white silk and had diagonal bands of multicolored lacings at the edges of the skirt and the now-missing sode (shoulder guards). The coloured lacings symbolized the rainbow, which represented both good fortune and fleeting beauty. The breastplate is covered with stenciled leather bearing the image of the powerful Buddhist deity Fudo Myo-o, whose fierce mien and attributes of calmness and inner strength were highly prized by samurai. The helmet, long associated with this armour, dates from the mid-14th century.

    This brings us to the Muromachi period, 1400-1600 AD, named after the district in Kyoto where the Muromachi family headquarters was located. Because provincial warlords, called daimyo, retained a large degree of power, they were able to strongly influence political events and cultural trends during this time. Rivalry between daimyo, whose power increased in relation to the central government as time passed, generated instability, and conflict soon erupted, culminating in the Onin War (1467–77). With the resulting destruction of Kyoto and the collapse of the shogunate's power, the country was plunged into a century of warfare and social chaos known as the Sengoku, the Age of the Country at War, which extended from the last quarter of the 15th to the end of the 16th century.

    Despite the social and political upheaval, the Muromachi period was economically and artistically innovative. This epoch saw the first steps in the establishment of modern commercial, transportation, and urban developments. Contact with China, which had been resumed in the Kamakura period, once again enriched and transformed Japanese thought and aesthetics. One of the imports that was to have a far-reaching impact was Zen Buddhism. Although known in Japan since the 7th century, Zen was enthusiastically embraced by the military class beginning in the 13th century and went on to have a profound effect on all aspects of national life, from government and commerce to the arts and education.

    The cultural legacy of the Ashikaga shogunate is the pervasive influence of Zen Buddhism in Japanese culture. Without Zen, such ancillary arts as the tea ceremony (chanoyu), flower arranging (ikebana), the No dance-drama, and the code of conventions and formal etiquette that characterizes modern life in Japan either would not have come into existence or would have taken very different forms from those that prevail today.

    Richly decorated panel screens were typical of the Muromachi period. Decorated with animal motifs, Zen monk artists would incorporate Gibbons, for example, to symbolise the underlying unity of all living creatures. The artist Sesson Shukei is most famous for his work on panel screens, painting with characteristic humour and staccato contrasts of strong black ink combined with pale wash, forming rhythmic patterns that create a unified whole. The last great painter of the Muromachi period, Sesson, along with his contemporaries, exemplified the full assimilation of the Chinese-derived ink painting tradition into a form that was uniquely Japanese.
    Later, in 1495 Sesshu, one of the greatest ink-monochrome painters of the Muromachi period, paints his Splashed-Ink Landscape. This highly expressionistic painting, which suggests a misty mountain landscape with only a few large and roughly applied brushstrokes, grows out of Zen Buddhism's emphasis on intuitive understanding and sudden enlightenment.

    In 1543 a group of Portuguese sailors accidentally lands on Tanegashima island in a Chinese boat, marking the first time that Europeans set foot on Japanese soil. Initially, the Japanese respond with interest to these new arrivals and begin to import, primarily through the port city of Nagasaki, such Western commodities as firearms, glassware, eyeglasses, tobacco, and clocks. As European goods become fashionable, the Japanese adopt some European customs and produce their own muskets, bake and enjoy bread (pan), fry foods in batter (tempura), and wear pantaloons.

    In 1549 The Jesuit priest Francis Xavier (1506–1552) arrives in Kagashima and introduces Christianity to Japan. At least partially motivated by a desire for Western firearms and goods, some provincial warlords (daimyo) convert to the new religion. For the next century, Christianity is accepted and achieves some success in attracting converts.
    Christian images painted in oil and engraved on copper plates introduce Western art techniques to Japan.

    The following period Edo (17th-19th Centuries), also known as the Tokugawa, is a time of relative peace and stability, following centuries of warfare and disruption. This era of calm leads to an extraordinary expansion in the national economy, including dramatic increases in agricultural production, transportation infrastructure, commerce, population, and literacy.

    Using their wealth, city residents (chonin), who include the above-named classes as well as many samurai, temporarily escape official restrictions by enthusiastically patronizing the pleasure quarters established in all large cities, and the courtesans, entertainers, prostitutes, teahouses, theatres, and restaurants found there. New forms of highly entertaining drama, literature, painting, and printmaking cater to popular trends of the day, making the Edo period an active and innovative time for the arts.

    In 1765, the artist Suzuki Harunobu is the first designer of popular woodblock prints to use multiple colours to make nishiki-e, or brocade, prints. By using a series of blocks to apply different colours, Harunobu makes lively and decorative images of beautiful women, famous kabuki actors, and scenes of the "floating world."


