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History of art

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This article is an overview of the history of the visual arts worldwide. For the academic
discipline of art history, see Art history.

The Creation of Adam (15081512), by Michelangelo, in the Sistine Chapel (Vatican)

European art history



History of art
Painting (Western)

Art history


The history of art is the history of any activity or product made by humans in a visual form for
aesthetical or communicative purposes, expressing ideas, emotions or, in general, a worldview.
Over time visual art has been classified in diverse ways, from the medieval distinction between
liberal arts and mechanical arts, to the modern distinction between fine arts and applied arts, or to
the many contemporary definitions, which define art as a manifestation of human creativity. The
subsequent expansion of the list of principal arts in the 20th century reached to nine:
architecture, dance, sculpture, music, painting, poetry (described broadly as a form of literature
with aesthetic purpose or function, which also includes the distinct genres of theatre and
narrative), film, photography and graphic arts. In addition to the old forms of artistic expression
such as fashion and gastronomy, new modes of expression are being considered as arts such as
video, computer art, performance, advertising, animation, television and videogames.

The history of art is a multidisciplinary branch of the arts and sciences, seeking an objective
examination of art throughout time, classifying cultures, establishing periodizations, and
observing the distinctive and influential characteristics of art.[1] The study of the history of art
was initially developed during the Renaissance, with its limited scope being the artistic
production of Western civilization. However, as time has passed, it has imposed a broader view
of artistic history, seeking a comprehensive overview of all the civilizations and analysis of their
artistic production in terms of their own cultural values (cultural relativism), and not just western
art history.

Today, art enjoys a wide network of study, dissemination and preservation of all the artistic
legacy of mankind throughout history. The 20th century has seen the proliferation of institutions,
foundations, art museums and galleries, in both the public and private sectors, dedicated to the
analysis and cataloging of works of art as well as exhibitions aimed at a mainstream audience.
The rise of media has been crucial in improving the study and dissemination of art. International
events and exhibitions like the Whitney Biennial and biennales of Venice and So Paulo or the
Documenta of Kassel have helped the development of new styles and trends. Prizes such as the
Turner of the Tate Gallery, the Wolf Prize in Arts, the Pritzker Prize of architecture, the Pulitzer
of photography and the Oscar of cinema also promote the best creative work on an international
level. Institutions like UNESCO, with the establishment of the World Heritage Site lists, also
help the conservation of the major monuments of the planet.[2]

1 Historical development
2 Prehistory and ancient history
o 2.1 Global prehistory
2.1.1 Paleolithic
2.1.2 Neolithic
2.1.3 Metal Age
o 2.2 Ancient Mediterranean art
2.2.1 Mesopotamia
2.2.2 Egypt
2.2.3 Greece and Etruria
2.2.4 Rome
3 Medieval to contemporary eras
o 3.1 Medieval
o 3.2 Renaissance and Baroque
o 3.3 Neoclassicalism to Realism
o 3.4 Modern and Contemporary
4 The Americas
o 4.1 Preclassic
o 4.2 Classic
o 4.3 Postclassic
o 4.4 Colonial
o 4.5 Modern
5 Western Asia
6 Central/Southern/Eastern Asia
7 Africa
8 Oceania
9 Art museums
10 Art market
11 Nationalist art history
12 Academic art history
13 Sacred art history
14 See also
15 References
16 Further reading
17 External links
o 17.1 Timelines

Historical development
The Sakyamuni Buddha, by Zhang Shengwen, c. 1173 1176 CE, Chinese Song Dynasty period
Main article: Art history Historical development

The field of "art history" was developed in the West, and originally dealt exclusively with
European art history, with the High Renaissance (and its Greek precedent) as the defining
standard. Gradually, over the course of the 20th century, a wider vision of art history has
developed. This expanded version includes societies from across the globe, and it usually
attempts to analyze artifacts in terms of the cultural values in which they were created. Thus, art
history is now seen to encompass all visual art, from the megaliths of Western Europe to the
paintings of the Tang Dynasty in China.

