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.
Reading Time: 20 minutes


  • Experience the captivating influence of European cultural identity on art, uncovering the rich tapestry of artistic traditions and stories behind each masterpiece.
  • Discover how cultural influences have fostered unique artistic expressions across Europe, inspiring iconic movements and styles that continue to inspire contemporary artists.
  • Immerse yourself in the transformative power of European art, considering the acquisition or commissioning of a piece that resonates with your own cultural identity, adding sophistication to your art collection.

Introduction: European Art and the Wider World

Europe has had a significant influence on the arts of other cultures for centuries. The arts reflect society and have evolved as a result of interactions with other societies and their cultural artefacts from previous civilizations.

The rise of styles unique to groups of people within Europe has resulted in an obvious cultural identity in European art. Greek sculptures from the height of the Athenian Empire, for example, frequently emphasised the gracefulness and tautness of the human body.

Sculptures are typically depicted without extraneous details that would detract from the work’s overall theme. These pieces clearly show anatomy, but it is not overly detailed.

In contrast, many non-western cultures are distinguished by ornate decorations and calligraphy. Islamic art, for example, typically depicts themes from the Quran or Islamic teachings and is distinguished by the use of various symbolic colours and materials, including gold.

Despite their differences in nature and history, European influences have influenced the visual arts, literature, and performance of other cultures too. From the Renaissance to the present day, European artists have been inspired by the cultures they encountered during their travels.

This exchange of ideas has led to the development of new styles and genres of art, as well as the spread of existing ones. Keep reading to learn about ways that cultural identity has influenced European art

Cultural Identity Development in European Art

European art, or western art, is a distinct blend of prehistoric art, petroglyph art, and nature painting, including Paleolithic rock, cave paintings, and more.

Newgrange, for example, is a prehistoric monument in County Meath, Ireland, located 8 kilometres (5 miles) west of Drogheda on the north bank of the River Boyne. It is an exceptionally grand Neolithic passage tomb built around 3200 BC, making it older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids. Which illustrates the rich cultural heritage of Irish Art.

When it comes to the origins of European art history, it is often traced back to the third millennium BC and includes the art of Ancient Israel and the Ancient Aegean civilizations. The classical antiquity of Europe was home to numerous significant cultures, as well as various forms of art such as carvings, decorated substantial standing stones and other artefacts.

While there are various types of European art, there are also numerous cultural constructions of European nations that have influenced European cultures and identities in some way. One way that Europe’s cultural identity has influenced art is by establishing a central concept of Europe’s heart.

This central identity serves as a source and summary for Cultural Identity and European Integration, paving the way for a consistent pattern of artistic development in Europe.

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

The Central Concept: Predominance in European 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 countries, the concept of European art is primarily defined by the desire for depth and breadth of will. Before the 1800s, the Christian church had a significant influence on European cultural identity, providing work for many artists, within the framework of a central perspective.

During this time, European art was redefined according to the church, and similar groups of people shared a common interest in heroes and heroines, mythological gods and goddesses, bizarre creatures, and tales of great wars that had nothing to do with religion.

The Roots of Europe’s Cultural Identity in European Art

Anthony D. Smith, a brilliant national identity researcher, investigated and scrutinised the debate about European identity in the years leading up to the official formation of the European Union. In his remarks, he was quick to emphasise how culture, as a factor, determined an entity’s identity in terms of the concept of a European family of cultures.

Furthermore, the value system embedded in European nations demonstrates how the two, the nation and the values, are inextricably linked. This embodiment has years of traditions and heritage, making it an integral part of European cultural identity, and any European art is to naturally showcase the embodiment. 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).

The cultural values of Europeans include Roman law, the parliamentary institution, political democracy, Christian ethics, Renaissance humanism, empiricism, classicism, rationalism, and many other things.

These vast values are instilled in European art, and it is easy to see the unity in diversity displayed by the masterpieces created by popular European artists. The central formula propels European culture, or more accurately, European identity. When it comes to expressing cultural identity, it is a cultural family with deeper roots than can be solely mentioned in literature.

European Art Movements and the Cultural Construction of Nations

Art in Europe has always reflected the general culture and mindset of the country in which it was created. One such example is how we interpret the Post-Impressionist art movement. The histories of France and Italy are excellent examples of how these European nations were built and influenced by the arts in their respective cultures.

In terms of European nation-building, a lot happened in the nineteenth century; it was a time when Europe underwent significant changes in a variety of areas, including politics and geography. At the time, Europe was in a state of flux, with France, the Holy Roman Empire, the Spanish Empire breaking up, and the German Empire expanding.

This was a time of significant social change and urbanisation throughout Europe, and European art was no exception. Over the course of a century, Europe’s cultural identity also revolutionised European art. The transition from historic old master styles to new modernity was gradual. 