    The period between ancient and modern times in Western civilization, known as the Middle Ages, extends from the fourth to the early sixteenth century that is, roughly from the Fall of Rome to the beginning of the Renaissance in Northern Europe.
    Cultural development up until this point has resulted in artists and artisans becing able to create from a wide range of media, from wooden and stone free-standing and architectural sculpture to stained glass, metalwork, enamels, ivories, manuscript illuminations (typically tempera and gold leaf on parchment or vellum), oil paintings, tapestries, and more.
    This period covers a time of real transition for artistic practice, and an expansion of cultural thinking.

    This period witnesses Byzantium's greatest medieval expansion in the Balkans, followed by the empire's almost complete collapse in 1204 with Byzantium conquered and occupied by the Western armies of the Fourth Crusade. Byzantine works of art are dispersed throughout the Western medieval world as the plunders of war, including Byzantine silver, enamels, glass, and ivories; medieval jewellery; Romanesque and Gothic metalwork, stained glass, sculpture, enamels, and ivories; and Gothic tapestries.

    Continuing a trend that has been acquiring momentum for a millennium now, strong currents in Christian spirituality encourage a direct, emotional participation in the biblical stories. Devotional literature, such as the Imitation of Christ, exhorts readers to picture themselves participating in events from the New Testament. This finds visual expression in small-scale images of subjects such as the Virgin with the Dead Christ, the Man of Sorrows, or a scene from the Passion. These images for private devotion invite close and prolonged viewing and help the devout ponder the suffering of Christ and the Virgin.

    Between 1304–1313 Enrico Scrovegni commissioned Florentine painter Giotto di Bondone the most famous artist of his day, to fresco the Arena Chapel in Padua. Giotto's dramatic and highly naturalistic compositions of the life of the Virgin and of Christ are widely admired and copied by later artists. Authors Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch praise him as an innovator.
    Following this example, the Sienese painter Duccio di Buoninsegna painted the Maestà, a large altarpiece dedicated to the Virgin Mary, for the main altar of the Cathedral of Siena. The double-sided altarpiece showing the Virgin and Child with saints and narrative panels of the life of Christ and the Virgin has a huge impact on the development of Sienese painting, and is admired by contemporary Italian and French artists.

    That a renewal of classical and religious thought is brewing in Italy, begins to act as a draw to the country. Early 15th century Byzantine scholars travel to Italy, where they contribute to the revival of Greek language and culture that underlies the humanist studies of the Renaissance. Similarly in the East under the reign of “The Magnificent” Süleyman, 1520–1566, Istanbul becomes the capital of an empire of trade, economic growth and tremendous cultural and artistic activity. Imperial workshops as well as guilds are important for artistic production. While developments occur in every artistic field, those in architecture, calligraphy, manuscript painting, textiles, and ceramics are particularly significant. Calligrapher Ahmad Karahisari and painters Shah Quli and Kara Memi are active during this period.

    This time period also sees the re-emergence of Rome as a major international power. Construction and renovation is funded largely by the Popes, many of whom are elected from the country's wealthiest and most influential families (such as the Colonna, Farnese, and Medici); their collective aim is to renew the city's link with the classical past, and shape it into a symbol of papal authority which, throughout the period, extends far beyond religious matters into civic administration and political leadership.

    In the 15th century, the Medici family of merchants and bankers rises to power in Florence. Although no member of the family holds an official title until the 16th century, the Medici's enormous wealth and influence grant them virtual rule of Florence.
    A particular favourite of the Medici is Donatello (ca. 1386–1466), a founding father of the Renaissance sculptural style.

    Leonardo da Vinci is born in Tuscany in 1452. A precociously talented young man, Leonardo trained in Florence in the 1460s and by 1472, he is an independent master, and in 1481 receives a commission for a large Adoration of the Magi for the monastery of San Donato a Scopeto in Florence. Left unfinished, the Adoration (now in Florence’s Uffizi galleries) nevertheless displays the subtle modelling of figures with varying degrees of light and shade (chiaroscuro) that will characterize his later works. It is around this time the first book is printed in Italy. The first printed book to include woodcut illustrations appears in Rome in 1467.

    In late 15th century Sandro Botticelli (1444/45–1510), another favourite of the Medici, produces the works of his maturity. Outstanding among these are the mythological allegories Primavera and The Birth of Venus, which not only display Botticelli's lyrical handling of colour and line, but also reflect a contemporary celebration of classical poetry and mythological subjects. These are two central tenets of the Renaissance, which promoted a revival of mythological subject matter, derived from the study of ancient art and literature.

