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.