Medieval Painting

Types of Painting


What were the Middle Ages?

The phrase “Middle Ages” quite accurately indicates something notable about a period in history that was “in the middle” between two other periods, the "classical" world of ancient Greece and Rome and the supposed rediscovery of the skills and knowledge of the classical world, and the belief that these were of a higher value, during the the Renaissance.

The Renaissance, the word was not coined until the mid-nineteenth century, was considered to be a period when the arts, architecture, painting, sculpture, literature etc) were reborn- the literal meaning of the French word “renaissance” - first rivaling and then exceeding the skills shown in painting, sculpture and literature from the Classical world.

The intervening period, often set as the period between the sack of Rome in 428 and the rise of classically-style art at the beginning of the fifteenth century was considered “the dark ages”, a time where, according to writers of the Renaissance, nothing really important had happened,where the world had produced nothing of importance and a dead period between the classical world and a rediscovery of the skills of the classical world. This is, of course, nonsense.

Why does the Middle Ages get such a bad press?

History is written by historians and the great resurgence of historical writing took place during the Renaissance. Today many people believe that the Renaissance started in Florence in Italy - something first encouraged by Florentine historians of the period and today by those involved in the tourist industry. In fact we have no idea how true this is, or indeed where we could draw a clear line to separate the Middle Ages from the Renaissance. It is certainly true that Florence was one of the largest and most wealthy cities in Europe in the late middle ages at that period - factors that would attract artists to the city and generate the production of artworks.

In attempting understand why the Middle Ages, medieval is still being used as an insult to cultures we think are more primitive than ours, has been sidelined we much first understand a little more about the Renaissance.

Two great beliefs of people living in the period we call the Renaissance are:

1) The classical period was the highest point of civilization before that time and that attempting to equal that was a worthy endeavour.

2) Anything that didn't attempt to recreate the styles of the classical world, like the great Gothic cathedrals were of lower quality. "Gothic" is an insult implying something constructed by the races that invaded and destroyed classical Rome

Therefore artistic production of the Renaissance can be recognized by buildings that try to imitate buildings of the classical period, sculpture that attempts to duplicate rediscovered classical era sculpture, often carved from marble and rarely coloured, and paintings that attempt to display a high level of realism with accurately modelled human and animal forms and the use of perspective to indicate depth.

Renaissance and later paintings generally:

a) Invite the viewer to treat the frame of a painting as a window through which to view the image. Because we are used to this convention (until abstract art of the late nineteenth century the job of a painting was generally to present a flat rendition of a three-dimensional space) art of the proceeding period, and much art from other cultures appears flat and, to our eyes, strange.

b) Show an image as if it is a snapshot. A freezing of a particular moment in time.

This image is a Renaissance painting.-