    Very importantly, in 1473, under Pope Sixtus IV, work is begun on the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. Over 20 years later, Michelangelo — perhaps the outstanding painter, sculptor, architect, and draftsman of his time — is active in Rome, having left Florence after the expulsion of the Medici in 1494. He receives a commission for the tomb of a French cardinal at Saint Peter's Basilica, for which he executes the Pietà, a life-size sculpture depicting the dead Christ in his mother's arms. The masterful rendering of the human form and the flowing drapery of the Virgin's garment, as well as the combined dignity and emotional intensity of this work earn much praise from the artist's contemporaries. After completing the Pietà,Michelangelo returns to Florence, where he produces the colossal David, completed in 1504. However in 1508, Julius II summons Michelangelo from a sojourn in Florence to paint ceiling frescoes for the chapel. The complex program, painted over the next four years, includes scenes from the Book of Genesis—notably, the creation of man and the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden – and remains to this day one of the most iconic images in the world.

    By the turn of the seventeenth century, the concentration of artistic innovation once held by Florence shifts to Rome, where the dynamic Baroque style emerges and gains widespread influence. Before exponents of the Baroque reach Central Italy, artists of Tuscany, Umbria, and the Marches respond to—and in many cases reject—the sixteenth-century Mannerist style, returning instead to the classical ideals of earlier Renaissance masters. Meanwhile, the ruling Medici family draws to its Florentine court, still renowned for its magnificence, influential artists from Northern Italy, Rome, and Northern Europe, who promote the spread of Baroque, Rococo, and, later, Neoclassical styles in Central Italy. By the eighteenth century, however, the Medici slip from power, and at the extinction of their line in 1737, rule of the region passes to the House of Habsburg-Lorraine.

  5. 1,800 AD - 1,900 AD North America


    At the start of the 19th Century, America begins to build itself as an international power, and gains economic independence from Britain as the country is industrialised further. Cultural independence proves harder to achieve. Despite the great focus on nature in American society, tastemakers continue to look abroad for classical and then revival styles. While folk painters roam rural areas to provide portraits for middling Americans, academic painters and sculptors still seek European tours and grand historical themes. Native institutions provide opportunities for artists to study and exhibit. Samuel F. B. Morse who starts out as rural portraitist, takes the Grand Tour of European capitals and art collections, and, upon returning to New York, seeks commissions for high-style portraits and historical studies; he founds the National Academy of Design, an art school and exhibition venue for contemporary arts, in 1825 and serves as its first president.


    Other institutions are founded, such as The American Academy of the Fine Arts is founded in 1802 in New York by Mayor Edward Livingston (with the help of his brother Robert R. Livingston (1746–1813), U.S. minister to France, who sends a collection of sculptural casts from Paris.


    As contemporary art is developed and pioneered further, in 1839 the daguerreotype, invented by Frenchman Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, is introduced into the United States by artist and inventor Samuel F. B. Morse. The light-sensitized metal plate becomes an early form of photography. Mathew Brady sets up a studio in New York in 1844, and towards the end of the century in 1888, the amateur photography craze is launched with the invention of the Kodak #1 camera by George Eastman. This radical new form of imagery will change the way artists think about the construction of an image, and powerfully effect their approach to art.


    1861–65 marks the period of the United States Civil War, a military conflict between the Union and the Confederacy. It begins in April 1861 when Charleston's Fort Sumter is fired upon. The conflict lasts four years, takes more than 600,000 lives, and emancipates 4 million enslaved people. The healing process in the aftermath of this bloody war begins to actually unite the United States.


    In 1870, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston are founded by urban leaders to display art and promote art education to the public. The Metropolitan Museum's painting collection begins with three private European collections; the Museum moves in 1880 to its present site in Central Park.


    Amidst the backdrop of progressive industrialisation, American artists vault the natural world as a paradise, almost a lost Eden, and take it as a main focus of their work. The virtual nature worship indulged by American artists is nowhere more extremely expressed than in the at once intimate and highly objective stipple watercolour style applied to still life and landscapes by the American followers of the English critic John Ruskin, whose "truth to nature" aesthetic philosophy gains wide attention during the Civil War era.


    Due to America’s new and major presence on the world stage, and increasingly reinforced trade links across the Atlantic, artists and architects struggle to create an American style no longer dependent upon European models. Especially due to the ground-breaking advancements the Impressionist Avant-garde artists in France, news about the new wave of art spreads far and wide. Artists such as Mary Cassatt and John Singer Sargent flock to Paris in the later 19th century to paint modern subjects in innovative ways. Some come away with depictions of landscapes and scenes of everyday middle-class life, painted with the bright palette and natural light of the Impressionists. In 1886, William Merritt Chase becomes the first major American painter to create Impressionist canvases with a series of images of New York's new urban parks.