However, it can be viewed in ten predominant European art history periods in which  cultural styles and identities played a role in shaping the region, as well as some of  greatest and famous European artists.

1. Renaissance Art (1400-1600)

Both art and classical texts were rediscovery during the Renaissance. The focus was on classical antiquity, which had been overlooked by mediaeval scholars in favour of the Bible. It was also a time when faith in God was called into question, sparking renewed interest in philosophy. People began to value knowledge of the past more during this period than in previous centuries.

To understand Europe’s cultural identity and influence, look back to the Renaissance period, which has been described as an artistic and cultural rebirth. The period’s lasting influence can still be seen in European art today, but it all began in Italy and then spread to the rest of Europe.

The departure from gothic and mediaeval styles is what distinguishes this period as truly and culturally unique. Humanism, intellectualism, classic style, and philosophy are all part of the European cultural identity associated with Renaissance art.

European art produced some of the most renowned and valued artworks as well as architectural masterpieces during this time period. Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Masaccio were among the most popular artists of the time.

2. Mannerism (1520-1620)

Mannerism was a style that emerged following the Renaissance. The artist’s use of overly elongated human figures, twisted or contorted poses, and exaggerated facial expressions defined the style. Many forms of fantastical imagery began to emerge, defining the cultural identity of many European artefacts during a highly creative period.

The radical elements manifesting themselves in dramatic scenes, asymmetry in artworks, and, most importantly, a deviation from the artistic ideal are central to how Mannerism defined a specific cultural identity in European art. Agnolo di Cosimo ‘Bronzino,’ Doménikos Theotokópoulos ‘El Greco,’ and Parmigianino were some of the most well-known artists during this time period.

3. Baroque (1600-1750)

The term “baroque,” derived from the Portuguese barroco, or “oddly shaped pearl,” first appeared in the nineteenth century to describe a style of art and architecture that flourished between 1600 and 1750. It was distinguished by grandeur, drama, and opulence. During this time period, painting and sculpture were more concerned with mass than with surface detail.

Following Mannerism, there was a strong emphasis on Catholic revival, especially in Rome during the 17th century. During this time, the cultural identity of the time creates Baroque as a part of European art centred on Realism and emotions.

Through their form of expression, Baroque art intricately altered Realism’s perception and introduced strong emotional appeals. Many artists adopted this cultural identity and used it to express themselves in their work.

However, not all of the pieces were strictly religious. Some European art during this culturally rich period was solely focused on hyperrealism, and some of the artists during this period included:

4. Rococo (1700-80)

The following period was Rococo, also known as Roccoco or Late Baroque. During this time, cultural identity was centred on iconography of lust fantasies and expressing sensuality through preferred themes. 

The roots of this sensualist culture can be found in Italy and France, and it was a time when there was a greater emphasis on human sexuality. During this time, cultural identity was centred on iconography of lust fantasies and expressing sensuality through preferred themes.

Simultaneously, the dominant Catholic church would have kept sexual activity hidden during this time period, resulting in an increase in the popularity of sensualist fantasy stories and artworks.

This European art style is regarded as an exceptionally theatrical style of decorative ornaments and architecture. The Rococo movement had a dominant personality, a culmination of tiny brush strokes, which led to the style’s name.

The term Rococo translates to coral in English, and it incorporated asymmetry, gliding, pastel colours, and scrolling curves and continues to influence decorative arts to this day. During this period, well-known artists included Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, and François Boucher.

5. Neoclassicism (1780-1900)

When it comes to cultural identity in the 1800s and European art styles in the nineteenth century, it is safe to say that Neoclassicism was the dominant style.

Because of the discovery of Herculaneum, an ancient site, Neoclassicism became a form of contributing cultural identity in Europe. Along with this, this European art style flourished particularly during Napoleon’s Empire in the early nineteenth century.

Overall, this European art style lasted until the 1840s, when the Neoclassicism art style emerged and was influenced by many other styles throughout the Century. Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema and Frederic Leighton are two artists from this period worth mentioning.

"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.

6. Romanticism (1750-1890)

Romanticism was the next artistic movement to emerge and showcase European nations’ cultural identities at the time. However, Romanticism was part of a larger artistic movement that included European paintings, literature, and architecture.

The Romanticism movement began in the mid-18th century in Britain and took until 1820 to reach continental Europe, where it reigned alongside Neoclassicism until the mid-nineteenth century.

This style was distinct in that it rejected the idealisation that was promoted and shifted much of its emphasis to art’s personal and emotional aspects. Romanticism was heavily influenced by folk culture as well as spiritual beliefs, and the European art that followed this style displayed intense emotions.

