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The battle genre is a trend in the visual arts that describes scenes of the land and naval battles. It serves to capture historical facts and eyewitness accounts; and, to a greater extent, it is a means of the state propaganda. The themes of such paintings cover the causes, course and consequences of military conflicts, and the works themselves are filled with emotional impressions and action. The artists who paint battle scenes are forced to maintain a fine line between the actual presentation of real events and their own artistic interpretation.
The desire of the rulers to promote the inviolability of their power, celebrate great victories and intimidate opponents has always been actively supported by artists and sculptors, because successful works contributed to their recognition at the state level. The genre has existed since ancient times: battle scenes can be found on the ancient Roman triumphal arches and Greek vases, praising the heroes’ fighting prowess. Roman mosaics and wall paintings of ancient Egypt have brought to this day the history of the conquest of fortresses, sieges of cities and battle scenes.
In the Middle Ages, artists used the battle theme to illustrate combats between good and evil, in particular, the image of the Archangel Michael fighting the devil embodied in a dragon. The images of the Holy Army were present on some icons. Battle scenes from the Old Testament became the decoration of tapestries and carpets.
Renaissance artists brought new ways of depicting the human figure and cavalry battle to paintings with combat scenes. Art critics believe that Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Battle of Anghiari”, which survived to this day in numerous copies, has become a turning point in the understanding of the whole idea of battle painting, and, in particular, its compositional component.
Painting of the Golden Age era introduced the fashion for the sea battle images. The Dutch artists, father and son van de Velde, who emigrated to England, are today considered the founders of the British naval painting tradition, as they created a vivid visual series of Anglo-Dutch battles. William Turner and Hendrik Vroom also created wonderful scenes of sea battles. Another trend in Dutch painting was devoted to the scenes depicting military camps and sentry soldiers.
Paintings with battle scenes from the time of Napoleon Bonaparte were intended mainly for public buildings and reached especially impressive dimensions. The artists painted not only victorious battles and the victors jubilation, but also the suffering of the wounded and the grief of the vanquished. Also, drawings became popular, which depicted the soldiers of different countries and types of troops with a detailed image of their uniforms; they appeared usually in the form of books. As events developed in Europe, against the backdrop of ongoing wars, interest in historical and battle scenes in genre painting grew, as opposed to the academic style. In Russia, military paintings became popular under Peter I. The artworks were traditionally patriotic, praising the courage and fighting spirit of the Russian army.
By the end of the 19th century, interest in battle scenes began to fade. In the paintings, the First World War was no longer a heroic battle, but a massacre, a bloody and meaningless tragedy of peoples. Many masters were drafted into the army, some died, and in the art of those who survived, the scenes of battle and violence were more edifying and appealing to the humanism of the viewer. After the war, many sculptors worked on war memorials, which rather perpetuated the memory of the dead, than glorified loud victories. The development of technology contributed to the fact that the battle genre became an area ofinterest for photographers. They promptly recorded battle scenes and introduced them to the general public, creating visual series of what was happening on the military fronts.