Art and paintings have naturally become a pivotal part of our daily lives.
Because the history of painting is ingrained within us!
To post a crafty Instagram story? There is painting involved.
To make a personal card for a dear friend? Again, handmade painting is a must!
To pass time when you’re bored? Art is definitely a go-to option.
In fact, our world would be incomplete and meaningless without art!
But how much do you know about the history of art?
Do you think that we can really track back to the first painting that was ever made?
Have you ever wondered “who was the first artist” and “how these ancient paintings came to be?”
Well, if you are a true art lover, then these questions are inevitable to ponder over.
You are on the right page because I have curated a brief history of painting in chronological order!
Let’s jump straight into it without further ado!
Table of contents
When Was Painting Invented?
If you think about when painting was invented, there is a lot to trace back.
The period in which painting was first discovered is recognized to be the prehistoric times.
Yes, we are talking about the time of cavemen and the stone age!
This is when nomadic people would make symbols on the rocky walls of caves and mountains.
Why was drawing so important early on in history?
Remember, when looking into the history of paintings, artistic carvings on walls were primarily used as a form of communication.
Yes, paintings were a language in its own.
The origin of painting could have been for aesthetic reasons and documentations too.
But it was definitely recognized as a language!
For that reason, finding these paintings can also be seen as a conversation between different eras.
Because these paintings unfolded a lot about painting evolution to the archeologists that studied them.
The earliest signs of paintings were found in the Spanish Caves of La Pasiega.
To be specific, the caves were Maltravieso and Ardales, which date to more than 64,000 years ago.
Who made the first painting?
No, really, “who was the first artist from the history of art?”
Paintings of the ancient times are believed to be made by primitive people.
These people were mostly cave dwellers or Neanderthals in the prehistoric era.
These people would sculpt and paint on the walls, making symbols.
These symbols acted as language in prehistoric times.
So, art came to their rescue to communicate.
However, some researchers believe that Neanderthals predated most of the earliest paintings that were found.
This creates a dilemma in understanding when art was invented exactly!
They are under speculation if it was the Homo-Sapiens who actually painted those history paintings.
Therefore, the question “Who invented painting?” or “Who was the first artist?”, are considered very vague as we can never narrow it down to a singular person.
However, it is considered that the earliest cave paintings that we can find are from the African subcontinent.
Even though we don’t know who invented art from the history of paintings, we definitely know which part of the world they were first found in.
Imagine, from drawing on cave walls, the human race grew to producing a plethora of famous paintings in the art community!
Suggested Read: 29 Famous Painters Who Created History!
How Did Early Humans Begin Painting?
When we look at the history of paintings, it’s believed that our early African ancestors began painting to communicate among themselves and leave a sign for future generations.
Due to these enhancements in humans, it is said that this ability was the greatest innovation among humans and not tools and weapons.
The first humans would blast charcoal dust onto their own hands that were placed on the cave walls using tubes made out of wood.
This created a revelation among the early humans and ignited the cognitive abilities of painting among them.
Due to this they began to paint even more complicated variations of animals and human activities.
Among these paintings, the most common was the painting of huge animals like mammoths and bison, or activities like farming and hunting of these animals.
Paintings in the Middle Ages
Following the birth and evolution of painting in the ancient age came the medieval age, where paintings as art started to take a more distinct shape.
This is where the shift happened in the history of paintings.
It changed from paintings being a language to them being an aesthetic practice.
Well, not entirely because many famous medieval artworks were used to convey religious stories.
It witnessed the uprisings of the Jewish, Islamic, and Christian religions among humans.
This gave rise to medieval paintings that were mostly religious in nature and appeased the various gods that the artists would follow.
But apart from the religious paintings, there was an explosion of famous landscape paintings that beautifully depicted the reality of the vast and serene landscapes all across the world.
Fan Kuan in the east and Jacob Van Ruisdael in the west started to make a name for their landscape with exceptional beauty and detail.
This started to attract more and more people to paintings, either to paint them or to mesmerize viewers all over the world.
Now that the world was ruled by kings and queens, the demand for paintings started to increase as they wanted paintings to increase the beauty of their palaces.
Conquerors wanted the paintings to depict their hard-fought battles, governors wanted them to depict their well-governed cities.
The medieval paintings created a new fashion among people to commission paintings according to their own tastes, which created a new boom in the painting industry.
Paintings From the Renaissance
Painting was at its most popular stage ever in history as the globe entered the Renaissance era.
Apart from its use as something to ponder over, paintings were now also being used as currency in the world, and this brought a new wave in the history of paintings!
Their words now held great weight in every political situation as their paintings held the power to sway the people.
These paintings that had a deeper meaning to them had started to attract viewers from all over the world.
This was considered to be the best time in the history of paintings as an art although other arts like sculpting were also gaining popularity.
This created a sense of great accomplishment among these painters and received a great deal of recognition.
Evolution of Painting into Rococo and Baroque
As the world progressed into the next stages of human evolution, so did art, and so did the history of paintings.
Coming from an all-time high, painters, as well as paintings, had gained center stage in political as well as social communities all over the world.
Again, it was used as a medium to communicate messages for different communities.
The evolution of painting also became something that represented different people and art movements.
With this rise in popularity came the rise of various movements like the Baroque cultural movement and the Rococo movement.
In the beginning, the paintings of the Baroque period were stylized with great drama, deep color, and intense light and dark shadows.
For the first time in the history of paintings, they were meant to evoke emotion out of the viewer.
This was in fact in stark contrast to the peaceful and serene paintings from the Renaissance.
From the focus on community, you can see how the history of paintings is starting to focus on the individual now.
In Italy, especially the Baroque style was epitomized by religion and mythology, often getting displayed on the roof of churches.
Whereas in the Dutch art community, easel painting of everyday subjects became more popular.
Suggested Read: 12 Rembrandt Paintings that Exhibit the Baroque Period
20th-Century And Modern Paintings
The 19th century rolled up in the art world, and the hype around painting as a household item started to die as media and technology started to take over the world.
But, it wasn’t completely dead yet, and still had a pretty strong hold on the political and social community in the Western world.
The 20th century itself was filled with turmoil, wars, and social unrest all around.
Paintings of Frida Kahlo, Jackson Pollock and Salvador Dali created a new wave and definition to modern art!
Amidst all of this, for the first time in the history of paintings as an art, multiple movements were taking place, and painters were able to choose their own genre of painting.
Famous abstract paintings from all over the world began to resonate with people like never before.
In this movement, painters were able to move away from the long-going tradition of portraying realism.
The painting had found a way to deliver messages which were deeper than what they were able to before.
This same movement took part in various ways under various different names in multiple countries.
The movement’s evolution led to what we know today as modern art and paintings.
Suggested Read: Pop Art Movement: A Revolution Against Traditional Forms Of Art
Hello my dear Readers,
Tracing our roots is a natural human tendency, but when it comes to understanding the history of paintings, it gets even more interesting.
I hope you enjoyed the read, and I would love to hear back from you.
Until next time, then
Frequently Asked Questions
The oldest painting was discovered in the caves of Maros, Indonesia, some 40,000 years ago.
The oldest known paintings of Western art are housed in France’s Grotte Chauvet.
Ancient people used to make fluid-like substances from their saliva and animal fat to create textures and hues to make cave paintings. The techniques used were spraying, either by blowing into hollow bones, or using hands and fingers.
Leonardo da Vinci is known to be the father of Renaissance because of his spectacular and unique set of paintings and art style!
Pablo Picasso is called the father of cubism for introducing such a unique art style in modern art that has never been witnessed before in the history of paintings.