Significant Art Periods and Movements That Shaped Our History


Art and humanity are inseparable. Whenever humanity exists, art follows. A long history of art has continuously shaped the world that we live in now. From the ancient prehistoric art to the extravagant Baroque, these are some of the most significant art periods and movements that have shaped our history.

Prehistoric Art

The first art period ever recorded in human history was the Prehistoric Art, where artefacts of the Old Stone Age, or Paleolithic era, were the earliest art relicts. They came in the form of engravings, rock carvings, sculptures, pictorial imageries, and stone arrangements.

Lascaux cave paintings | Source:

Art originated from this period is characterised by the heavy use of natural pigments and stone carvings to represent animals, objects, and ancient rituals conducted by the civilisation. The Paleolithic cave paintings discovered in the complex cave of Lascaux, France, are one of the most notable examples of Prehistoric Art. The paintings, discovered by four teenagers in September 1940, are estimated to be around 17,000 years old and depict primarily large animals and typical local vegetation.

Ancient Art

The next significant art period is Ancient Art, a period created by advanced settlements, meaning those with records of established written language. These included Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, and Native America’s civilisations. The medium of art from this period differs every civilisation. Still, the majority served similar purposes: to narrate stories, decorate practical objects such as bowls and weapons, display symbolic and religious imagery, and describe social status. Some depict tales of rulers, gods, and goddesses.

Code of Hammurabi | Source:

One of the well-known Ancient Art works is the Code of Hammurabi from ancient Mesopotamia. Produced circa 1792 B.C., the stone carving recounts a Babylonian set of laws, decorated with a portrayal of the sixth king of Babylonia, Hammurabi, and the Mesopotamian god, Shabash.

Medieval Art

Fast forward to the Middle Ages, mostly referred to as the Dark Ages, the history recorded an era of economic and cultural deterioration following the collapse of the Roman Empire in year 476 A.D. The majority of artworks from the early years of the Medieval Art period visualised the darkness that was lingering mankind, denoted by brutal scenery and grotesque imagery. During this period, the art produced was centred around the Church. Centuries later, more sophisticated and decorated churches emerged as the first millennium passed. Biblical subjects and scenes from mythology could be found adorning windows and silhouettes.

Notre Dame cathedral | Source:

The Medieval Art period also saw the birth of Gothic architecture style and illuminated manuscripts. Some of the most influential artworks from this period are the catacombs in Rome, Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, and Notre Dame, a Parisian cathedral that is also known as the famed example of the Gothic architecture. The Lindisfarne Gospels is one of the foremost exhibits or illuminated manuscript.

Renaissance Art

Raphael's The School of Athens (1509-11) | Source:

In the history of civilisation, Italian Renaissance was marked as one of the most significant eras. Spanning from 1400 until 1700 A.D., this is the period where Italy encountered an unprecedented age of enlightenment. Attention to art and architecture was highly intensified, and artists emerged from every part of the country. Later, some of them became legends: from Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, to Raphael. They took inspirations from Ancient Rome and Greece’s classical arts, while also adopting old-fashioned values such as balance, naturalism, and perspective. Renaissance Art, influenced by antiquities, manifested in humanist portrait paintings, sculptures that were kept accurate to human anatomy, and harmonious, symmetrically designed architecture.


Mannerism is an art movement that emerged at the end of the High Renaissance between 1510 and 1520, where young artists faced crisis because it seemed that there was no challenge left: every goal had been achieved. No more difficulties remained to be solved. They needed a new goal, so they sought new approaches. They no longer seek for proportion, ideal beauty, and balance.

With Mannerism, they chose to exaggerate such qualities. The result was asymmetrical, almost unnatural elegance. Mannerism found its new style, where compositional tension meets instability as opposed to balance and clarity that were emphasised by Renaissance artists.

Tinroretto's Last Supper (1592-4)

In literature and music, Mannerism is known for its flamboyant style and intellectual sophistication. In paintings, Mannerists feature elongated arm and leg, excessively stylised figures, thin aquiline noses, and undersized heads; all served in dashing colours and theatrical compositions. Some notable Mannerists are Jacopo da Pontormo, Agnolo Bronzino, and Jacopo Tintoretto.

Baroque Art

Bernini's most dramatically lifelike marble sculpture, Rape of Proserpina (1621-2) | Source:

Mannerism flourished for a while until it was finally replaced with Baroque. The art movement emerged in Italy in the early 17th century. Like Mannerism, Baroque art flaunts artistic interest in realism and exuberant colours. However, in extravagance, Baroque is more or less two-fold Mannerism. In painting, sculpture, and even architecture, Baroque showcased opulence.

Bernini, one of the most renowned Baroque artists, successfully introduced theatricality through intricate drapery and dynamic contours in his sculptures. Likewise, Baroque architects embellished their designs with excessive ornamentation such as meticulous carvings and imposing columns.

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