Genre Painting



1)    The Dictionary of Art, Editor Jane Turner. Macmillan Publishers Limited, 1996.


The term derived from the French word for kind or variety. Referring to a picture that shows scenes from everyday life, genre painting included minor categories of landscape, still-life and animal painting. This is to be distinguished from history painting whose subjects are the noble deeds of man, taken from famous literary sources. In antiquity genre painting was considered a lowly form of art and the Renaissance theorists elaborated this attitude. From the Renaissance to the earlyh 19th century history painting was the noblest form of art, to which the great talents should aspire.

In 1791 Quatremere de Quincy used the word to describe domestic scenes and this was firmly established by the mid-19th century (Stechow and Comer). In the early 1800's genre painting challenged the supremacy of history painting and became the dominant form.


6th century BC: secular scenes represented in vase painting showing banquets and dancing, music and love-making. Sport: atheletes shown with their trainers, pairs of wrestlers and boxers, scenes from the business world, workshops of bronzesmiths, potters, carpenters and cobblers, rural activity such as Antimenes Painter's Olive Harvest (c 520 BC, British Museum London) painted on a neck amphora. women's domestic life, fountain house scenes.

Red figure artists of the 5th century greater naturalism, more intimate moments, drinking party and sexual scenes popular. Epiktetos introduced new sexual images. Douris and Brygos Painter. Later 5th cent, with small perfume and unguent jars: women's domestic scenes become the dominant subject. Weddings, washing, dancing, women with their maids. Theatre especially comedy and small terra cotta figures of actors.

Hellenistic period (c323-27 BC)

art becomes more realistic, interested in the individual rather than the ideal. genre motifs more popular in monumental sculpture as well. varing moods and ages, old destitutes, a negro, urchins and fishermen, dwarfs and a battered boxer. Old Woman (MET, NY) late 2nd century or early 1st. Old Shepherdess (Roman copy of a late 2nd early 1st) Drunken Old Woman (Roman copy of late 3rd century original) Old Fisherman, or Dying Seaman (black marble Roman copy, Louvre) The old women have been described as Dionysian votives by Smith, but also as private commissions for decorative genre works

Aristotle mentions painter Pauson (c430-380 BC) who used low life scenes which A connects with comedy, 'comedy is inclined to imitate persons below the level of our world, tragedy above it." Small pictures of boys and garland sellers by Pausias mentioned by Pliny. who also described two pictures by Antiphilos Boy Blowing a Fire and Women Spinning Wool, these descriptions became important in the Renaissance world.

Etruscan funerary art used scenes of hunting and fishing, and thus remained so in the Italic world. Roman Art: The wall paintings of Pompeii and Herculaneum exhibit small scenes from family life, scenes in the street and forum, a baker's shop and men playing dice. Gardens decorated with genre sculptures. Two mosaics signed by Dioskourides of Samos, copies of Hellenistic works showing stage scenes, vivid in movement and gesture.

Pliny's descriptions of genre important in later development.