The history of art is often told as a chronology of masterpieces created in each civilization. It can
thus be framed as a story of high culture, epitomized by the Wonders of the World. On the other
hand, vernacular art expressions can also be integrated into art historical narratives, in which
case they are usually referred to as folk arts or craft. The more closely that an art historian
engages with these latter forms of low culture, the more likely it is that they will identify their
work as examining visual culture or material culture, or as contributing to fields related to art
history, such as anthropology or archeology. In the latter cases art objects may be referred to as
archeological artifacts.

Prehistory and ancient history

One way to examine how art history is organized is by examining the major survey textbooks,
which reflect an encyclopedic view of what experts view as art. Frequently consulted textbooks
published in English are Ernst Gombrichs Story of Art, Marilyn Stokstads Art History, Anthony
Jansons History of Art, David Wilkins, Bernard Schultz, and Katheryn M. Linduffs Art Past,
Art Present, Helen Gardners Art Through the Ages, Hugh Honour and John Flemmings A
World History of Art, and Laurie Schneider Adamss Art Across Time. Information on canonical
art history is also found in the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History,[3] which is sponsored by the
Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
Ludovisi Battle sarcophagus (250-260 CE), with battle between Roman soldiers and barbarians.
The general may be Hostilian, Emperor Decius' son (died 252 CE).

Global prehistory

Venus of Willendorf, Naturhistorisches Museum

Main article: Prehistoric art

The first tangible artifacts of human art that have been found are from the Stone Age (Upper
Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic), periods when the first demonstrations that can be
considered to be art by humans appeared. During the Paleolithic (25,000-8,000 BCE), humans
practiced hunting and gathering and lived in caves, where cave painting was developed.[4] After a
transitional period (Mesolithic, 8,0006,000 BCE), in the Neolithic period (60003000 BCE),
when humans engaged in agriculture and built increasingly complex societies, religion became
more important and the production of handicrafts commenced. In the Bronze Age (c. 3,000
1,000 BCE), the first protohistoric civilizations arose.


Main articles: Paleolithic art and List of Stone Age art

The Paleolithic had its first artistic manifestation in 25,000 BCE, reaching its peak in the
Magdalenian period (15,000-8,000 BCE). The first traces of human-made objects appeared in
southern Africa, the Western Mediterranean, Central and Eastern Europe (Adriatic Sea), Siberia
(Baikal Lake), India and Australia. These first traces are generally worked stone (flint, obsidian),
wood or bone tools. To paint in red, iron oxide was used, in black, manganese oxide and in
ochre, clay.[5] Surviving art from this period includes small carvings in stone or bone and cave
painting. Cave paintings have been found in the Franco-Cantabrian region. There are pictures
with magical-religious character and also pictures with a naturalistic sense, which depict animals,
notably the caves of Altamira, Trois Frres, Chauvet and Lascaux. Sculpture is represented by
the so-called Venus figurines, feminine figures which were probably used in fertility cults, such
as the Venus of Willendorf.[6] Other representative works of this period are the Man from Brno[7]
and the Venus of Brassempouy.[8]


Main article: Neolithic

Cave painting at Roca dels Moros, in El Cogul

This periodfrom c. 8,000 BCE in the Near Eastwas a profound change for the ancient
humans, who became more sedentary and settled as they began to engage in agriculture and
animal husbandry. Along with these changes, new forms of social coexistence and religion
developed.[9] The rock art of the Iberian Mediterranean Basindated between the Mesolithic and
Neolithic erascontained small, schematic paintings of human figures, with notable examples in
El Cogul, Valltorta, Alpera and Minateda.