    A noted development of the nineteenth century is the full blossoming of the Stele School. Using archaic inscriptions on stones, seals, and bronze vessels as references, exponents of the school create new calligraphic expressions that emphasize lucid structure and raw strength. These works offer an aesthetic alternative to the fluid elegance associated with the canonical brushed-calligraphy of Wang Xizhi, Zhao Mengfu, and Dong Qichang.

    Between the reign of Emperor Daoguang (r. 1821–50) and the end of the Qing dynasty, new discoveries and publications of stone and bronze artefacts inspire an unprecedented variety of styles within the Stele School. 823 Ruan Yuan (1764–1849) publishes Nanbei shupai lun (Discussion of the Calligraphy Schools in the South and the North) and Beipai nantei lun (Discussion of the Stelae in the North and Model Books in the South), which lay down the theoretical foundation for the Stele School.

    Due to the Taiping Rebellion, between 1851–66, many Chinese are forced to flee their homes. Artists in search of a stable income gravitate toward Shanghai, a rising commercial city protected by Western interests. "The Four Rens"—Ren Xiong (1820–1857), Ren Xun (1835–1893), Ren Yu (1853–1901), and Ren Yi (1840–1896)—are among those who make their reputation in Shanghai, painting accessible subjects such as flowers and characters from popular legends.

    In 19th century Japan, however, there is a dramatic shift from the conservative, isolationist policies of the shogun-dominated Edo period to the rapid and widespread drive to modernize and engage with the rest of the world that characterizes the Meiji Restoration.

    Between 1823-31, Katsushika Hokusai produces his extremely popular series of forty-six polychrome woodblock prints entitled Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. These images combine a traditional emphasis on landscape imagery, especially as they focus on Japan's most sacred and famous peak, with attention to common people depicted in a lighthearted manner, reflecting the interests of fashionable ukiyo-e pictures. These prints would go on to have a more profound impact on Western Art and culture than Hokusai could ever have imagined.

    In 1871, and after years of discontent at the national policy mostly secluding Japan from the rest of the world, ambassadors departed into the West. One of their most interesting insights into Western civilisation is a recognition of the importance of museums for the dissemination of national cultural ideas. As a result, the first Japanese public museum is opened in the same year at the Yushima Seido Confucian shrine. In a similar vein of artistic education, and a certain fanatical emulation of the West, in 1876 the Meiji government established the Technical Fine Arts School (Kobu Bijutsu Gakko), which later became the Tokyo Institute of Technology. Numerous foreign architects, painters, and sculptors, notably the architects Vincenzo Ragusa, Giovanni Cappelletti and the painter Antonio Fontanesi are employed to instruct Japanese students in Western art techniques and media. These individuals influence the development of Japanese art and architecture through the next several decades.

    When these two powers growing, China and Japan, inevitably crossed paths with each other in anger, it was Japan that came out on top. In 1894–95 Japan prevailed in the First Sino-Japanese War. Aside from the exchange of territories, the lasting repercussions of the result was that for several decades afterwards, the Chinese viewed Japan as both an imperialist threat and an exemplar of modernization. This fear and awe, combined with China’s easier routes to the West, did much to uphold a global recognition of Japan, and a certain reverence for their art and culture.


    Shifting our focus Northwards, and for the first time fully to the British Isles, the 19th Century saw the world change. The economic, social, and artistic developments of this period are shaped by the Industrial Revolution—the period of transition from manual to mechanical labor, which reaches its midpoint at the turn of the century. The Romantic movement in the arts and literature responds to this and the trend of rationalism fostered during the Enlightenment by rejecting reason in favour of emotion, and exalting the supreme power of nature in an aesthetic known as the Sublime. While industrial progress provides tremendous wealth for the British empire, social ills among the working classes escalate and many artists, architects, and writers seek to repair the growing rift between art and craft, and to restore beauty and integrity of design to everyday objects.

    In 1802, newly elected to the Royal Academy, one of the most famous of British painters Joseph Mallord William Turner visits Switzerland and France. During his travels, he produces watercolours of the Alpine landscape, as well as paintings in the style of old masters—particularly Titian, Salomon van Ruysdael, and Claude Lorrain—whose work he studies in the Louvre. Turner's first visit to the Continent deepens the artist's experience of landscape and marine painting and expands his ambition to elevate the genre with experiments in light and colour that convey the Sublime: Nature simultaneously at its most beautiful and most terrifying.

