The dominant visual language of European painting from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century, history paintings were formidable in their monumental scale, ambitious moral lessons, and intricate narratives. With the rise of modernist avant-gardes, the genre receded from the forefront of artistic production into the realm of nostalgia. Yet history painting cast a shadow that would subtly colour even the works that sought to displace it. Exploring the resilience of this distinctive mode of visual representation, What Was History Painting and What Is It Now? brings together an internationally distinguished group of scholars to trace the endurance, adaptation, and mutation of history painting. These studies offer a reexamination of the fortunes of the genre from North America to Europe and Africa. Organized around illuminating themes, the book explores the creation of an audience attuned to the genre's didactic aims, the entry of history painting into the marketplace of commercial art and attractions, and the reimagination of the mode in response to the edicts of modern and contemporary art. Spanning the full range and diversity of history painting, this collection is a broad reconsideration of the tradition and the vibrant ways in which it resonates through the art of the present.
Mark Salber Phillips is professor emeritus of history at Carleton University. Jordan Bear is associate professor of the history of art at the University of Toronto.
"One of the most engaging and provocative collections of essays that I've read in some time." Douglas Fordham, University of Virginia
"This coherent and well-integrated collective work is the result of a brilliant idea, that of rejecting a simple definition of history painting and a simple story of the decline of a genre, accepting rival definitions and replacing 'decline' with 'change.' It breaks new ground and should inspire further research." Peter Burke, Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge, and author of Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe