10 Expository Essay Topics on the History of Art

Topics and ideas
Posted on January 28, 2016

If you are writing an expository paper on art history, there are many potential topics and ideas from which to choose. Once you have your topic, it’s time to find some useful facts that you can refer to in your writing. Consider a few interesting facts below:

  1. Buddhism has been portrayed on four panels, each using artwork to tell about four miracles of Buddha. One of them is his heavy meditation to achieve enlightenment. The second piece of artwork shows Buddha under a tree meditating while attacked from all angles the by demons of Mara who stands with his sword ready. The artwork is indicative of the many demons attacking the Buddha such as his father preventing him from leaving the palace walls as well as the suffering of humans, expressed by the half animal/half human creatures and the soldiers who are struck down by the mere serenity of the Buddha. By touching the ground in this photo, he rules over Mara and shows that the earth will witness his mastery of meditation and enlightenment.
  2. Religion has always played a heavy influence in historical pieces of art that arise from Europe. And this applies not just to paintings or sculptures but to statues and music alike. The ninth century was a period when Catholic Church experimented with music as a form of art. This is where the chants and melodies began to cross one another in parallel, something that created a drone in the embellishment. This type of music became exceedingly popular in Notre Dame located in Paris and took on the name “Ars Antique” otherwise known as “old art”.
  3. Art changed significantly during the Middle Ages. Earlier it had focused on bright colors meant to draw attention from the viewer to the main characters within the artwork. The characters in question were symbolic and meant to embody love and sensuality. During the Renaissance period, contrast and shadow effects were used in tandem with lighting to draw attention to the idea that love is more than an emotional response, and that it can also be sensuality and the love of flesh. The Middle Ages focused on content and used varying artistic ideals in order to convey sacred virtues from that period whereas the Renaissance focused on secular ideas, moving away from the church and its influence over commissioned artists. Artwork during this time transitioned from displays of Biblical scenes, where lighting reflected the angelic nature of prophets or man, and instead emphasized the sensuality and stark contrast between the gender roles and the idea of love.
  4. The Middle Ages brought with them a religious movement stemming from the transitional period which is called “Modern Devotion”. This period encouraged people to read their scriptures, meditate, and seek out a personal relationship with God. But the artistic movement shifted toward Naturalism, whereby oil paintings began to resemble optimal reality as their style. In fact, the High Renaissance in Italy was responsible for influencing many of the new artists who expounded upon the compositions and themes of older generations. During the 16th century in Italy, the Late Renaissance and Mannerism were seen throughout the artwork, something that conflicted with artists throughout Europe who did not stem from Rome or enjoy the Roman influence aforementioned.
  5. Mannerism was a form of artistic technique which emphasized beautiful figures, erudite subject matter and virtuosity. Each one of their compositions was complex. This complexity was deliberate and meant to appeal to the more sophisticated taste of the existing middle class. Mannerism was synonymous with refinement, and rather than focusing on clarity or unity, these artists focused on grace and virtuoso. Beauty was redefined as artists explored unusual proportions, compositions, and figure types.
  6. Venus and Adonis is a piece of artwork which was created in 1635 and functions as a reflection on the sensuality and the detail that embodies the Baroque style. This painting is meant to focus on the themes of Adonis, the offspring of the King Cinyras of Paphos and his daughter. Because of the beautiful nature of Adonis, Venus fell in love with him, being touched by Cupid’s arrow. As the story unfolds Adonis is killed by a wild boar when he is hunting and the news of his death cause Venus to seek him out only to find the earth where his blood was spilled on sprouting anemones.
  7. The painting Venus and Adonis displays Venus nude, seated and pulling at Adonis not to go and stay with her. The blonde hair is shown in disorder, something meant to indicate her distress. And Adonis is tan, muscular, with a red tunic the color of which is indicative of his blood soon to be spilled. The Metamorphoses in this painting symbolize marital love. But beyond the love between Venus and Adonis this large painting includes themes of Deities, love, cupid, and nudity.
  8. Mars and Venus United by Love is an oil painting which presents Cupid binding Venus to Mars. In it, Venus is white, indicating her purity. She is being bound to the leg of Mars who is the god of war. This painting shows how opposites can be united in love, something which reflects upon mythology, unity in politics, unity in religion, and more, all of which can be bound together through love.
  9. The painting Mars and Venus United by Love explores the Baroque themes of sexuality by showing Mars in a satin, shimmering clock and Venus — nude. She is wearing nothing but strands of pearls in her hair and ears. Also gold on her belt and bracelets. The selection of white represents purity while the selection of gold indicates royalty, or the gods and goddesses that the two characters are. These color selections are meant to accentuate the aristocracy.
  10. Peter Paul Ruben was the painter at the end of the Protestant Reformation which took place in the Netherlands. It was during this period that sensuality, color, and movement were used to depict different themes. This artist is well known for his historical paintings, his landscapes and counter-reformation artwork. He painted in Italy, where his famous Venus and Adonis was completed. Paolo Veronese was a painter from the Renaissance period which took place from 1528 until 1588 in Italy, whose paintings became quite popular because of their colors and decorations. The painter applies even more Mannerist stylization by elaborating on architectural settings and color, specifically in his painting Mars and Venus United by Love.

These facts should give you enough material to corroborate your expository essay. Don’t forget to check our set of 20 topics on Art History and the guide to writing an expository essay on the one you pick.

Fenlon, Iain (editor) (1989). The Renaissance: from the 1470s to the End of the 16th Century.
Man & Music. 2. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
(MMA) Paolo Veronese, Mars and Venus United by Love, G 609 (10. 189)
Pauw-De Veen, Lydia de. “Rubens and the graphic arts.” In: Connoisseur CXCV/786 (Aug 1977).
Penelope Davies, Janson’s History of Art: The Western Tradition (Upper Saddle River, NJ
2006), 469
Preziosi, Donald, ed. The Art of Art History: A Critical Anthology: A Critical Anthology. Oxford
University Press, 1998.
Sherrane, Robert. “Music History 102: A Guide to Western Composers and their music”. IPL2
Organization. 2008.
Sydney Freedberg, Painting in Italy, 1500-1600 (Penguin Books Ltd), 567

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