This kind of painting was also similar to paintings found in northern Africa (Atlas, Sahara) and
in the area of modern Zimbabwe. Neolithic painting was schematic, reduced to basic strokes
(men in the form of a cross and women in a triangular shape). There are also cave paintings in
Pinturas River in Argentina, especially the Cueva de las Manos. In portable art, a style called
Cardium Pottery was produced, decorated with imprints of seashells. New materials were used in
art, such as amber, crystals found in rock, quartz and jasper. In this period, the first traces of
urbanistic planimetry appeared, such as the remains in Tell as-Sultan (Jericho), Jarmo (Iraq) and
atalhyk (Anatolia).[10]

Metal Age
Megalithic complex of Stonehenge

The last prehistoric phase is the Metal Age, as the use of elements such as copper, bronze and
iron proved to be a great material transformation for these ancient societies. When humans could
smelt metal and forge metal implements, this enabled them to make new tools and weapons. In
the Chalcolithic (also called Copper Age) the Megalith emerged, massive monuments of stone
were built. Examples include the dolmen and menhir or the English cromlech, as can be seen in
the complexes at Newgrange and Stonehenge.[9] In Spain the Los Millares culture was formed,
characterized by the Beaker culture, which pictured human figures with big eyes. In Malta, the
temple complexes of aar Qim, Mnajdra, Tarxien and gantija were built. In the Balearic
Islands notable megalithic cultures developed, with different types of monuments: the naveta, a
tomb shaped like a truncated pyramid, with an elongated burial chamber; the taula, two large
stones, one put vertically and the other horizontally above each other; and the talaiot, a tower
with a covered chamber and a false dome.[11]

In the Iron Age the cultures of Hallstatt (Austria) and La Tene (Switzerland) mark the significant
phases in Europe. The first was developed between the 7th and 5th century BCE by the
necropoleis with tumular tombs and a wooden burial chamber in the form of a house, often
accompanied by a four-wheeled cart. The pottery was polychromic, with geometric decorations
and applications of metallic ornaments. La Tene was developed between the 5th and 4th century
BCE, and is more popularly known as early Celtic art. It produced many iron objects such as
swords and spears, which have not survived well to the 2000s due to rust. Bronze continued to be
used for highly decorated shields, fibulas, and other objects, with different stages of evolution of
the style. Decoration was influenced by Greek, Etruscan and Scythian art.[12] In most of the
European continent, conquest by the Roman Empire brought the style to an end.[clarification needed]

Venus of Brassempouy, Muse des Antiquits Nationales, Saint-Germain-en-Laye

Menhir in the region of Brittany (France)

Circular talaiot in the island of Mallorca (Spain)

Solar cart of Trundholm (Denmark)

Ancient Mediterranean art

Splint on Flood myth, of the Epic of Gilgamesh

Main article: Ancient art

In the first period of recorded history, art began alongside the invention of writing, founded by
the great civilizations of Near East: Egypt and Mesopotamia. This period also differed from
others because artistic manifestations occurred in every culture of all the continents. In this
period, the first great cities appeared near major rivers: Nile, Tigris and Euphrates, Indus and
Yellow River.

One of the great advances of this period was writing, generated primarily by the need to keep tax
and commercial records. The first writing code was the cuneiform script, which emerged in
Mesopotamia c. 3500 BCE, written on clay tablets. It was based on pictographic and ideographic
elements, while later Sumerians developed syllables for writing, reflecting the phonology and
syntax of the Sumerian language. In Egypt hieroglyphic writing was developed, with the first
sample being the Narmer Palette (3,100 BCE). The Hebrew language was one of the first
languages to utilize the method of writing with an alphabet (Abjad, c. 1,800 BCE), which relates
a unique symbol for each phoneme; the Greek and the Latin alphabet derive from it.[13]


