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Influence of Cultural Identity on European Art

Does Cultural Identity Influence the Creation of Art? In the forth region of this series, we explore the second smallest of the world's continents, Europe.

10 Ways Cultural Identity Has Influenced European Art

European art, or rather western art, consists of a unique combination of prehistoric art, petroglyph art, and nature painting such as Paleolithic rock, cave paintings, and more.

For example, Newgrange is a prehistoric monument in County Meath, Ireland, located 8 km (5 mi) west of Drogheda on the north side of the River Boyne. It is an exceptionally grand passage tomb built during the Neolithic period, around 3200 BC, making it older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids.

Looking back to the start of European art history, it often dates back to around the 3rd millennium BC and has the art of Ancient Israel and the Ancient Aegean civilizations. Europe had multiple significant cultures prevalent at the time, alongside different forms of art such as carvings, decorated substantial standing stones and artefacts, and more.

While there exist different types of European art, there are also multiple cultural constructions of European nations that have influenced the cultures of Europe, and the identity one way or another. One way in which the cultural identity of Europe has influenced art, is by creating a central concept of the heart of Europe.

This central identity acts as a source and summary for Cultural Identity and European Integration, and paves the way for a coherent artistic development pattern in Europe.

"I grew up in Europe, where the history comes from."

Eddie Izzard

The Predominance of Central concept in Europe’s Cultural Identity

There can be one supporting quotation which can highlight the central concept, written by Paul Valéry, in his document ‘The European’ in 1924, which states:

“Partout où les noms de César, de Gaius, de Trajan et de Virgile, partout où les noms de Moïse et de St Paul, partout où les noms d’Aristote, de Platon et d’Euclide ont eu une signification et une autorité simultanées, Là est l’Europe.” 

This roughly translates into English as; that wherever the name Trajan, Caesar, Gaius, and Virgil, and whenever the names of Moses and St. Paul are mentioned, and wherever the names of Plato, Aristotle, and Euclid are significant and hold some weight, that is where Europe is.

Unlike other nations, European art’s concept is predominately defined by the desires of depths and breadth of will. The European cultural identity has been greatly influenced by the Christian church in European art before the 1800s, providing work for many artists. 

In this time period, European art was redefined according to the church and shared the same interest in similar groups – interested in heroes and heroines, mythological gods and goddesses, bizarre creatures, and tales of great wars that were not connected to anything religious.

The Cultural Identity of Europe and its root in European Art

A spectacular researcher of national identity, Anthony D. Smith, explored and scrutinized the dialogue about European identity close to the year in which the European Union was officially formed. In his statements, he was quick to point out how culture as a factor determined an entity’s identity concerning the concept of a European family of cultures. 

Moreover, the value system embedded in the European nations also illustrates how it’s impossible to separate the two, the nation, from the values. This embodiment has years of traditions and heritage, which makes it an integral part of the cultural identity, and any European art is to showcase the embodiment naturally. Smith also states:

“…how far those shared traditions and heritages have become part of each of Europe’s national identities, how far each national tradition has embraced and assimilated these ‘trans-European cultural heritages” (Smith 1992).

European people’s cultural values include the Roman law, the parliamentary institution, political democracy, Christian ethics, Renaissance humanism, empiricism, classicism, rationalism, and a lot more. 

These vast values are instilled in European art, and looking at the masterpieces created by popular European artists, it is quick to spot the unity in diversity their art displays. The culture of Europe, or rather a European identity, revolves around the central formula, the family of cultures, and has deeper roots than what can be mentioned in literature.

The Cultural Construction of European Nations Through European Art Movements

In terms of European Nations development, a lot had happened in the 19th Century; it was marked as a period when Europe experienced profound changes in multiple areas, be it politically or geographically. At the time, Europe went under constant development and was in a state of flux in France, Holy Roman, breakdown of the Spanish, and German Empire growth. 

This period was when substantial social change and urbanization happened for all of Europe, and the case for European art was no different. The cultural identity of Europe also revolutionized European art over the course of 100 years. The transition was slow, from historic old master styles to the new modernity. However, it can be viewed in ten predominant periods in which cultural identities of Europe played a part in shaping European art, and some of the greatest European Artists.

