Paleolithic Art (Old Stone Age)

30,000 BC - 10,000 BC
Otherwise known as Old Stone Age, the Paleolithic period marked the development of the human species. Paleolithic men were nomade hunters and gatherers. They lived in caves with their stone tools and sometimes they even decorated their surroundings with cave paintings and rock carvings. Prehistoric paint was created by mixing dirt, ground up rocks and animal fat. Sometimes, bits of burnt wood were ground up, mixed with animal fat and used for painting as well. Cave paintings aside, one of the earliest examples of prehistoric art is the Venus of Willendorf - a limestone carving of a female exhibiting fertility. Generally speaking, prehistoric art had a great deal to do with magic, fertility and hunting.

Venus of Willendorf; 24,000-22,000 BCE
Oolitic limestone; 13.6cm high
Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna

Mesolithic Art (Middle Stone Age)

10,000 - 8000 BC

Otherwise known as Middle Stone Age, the Mesolithic period occurred more than 10,000 years prior to today. During this time, the people of the earth were just beginning to settle in communities as they started to grow plants and keep animals in their sight. It was also during this time that the creative folks began to make pottery - which incidentally was useful for storing food.

See ancient history encyclopedia

Neolithic Art (New Stone Age)

8000 - 3000 BC Otherwise known as New Stone Age, the Neolithic period was a time when people were living in real village-like settings, with farms including animals (now domesticated), crops (grains and eventually rice) and even items that we consider art. Things like pottery and woven items were typical creations of the people of this time period. Functional art you might say ...

Mesopotamian Art

3500 - 331 BC

When we talk about Mesopotamian art, we are referring to the art of the ancient world which extends from Turkey to Iran. This lengthy stage in art can be broken down into three (sometimes four) key periods.

3500 - 1750 BC: Sumerian/Akkadian

The Sumerian people lived in southern Mesopotamia. The hands of the people portrayed in Sumerian stone carvings are often shown pressed together and the men depicted have large faces with even larger beards. It was not unusual for the Sumerians to incorporate finely polished stones in their carvings as highlights for eyes.

1000 - 539 BC: Assyrians and neo-Babylonian

The Assyrians crafted limestone reliefs that were quite large in size and importance. These reliefs were used as decorations for the palace walls of ruler King Ashurnasiroal.

II. Winged bulls were a common theme as were bearded faces, similar to those seen in Sumerian works. The Neo-Babylonians were led by Nebuchadnezzar - known for his conquest of Jerusalem and for the rebuilding of Babylon - to line the streets with artwork which included images of lions and dragons.

539 - 331 BC: Persian
In Persian art, the so-called animal style which uses animal motifs, can be seen in pottery and bronze sculptures.

Important Places:

Ur (Muqaiyir, Iraq)

History of Mesopotamia 1000BCE-1CE

Egyptian Art

3200 - 1070 BC

Ti Watching a Hippopotamus Hunt
c.2400 B.C, Painted limestone

Egyptian Art can be divided up into the following periods: See history of Egypt

3200 - 2185 BC: Old Kingdom
2040 - 1650 BC: Middle Kingdom
1550 - 1070 BC: New Kingdom
1370 - 1340 BC: Amarna Art
When we talk about Egyptian art, we most often talk about paintings and sculptures that were used to decorate tombs or mastabas. In ancient Egypt, there was a strong belief in the afterlife. Death was considered a necessary transition to the next world where the dead would lead a life similar to life as they knew it. This belief was the reason for the embalming of bodies, the abundance of funerary offerings, the statues, the relief carvings, the inscriptions and of course, the paintings.
The many paintings that were created in Egyptian tombs told of who and how the deceased was in life - so that he/she would continue this lifestyle in the hereafter. In these paintings, the important people were given a rather large, out of scale size, the overlapping of outlines was avoided at all costs and all parts of the body were represented as flatly and completely as possible. There's a very good reason for all of this -- by showing the Egyptians in this way, all of the body parts needed in the afterlife would be properly expressed and therefore readily available to the deceased.

The style involved:

Profile of the face
Frontal view of the eye
Frontal view of the upper body
Arms - one in front, one at the side
Profile of the legs
In Egyptian art, there was a strong sense of order, form and symbolism (certain items held certain meanings). The paintings especially were highly stylized and they told a story. The style of art in Egypt didn't change for three thousand years in part because the artists quite simply obeyed the rules set out for them.

Aegean Art

3000 - 1100 BC

Also See:
Minoan Pottery
The first in a series of articles introducing you to the beauty and wonder of this ancient art form.

Aegean Art (3000 - 1100 BC)
Minoan (Crete); Mycenean (Greece).

Aegean Art can be divided up into the following periods:

3000 - 1475 BC: Minoan (Crete)
1650 - 1100 BC: Mycenean (Greece)
The very first flowering of civilization in Greek lands took place in Crete - An island lying to the south east of the Greek mainland. Considering its small size, isolated location and somewhat unsettled history, the civilizations of the island of Crete made some truly remarkable contributions to both Greek and Western European civilizations.
From the years 2600 BC to 1500 BC, the island of Crete was the center of a wondrous civilization. "Minoan" (after the legendary King Minos) was the name given by Sir Arthur Evans (an excavator early this century of the island of Crete) to the specifically Cretan culture that would otherwise be classified as Copper and Bronze Age. Today, Minoan art and artifacts are widely known. Especially the ceramic ware created in a dazzling variety of forms, techniques and patterns.

