Art History Timelines from Pre-History to the Present

In Five Easy Steps

Below you will find that which "they" (who say many things) call The Big Picture: the entirety of art history broken up, chronologically, into five chunks. Have no fear. The first 30,400 years are taken care of in one fell swoop.
of 05
Image © University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology; Used with permission.
Great Lyre from the "King's Grave" (detail: front panel) (Mesopotamian, ca. 2650-2550 B.C.). Shell and bitumen. © University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

This timeline covers ca. 30,000 B.C. to ca. 400 A.D. or, if you prefer, fertility statuettes and bone flutes to roughly the Fall of Rome. Prehistory, Western Ancient and Classical civilizations, and even your early Chinese dynasties and periods all have their dates listed here. More »
of 05

Medieval to Early Renaissance Art

© Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Venice; used with permission
Workshop of Giotto di Bondone (Italian, ca. 1266/76-1337). Two Apostles, 1325-37. Tempera on panel. 42.5 x 32 cm (16 3/4 x 12 9/16 in.). © Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Venice

Look here for dates between the years 400-1400 A.D., and marvel that some still refer to this millennium as the Dark Ages. Yes, migration period art was portable by necessity (and much of it remains lost), but the single biggest counterargument to "Dark Ages" lays in the words "illuminated manuscript."
of 05

Renaissance to Early Modern Art

© Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; used with permission
Johannes Vermeer (Dutch, 1632-1675). The Milkmaid, ca. 1658. Oil on canvas. 17 7/8 x 16 1/8 in. (45.5 x 41 cm). SK-A-2344. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. © Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

After the long Italian Renaissance, Northern Renaissance and Baroque periods were over, we began to see new movements appear with greater frequency. This timeline covers the years 1400-1880, and a multitude of readers' favorites from 15th Century Italian art to the French Impressionists.
of 05

Modern Art

© 2009 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris; used with permission
Fernand Léger (French, 1881-1955). The Mechanic, 1920. Oil on canvas. 45 5/8 x 35 in. (115.9 x 88.9 cm). Purchased 1966. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. © 2009 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Modern Art runs from 1880 to 1970 on this timeline, and they were an extremely busy 90 years indeed. Not only had the Impressionists opened the floodgates on new paths to take, individual artists such as Picasso and Duchamp were themselves responsible for creating multiple movements. Heady artistic times and a long list of dates await you here.
of 05

Contemporary Art

© Ellsworth Kelly; used with permission
Ellsworth Kelly (American, b. 1923). Blue Yellow Red IV, 1972. Oil on three canvas panels. 43 x 42 in. overall (109.2 x 106.7 cm). The Eli and Edythe L. Broad Collection, Los Angeles / © Ellsworth Kelly

We are roughly 40 years (1970-Present) in to the Contemporary timeline and, interestingly, either fewer movements are identifying themselves as such or art history simply hasn't caught up yet with those that have. Still, here is a growing list of Posts-, News-, Neues- and Neos- along with a sprinkling of contemporary -isms.