Visual arts

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Landscape painting by Dǒng Qíchāng (1555–1636)

The term visual art has since the early 19th century to German-speaking countries as a collective term for the visually formative arts established (meaning "making" here "framing"). The art genres of the fine arts originally included architecture , sculpture , painting , drawing , graphics and photography, as well as handicrafts .

The visual arts are distinguished from the performing arts (such as theater , dance and film art ), literature and music . While the works of these other arts take place over time, a work of the visual arts usually exists as a physical-spatial structure that works by itself and does not require an interpreter in order to be perceived by the recipient . The fine arts and the other mentioned art movements can be summarized under the term “fine arts”. This is particularly common in other languages ​​(e.g. French les beaux-arts , Italian le belle arti or English fine arts ).

As a result of the development of new media and the progressive expansion of the term art in the 20th century, the term visual arts is now much broader and can no longer be clearly distinguished from other art forms in individual cases . In the 20th and 21st centuries, the work of art , which was primarily visually and often haptically perceptible until the beginning of modernity, becomes process-oriented in some cases, turns into a pure idea or only exists as an instruction for action. Instead of a pure generic term, current visual art is also defined by the art business and the art market , which includes established representatives of art criticism , the art trade , collectors and art museums .

The subject of art in general schools is about fine arts. In some German federal states (e.g. Baden-Württemberg) the school subject is therefore called visual arts .

Development of fine arts

The first human works of art were expressions of religious ideas. Later painting and sculpture were mostly commissioned art for religious institutions (in Europe the church ), rulers , aristocrats or wealthy citizens . In most cultures, the motifs and imagery were often subject to strict conventions. In Europe, the discovery of perspective and other technical inventions radically changed art. The emergence of an art that as an end in itself no longer served any special use ( L'art pour l'art ), in turn, changed the relationship between artist, society and work of art. In some cases, art became a place of utopias or took on religious tasks .

Today professional visual arts are driven by a global art market . In Western countries, public funds or art venues such as museums are increasingly being replaced by private institutions and private foundations. Discussions about the contemporary concept of art take place in art criticism, art theory and at art academies. The art business , which is mainly concentrated in Europe and North America, has been increasingly being driven by emerging countries such as the 1990s . B. Brazil , South Africa , Korea or the Gulf States, which for example organize their own biennials .

Fine arts of Europe and the Mediterranean

The usual today era division of the art was the art history established in the 19th and 20th centuries: within the great historical epochs mostly on the basis of artistic styles (see formalism ). For the art of antiquity was the Mediterranean significantly, later, the European art regions (including Italy , France , the German-speaking countries ). It was only in the 1970s that art history began to relativize this Eurocentric perspective.

Prehistoric art

Prehistory, that is, the prehistory , covers the period from the beginning of the Incarnation to the introduction of Scripture . Since the script was not introduced everywhere at the same time, the prehistory in Egypt, for example, already ended around the 4th millennium BC. B. in Northern Europe lasted in some places until the 12th century AD. The artistic legacies that have come down from this period almost exclusively through excavations are correspondingly diverse .

The earliest evidence of prehistoric art includes cave painting , rock carving and rock carving . Similar to the finds of small statuettes ( lion man ), the oldest cave paintings ( Chauvet cave ) are dated to around 30,000 years before our era. And they all probably have a cultic background. There are interesting settlement finds z. B. in Çatalhöyük , where wall paintings were made around 8000 years ago .

With the beginning of sedentarism in the Neolithic Age , different materials were processed more intensively and skillfully: clay , ceramics , wood , later metals such as bronze ( Bronze Age ), copper and iron . Decorated vessels, belt buckles , sword knobs, clasps ( fibulae ) and similar objects found on the body of the buried, as well as death masks or coins are the most common artefacts that archeology can use to pinpoint the creative urge of prehistoric people. It is not yet possible to speak of “art” in today's sense. Objects designed beyond everyday use, such as the recently found Nebra Sky Disc , which shows the first known cosmological representation, are extremely rare.

The Iron Age brought about the Celtic culture in Europe , which from the 4th century BC to the 5th century AD saw a remarkable artistic production. In Celtic art, ornamentation in particular had a strong effect until the High Middle Ages , when book illumination made use of the intertwined knots and tendrils of this geometrical style.