    The great rival of Turner, John Constable paints The Hay Wain in 1821, a view of the rural Suffolk landscape, featuring a horse-drawn cart (the haywain of the picture's title) standing in the winding river Stour, with a cottage on its bank. The work receives little mention at the Royal Academy exhibition of 1821, but its naturalism wins great acclaim at the Paris Salon of 1824, where Constable is awarded a gold medal by Charles X. Constable produces full-scale oil sketches from nature - such as the view of Salisbury Cathedral - for paintings that he executes in his studio. Constable's subjective approach to landscape painting echoes the Romantic ideals of individuality and personal feeling.

    In 1837 Queen Victoria ascends the throne of Great Britain, ruling until her death in 1901, and to coincide with this the National Gallery opens in Trafalgar Square, accessible to all members of London society, from the wealthy elite of the West End to the working classes of the East End.

    In 1851, the first world's fair, called the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, opens in London. Its chief proponent is Prince Albert, prince consort of Victoria, who envisions the fair as "a living picture of the point of development at which the whole of mankind has arrived … and a new starting point from which all nations will be able to direct their further exertions." The Great Exhibition, as it is popularly known, is housed in Hyde Park in the massive Crystal Palace (damaged by fire in 1936, and demolished in 1941) designed by Sir Joseph Paxton (1803–1865). Paxton describes the structure as "the simplest—the merest mechanical building that could be made"; composed entirely of glass and cast iron, it is in itself a monument to the achievements of the Industrial Revolution, and its sheer vastness astounds visitors to the exhibition.

    In the early 1860s, the concept of "art for art's sake" is introduced to Britain by the painters Frederic Leighton and James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Originating as a literary term in France, l'art pour l'art, in the 1830s, promoted by writer Théophile Gauter (1811–1872), art for art's sake asserts that a work's formal properties—its organization, composition, colouring, and surface details—are more important than its subject, subverting meaning in favour of beauty. This one small idea, is to have possibily the largest ramifications in the whole of Art history, opening the door for artistic movements in later years that would be simply unimaginable to the artists and thinkers of the 19th Century.

    That idea had already taken hold in France. As early as 1874, the first of eight exhibitions of Impressionist painting is held in Paris, featuring works by Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Berthe Morisot, Alfred Sisley and Camille Pissarro. Maligned by critics, one of whom coins the term impressionisme pejoratively after Monet's Impression: Sunrise, 1872 (Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris), this group of artists is dedicated to the depiction of modern life, especially landscape and genre subjects, based on direct observation. They develop a style of painting with loose, broken brushstrokes that mirrors the often fleeting nature of their subjects.

    In the late 1870s Paul Cézanne turns away from Impressionism, seeking to imbue objects and landscapes with a sense of solidity and permanence by reducing them to their basic geometric forms: the cube, cone, and cylinder. Though not commercially successful in his lifetime, Cézanne's approach to painting, broadly categorized as Post-Impressionist, influences major movements in twentieth-century art, especially Cubism.

    In this period of artistic philosophy, and many different groups and factions of artists all pulling in different directions, many manifesto’s and artistic styles are formalised and published. These include movements such as Symbolism, arguing for an aesthetic that rejects naturalism in favour of the subjective world of dreams, nuances, and the imagination; Synthetism, paintings of simplified, flattened forms rendered in bold, unmodulated colours in its intent to convey emotions and ideas beyond representing the visual world; or Naturalism, first outlined by Émile Zola in his L'Oeuvre, a novel that addresses the aesthetic issues of the later 19th century, rejecting contemporary Academic painting and asserting the importance of the imprint of an artist's personality or temperament on his work.

    In February 1888, Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh departs Paris for Arles in the south of France, hoping to establish an artists' community. On October 23, he is joined by Paul Gauguin; they spend 9 weeks painting side by side and living together in the Yellow House. Gauguin's abrupt departure on December 23 is precipitated by Van Gogh's breakdown, during which he cuts off part of his left ear with a razor.

    In 1894 German entrepreneur Siegfried Bing expands and reopens his Oriental crafts shop in Paris as the Maison de l'Art Nouveau. Bing is a specialist in Eastern arts, and promotes a Japanese aesthetic as a means of uniting art and craft in a manner that imbues even the most utilitarian object with a simple beauty. He is credited - through the foundation of a periodical, Le Japon Artistique, and various exhibitions of ancient artifacts and contemporary works - with the promotion of Japonisme in France. The Art Nouveau style borrows from Japanese art its emphasis on linear ornamental motifs such as intertwining vegetal forms.