1. Renaissance Art (1400-1600)

To see the cultural identity of Europe and its influence, one can look back at the Renaissance period, a stage described as an artistic and cultural rebirth. The period’s lasting impact is still seen in European art today, but the start of it all happened in Italy and then later expanded to the rest of the European nations. 

What makes this period truly and culturally unique is the divergence it displays from gothic and medieval styles. The European cultural identity associated with Renaissance Art is a display of humanism, intellectualism, classic style, and philosophy. 

In this period, European art yielded some of the most renowned and appreciated artworks as well as architectural masterpieces. Some popular artists of the day were Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Masaccio.

2. Mannerism (1520-1620)

The next period that defined many European artefacts’ cultural identity was Mannerism, a post period that came after the High Renaissance apex. In this period, many forms of imaginary and extreme art styles surfaced – it can be marked as a highly creative period in which many forms of fantastical imagery began to surface. 

How Mannerism defined a specific cultural identity in European art has much do with radical elements manifesting through dramatic scenes, asymmetry in artworks, and, more importantly, a deviation from the artistic ideal. Some renowned artist in this period were Agnolo di Cosimo ‘Bronzino’, Doménikos Theotokópoulos ‘El Greco’ and Parmigianino.

3. Baroque (1600-1750)

After Mannerism, there was a strong focus on Catholic revival, particularly in Rome during the 17th Century. During this period, the time’s cultural identity creates Baroque as a part of European art centred around Realism and emotions. 

The Baroque art intricately made adjustments to Realism’s perception and introduced strong emotional appeals through their form of expression. Many artists took on this cultural identity and deployed its expression in the artworks they created. 

However, not all pieces were entirely religious. In this culturally rich period, some European art was solely focused on hyperrealism, and some famous artists during this period were Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Peter Paul Rubens, and Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn.

4. Rococo (~1700-80)

The next period followed was late Baroque, or more commonly referred to as Rococo and sometimes Roccoco. In this period, the cultural identity focused on iconography of lust fantasies and expressing sensuality via favoured themes. 

This style of European art is considered to be an exceptionally theatrical style of decorative ornaments and architecture. The Rococo movement had a dominating character, a culmination of tiny brush strokes, which led to the style being named this way. 

The term Rococo, translated into coral in English, and it combined asymmetry, gliding, and pastel colours as well as scrolling curves. Some well-known artist during these times were Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo and François Boucher.

5. Neoclassicism (1780-1900)

Looking at the cultural identity in the 1800, and the European art style of the 19th Century, it is safe to say that Neoclassicism was the dominant style. 

Neoclassicism became a form of contributing cultural identity in Europe because of the Herculaneum discovery, an ancient site. Alongside this, this European art style particularly flourishes during the early 19th Century under the Empire of Napoleon. 

Overall, this European art style lasted till the 1840s, after which Neoclassicism art style developed and got influenced by many other styles through the Century. Some worth mentioning artists of this period are Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema and Frederic Leighton.

"Europe thus divided into nationalities freely formed and free internally, peace between States would have become easier: the United States of Europe would become a possibility.

Napoleon Bonaparte

6. Romanticism (1750-1890)

The next artistic movement to take place and showcase European nations’ cultural identity at the time was Romanticism. However, Romanticism was a part of a significant artistic movement, which included European art and included paintings, literature, and architecture. 

The Romanticism movement originated in mid-18th Century in Britain and took till 1820 to reach the continental Europe, where it prevailed till the middle of the 19th Century alongside Neoclassicism. 

What made this style particularly different was how it rejected the idealization that was promoted and shifted much of its focus towards art’s personal and emotional aspects. Romanticism was greatly influenced by folk culture alongside spiritual beliefs, and European art following this style showcased intense emotions.

7. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (1848-1854)

You might have heard of British artists’ brotherhood, which commonly opposed the idea of the ideal in European art. This cultural identity opposed the Royal academy’s ideals, and the group aimed to revive European art by creating it to be powerful, dynamic, and creative. 

They sought after a type of European art that was mesmerizing as the period of late medieval and had some elements of early Renaissance painting, all showcasing the work done before Raphael, therefore, earning the title of Pre-Raphaelite. This cultural identity was established in secret by John Everett Millais in 1848, alongside William Holman and Dante Gabriel

One major player in European art style was none other than John Ruskin, a renowned writer, art critic, and social writer who valued the connectivity between nature, society, and art.