Ancient art

Egyptian art

Tutankhamun's death mask

Approx. 3100 BC BC Egypt was unified under the rule of Menes , who began the first of the 31 dynasties into which Egypt's ancient history is divided: Old Kingdom , Middle Kingdom, and New Kingdom . With the hieroglyphs , a picture script develops, which means that content can be conveyed through pictures.

Ancient Egyptian art is mainly found in works of painting , relief art , sculpture and architecture and was used in many areas, including in the cult of the dead, the worship of gods or for propaganda purposes. The characteristic Egyptian style of the representations - exclusively with facial profile and simultaneous frontal view of the upper body of persons and gods. This representation emerged already in the Old Kingdom and, apart from certain changes under the influence of Akhenaten's politics , remained virtually unchanged for 3000 years. Wall paintings or reliefs in burial chambers were not intended for viewing by a real audience, but "life is kept at the disposal of the dead" (P. Meyer). Timelessness is also a central concern of all representations. The dead should be prepared for eternity. This goes so far in the sculpture that crouching figures, which are supposed to outlast their existence in the realm of the dead in this position, are only depicted as cubes from a certain moment on.

Mesopotamian art

3rd – 2nd Millennium BC Chr.

Greek art

Classic column order

Ancient Greek art emerged from around 1050 BC. In more recent research, the preceding Minoan and Mycenaean art is also attributed to it, which has evidence from the 16th century BC. Chr. Has left. The most important artistically significant archeological finds are sculptures made of bronze or marble, painted vases and wall frescoes.

  • The Cretan- Mycenaean finds are divided into the periods Early Mycenaean (Mycenaean I: approx. 1600–1500 BC), Middle Mycenaean (Mycenaean II: approx. 1500–1400 BC) and Late Mycenaean (Mycenaean III: approx. 1400 . -1050 BC) and the in at least some regions still following. Submykenisch (ca. 1050/30 -. 1020/00 BC).
  • Greek art in the narrower sense is divided into the art-historical epochs protogeometric style (approx. 1050 / 00-900 BC), geometric style (approx. 900-675 BC), archaic (700-500 BC) , Classical (500–325 BC) and Hellenism (325–150 BC).

Little has been preserved of Greek painting, although there is an abundance of literary evidence and not a few well-known names of painters ( Apelles , Zeuxis , etc.).

Roman art

Augustus of Prima Porta , Vatican Museums, Rome

Roman art developed around the 5th century BC. BC to the 5th century AD and for a long time was valued under the aspect of their dependence on the Greek. In fact, today's knowledge of Greek sculpture is largely due to the fact that important works by the Greek bronze casters - which had long since been melted down because of their high material value - were handed down as Roman marble copies. Nevertheless, the art of the Roman Empire broke new ground in painting, sculpture and, above all, in architecture. For example, B. the use of cement in Roman architecture for the first time wide-span domes ( pantheon ). Most of the building types that were adopted by early Christianity for its sacred architecture were also trained in Rome and its provinces: central building , basilica and multi-aisled hall . The writer Pliny the Elder and the architect Vitruvius , for example, provided contemporary descriptions of art and art theory .

Medieval art

Early Christian and Byzantine art

Mosaic in the choir of San Vitale , Ravenna

Early Christian art can be traced back to the first places where the new religion spread, in the first century AD: in the Holy Land and in Rome . According to the living conditions of an oppressed movement, some of these sites in Rome are hidden: wall paintings and simple altars in catacombs are among the earliest evidence.

With the takeover Emperor Constantine is Christianity in 313 first equal footing with other religions and as a result then the state religion , which is why its symbolic signs, buildings and pictures can leave the clandestine places of the early days. Due to the division of the Roman Empire into Western Rome and Eastern Rome , where Constantine expanded the old Byzantium into the new capital Constantinople , two different denominations develop , which see their differences to a large extent in the respective handling of the images of the saint. While ancient Rome rose to the center of the Roman Catholic Church after the storms of the Great Migration Period , Orthodox Christianity was developing in Constantinople .

One of the achievements of Byzantine art is the development of a mobile cult image , the icon , which becomes a central component of the Orthodox liturgy . Solitaire or as a picture wall ( iconostasis ) it is at the center of the veneration of pictures and forms many new forms of representation. As a countermovement, their success provokes the image dispute, in which the two basic attitudes towards images for the entire history of art confront each other: iconoclasts and iconodules .