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

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of British painters, begun in 1848. The artists, who were all younger than their contemporaries, made a conscious effort to revive medieval models and to avoid what they saw as the superficiality of much academic painting.

The association commonly opposed the idea of the Royal Academy’s ideals, and the particular purpose was aimed at reviving European art by creating it to be powerful, dynamic, and creative.

They sought after a type of European art that was as captivating as the late mediaeval period and had some elements of early Renaissance painting, all showcasing work done before Raphael, thus earning the title of Pre-Raphaelite. John Everett Millais, along with William Holman and Dante Gabriel, established this cultural identity in secret in 1848.

John Ruskin, a renowned writer, art critic, and social writer who valued the connection between the natural world, society, and art, was a major player in European art style.

8. Realism (1850-1900)

When discussing cultural identities in European nations, Naturalism, also referred as Realism, was a popular one. The concept of realism emerged in the 1850s in France during the 1848 French Revolution.

Realism, as a European art style, was widely adopted in various European countries but was most commonly associated with French painters. Keep in mind that the term “realism” refers to more than just the appearance of artworks. However, it was intended to show the Realism of the mindset behind the artwork, as the subject shows a particular interest in labourers and ordinary subjects.

The type of cultural identity realism fostered ran counter to the dominant romantic style, and much European art at the time reflected this. Gustave Courbet, a French artist known for painting exactly what he saw, was an important and well-known painter of the time.

9. Impressionism (1870-1920)

Impressionism was a European art movement that flourished for more than fifty years, beginning in the 1870s in France. The movement’s cultural identity arose from radical Parisian painters who achieved brief fame for their rebellious attitude toward academic painting’s strict rules.

These artists were initially heavily scrutinised and criticised, and they did not have the luxury of exhibiting their work at the Paris Salon. Following that, these artists decided to take matters into their own hands and form an organisation that would allow them to exhibit their work independently. Impressionism, or the impressionist movement, was centred on painting scenes from life outside of the countryside.

As is obvious, this style of European art featured many landscape scenes and overly dramatic scenes, as well as many social situations as their pictorial subject. It differed from Realism in that it was a different style of technical painting rather than a movement. Claude Monet, who painted ‘Impression, Sunrise’ in 1872, was a widely appreciated artist at the time.

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

10. Post-Impressionism

We can safely discuss Post Impressionism as the last significant cultural identity enriched European artist movement of the nineteenth century. It was a movement that began in 1886 and lasted until 1905, primarily in France, and arose from many artists’ disagreements over the blurred appearance of impressionist compositions. The movement was inspired by a lack of structure, and Post-Impressionists sought to restore the solidity, structure, and artistic style of European paintings.

The distinct cultural identity of Post-Impressionism was that it lacked a single overarching style and instead consisted of multiple techniques. Nonetheless, most Post-Impressionist paintings were united by their rich symbolism and thick brushstrokes. Vincent Van Gogh was a well-known artist who was influenced by this period and is best known as a romantic idealist.

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.

Importance of European Art and Artists

Despite the absurdity of nationalist rivalry in the early twentieth 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, ratified by six countries, was meant to keep France and Germany from fighting each other ever again.

How Has Europe Influenced the Arts of Other Cultures?

Europe has had a long and lasting influence on the arts of other cultures around the world. European art forms such as painting, sculpture, architecture, music, dance, theater, film, and literature have been adopted and adapted by cultures across the globe.

Obviously, new art movements continued to emerge and evolve, including Dadaism, Surrealism, Modernism, Post-Modernism and Abstract Expressionism to name a few.

In terms of current art movements, we are contemporary, alongside metamodernism, which began in the early twenty-first century. Metamodernism is related with the Internet Age and is about embracing and accepting human beings polarising nature.

 It is clear that we are entering a period in which computers and artificial intelligence are clearly playing a larger role, not only in our daily lives, but also in the creation of art. Cryptoart is another new trend that began in 2013 and is based on the use of blockchain technology.

However, as a European traditionalist, there is no ‘RenCoin’ at Ren Creative Works because ‘Cash is King’, at least for the time being!

10 Ways Cultural Identity Has Influenced European Art Blog Post By Adrian Reynolds

Conclusion: United in Diversity

I hope you enjoyed my blog, which included a brief overview of European art as well as its impact on cultural identity. For centuries, Europe has had a significant impact on other cultures’ arts and has been the source of a wide range of cultural artifacts. These artefacts reflect society and have evolved as a result of interactions with other cultures.

Art can reflect cultural change, which can be a beautiful thing. Europe has been a source of some of the most important art movements, and the result of this continent’s influence can be found almost anywhere.

Finally, 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 styles 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, and other regions of the world by clicking on the links below:

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

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