The history of painting begins with the wall murals of animals painted by pre-historic cave dwellers, using naturally available materials, like red ochre and charcoal painted on the cave wall. Like language and music, painting developed independently all over the world. Eastern Asian painting developed different styles and genres than Western painting traditions, which began in Greece following Etruscan and Egyptian traditions. The humanistic style, introduced by the Greeks in mosaic and sculpture, was copied by the Romans and was spread throughout the Western world by the Roman Empire, eventually evolving into the styles and genres that Westerners are familiar with today.
The most famous period of Western painting is The Renaissance Period. Renaissance is French for "rebirth," the rebirth refers to the appreciation for the artistic achievements of the Greeks and Romans, after years of seeming artistic regression during the Middle Ages. This cultural movement was embodied in the achievements of the Renaissance painters like Rafael, Michelangelo, Leonardo DaVinci, and Botticelli, among others. These painters, working in Italy during the 14th through roughly the 16th centuries produced some of the world's most iconic paintings, such as School of Athens, The Sistine Chapel Ceiling, the Mona Lisa, and the Birth of Venus.
Renoir, La Danseuse
The development of this realistic, humanistic, style of painting in Europe continued into the 17th and 18th centuries, evolving into the Baroque and Rococo styles, which were darker and more dramatic, and then lighter and more decorative, respectively. Little new artistic ground was broken until the late 19th century, when a few French painters such as Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, and others introduced a new style of painting called "Impressionism" by French critics. Though this style was at first mocked by critics, the freedom and spontaneity of the new style provided the impetus for Modern Art as we know it today, including Abstract, Cubism, Expressionism, and Surrealism, and painting as an expression of feeling as opposed to painting as representation.