View Full Version : Classical Portrait Painting Defined

04-03-2016, 02:15 PM
Sought, but couldn't find a good definition of classical painting. Surely, when referencing classical portrait painting, there exists some reasonably definitive description.

Yes, I understand it may be "simple," but when searching the Internet I came across all sorts of definitions - including time periods (1775-1825), but then found the contradictory reference to classical art referring back to the Greek, etc.

Okay, when a portrait artist is said to be using/teaching/relying on classical techniques, what is that?

05-10-2016, 09:43 PM
"Classical" isn't a term that has much meaning in the context of art other than as a general catch-all term meaning art dating from the ancient Greek and Roman periods. "Classical painting" is meaningless because the Greeks and Romans generally didn't paint.

But what I think what you're trying to describe is simply known as figurative or "representational" art... as opposed to abstract art.

Representational art is a broad term simply meaning any art from any period that is clearly based on something that actually exists, and actually looks like the thing it purports to be. So a painting of a tree that looks like a real tree is representational. Usually people use the term "figurative" instead if they're talking about a human figure that looks like a real human figure - the two terms are interchangeable.

Basically, a painting of anything that looks like a thing that truly exists can be called representational.

The truth is a lot of people get the terms confused even when they've a moderate amount of art history knowledge. Classical realism is a good example - people often think it simply means "art that looks real" but it's a late western resurrection of classicism - a period of European art and literature which aimed to restore the values and virtues of "high art" dating from the Roman/Greek world.

Art history attracts a lot of snobs looking to have a set of phrases to get one up on their neighbour, so be wary of becoming too obsessed by these terms.

The reason you had a problem finding your term is that art historians tend to study and describe particular *schools* of art or regions of art; these zones of expertise are usually very narrow. Hence saying "Italian art" is pretty meaningless - Venetian late-renaissance painting has little to do with Pisan classical sculpture, for example.

If you just want to describe ancient Roman and/or Greek art then "classical art" might work...but it's not a term most scholars use because it's too broad and doesn't say much.

As for modernism...frankly it's a load of crap :-)