Main article: Mesopotamian art

Diorite Statue I, patesi of Lagash (2120 BCE), Louvre Museum, Paris

Mesopotamian art was developed in the area between Tigris and Euphrates (modern day Syria
and Iraq), where from the 4th millennium BCE many different cultures existed such as Sumer,
Akkad, Amorite and Chaldea. Mesopotamian architecture was characterized by the use of brick,
lintel and the introduction of construction elements like arc and vault. Notable are the ziggurats,
large temples with the form of a terraced step pyramid, from which we have practically no traces
left except their bases. The tomb was usually a corridor, with a covered chamber and a false
dome, as in some examples found in Ur. There were also palaces walled with a terrace in the
form of a ziggurat, where gardens were an important feature. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon
was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Sculpture was developed through wood carving and relief. Sculpture was used in religious,
military and hunting scenes, depicting both human and animal figures, including depictions of
real and mythological figures. In the Sumerian period, small statues of people were produced.
These statues had an angular form and they were produced with colored stone. The figures
typically had bald head with hands folded on the chest. In the Akkadian period, statues depicted
figures with long hair and beards, the stele of Naram-Sin. In the Amorite period (or
Neosumerian), statues represented king Gudea of Lagash, with his mantle and a turban on his
head and his hands on his chest. During Babylonian rule, the stele of Hammurabi was important.
Assyrian sculpture is notable for its anthropomorphism of cattle and the winged genie, which is
depicted flying in many reliefs depicting war and hunting scenes, such as in the Black Obelisk of
Shalmaneser III.[14]

Storytelling using the oral tradition probably existed since prehistory. However, with the advent
of writing, written stories (literature) arose as a means of expressing human creativity. The
Sumerian literature is represented by the Epic of Gilgamesh, written in the 17th century BCE. It
contains thirty myths about the most important Sumerian and Akkadian deities, which are:
Innana's descent to hell and the gods Enki and Tammuz. Another example is the poem Lugal ud
melambi Nirpal (The hardship of Ninurta), which has moral and didactic (instructional)
messages. During Akkadian period, Atrahasis was written, which includes the flood myth. In
Babylonian literature, the poem Enma Eli describes the creation of the world.[15]

Music was developed in this region between 4th and 3rd millennium BCE for use in Sumerian
temples, where priests sang hymns and psalms (ersemma) to the gods. The liturgic chant was
composed of responsoriessong alternating between the priests and choirand antiphons
song alternating between two choirs. They had several instruments like tigi (related to the flute),
balag (drum), lilis (predecessor of timpani, a large, deep drum), algar (lyre, a plucked string
instrument), zagsal (harp) and adapa (pandeiro).[16]


Main article: Ancient Egyptian art

The pyramids of Giza

In Egypt, one of the first great civilizations arose, which had elaborate and complex works of art
which were produced by professional artists and craftspeople, who developed specialized skills.
Egypt's art was religious and symbolic. Given that the culture had a highly centralized power
structure and hierarchy, a great deal of art was created to honour the pharaoh, including great
monuments. The Egyptian culture emphasized the religious concept of immortality. The
Egyptian art era spans from 3,000 BCE until the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great.
However its influence persisted in the Coptic art and Byzantine art.
The architecture is characterized by its monumental structures, built with large stone blocks,
lintels and solid columns. Funerary monuments included mastaba, tombs of rectangular form;
pyramids, which included step pyramids (Saqqarah) or smooth-sided pyramids (Giza); and the
hypogeum, underground tombs (Valley of the Kings). The other great buildings were the temple,
which were monumental complexes preceded by an avenue of sphinxes and obelisks. The
temples used pylons and trapezoid walls using hypaethros and hypostyle halls and shrines. The
temples of Karnak, Luxor, Philae and Edfu are good examples. Another type of temple is the
rock temple, which were in the form hypogeum, which can be found in Abu Simbel and Deir el-

Painting of the Egyptian era used a juxtaposition of overlapping planes. The images were
represented hierarchically, i.e., the Pharaoh is larger than the common subjects or enemies
depicted at his side. Egyptians painted the head and limbs in profile, while the shoulders and
eyes in front. Applied arts were developed in Egypt, in particular woodwork and metalwork.
There are superb examples such as cedar furniture inlaid with ebony and ivory which can be seen
in the tombs at the Egyptian Museum. Another example is the pieces found in Tutankhamun's
tomb, which are of great artistic quality.[17]

Aurochs on a cave painting in Lascaux, France

Greece and Etruria

Greek and Etruscan artists built on the artistic foundations of Egypt, further developing the arts
of sculpture, painting, architecture, and ceramics. The body became represented in a more
representational manner, and patronage of art thrived.