  6. 1,900 AD - 2,000 AD North America


    The twentieth century is often referred to as the "American Century." During these years, the U.S. emerges as one of two global superpowers, alongside the Soviet Union. It also becomes central to the international art scene, with New York usurping the preeminent role previously played by Paris. At the beginning of the century, many American painters continue to work in a style influenced by French Impressionism. By the nineteen-teens, greater realism prevails in the work of the Ashcan School artists. The industrial and urban landscape that emerges in twentieth-century North America is captured by many artists. Among those who celebrate factories and other industrial forms are the Precisionist artists, including Charles Demuth (1883-1935), Charles Sheeler (1883-1965), and Ralston Crawford (1906-1978). During the early decades of the twentieth century, American artists also become more interested in organic and geometric abstraction, and begin to embrace modernism, a tendency that continues as European artists emigrate to the U.S. around the time of World War II.


    Following on from the photographic work of Samuel F. B. Morse and Mathew Brady, in 1902 Alfred Stieglitz begins publication of his Camera Work, which will continue through to 1917 and promotes modern photography as a fine art. In 1905, Stieglitz opens the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession at 291 Fifth Avenue in New York, where he exhibits the work of photographers as well as European and American modernist painters and sculptors. In the natural progression of still to moving video camera work, in 1903 The Great Train Robbery, a ten-minute motion picture directed by Edwin S. Porter, is shown in theatres. Considered the first narrative film, it employs innovative techniques such as the jump-cut, the close-up, and camera movement that become the foundation of cinematic vocabulary. Only three years later, the first Nickelodeon opens in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, providing affordable entertainment - admission 5 cents - to the working-class urban population. By 1908, there are some 8,000 nickelodeons in the U.S., featuring an evening's bill of short films, live theatre, and musical revues.


    In the 1910s, Greenwich Village in lower Manhattan emerges as an enclave of bohemian and radical culture, home to irreverent small presses, avant-garde art galleries and studios, and experimental theatre groups. In 1913, the International Exposition of Modern Art (the "Armory Show") is held at the 69th Regiment Armory in New York and introduces Americans to the modernist work of Matisse, Kandinsky, Brancusi, Picasso, Braque, and others on a large scale. Nude Descending a Staircase, a Cubist canvas by Marcel Duchamp, creates a public sensation. Four years later, Duchamp exhibits his first readymade, Fountain, an upturned and signed urinal, at the Society of Independent Artists in New York. This work questions what it means to be an artist and what constitutes a work of art.


    Post WWI, in the 1920s and early -30s, literary, visual, and performing arts flourish in Harlem, the African-American enclave of New York City, spurred by the mass migration of black African-Americans from rural areas to northern cities. Poets, novelists, painters, and musicians of what is called the Harlem Renaissance, search for new forms of expression to convey their racial experiences and celebrate African-American cultural identity. Major figures of the Harlem Renaissance include poets Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen, novelist and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston, jazz composer Duke Ellington, political activists W. E. B. Du Bois and Marcus Garvey, photographer James Van Der Zee, and artists Aaron Douglas and Archibald Motley.


    Around this time, more institutions are founded to accommodate the new means of artistic practises and expression, such as in 1929, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, opens, and in 1933 a liberal arts college is founded in Black Mountain, North Carolina, and becomes a locus for the dissemination of Bauhaus ideas through its European émigré teaching staff, including the German Josef Albers (1888-1976). Black Mountain College remains a site for the production of experimental multimedia work until it closes in 1957.

    In another example of national support for artistic and cultural pursuits, in 1935 the federal government launches the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which, like other New Deal programs, provides employment for artists. Ben Shahn, Stuart Davis, and Jackson Pollock, among thousands of other artists, produce murals, sculptures, posters, and other graphic materials for public buildings and for exhibitions held in dozens of community art centres established across the country by the Federal Art Project.


    In 1942, Edward Hopper paints Nighthawks, a seminal work in American art history. It is an iconic depiction of loneliness and isolation in contemporary American life. Hopper maintains allegiance to a harsh realist mode throughout his life, creating stark urban and rural scenes scored by bright artificial light and deep shadows. In this same year, Peggy Guggenheim opens the gallery Art of This Century in New York. Romanian-Austrian architect Frederick Kiesler designed the interiors that were intended to complement the Surrealist and abstract art on display.


    The 1940s in New York City heralded the triumph of American abstract expressionism, a modernist movement that combined lessons learned from Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Surrealism, Joan Miró, Cubism, Fauvism, and early Modernism via great teachers in America such as Hans Hofmann from Germany and John D. Graham from Ukraine. During the late 1940s, Jackson Pollock's radical approach to painting revolutionized the potential for all contemporary art that followed him. To some extent, Pollock realized that the journey toward making a work of art was as important as the work of art itself. Like Pablo Picasso's innovative reinventions of painting and sculpture near the turn of the century via Cubism and constructed sculpture, with influences as disparate as Navaho sand paintings, surrealism, Jungian analysis, and Mexican mural art,[26] Pollock redefined what it was to produce art.