8. Realism (1850-1900)

When discussing cultural identities in European nations, one prevalent one was Naturalism, or commonly referred to as Realism. The concept of Realism originated in the 1850s in France during the 1848 French Revolution. 

As a European art style, Realism was also widely adopted in different European countries but was usually associated with French painters. Keep in mind, the concept of Realism has deeper roots than what it means to show the realistic appearance of artworks. But instead, it was intended to show the Realism of the mindset behind the artwork, the subject shows a particular interest in labourers and normal subjects. 

The type of cultural identity realism created opposed the dominant romantic style, and much European art during this time showcased just that. One essential and famous painter of this time was Gustave Courbet, a French artist known to paint exactly what he saw.

9. Impressionism (1870-1920)

Impressionism was a European art movement that became popular for over fifty years, starting in the 1870s in France. The origin of the cultural identity behind the movement stemmed from radical Parisian painters who were given some brief fame due to their rebel attitude of violating academic paintings’ strict rules. 

At the start, these artists were heavily scrutinized and criticized and did not have the luxury to exhibit their work at the Paris Salon. After which, these artists decided to take matters into their own hands and make an association that can enable them to exhibit their art independently. The concept of Impressionism or impressionist movement revolved around painting life that excited outside the countryside. 

As evident, this type of European art showcased many landscape scenes and overly dramatic scenes alongside many social situations. It differed from Realism because it was not just a movement but rather a different style of technical painting. During this time, one widely appreciated artist was Claude Monet, who painted ‘Impression, Sunrise’ in 1872.


Claude Monet, 'Impression, Sunrise', 1872.
Claude Monet, 'Impression, Sunrise', 1872.

10. Post-Impressionism

Moving towards the last important cultural identity enriched European artist movement in the 19th Century, we can safely discuss Post-Impressionism. It was a movement that started in 1886 and lasted till 1905, predominantly in France, born out of many artists’ disputes because of impressionist compositions’ blurred appearance. The idea behind the movement stemmed from the lack of structure, and Post-Impressionists wanted to restore the solidity, structure, and artistic style of European paintings. 

Post-Impressionism’s unique cultural identity was that a singular overarching style did not unify it but rather consisted of multiple techniques. Albeit, most of the artworks of Post-Impressionism were unified via their rich symbolism and thick brushstrokes. Vincent Van Gogh was one famous artist that was characterized by this period, and is primarily remembered as a romantic ideal artist.

You can also read more about how Van Gogh struggled with his art, in my post titled: ‘Increasing Self-Confidence as An Artist‘.

For somebody who comes from Europe, I can only say if we give up this principle of territorial integrity of countries, then we will not be able to maintain the peaceful order of Europe that we've been able to achieve.

Angela Merkel

Importance of European Art and Artists

Thwarted by the absurdity of nationalist rivalry in the early part of the 20th Century, it was not until The Treaty of Paris of 1951 – (European Coal and Steel Community – ECSC), that formally gave birth to ‘Europe’. The treaty signed by six countries was designed to stop France and Germany from ever going to war again.

Obviously, new art movements continued to develop and evolve, from Dadaism, Surrealism, Modernism to Post-Modernism to name but a few. In terms of Art movements at the moment, I suppose we are contemporary. It is evident that we are moving into a period where Computers and Artificial Intelligence are clearly playing a bigger part in the creation of art. Another new trend, first seen as early as 2013, and leaning on of the use of blockchain technology, is Cryptoart.

Finally, as a European traditionalist, there’s no ‘RenCoin’ at Ren Creative Works, as ‘Cash is King’.

I offer you a stunning and unique wall hanging, ‘I Can’t Wait to See You Again, Either?‘. The perfect addition for your room to experience first hand the unique and historically rich movement of European Art and Culture.

If you have enjoyed reading about the Influence of Cultural Identity on European Art, I invite you discover the cornerstone article to this series: The Influence of Cultural Identity on the Creation of Art.

I Can't Wait to See You Again, Either?

A stunning and unique wall hanging.

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