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Italian art describes the visual arts in Italy from ancient times to the present. In Ancient Rome, Italy was a centre for art and architecture. There were many Italian artists during the Gothic and Medieval periods, and the arts flourished during the Italian Renaissance. Later styles in Italy included Mannerism, Baroque, Rococo, and I Macchiaioli. Futurism developed in Italy in the 20th century. Florence is a well known city in Italy for its museums of art.

Italy did not exist as a state until the country's unification in 1861. Due to this comparatively late unification, and the historical autonomy of the regions that comprise the Italian Peninsula, many traditions and customs that are now recognized as distinctly Italian can be identified by their regions of origin. Despite the political and social isolation of these regions, Italy's contributions to the cultural and historical heritage of Europe remain immense. Italy is home to the greatest number of UNESCOmarker World Heritage Site (44) to date, and is believed to contain over 70% of the world's art and architecture.


Etruscan bronze figures and a terracotta funerary reliefs include examples of a vigorous Central Italian tradition which had waned by the time Rome began building her empire on the peninsula.


Aldobrandini Wedding (1st century BC) from the Vatican.

The Roman period, as we know it, begins after the Punic Wars and the subsequent invasion of the Greek cities of the Mediterranean. The Hellenistic styles then current in Greek civilization were adopted.

The cultic and decorative use of sculpture and pictorial mosaic survive in the ruins of both temples and villas.

As the empire matured, other less naturalistic, sometimes more dramatic, sometimes more severe, styles were developed—especially as the center of empire moved to eastern Italy and then to Constantinople.
San Zeno Chapel, early 9th century.
Santa Prassede, Rome.


With the fall of its western, the Roman Empire continued for another 1000 years under the leadership of Constantinople(Istanbul). Italy remained under strong Byzantine influence until around the year 1000. Byzantine artisans were used in important projects throughout Italy, and Byzantine styles of painting can be found up through the 14th century.

Notable examples of Byzantine art in Italy are the mosaics of San Vitalemarker and other monuments in Ravennamarker, St. Mark's Basilicamarker in Venicemarker, Santa Prassedemarker in Romemarker, and, in the south of the peninsula, St. Mark's Oratory in Rossano Calabromarker and the Cattolica of Stilo. Byzantine frescoes can be found in Castelseprio.

Early Middle Ages and Romanesque

Gothic period

Madonna by Gentile da Fabriano.

The Gothic period marks a transition from the medieval to the Renaissance and is characterised by the styles and attitudes nurtured by the influence of the Dominican and Franciscan order of monks, founded by Saint Dominic (1170 to 1221) and Saint Francis of Assisi (1181 to 1226) respectively.

It was a time of religious disputes within the church. The Franciscans and Dominicans were founded as an attempt to address these disputes and bring the Roman Catholic church back to basics. The early days of the Franciscans are remembered especially for the compassion of Saint Francis, while the Dominicans are remembered as the order most responsible for the beginnings of the Inquisition.

Gothic architecture began in northern Europe and spread southward to Italy.

The earliest important monument of the Italian Gothic style is the great church at Assisi. The Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi (St Francis) is a World Heritage Site. The Franciscan monastery and the lower and upper church (Basilica inferiore e superiore) of St Francis were begun immediately after his canonization in 1228, and completed 1253. The lower church has frescos by Cimabue and Giotto di Bondone. In the Upper church are frescos of scenes in the life of St Francis by Giotto and his circle.

Cenni di Petro (Giovanni) Cimabue (c.1240-1302} and Giotto di Bondone (better known as just Giotto) (1267-1337), were two of the first painters who began to move toward the role of the artist as a creative individual, rather than a mere copier of traditional forms. They began to take an interest in improving the depiction of the figure. The Byzantine style was unrealistic and could be improved upon by a return to forms achieved in ancient Greece.

Other terms sometimes applied to describe the artists of this period are The Primitives and the Early Renaissance.


The Renaissance is said to have begun in 14th century Italy. The rediscovery of Ancient Greek and Roman art and classics brought better proportions, perspective and use of lighting in art. Wealthy families, such as the Medicis, and the papacy served as patrons for many Italian artists, including Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarroti Donatello, Sandro Botticelli and Raphael.

The focus of most art remained religious. Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapelmarker, and sculpted his famous "Pietà". Leonardo painted the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. Raphael painted several Madonnas. Both Michelangelomarker and Donatello sculpted visions of David.

The gothic period was also known as the baseline for the modern era of art, followed by the remaining articles of faith.