Under Emperor Justinian , new cultural centers also emerged in the west, especially Ravenna was enhanced with buildings and picture decorations. The mosaics of San Vitale and Sant'Apollinare in Classe are among the best preserved examples of this specifically Byzantine art form. In both the mosaic and the icons, fixed types of images develop that depict the theological content in fixed forms.

The typical design of the Orthodox church is the cross-domed church .

The Byzantine Empire and with it its art ends with the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and its occupation by the Turks. The Orthodox churches of Eastern Europe continue to cultivate the tradition of icon painting, but due to the strictly regulated design, these works usually only repeat older models.

Pre-Romanesque and Romanesque

Ada manuscript : Evangelist Luke, around 800

When Charlemagne was crowned emperor in Rome in 800, he not only established a political practice that lasted into the 16th century, but also renewed an aesthetic European tradition. His return to the former Roman metropolis, which had shrunk to a village during the migration period , can be read as the first post-ancient link to the great times of the Roman Empire, which is why the production of art under Karl is also called the Carolingian Renaissance . Second, the empire is closely linked to the most important power from now on, which will also produce most of the buildings and images: the Roman Catholic Church.

In pre-Romanesque art, a distinction is made between Merovingian art, which, like its predecessors, can be classified as part of the Celtic culture, and Carolingian art, which has already developed the richness and diversity of a style that spread throughout Central Europe thanks to Charles's expansion of power . In painting, works of book illumination and wall painting stand out, a number of illustrated manuscripts are assigned to a court school of Charlemagne . In architecture, attempts are being made, for example, with the Aachen Palatine Chapel to reactivate the temple structures of the Roman Empire.

The Ottonians who followed the Carolingians continued the high-quality illumination (e.g. the Reichenau School of Painting ) and, like the following Salians and Staufers, took care of many new church buildings and the like. a. in the areas of expansion to the east. The Romanesque is characterized by v. a. in comparison to the subsequent Gothic, through its solid construction and a defensive character. Churches often had to fulfill the function of castles ( fortified churches ), large windows were not technically possible and not desirable for safety reasons. In contrast, there was a high need for wall space for wall painting. Further decorations were two-colored ribbons on the pillars and vault belts , as well as sculptures on portals and rood screens . Important Romanesque buildings are z. B. the Speyer Cathedral , the Abbey of Cluny . Important sculptural works of art are also preserved in bronze, including a. the Hildesheim Bernward column . The arts and crafts benefit from the flourishing reliquary trade , which creates the demand for magnificent reliquaries as well as the liturgical requirements of the church ( tabernacles , lecture crosses , chalices , embroidered liturgical vestments, wheel candlesticks , etc.). With the emergence of new reform orders ( Cluniac , Cistercian , etc.), stricter building regulations and precise regulations for artistic design emerge, which increasingly differentiate the development of forms.


Duccio di Buoninsegna : Madonna Rucellai, Uffizi Gallery (Florence)

The development of a new architectural style in France at the beginning of the 12th century ushered in an era which, under the subsequently chosen and originally derogatory term Gothic, would shape the art of the West until the end of the Middle Ages. The discovery that the weight of building loads, especially ceilings, can be shifted outwards away from the wall using buttresses , made large window areas possible, which turned the Gothic cathedral into a light-flooded structure. The choir of the abbey church of Saint-Denis near Paris is considered to be the foundation structure, while the cathedrals of Chartres , Reims , Notre-Dame de Paris and the Sainte-Chapelle are the highlights of French high Gothic . In the then German-speaking area, the Freiburg Minster , the Strasbourg Minster , the Cologne Cathedral and the St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague are particularly worthy of mention .

The development of painting owed its greatest impetus to a criminal act: The Venetians brought a new type of picture to the West from their sack of Constantinople as part of the fourth crusade of 1204 . The icon is a mobile panel painting and will soon triumph as the most important vehicle for painting, where until now only on walls - whether as a fresco or stained glass on the larger window areas - and in handwriting. In Italy, where the icon first arrived, a western painting tradition developed first, which in Duccio produced the first great painter and with the first user of perspective, Giotto di Bondone , the two-dimensionality, the perspective of meaning and the remoteness of the Middle Ages tried to overcome.

