Remember that thread I made on the forums? This one. I thought it'd be nice to make a few posts on the major art periods and styles here, and fill them with juicy links to juicy pictures. Again, I only have a very general understanding of art history, so I won't be discussing the underlying reasons for how things went in great depth. My goal is more to give a general overview of how art looked at different periods of time in different places.
Let's start chronologically, with the first period of modern western painting: the Renaissance. It is very difficult to define exactly when the renaissance started and ended, you could say that it started already in the 13 hundreds, but the high renaissance is really the first 20 years of the 15 hundreds. What happened in the early renaissance is that artists started treating the picture plane like a window into a space, as opposed to a surface onto which you would paint symbols. The discovery of how perspective works was hugely important too.
The most famous artists of the high renaissance is of course Leonardo da Vinci(1452-1519), Michelangelo (1475-1564) and Raphael (1483-1520). But there are loads of other important figures, and this is still keeping within Italy. Titian (1488-1576), Andrea del Sarto (1486-1530), Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506), Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449-1494) and Paolo Uccello (1397-1475) are just a tiny few Italian renaissance painters of note.
North of the alps, Germany and the Netherlands had their own renaissance going on parallel to the Italian one. The art here is often more earthy and rough compared to the endlessly refined idealizations of the Italian painters. Some of the most famous artists include: Hans Memling (1435-1494), Jan van Eyck (1394-1441), Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516), Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553), Mathias Grünewald (1470-1528), Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) and, my personal favourite, Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543).
EDIT: oh, I forgot to mention an important thing about the Northern Renaissance: the Reformation of the church. Since a lot of reformers saw religious art, especially of saints, to be one of the evils of the catholic church, we see a lot more different subject matters in northern painting than in Italy, where you almost only see religious subjects or portraits of wealthy patrons. Granted, there's a lot of this going on north of the Alps too, but there's also still lifes and genre painting, which is an important ground for the still lifes and genre painting going on during the baroque in these countries.
When I first started getting an understanding of art history, the renaissance wasn't my favourite period. I liked the Baroque and the late 19th century better. I guess it was the realism in these periods that caught me; while I thought the renaissance was interesting from a historical viewpoint, I didn't think it was as relevant to me and my sensibilities as an artist. Also, I thought the renaissance was mostly the Mona Lisa and the Sistine Chapel. Now that I've seen a lot more art from different artists and different periods within the renaissance, I realize the range of styles and subject matter there is, and I'm totally in love with the period. So if you don't think it's an interesting period, give it a try, check out some of the links and look around the Art Renewal site, and read more about in on Wikipedia or in a book (remember? They're the things with paper pages in them). It's a fascinating art period, and definitely relevant to anyone that wants to create anything imaginative.
That's it for me today, see you later for a look at the Baroque!