History Painting and Realism

History painting dates back to the Renaissance and was long considered to be the "grand genre". Nevertheless it has its peak in the 19th century forged by Neoclassicism and Romanticism. There it became the artistic contribution in the process of the construction of National Identities of the European and American nations.

At the same time history painting under the influence of historism pretended to be "realistic", to show history how it has been. Above all it was this pretension that led to the great failure of History painting AND Realism at the end of the century.

When artists and their public realized that telling history always will be subjective and a painting will always be an illusion Realism and history painting lost their ground to modern painting.


David: Napoleon Fuessli: Ruetlischwur Pradilla: Alfonso I Gonzalez: Foundation of Lima


Actual Repercussions

Today, we count history painting largely among the typical kitsch of the 19th Century. Many of the once famous artworks have long been hidden in the depots of the museums, and numerous art historians wished their creators on history's garbage dump, which were therefore frequently ignored in encyclopedias.

But history painting hasn't disappeared completely. Once you know some of the images, you met them again today on many occasions. Magazines like to use them as cheap illustrations, some decorate the covers of historical novels, others the covers of heavy metal CDs, and there is probably not a single online shop of posters, which at least didn't offer some of them. Ridley Scott was inspired by a painting by Gérôme to make his film "Gladiator". All the modern fantasy art (whether it is art, is another question) would be unthinkable without 19th Century history painting. And not at last current design, advertising and photography pump a lot of subjects, topics, signs and symbols from good old history painting.


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