Roman art is sometimes viewed as derived from Greek precedents, but also has its own
distinguishing features. Roman sculpture is often less idealized than the Greek precedents.
Roman architecture often used concrete, and features such as the round arch and dome were

Medieval to contemporary eras

The interior of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey

With the decline of the Roman Empire, the narrative shifts to Medieval art, which lasted for a
millennium. Early Christian art begins the period, followed by Byzantine art, Anglo-Saxon art,
Viking art, Ottonian art, Romanesque art and Gothic art, with Islamic art dominating the eastern
Mediterranean and beyond. The Medieval era ended with the Renaissance, followed by
Mannerism, the Baroque and Rococo. In Byzantine and Gothic art of the Middle Ages, the
dominance of the church insisted on the expression of biblical truths. There was no need to
depict the reality of the material world, in which man was born in a "state of sin", especially
through the extensive use of gold in paintings, which also presented figures in idealised,
patterned (i.e."flat") forms.

Renaissance and Baroque

The Renaissance is the return yet again to valuation of the material world, and this paradigm
shift is reflected in art forms, which show the corporeality of the human body, and the three-
dimensional reality of landscape. Although textbooks periodize Western art by movements, as
described above, they also do so by century, especially in Italian art. Many art historians give a
nod to the historical importance of Italian Renaissance and Baroque art by referring to centuries
in which it was prominent with the Italian terms: trecento for the fourteenth century, quattrocento
for the fifteenth, cinquecento for the sixteenth, seicento for the seventeenth, and settecento for
the eighteenth.

Neoclassicalism to Realism

The 18th and 19th centuries included Neoclassicism, Romantic art, Academic art, and Realism in
art. Art historians disagree when Modern art began, some tracing it as far back as Francisco
Goya in the Napoleonic period, the mid-19th century with the industrial revolution or the late
19th century with the advent of Impressionism. The art movements of the late 19th through the
early 21st centuries are too numerous to detail here, but can be broadly divided into two
categories: Modernism and Contemporary art. The latter is sometimes referred to with another
term, which has a subtly different connotation, Postmodern art.
Modern and Contemporary

Main articles: Modern art and Contemporary art

Henri Matisse, 1905-06, Le bonheur de vivre, oil on canvas, 175 x 241 cm, Barnes Foundation

In the 20th century, the physical and rational certainties of the "clockwork universe" depicted by
the 18th-century Enlightenment were shattered not only by new discoveries of relativity by
physicist Albert Einstein[18] and of unseen psychology by Sigmund Freud,[19] but also by
unprecedented technological development accelerated by two world wars (World War I (1914-
1918) and World War II (1939-1945)). During WW II, great pressure on scientists to develop
new technologies for the war effort led to many new inventions. In the decades after WW II,
some of these new technological developments were applied to peacetime purposes, leading to
the development of widely available television (which was a medium for entertainment such as
television dramas and music and dance variety shows) and new electronic instruments such as
the synthesizer.

The history of 20th-century art is a narrative of endless possibilities and the search for new
standards, each being torn down in succession by the next. The art movements of Impressionism,
Expressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Dadaism and Surrealism led to many explorations of new
creative styles and manners of expression. Increasing global interaction during this time saw an
equivalent influence of other cultures into Western art, such as Pablo Picasso being influenced
by Iberian sculpture, African sculpture and Primitivism. Japonism, and Japanese woodcuts
(which had themselves been influenced by Western Renaissance draftsmanship) had an immense
influence on Impressionism and subsequent artistic developments. The influential example set by
Paul Gauguin's interest in Oceanic art and the sudden popularity among the cognoscenti in early
20th century Paris of newly discovered African fetish sculptures and other works from non-
European cultures were taken up by Picasso, Henri Matisse, and by many of their colleagues.