Around the year 1500 BC, Knossos and many of the other centers of Minoan society appear to have been simultaneously overwhelmed. The most generally accepted theory is that there was a catastrophic explosion of Thera - the volcanic island located north of Crete - accompanied by a rain of volcanic matter, a tidal wave and an earthquake on Crete itself. Another theory revolves around the possibility of invaders or rebel forces attacking and burning down the palaces. Whatever the event, it marked the end of the Minoan society and culture as it had existed before.

Sometime around 1450 BC, the Myceneans came to Crete and took over the administration of the island, rebuilding the palaces and playing an active role in what was left of Minoan life. During the years following - although Minoan social, religious and artistic patterns seem to have been broken up - the arts and crafts of these people (pottery and painting) did not completely disappear (they were just altered slightly and added to by the Myceneans).

Portions of the Minoan sites were restored and reoccupied. Some Minoans founded new villages elsewhere on the island. However, for all intents and purposes, after the year 1100 BC, the Minoan culture was no more and the Mycenean culture was in full swing.

Greek Art

800 - 323 BC

Chances are, when you visualize "Greek Art" in your mind, you think of what is generally referred to as the Classical period. It was during this time that the artists and artisans portrayed perfectly proportioned bodies of young, buff men (and women). In fact, no human body - ever was - or ever will be, as well proportioned as the Greek statues. The statues at this time feature bodies which are 100% flawless - faces were created to look perfect too, in case you were wondering. The Greek ideal of beauty involved Gods looking like humans and humans looking like, well Gods.

In addition to their sculpting ability, the Greeks were masters at painting. The most complete form of Greek painting that has survived throughout the ages is that of vase painting. The black and red figure vases each had an intricate story to share.

Important Greek Works:

The Parthenon (wall friezes)
Aphrodite of Knidos
Kouros and kore figures (male and female forms)
Most everything by Polykleitos (sculptor)
Most everything by Psiax (potter/painter)
Most everything by Praxiteles (sculptor)


Head of a Blond Youth
Marble, c485 BC
Acropolis Museum, Athens

Hellenistic Art

323 - 150 BC
The Hellenistic period began with the 323 BC expiration of Alexander the Great. After his death, the ruler's empire was in a sense "liquified" and split into several different kingdoms. This was all rather symbolic of the art which was created during the years that followed the break down...

The main characteristic of the painting, architecture and sculpture of Hellenistic Greece was exaggeration. Artwork during this time expressed pain, suffering, anguish, ecstasy and all the rest of the emotions. Athletic youths were a favorite subject as were the acts of those ever popular Greek Mythological figures. This period of art is of particular importance because it was during this time that folks began collecting the stuff ...

Important Hellenistic Work:
Great Altar of Zeus, Pergamon

See ancient history of Greece

Etruscan Art

6th - 5th century BC
Mystery surrounds the Etruscans. No one knows where they originally came from and only a few of their "words" have ever been deciphered. What we do know is that the artwork the Etruscans created was influenced by earlier Greek and eastern Mediterranean constructions. Even so, the Etruscans had a style and flair all their own. Much of the ceramicware and sculptures they spent hours working on were made specifically for funerary reasons --- not unlike the earlier Egyptians - and the pieces left behind show a great deal of passion and an intense love of life.

Important Etruscan Work:
Painted Tombs of Tarquinia

Roman Art

509 BC - 337 AD
Roman art was characterized by the following:

Very large-scale creations
Events of a historical nature were depicted as were mythical scenes
Every work of art told a tale
Paintings were created by working on fresh plaster -- otherwise known as fresco painting.
Statues were made of marble
Mosaics appear most everywhere
In terms of style, when Rome conquered Greece, they "adopted" and "borrowed" their artistic concepts - thus continuing the tradition of cultural greatness. By this time, people were in the habit of collecting art and placing it in their villas so it was best not to rock the boat - so to speak.
Generally speaking, Roman artworks (specifically those works which are now considered to have been the first civic sculptures) were created to glorify those in charge. It was thought that the best way to do this was to make the art big --- really big. And so, arches, buildings and statues (eight and a half foot tall busts were not uncommon), dwarfed most everything around them. Another interesting aspect of the art of Rome is that it depicted people as they really were. After years of "faking it", portraits were crafted to look like the people they represented rather than idealized versions of the same. What a concept.

Important Roman Work:
Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius

Euro-Christian/Early Middle Ages

373 - 1453
The Middle Ages (specifically from 600 - 1350) marked an era where the chief subject matter was the Christian religion. As a result, art was almost always created as a way to serve the church and thus, share religious experiences. To be truthful, this mentality was not that far off from what Paleolithic man was doing in 25,000 BC when he created art as a way to share feelings of magic, fertility and great hunts.

The Middle Ages saw the construction enormous cathedrals complete with decorations (sculptures, paintings, mosaics). Decorated books known as illuminated manuscripts were also a common sight.

The Middle Ages included Hiberno-Saxon & Various Styles (200 - 732); Byzantine Art (400 - 1453); Islamic Art (622 - 900); Carolingian Art (732 - 900); Ottonian Art (900 - 1050); Romanesque Style (1000 - 1140) and Gothic Style (1140 - 1500)

Let's back up and begin with Hiberno-Saxon ...

Hiberno-Saxon & Various Styles

200 - 732
Many years ago - in what is now known as Europe - there were many folks who were essentially nomads meaning they roamed the earth with no real home base. There were Vikings - Scandinavian folks who carved incredible ships. There were also the Huns - a Germanic people known for their so-called "Animal Style" art in which they depicted, well, animals. Then of course there were the Celts who lived on an island off the coast of Ireland. The Celts were best known for large stone crosses, incredible metalwork and of course, illuminated manuscripts.

See list of world archeological sites and discoveries