As in the Romanesque period, the sculpture unfolds above all on the facades and portals of the large church buildings, north of the Alps, however, mainly in a special form of the winged altar , the carved altar . Particularly in southern Germany, top late Gothic works are created in the workshops of Tilman Riemenschneider , Veit Stoss and the Erhards from Ulm.

Modern art


15th and 16th centuries

Masaccio : Trinity , fresco in Santa Maria Novella, Florence

With the emancipation of merchants and seafarers in the Italian city-states and principalities such as Florence ( Tuscany ), Mantua , Urbino , Genoa and Venice , a new public for art is emerging that goes beyond church or feudal clients, and thanks to international trade, can absorb the cultural influences of various art centers. At the same time, accidental and targeted finds of ancient works of art , especially in Rome , promote a new view of people and their designed likeness. The Renaissance began in Italy in the 15th century and reached its peak there in the 16th century. In the other European countries, the new art finally moved in from around 1500. Both in architecture and in sculpture, antiquity is taken as a model: proportions , classic column arrangements , structural forms such as the portico and the aedicula are adopted and combined with other elements ( domes ). The artists free themselves from the guild professional organizations of the Middle Ages, become self-confident, sign their works and present themselves. The ever more skillful application of the central perspective (whose first mathematically correct transfer to the picture 1426 Masaccio succeeded in his Trinity fresco in Santa Maria Novella in Florence should) enables ever more natural representations.


16th century (approx. 1530–1590)

In mannerism, the balance and perfect harmony of the High Renaissance is abandoned in favor of dynamization and greater tension. Strong contrasts, asymmetries, disharmonies, distortions of proportions and extraordinary color and light effects were often used.



In the history of art, the baroque encompasses the period between the Renaissance and Classicism, in the period from around 1600–1750. Mannerism is regarded as a preliminary stage of the Baroque.

The Baroque is strongly characterized by the imagination emanating from the admiration of the great painters of the sixteenth century. It arose from the continuing interest in the study of classical antiquity . In this sense, the Baroque did not break with the Renaissance, but developed it further into a more dynamic, artistic conception in which any composition was possible for the artist; and he adhered more to the assumption than to the formal equilibrium.

The baroque style spread across Europe. In the last decades of this period (1720–1750) some peculiarities occurred in France and the Germanic countries, the Rococo was born. During this period of enthusiasm for the decorative , pastel painting also reached its heyday.



The transition from baroque to rococo ( French rocaille shell) is fluid, which is why rococo is also known as late baroque. Its origins can be found in the lifestyle of the French nobility in the 18th century. With shepherd games , shepherd scenes , opulent parties, costume balls, picnics and concerts, the nobility created the illusion of a carefree, natural life. The longing for an idealized country life manifested itself in pleasure palaces, pavilions and the associated, designed parks. The frivolity and the playful pleasure can also be found as a perfect illusion in the refined rococo motifs. Light, airy shades are used, the works are exaggeratedly decorated, including the decorations on furniture and everyday objects.



Classicism describes the period between 1770 and 1840 as an art historical epoch. Classicism replaced the Baroque. Biedermeier is a form of classicism . The epoch was accompanied by Romanticism in architecture and replaced by Historicism.

In relation to the baroque, classicism can be seen as an artistic counter-program. Towards the end of the 18th century, after an initial phase of coexistence, it came to dominance through ongoing discussions about the aesthetic models of the Baroque. Classicism in architecture is based on the form canon of Greek temple construction, but is also based in part on the Italian early Renaissance.

Outside of the German-speaking area, classicism is referred to as "neoclassicism", whereas neoclassicism in German describes the classicist movements in the 20th century.


Caspar David Friedrich: Chalk cliffs on Rügen


Romanticism is not shaped by a particular type of painting or style; rather, this epoch is about breaking classic norms and returning to nature, history and religion. By emphasizing the emotional, the fantastic and the unrestrained, attempts were made to respond to the Enlightenment and to drop the forms of empiricism and the strict nature of classicism.

Harmonization of nature and architecture:

  • Art-nature as juxtaposition and fusion
  • Monument buildings → Capturing memories



Historicism draws on stylistic elements from previous eras, such as the Baroque, Rococo, Romanesque or Renaissance periods, which flow into the artists' works both individually and in combination. Historicism is divided into neo-Romanesque , neo-Gothic , neo-renaissance and neo-baroque styles. One of the best-known buildings in Germany that was built under historicism is the Berlin Reichstag, which combines stylistic elements of the Neo-Renaissance and Neo-Baroque styles.