Modernism, in its response to the idealistic 19th century "search for truth", and the 20th century's
technological progress gave way in the last decades of the 20th century to a realization of that the
idealist visions of the 19th century may have been unattainable. Rapid advances in science and
technology led to the late Modern and Postmodern period. In these periods, the art and cultures
of the world went through many changes, and there was a great deal of intermixture between
cultures, as new communications technologies facilitated the national and even global
dissemination of music, art and style. The separation of regional cultures that had marked the
19th century was replaced by a global culture.
The Americas
Main articles: Native American art, Painting in the Americas before Colonization, and Pre-
Columbian art

The history of art in the Americas begins in pre-Columbian times with Indigenous cultures. Art
historians have focused particularly closely on Mesoamerica during this early era, because a
series of stratified cultures arose there that erected grand architecture and produced objects of
fine workmanship that are comparable to the arts of Western Europe. One textbook about the art
of this era is Mary Ellen Miller's The Art of Mesoamerica.


The art-making tradition of Mesoamerican people begins with the Olmec around 1400 BCE,
during the Preclassic era. These people are best known for making colossal heads but also carved
jade, erected monumental architecture, made small-scale sculpture, and designed mosaic floors.
Two of the most well-studied sites artistically are San Lorenzo Tenochtitln and La Venta. After
the Olmec culture declined, the Maya civilization became prominent in the region. Sometimes a
transitional Epi-Olmec period is described, which is a hybrid of Olmec and Maya. A particularly
well-studied Epi-Olmec site is La Mojarra, which includes hieroglyphic carvings that have been
partially deciphered.


By the late pre-Classic era, beginning around 400 BCE, the Olmec culture had declined but both
Central Mexican and Maya peoples were thriving. Throughout much of the Classic period in
Central Mexico, the city of Teotihuacan was thriving, as were Xochicalco and El Tajin. These
sites boasted grand sculpture and architecture. Other Central Mexican peoples included the
Mixtecs, the Zapotecs, and people in the Valley of Oaxaca. Maya art was at its height during the
Classic perioda name that mirrors that of Classical European antiquityand which began
around 200 CE. Major Maya sites from this era include Copan, where numerous stelae were
carved, and Quirigua where the largest stelae of Mesoamerica are located along with zoomorphic
altars. A complex writing system was developed, and Maya illuminated manuscripts were
produced in large numbers on paper made from tree bark. Although some Maya cities have
existed to the 2000s, several sites collapsed around 1000 AD.


At the time of the Spanish conquest of Yucatn during the 16th and 17th centuries, the Maya
were still powerful, but many communities were paying tribute to Aztec society. The latter
culture was thriving, and it included arts such as sculpture, painting, and feather mosaics.
Perhaps the most well-known work of Aztec art is the calendar stone, which became a national
symbol of the state of Mexico. During the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, many of these
artistic objects were sent to Europe, where they were placed in cabinets of curiosities, and later
redistributed to Westerm art museums. The Aztec empire was based in the city of Tenochtitlan
which was largely destroyed during the colonial era. What remains of it was buried beneath
Mexico City. A few buildings, such as the foundation of the Templo Mayor have since been
unearthed by archaeologists, but they are in poor condition.


Art in the Americas since the conquest has been a mixture of indigenous and foreign traditions,
including that of the European, African, and Asian settlers. Thus, books about the visual arts of
the United States, such as Francis Pohls Framing America, start with the conquest and
reconstruct manifold traditions. Numerous indigenous traditions thrived after the conquest. For
example, the Plains Indians created quillwork, beadwork, winter counts, ledger art, and tipis in
the pre-reservation era, and afterwards became assimilated into the world of Modern and
Contemporary art through institutions such as the Santa Fe Indian School which encouraged
students to develop a unique Native American style. Many paintings from that school, now
called the Studio Style, were exhibited at the Philbrook Museum of Art during its Indian annual
held from 1946 to 1979.


