Definition of Art History in English

The history of art is a discipline whose object of study is art and its development and evolution throughout the history of mankind.

As a general rule, art history does not study all artistic disciplines, but only the higher arts, also called fine arts (painting, sculpture, architecture, music, dance, literature), excluding minor or applied arts, such as art. Craft, design and composition.

History of the arts

The origin of the arts is uncertain and implies not only aesthetics but also the awareness of the creation of a work of art. Some art historians have defined the cradle of the birth of art in the cave of Chauvet, where the oldest discovered cave painting is found, dating back approximately 30,000 years.

Subsequently, historians classify art by periods, which in turn are divided into styles and, at present, art is known by schools and artistic trends.

In this sense, rock art would be the first art form. Then, there are the arts that emerged from ancient civilizations before the fall of the Roman Empire (476 BC) such as art in Egypt, India, Persia, Armenia, China, Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome.

Since the fifth century, when the Middle Ages began, styles and their influences are more defined, as shown in the following table.

Art timeline

Below is a very general summary of the most important arts and artistic trends by historical period:


  • Paleolithic: Rock paintings
  • Mesolithic: Rock paintings
  • Neolithic: Megalithic architecture, ceramics, statuary.

Old age

  • Mesopotamia
    • Sumerian, Akkadian and Neosumerian Period
    • Paleo-Babylonian period
    • Assyrian period
    • Neo-Babylonian period
  • Ancient Egypt Ancient Empire
    • Middle empire
    • New Empire
    • Late Period
    • Greco-Roman domination
  • Classical antiquity
    • Ancient Greece
      • Archaic art
      • Classic art
      • Hellenistic art
    • Ancient Rome
      • Roman art

Middle Ages

  • High Middle Ages
    • Pale-christian art
    • Byzantine art
    • Germanic art
    • Pre-Romanesque art
    • Islamic art
    • Romanesque art
  • Middle Ages
    • Carolingian art.
    • Romanesque art.
    • Gothic art

Modern age

  • Renaissance
    • Renaissance art
    • Mannerism
  • Baroque
    • Baroque art
    • Rococo art

Contemporary age

  • Modernity – 2nd half 18th century
    • Neoclassicism
    • Romanticism
  • Modernity – 19th century
    • Realism
    • Naturalism
    • Symbolism
    • Impressionism
    • Postimpressionism
    • Modernism or Art Nouveau
  • First half of the 20th century (first wave of avant-garde):
    • Expressionism
    • Fauvism
    • Cubism
    • Futurism
    • Abstract art:
      • Lyrical abstraction
      • Suprematism
      • Constructivism
      • Neoplasticism
    • Dadaism
    • Surrealism
    • Art deco
  • Second half of the 20th century (second wave of avant-garde)
    • Informalism
    • New figuration
    • Op art or kinetic art
    • Pop art or pop art
    • New realism
    • Action art (Happening, performance, installation, etc.)
    • Povera art
    • Minimalism
    • Hyperrealism
    • Conceptual art
  • XX-XXI century:
    • Contemporary art
    • Postmodern art

In this way, art history not only studies the different artistic manifestations, but also establishes periodizations (prehistoric, ancient, classical, medieval, modern, contemporary), classifies styles (Gothic, Baroque, Neoclassical, etc.), and delimits movements, trends and schools (romanticism, symbolism, expressionism, Dadaism, surrealism, etc.).

Art history as a discipline

The history of art as a study discipline arises in the Renaissance thanks to the work Lives of the most excellent painters, sculptors and architects (1550), of the Italian Giorgio Vasari (1511-15574) considered one of the first historians of art.

In the beginning, art history focused on the study of Western art, but over time it was expanding its sights towards other cultures and civilizations, other forms of expression and other cultural values.

The degree in art history trains art historians. They are professionals with a historical, critical and theoretical training on the phenomenon of art in humanity, and can work in museums, institutions, foundations or galleries that are responsible for the dissemination, study and conservation of artistic heritage.

The history of art as a discipline of study is multidisciplinary, incorporating knowledge of history, philosophy, aesthetics, aesthetic values, iconography, semiotics, theory of art and others for evaluation and critical assessment of artistic expression in different cultures, periods and styles.