5 min readMay 21, 2021

First of all, it is necessary to define the concept of style and its interpretation in the world of fine art. After all, the definition of this term can vary significantly depending on the field of its use. The boundaries between such concepts as style or genre are quite blurred. What is a style in painting?

Style is a set of criteria united by the idea, technique and certain socio-cultural phenomena. In this regard, each style is representative of its time. Moreover, there is a close relationship between them, as they often move smoothly from one to another, being in constant development, mixing and confrontation.

In contemporary art criticism, there is no unambiguous interpretation of the concept. Style and direction are rather synonymous and reflect the same criteria that unite the objects of art in the world of painting.

It is quite difficult to trace the origin and development of each style, but it is possible to identify the main ones, which are the ancestors and combine common characteristics for certain categories. Below are the main styles of painting according to the historical eras they characterize.

Romanesque style (X-XIII) — was dominant in medieval Europe, characterized by Christian themes, observance of strict symmetry of images, hierarchy of depicted elements and non-observance of proportions.

One striking example of the Romanesque style is the illustration of the “Three Magi” from the St. Albans Psalter.

Gothic style (XIII-XVI) — realistic portrayal of people, the depiction of religious and everyday scenes, special attention is given to the suffering of the heroes of paintings. It was actively used in the book miniatures of medieval Europe.

Famous examples of works in the Gothic style are: “The Road to Calvary,” by Simone Martini; “Wheel of the Ten Ages of Man,” a miniature from Robert de Lisle’s Psalter.

Renaissance (XIV-XVI) — transition from the Middle Ages to the New Age, characterized by the transmission of perspective, creating a more truthful representation of reality. Religious scenes are filled with a more down-to-earth subject, a clear reference to the subjects of antiquity.

Today, a significant proportion of the most outstanding paintings belong to this era. For example, Leonardo da Vinci’s Gioconda, Raphael Santi’s Transfiguration, Michelangelo Buonarroti’s Doni Tondo.

Baroque (XVI-XVIII) — the result of the contradiction between church and secular vision of the world, characterized by intentional luxury, solemnity and excess of decorative elements. This style was mainly used for portraits of that time. The most notable examples of this style are Anthony van Dyck’s “The Holy Family”; Caravaggio’s “The Musicians”; and Velázquez’s “Las Meninas”.

Classicism (XVII-XIX) — is based on antique art, characterized by brevity and logic. It is distinguished by the idealization of human figure and mythological subjects.

Examples of famous paintings of this era are: “Death of Marat,” by Jacques-Louis David; “The Last Day of Pompeii,” by Karl Bryullov.

Sentimentalism (XVIII) — based on the idea of eliciting an emotional response from the viewer, mainly sympathy or compassion. Characterized by scenes from rural life or from the life of common people.

Striking examples are: “Head of a Young Woman,” by Jean-Baptiste Greuze; “Gabrielle Arnaud,” by Louis Leopold Boilly.

Rococo (XVIII-XIX) — emerged as a result of the late Baroque. Distinctive features include abundant decoration, intimate and flirtatious characters, and a light color scheme. Mostly depicts scenes from the life of the elite, or has pastoral and mythological subjects.

Some of the best known works in the Rococo style are: “Portrait of Madame de Pompadour,” by François Boucher; “The Swing,” by Jean-Honoré Fragonard; and “Les Plaisirs du Bal” by Antoine Watteau.

Romanticism (XVIII-XIX) — highlights individuality, elevates its idealistic aspirations, characterized by the cultivation of human nature, fairy-tale and mythological motifs. Also, a characteristic feature is the presence of many important small details. Among the famous paintings are: “The Duchess of Alba”, Francisco Goya; “The Death of Sardanapalus” by Eugene Delacroix; “The Rider” by Karl Bryullov.

Realism (XIX) — the main idea is a truthful and realistic portrayal of the world around. The style is characterized by sensuality, emotionality and naturalistic portrayal of characters. Genre scenes from the lives of common people prevail.

Excellent examples are the following: “Fishermen at Menton” by Jules Breton; “Weavers” by Gustave Courbet; “The Luncheon on the Grass” by Edouard Manet.

Naturalism (XIX) is based on the desire to depict reality as objectively and impartially as possible, artistic knowledge is likened to scientific knowledge. Characteristically depicting the physiological manifestations of man and his anatomical features, scenes of cruelty and violence.

The vivid examples of this style are: “Haymaking” byJules Bastien-Lepage; “The Return of The Flock” by Anton Mauve;

Impressionism (XIX) — transfer of feelings and emotions of the author from what he saw is the fundamental idea of this style. It is characterized by images of objects without outlines, the virtual absence of black color, the application of fresh brushstrokes on the surface of the canvas that has not yet dried. Works are full of lightness, sincerity of feelings and frankness of emotions.

Illustrative examples are: “Water Lilies”by Claude Monet; “The Umbrellas” by Pierre-Auguste Renoir; “Jockeys Before the Race” by Edgar Degas.

Symbolism (XIX — XX) — is one of the largest trends at the turn of the XIX and XX centuries. It was opposed to impressionism and realism, reflected a negative attitude to bourgeois values and expressed a desire to find spiritual freedom. Characterized by a desire for experimentation, mystery and understatement of subjects, mysticism. The most popular subjects were religion and the occult, often depicting the tragic relationship between love and death.

Famous paintings are: “The Yellow Christ” by Paul Gauguin; “The Wounded Angel” by Hugo Simberg.

Primitivism (XIX — XX) — deliberate simplification of the depicted subject. The underlying idea is the spread of art among the people.

Examples of works in this style are: “Actress Margarita” by Niko Pirosmani; “The Sleeping Gypsy” by Henri Rousseau.

Art Nouveau (XIX — XX) is characterized by the stylization of directions of art from different epochs. This style is based on principles of decorativeness, ornamentality and asymmetry. It is characterized by the rejection of angles and straight lines in favor of more natural curved outlines.

Masterpieces of Art Nouveau are considered: “The Kiss” by Gustav Klimt or “The Supper” by Leon Bakst.

Modernism (XX) is the general name of art movements at the beginning of the XX century, characterized by the rejection of the forms of aesthetics of the past and the expression of the artist’s free views. The main goal of the styles that modernism brings together is to create original works, using new means in the fine arts.