Intertwined with this story of indigenous art, are movements of painting, sculpture, and
architecture such as the Hudson River School and the Ashcan School of the 19th century, and
Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism of the 20th. Some of the most celebrated images were
produced by artists of the American West, featuring Cowboys and Indians, and some of the
most visually complex objects were created by African Americans.

Western Asia
Religious Islamic art often forbids depictions of people, as they may be misused as idols.
Religious ideas are thus often represented through geometric designs instead. However, there are
many Islamic paintings which display religious themes and scenes of stories common among the
three main monotheistic faiths of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.

Central/Southern/Eastern Asia

The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai

Main article: Eastern art history
Eastern civilization broadly includes Asia, and it also includes a complex tradition of art making.
One Eastern art history survey textbook is John Laplantes Asian Art. It divides the field by
nation, with units on India, China, and Japan.

Fresco from Ajanta caves, c. 450-500

Eastern art has generally worked in a style akin to Western medieval art, namely a concentration
on surface patterning and local colour (meaning the plain colour of an object, such as basic red
for a red robe, rather than the modulations of that colour brought about by light, shade and
reflection). A characteristic of this style is that the local colour is often defined by an outline (a
contemporary equivalent is the cartoon). This is evident in, for example, the art of India, Tibet
and Japan.

One of many ancient Yoruba sculptures discovered at Ife
See also: Egyptian art, Art of ancient Egypt, African folk art, and African tribal masks

The long story of African Art includes both high sculpture, perhaps typified by the brass castings
of the Benin people, as well as folk art. In the ancient world, Egypt is often thought of as the
greatest artistic culture of Africa, but it is also rivaled by Nubia, which was located in present-
day Sudan. Concurrent with the European Middle Ages, in the eleventh century CE a nation that
made grand architecture, gold sculpture, and intricate jewelry was founded in Great Zimbabwe.
Impressive sculpture was concurrently being cast from brass by the Yoruba people of what is
now Nigeria. Such a culture grew and was ultimately transformed to become the Benin
Kingdom, where elegant altar tusks, brass heads, plaques of brass, and palatial architecture was
created. The Benin Kingdom was ended by the British in 1897, and little of the historical art now
remains in Nigeria. Today, the most significant arts venue in Africa is the Johannesburg

Main article: Art of Oceania

The Art of Oceania includes the geographic areas of Micronesia, Polynesia, Australia, New
Zealand, and Melanesia. Nicholas Thomass textbook Oceanic Art treats the area thematically,
with essays on ancestry, warfare, the body, gender, trade, religion, and tourism. Unfortunately,
little ancient art survives from Oceania. Scholars believe that this is likely because artists used
perishable materials, such as wood and feathers, which did not survive in the tropical climate,
and there are no historical records to refer to most of this material. The understanding of
Oceania's artistic cultures thus begins with the documentation of it by Westerners, such as
Captain James Cook in the eighteenth century. At the turn of the twentieth century the French
artist Paul Gauguin spent significant amounts of time in Tahiti, living with local people and
making modern arta fact that has become intertwined with Tahitian visual culture to the
present day. The indigenous art of Australia often looks like abstract modern art, but it has deep
roots in local culture.

Art museums

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain

The experience of art history, as conveyed by art museums, tends to be organized differently
from that of textbooks due to the nature of collections and the institutions themselves. Rather
than a full march through time, museums employ curators who assemble objects into exhibitions,
often with unique commentary that is later reinterpreted by docents. Because they have the
responsibility to store objects, museums develop taxonomies for their collections, using
conventions of classification authority for the sake of consistency. This may be undertaken with
the museums archivist. The result is to occasionally find a strong emphasis on the history of
media in conjunction with the history of culture.