    In the wake of Abstract Expressionism, a number of painters developed strategies that both extended the life of painting while simultaneously pointing to its inevitable demise. Jasper Johns's flags and targets were epistemological cul-de-sacs—the image they portrayed could not be separated from their material qualities, literally, as flag or target. Like his colleague Robert Rauschenberg, Johns revived concerns of the prewar avant-garde in a postwar context, but in a more conceptually provocative manner in his fusion of two previously antithetical paradigms, that of Duchamp's readymade with notions of abstraction and the grid from Malevich and Constructivism. Slightly later, Frank Stella created paintings from programmatic arrangements of lines that radiated outward to determine the overall shape of the canvas; all compositional and expressive decision making had been suppressed in favour of the execution of an idea. As the artist's famous tautology went: "What you see is what you see."


    In 1962, Andy Warhol paints Campbell's Soup Cans, a key work of the Pop Art movement. Warhol and other artists associated with the movement, including Claes Oldenburg and Roy Lichtenstein, satirise Americans' voracious consumption of manufactured products in the post-war period.


    In 1969, a group exhibition devoted to Conceptual art, entitled January 1-31: 0 Objects, 0 Paintings, 0 Sculptures, is mounted by New York dealer Seth Siegelaub and features the work of four artists: Joseph Kosuth, Lawrence Weiner, Robert Barry, and Douglas Huebler. As a movement, Conceptualism critiques the political and economic structures that sustain Western art forms, and Conceptual artists produce works intended to convey ideas - often through the use of text alone - rather than to be appreciated as precious commodities.


    The political climate of the 1980s is relatively conservative in comparison with the 1970s, and economic recovery begins in the middle of the decade. At the same time, innovations in computer technology fundamentally change American life, touching every aspect of daily existence, including work, communications, and leisure. Artists embrace new means of making and exchanging visual images, for instance with ever-smaller and less expensive computers, more efficient compact disks, and videotape. New media will offer an important field for artists through the end of the century. Emerging technologies also create a "Tech Bubble" in which shares in computer-related companies become the objects of stock market speculation. The inflated share prices begin to tumble in early 2000, spelling the end of a period of prosperity and low unemployment.




    The twentieth century witnesses the fall of the Qing dynasty, and with it, the ancient imperial system. A republic evolves amidst conflicts between the Nationalist and the Communist parties. After World War II, the Communists prevail and establish the People's Republic of China. Starting in the 1940s, the Communist party imposes standards on art production. Departures from Socialist Realism and Communist themes are criticized by Chairman Mao Zedong and his supporters until the end of the Cultural Revolution (1966–76). From the mid-1980s, a new generation of artists emerges to test boundaries, experimenting with formerly taboo subjects and unconventional mediums.

    Culturally, Japanese art parallels the country's historical experience during this century. On one hand, interest in traditional art forms, including woodblock prints, kabuki theatre, ceramics, and native crafts, continued and was sometimes coupled with nationalistic motivations and identification. On the other hand, not only did Japanese artists and the public continue to study and be influenced by foreign art techniques, forms, and trends, such as oil painting, sculpture, psychologically probing novels, modern dance, and Western-style architecture, but many Japanese artists gained worldwide renown. Japanese artists also master and use expressively and innovatively such new art forms as cinema, animation, photography, and fashion.

    But the direction of influence had not only travelled West to East. Artists all across Europe at the dawn of the 20th century were fascinated with Japonism, and the unique style permeated the work of many impressionists and the Avant Garde in Paris and London. This was also due to the novelty that came hand in hand with Japanese products – having only opened up their borders in the mid-18th century, everything that came from the Land of the Rising Sun was exciting and fresh.

    The stylistic influence that Ukiyo-e prints had on Western art was vast. Ukiyo-e was irresistible due to its the colourful backgrounds, realistic interior and exterior scenes, and idealized figures. Emphasis was placed on diagonals, perspective, and asymmetry, all of which can be seen in the Western artists who adapted this style. The impressionist painter Claude Monet modelled parts of his garden in Giverny after Japanese elements, such as the bridge over the lily pond, which he painted numerous times. He was influenced by traditional Japanese visual methods found in ukiyo-e prints, of which he had a large collection. Others like Degas, Manet and Whistler all had large Japanese print collections, as did Van Gogh, who even organized a Japanese print exhibition in Paris in 1887.

