History Painting

3,968 artworks, 1,109 artists
The origin of the history painting goes back to religious subject, which became the basis for other genres and directions. It appeared in the Middle Ages, when church was the overseer of the minds and souls of people. Artists were allowed to transfer Biblical scenes to canvas, as well as draw portraits of the church leaders. To paint a canvas describing the events, which took place a thousand years ago, painter had to use the system of images and symbols adopted at that time.

In the Renaissance era, other subjects began to penetrate into the artists’ works: historical scenes from mythology or literary works, as well as battle scenes. Vivid examples are such canvases as the “Tower of Babel” by Brueghel the Elder, “The Rape of Europa” by Titian, “The Four Apostles” by Dürer, “The Battle of Zama” by Romano.

Gradually moving away from religious subjects, the historical genre began to claim reliability. The artists who depicted scenes from the past sought not only to accurately reproduce the signs of the times, but also to express their own attitude to the events. They endowed the heroes with certain character traits that were condemned or encouraged in the contemporary society. Such paintings enable us not only to look into the painter’s inner world, but also get an idea of the moral values that reigned in his era.

The 18th century was a turning point for the historical genre. In an effort to move away from academism, painters of that time searched for new subjects, often paying attention to not the most significant historical events and dramatizing them. Moral norms gradually faded into the background, giving way to romanticism. The main subjects of the 18—19th centuries paintings were the heroism of ordinary people, their ability to sacrifice in the name of a lofty goal. This leitmotif is most noticeable in such works as “Liberty Leading the People” by Delacroix, “Washington Crosses Delaware” by Leutze, “The Third of May 1808” by Goya.

In Russia, such artists as Vasily Surikov (“The Boyarynia Morozova”, “Suvorov Crossing the Alps”, “The Morning of the Streltsy Execution”), Ilya Repin (“Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks”, “Ivan the Terrible and his son Ivan”), Viktor Vasnetsov (“Battle of Slavs and Scythians”,“Baptism of Prince Volodymyr”), Vasily Perov (“First Christians in Kyiv”,“Crying Yaroslavna”), Karl Bryullov (“Siege of Pskov”,“The Last Day of Pompeii”) worked in the genre of historical painting.

This section of Arthive presents paintings by European and Russian artists who worked in the historical genre.