The term history painting was introduced in the seventeenth century to describe paintings with subject matter drawn from classical history and mythology, and the Bible – in the eighteenth century it was also used to refer to more recent historical subjects.

The term ‘history painting’ was introduced by the French Royal Academy in the seventeenth century. It was seen as the most important type (or ‘genre’), of painting above portraiture, the depiction of scenes from daily life (called genre painting), landscape and still life painting. (See the glossary page for genres to find out more).

Although initially used to describe paintings with subjects drawn from ancient Greek and Roman (classical) history, classical mythology, and the Bible; towards the end of the eighteenth century history painting included modern historical subjects such as the battle scenes painted by artists Benjamin West and John Singleton Copley.

The style considered appropriate to use for history painting was classical and idealised – known as the ‘grand style’ – and the result was known overall as High Art.

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