    Post War in China, under the communist rule of Mao, artistic freedom is heavily restricted. Countless intellectuals and artists branded as rightist counter-revolutionaries suffer humiliation, torture, and forced labor. Rules about the depiction of human figures are particularly strict. Traditionalist painters such as Shi Lu (1919–1982) prefer landscape scenes, which are less likely to attract official condemnation. Even after Mao’s death in 1976, unconventional and provocative art remains checked.

    From 1985 until the present day, however, the creation of the Beijing Young Artists Association marks the beginning of a "New Wave," which advocates artistic freedom and independence from official ideology. After the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989, a number of avant-garde artists find success abroad. Their international fame, such as that of Ai Wei Wei, in turn helps them gain official acceptance in China.


    The first half of the 20th Century, for the whole of Europe, is indelibly marked by two World Wars. Their impact on the history of art, modern philosophy and cultural relations cannot be understated.
    The 20th century opens with France, and especially the city of Paris, occupying a preeminent position in the art world. The French avant-garde in the period after 1900 pursues the development of artistic modernism that began during the nineteenth century. At the turn of the century, the Fauvist artists, led by Henri Matisse (1869–1954), produce paintings characterized by the broad application of bright colours. At approximately the same time, Parisian artists, among them Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) and Georges Braque (1882–1963), pioneer the Cubist style. So important does Paris become in the early decades of the twentieth century with regard to the development of avant-garde aesthetics, that it is possible to speak of a School of Paris comprised of artists from many nations who are drawn to the city.
    The persecution of Jewish artists in Germany and elsewhere in the years leading up to and including World War II brings many émigrés to Paris. The subsequent German Occupation and French involvement in the conflict drives some away from Paris, to the United States. In the post-war period, the international significance of Paris as a centre for art production is somewhat eclipsed by New York. Nonetheless, the French continue to make important contributions to photography, easel painting, and sculpture, as well as to design and architecture. The grands projects, among other works, are important for establishing postmodernism as an international cultural phenomenon during the last two decades of the century.

    Possibly the most important art movement of the early 20th Century was Cubism, created by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque in Paris between 1907 and 1914. The Cubist painters rejected the inherited concept that art should copy nature, or that they should adopt the traditional techniques of perspective, modelling, and foreshortening. They wanted instead to emphasize the two-dimensionality of the canvas. So they reduced and fractured objects into geometric forms, and then realigned these within a shallow, relief like space. They also used multiple or contrasting vantage points.

    The liberating formal concepts initiated by Cubism also had far-reaching consequences for Dada and Surrealism, as well as for all artists pursuing abstraction in Germany, Holland, Italy, England, America, and Russia.

    Surrealism originated in the late 1910s and early '20s as a literary movement that experimented with a new mode of expression called automatic writing, or automatism, which sought to release the unbridled imagination of the subconscious. Officially consecrated in Paris in 1924 with the publication of the Manifesto of Surrealism by the poet and critic André Breton, Surrealism became an international intellectual and political movement, inspired by the writings of Sigmund Freud and his explorations into the unconscious.
    In 1927, the Belgian artist René Magritte moved from Brussels to Paris and became a leading figure in the visual Surrealist movement. Influenced by de Chirico';s paintings between 1910 and 1920, Magritte painted erotically explicit objects juxtaposed in dreamlike surroundings. His work defined a split between the visual automatism fostered by Masson and Miró (and originally with words by Breton) and a new form of illusionistic Surrealism practiced by the Spaniard Salvador Dalí, the Belgian Paul Delvaux and the French-American Yves Tanguy. The organised Surrealist movement in Europe dissolved with the onset of World War II. Breton, Dalí, Ernst, Masson, and others left Europe for New York. The movement found renewal in the United States at Peggy Guggenheim's gallery.

    In 1928, British sculptor Henry Moore receives his first public commission, a relief to be installed in a London Transport facility. From diverse influences including Abstraction, Surrealism, and Primitivism, Moore develops a unique aesthetic that eventually makes him one of the most well-known and admired sculptors of the twentieth century.

    In 1944 Francis Bacon paints Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (Tate Gallery, London), a rumination on the savagery of World War II. Bacon's renowned figure paintings, produced up to the time of his death in 1992, will provocatively blend religious, violent, and homoerotic themes. Soon after, in 1951 Lucian Freud wins a prize at the Festival of Britain for his painting Interior at Paddington, which signals his emergence as one of the foremost British figural painters of the post-war period. Him and Bacon will grow to be great friends, together redefining portraiture and the theory of painting.