What Are the Major Period in Western Art History?

Art|Art History

Western art history traces its roots back to the centuries-old traditions of European painting, sculpture, and architecture. While it encompasses a vast array of styles, periods, and movements, there are four major periods that define the trajectory of art history in the Western world: the Ancient Period, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Modern Period.

The Ancient Period covers a broad span of time from the beginnings of human civilization up until the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 CE. This era is characterized by its monumental architecture such as Stonehenge and other megalithic structures as well as its dynamic painting styles as seen in Egyptian wall paintings and Greek vase painting.

The Middle Ages, also known as medieval art, began around 476 CE with the fall of Rome and lasted until about 1400 CE. This period is marked by religious iconography such as illuminated manuscripts and stained glass windows. It is also known for its complex architecture such as Gothic cathedrals.

The Renaissance, which began in Italy around 1400 CE, marked a shift towards more naturalistic painting techniques with an emphasis on perspective and light. This period is also known for its robust patronage system which enabled many famous works of art to be created during this time including Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling frescoes.

The Modern Period, beginning around 1800 CE with Romanticism in Europe, heralded a new era of art production marked by an explosion of innovative movements such as Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art.


Western art history has evolved over centuries with four major periods that have shaped it – The Ancient Period (4th century BC – 476 CE), The Middle Ages (476-1400 CE), The Renaissance (1400-1800 CE) and The Modern Period (1800 to present). Each period brought with it unique artistic styles and mediums that have greatly impacted the trajectory of Western art.