Pictures of Everyday Life: Genre Painting in Europe, 1500-1900

Pictures of Everyday Life: Genre Painting in Europe, 1500-1900

Pictures of Everyday Life: Genre Painting in Europe, 1500-1900

Pictures of Everyday Life: Genre Painting in Europe, 1500-1900

Excerpt

Genre is a French word meaning kind or sort or variety (Latin genus, Greek genos, i.e., family or race). In the development of literary criticism during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the word came into use for designating types of subject matter and their appropriate literary forms. Thus a Renaissance writer might compose a poem in the lyric, the dramatic, or the epic genre, all corresponding to Greek and Roman classifications which were the Italians' revered models. The poet's form, his meter and mood, would depend upon the subject he had chosen.

In the plastic arts a similar hierarchy of subject matter, or graduated scale of genres, came to be agreed upon. However, it was barely conceded during these four centuries when Classicist art was dominant in Europe (c. 1500-1900) that a serious painter would consider anything outside of the realm of "Historical Painting," which was the supreme genre. Portraiture was more acceptable than the other genres of painting on a lower level, because it portrayed individual human beings; but in the opinion of Classicists and later Neo-Classicists, straight landscapes, still-lifes, or scenes from everyday life were out of the question--unless for irresponsible eccentrics or, as they said, for such "low-class painters as the Hollanders."

Those Italian art academies founded by Mannerist painters and critics in the sixteenth century, and inspired by the lofty ideas of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, were determined that an artist should develop himself as a great spiritual leader, a superior being. Like the poet, therefore, whose prestige must also be attained by the artist, the painter might persuade only through the most sublime and uplifting of moral themes. As a painter of Histories, his subjects must be taken from poetry, history, or religious writings; never from ordinary life.

Since there could be only these kinds of superior subjects, all other genres, in the course of time, came to be lumped together without too much distinction, although when they were rated, it was on a declining scale. Finally, by the eighteenth century, while "Historical Painting" remained absolute and supreme, not requiring a designation of rank, these minor genres came to be referred to simply as genre. Even as late as Diderot and the French Revolution, genre painting in France included portraiture, landscape and seascape, still-life, animals, interiors, and scenes of everyday life.

Apparently it was only during the nineteenth century that all these separate subjects, with the exception of scenes of everyday life, became independently-named categories of . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.