1842–1945 Naturalism , Impressionism , Pointillism , Symbolism , Art Nouveau , Expressionism , Fauvism , Cubism , Orphism , Futurism , Suprematism , Dadaism , Surrealism , Purism , Constructivism , Neoplasticism , Art Deco , Bauhaus , New Objectivity , Socialist Realism , Fantastic Realism , Abstract Expressionism , Informel , Functionalism , Naive Art


after 1950 Minimalism , Happening , Fluxus , Pop Art , Op Art , Kinetic Art , Video Art , Photo Realism , Concept Art , Performance , Land Art , Body Art , Neue Wilde , Contemporary Art

Fine arts in other regions


When one speaks of African art , one means the art of Black Africa, which - like the rest of African culture - differs from the Arab north of the continent, the states of the Maghreb , and includes the artistic production of many very different ethnic groups. The rural structures of Africa, which mainly produced wooden sculptures, the climatic conditions and a habitat that makes it easy for termites and other pests, have handed down almost no historical objects of traditional African art.

Since the artistically designed works of the then colonized continent were only valued, researched and above all collected in Europe as objects of authentic cultures since the beginning of the 20th century, most of the works are in museums and collections inside and outside Africa as well as on the art market with a few Exceptions not older than 150 years.

Today outdated, discriminatory-sounding terms such as primitivism, negro sculpture ( Carl Einstein ) or (in France) art negre were affirmative catchphrases of classical modernism , which took the clear shapes and timeless aura of African objects as models.


Relief from Palenque , Mexico

For pre-Columbian art see: Aztecs , Chichimecs , Huaxtecs , Inca , Maya , Mixtecs , Olmecs , Purépecha (Tarasken), Toltecs , Totonaks , Zapotecs , Chavín , Moche , Chimu , Recuay , Paracas , Nasca , Ica-Chincha , Chancay , Lima , Taíno , Marajó , Muisca , Narino , Tairona , Calima , Tolima , Sinu , Guinea .


See also

Portal: Fine Arts  - Overview of Wikipedia content on the subject of fine arts




  • Kürschner's Handbook of Fine Artists Germany, Austria, Switzerland , 2 volumes (editor Andreas Klimt), 2nd volume, de Gruyter Saur, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-598-24737-8 (with biographical data, address, teaching activity, exhibiting Galleries from 6700 living visual artists, among others: painting, graphics, sculpture, book art, action and media arts and (a selection) architecture, photography and handicrafts).
  • Johannes Jahn , Stefanie Lieb : Dictionary of Art (= Kröner's pocket edition . Volume 165). 13th, completely revised and expanded edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2008, ISBN 978-3-520-16513-8 .
  • EH Gombrich : The History of Art. Phaidon, Berlin 1996
  • Günter Meißner (Ed.): General artist lexicon. The visual artists of all times and peoples (AKL). Leipzig 1983 ff. (Up to vol. 3), then taken over by K. G. Saur: München / Leipzig 1992 ff. (Status at the end of 2006: 52 volumes up to Gheuse ), ISBN 3-598-22740-X
  • Gérard du Ry van Beest Holle (ed.): Art history. From the beginning to the present . Augsburg: Holle Verlag im Weltbild Verlag, Erlangen: Licensed edition Karl Müller Verlag, 1991, without ISBN (covers the history of art from prehistoric times and the ancient Orient up to the 20th century; with numerous colored images, registers, proof of images, references and Photo credit)
  • Norbert Schneider: Fine arts. In: Historical-Critical Dictionary of Marxism , Vol. 2, Argument-Verlag, Hamburg 1995, Sp. 240–245.
  • Thieme-Becker : General lexicon of visual artists from antiquity to the present . 1907-1950 (37 volumes); with the continuation by Hans Vollmer ( General Lexicon of Fine Artists of the 20th Century , 1952–1962, 6 volumes).

Web links

Commons : Fine Arts  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Art  - Sources and Full Texts

Individual evidence

  1. Duden ohnline: form , see section “Meanings and examples”, point 1 b.
  2. Shelley Esaak: What Are the Visual Arts? In: ThoughtCo. August 4, 2017, accessed February 26, 2018 .