Such an emphasis on media is a natural outgrowth of the internal classification systems used in
art museums, which usually include departments of painting, sculpture, decorative arts, and
works on paper. Painting itself includes several media, such as oil painting, Tempera painting,
watercolor. Sculpture can be divided into carving and casting. The decorative arts are perhaps the
most diverse, as they include: textiles and needlework, which includes weaving, lace, shibori,
and other work with fabric; Murals, of which frescoes are one form; and objects of adornment
such as silver, ceramics, lacquerware, stained glass, and furniture. Museums generally cannot
collect full buildings, but they may acquire pieces of architectural ornamentation, which also fall
under the decorative arts department. Works on paper includes printmaking, photography, and
the book arts such as illuminated manuscripts. Museums may also include a department of
applied arts, which includes objects of good design along with the graphic art, illustration, and
other forms of commercial art.

Art market
The art market can also be used to understand what counts as part of art history. Art dealers
and auctioneers organize material for distribution to collectors. Two of the largest, and oldest, art
auction houses are Sotheby's and Christie's, and each hold frequent sales of great antiquities and
art objects.

In addition to upstanding practices, a black market exists for great art, which is closely tied to art
theft and art forgery. No auction houses or dealers admit openly to participating in the black
market because of its illegality, but exposs suggest widespread problems in the field. Because
demand for art objects is high, and security in many parts of the world is low, a thriving trade in
illicit antiquities acquired through looting also exists. Although the art community nearly
universally condemns looting because it results in destruction of archeological sites, looted art
paradoxically remains omnipresent. Warfare is correlated with such looting, as is demonstrated
by the recent archaeological looting in Iraq.

Nationalist art history

Both the making of art, the academic history of art, and the history of art museums are closely
intertwined with the rise of nationalism. Art created in the modern era, in fact, has often been an
attempt to generate feelings of national superiority or love of ones country. Russian art is an
especially good example of this, as the Russian avant-garde and later Soviet art were attempts to
define that countrys identity.

Most art historians working today identify their specialty as the art of a particular culture and
time period, and often such cultures are also nations. For example, someone might specialize in
the 19th-century German or contemporary Chinese art history. A focus on nationhood has deep
roots in the discipline. Indeed, Vasari's Lives of the Artists is an attempt to show the superiority
of Florentine artistic culture, and Heinrich Wlfflin's writings (especially his monograph on
Albrecht Drer) attempt to distinguish Italian from German styles of art.

Many of the largest and most well-funded art museums of the world, such as the Louvre, the
Victoria and Albert Museum, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington are state-owned.
Most countries, indeed have a national gallery, with an explicit mission of preserving the cultural
patrimony owned by the governmentregardless of what cultures created the artand an often
implicit mission to bolster that countrys own cultural heritage. The National Gallery of Art thus
showcases art made in the United States, but also owns objects from across the world.

Academic art history

Laocon and his Sons, Greek, (Late Hellenistic), c. 160 BCE and 20 BCE, White marble,
Vatican Museum
During the early Victorian era, the 15th-century Italian artists were considered inferior to those
of 16th-century High Renaissance. Such a notion was challenged by the Pre-Raphaelite
movement. There has since been a trend, dominant in art history of the 21st century, to treat all
cultures and periods neutrally. Thus, Australian Aboriginal art would not be deemed better or
worse than Renaissance artit is just different. Art historical analysis has also evolved into
studying the social and political use of art, rather than focusing solely on the aesthetic
appreciation of its craftsmanship (beauty). What may once have been viewed simply as a
masterpiece is now understood as an economic, social, philosophical, and cultural manifestation
of the artist's world-view, philosophy, intentions and background.

Sacred art history

While secular approaches to art history often emphasize individual creativity, the history of
sacred art often emphasizes the ways that beautiful objects are used to convey symbolic meaning
in ritual contexts. The ten largest organized religions of the world each have image-making
traditions. They are Confucianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism,
Bah', Jainism, and Shinto.