As the Renaissance had moved from formulaic depiction to a more natural observation of the figure, light and perspective, so the subsequent, Mannerist, period is marked by a move to forms conceived in the mind. Once the ideals of the Renaissance had had their effect artists such as Giulio Romano (c. 1499-1546) were able to introduce personal elements of subjectivity to their interpretation of visual forms. The perfection of perspective, light and realistic human figures can be thought of as impossible to improve upon unless another factor is included in the image, namely the factor of how the artist feels about the image. This emotional content in Mannerism is also the beginnings of a movement which would eventually, much later, become Expressionism in the 19th century. The difference between Mannerism and Expressionism is really a matter of degree. Vango was also a famous Italian artist. Guilo Romano was a student a protege of Raphael. Other Italian Mannerist painters included Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino, students of Andrea del Sarto. The Spanish Mannerist El Greco was a student of the Italian Renaissance painter Titian. The most famous Italian painter of the Mannerist style and period is Tintoretto (Jacopo Robusti) (1518-1594).


From Mannerism onward there are more and more art movements representing tides of opinion pushing in various different directions, causing art philosophy over the centuries from about the 16th century onward to gradually fragment into the characteristic isms of Modern art.

The work of Caravaggio (1571-1610), stands as one of the most original and influential contributions to 16th century European painting. He did something completely controversial and new. He painted figures, even those of classical or religious themes, in contemporary clothing or as ordinary living men and women. This in stark opposition to the usual trend of the time to idealise the religious or classical figure. Caravaggio set the style for many years to come, although not everyone followed his example. Some, like Agostino Carracci (or Caracci) (1557 to 1602) and his brothers were all influenced by Caravaggio but leaned toward the idealism and spirituality from which Caravaggio was perceived to have strayed.

Caravaggism is the term describing the style and technique adopted by artists such as Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi, Cavalier d'Arpino, Mattia Preti.


Rococo was the tail end of the Baroque period, mainly in Francemarker of the 18th century. The main artist of the Rococo style in Italy was Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696 to 1770).

Impressionism and Post-Impressionism

Italy produced its own form of Impressionism, the Macchiaioli artists, who were actually there first, before the more famous Impressionists: Giovanni Fattori, Silvestro Lega, Telemaco Signorini, Giuseppe Abbati.Italian impressionists: Federico Zandomeneghi, Giuseppe De Nittis.



The great Italian Expressionist was Amedeo Modigliani (1884 to 1920,) Lorenzo Viani.

Cubism, Futurism

Futurism was a movement inspired by modernity, industry and movement created by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. The most famous artists were Umberto Boccioni, Balla, Carrà, Fortunato Depero.

Metaphysical painting and Surrealism

Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978) was the Italian painter who founded the Metaphysical school of painting and was an enormous influence upon the Surrealists.

Classical modernism of the 20th century

At the beginning of the 20th century, Italian sculptors and painters joined the rest of Western Europe in the revitalization of a simpler, more vigorous, less sentimental Classical tradition, that was applied in liturgical as well as decorative and political settings. The leading sculptors included: Libero Andreotti, Arturo Martini, Giacomo Manzù, Nicola Neonato, Pietro Guida, Marcello Mascherini.

Italian Modern Art

The leading sculptors from 1930-40 to 2000 included :Marino Marini, Emilio Greco, Pino Pascali, Mario Ceroli, Giovanni e Arnaldo Pomodoro, Umberto Mastroianni, Ettore Colla.

The Leading painters from 1930-40 to 2000 included:Alberto Savinio, Antonio Donghi, Giorgio Morandi, Alberto Magnelli, Elio Carletti, Felice Casorati, Roberto Melli, Corrado Cagli, Gianfilippo Usellini, Pietro Annigoni, Renato Guttuso, Lucio Fontana, Giovanni Capogrossi, Enrico Accatino, Fausto Pirandello, Afro Basaldella, Alberto Burri, Mimmo Rotella, Franco Nonnis, Domenico Gnoli, Piero Manzoni, Emilio Tadini, Salvatore Provino.

Important movement was Arte povera.
”Composizione”, 1959, Enrico Accatino

Post-Modern Italian art

Post-Modernism is a highly controversial label which generally refers to a period of time after the project(s) of modernism have ended and in which all time periods and styles are not necessarily separated anymore. Just as paints of different colours can be mixed on a palette, so all the styles of antiquity, gothic, renaissance, baroque, expressionist, cubist, surrealist, magic realism, etc. can all be merged and produce hybrids which access and are informed by all the knowledge of art history. Nothing is positively forbidden. Even Bad art and Kitsch are part of the vocabulary employed to question the Metanarratives of art (and world) philosophy.

Good examples of Italian Post-Modern painting are Mario Schifano, Sandro Chia, Francesco Clemente, Enzo Cucchi, Giulio Paolini.Figuratives: Gianfranco Ferroni, Carlo Maria Mariani.

Contemporary Art

The Venice Art Biennal stands as one of the most important international art events in the world.Main artists: Maurizio Cattelan, Fabrizio Plessi, Francesco Vezzoli, Vanessa Beecroft.


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