The Old Masters – Who Are They?

By David Nivala

The term Old Master refers to artists or painters that painted between 1400 and 1900. (Some say to 1800) These painters were mainly from Europe. They were people who were fully trained and worked independently. Some of them are household names, even today, like Rembrandt, Leonardo, Rubens, Raphael and Michelangelo. Professional art critiques tend to avoid the term Old Masters, however it is still used by many who admire the works of those painters.

When we look at the paintings by these people, we recognize landscapes, people, religious depictions, historical scenes and other things. These artists worked out the principles of painting that we take for granted today. They learned how to set up an appealing composition, and how to portray light and perspective in a way that we still appreciate.

Prior to this time, painters were more obviously tied to moral values and their skills were often procured by the best paying patron, who would usually direct the artistic effort and content. The may have taken direction from their patron who may have encouraged (or dictated) a certain cultural or political viewpoint.

Later painters learned from the Old Masters and were free to express their independent thinking and visions, but they had the techniques of the their predecessors to fall back on.

It is always a debate as to who was the most influential painter or artist amongst the Old Masters, and there will be no suggestion here. It is interesting to note however, that many of the Old Masters painted many different types of paintings. They mostly produced paintings that were of high quality, however for many of them the commercial necessity of providing for their families also directed their works.

The painters included in the Old Masters list come from many countries, most notably, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Holland and England.

A few of the Old Masters:
Leonardo da Vinci – Italian (1452-1519)
Michelangelo – Italian (1475 –1564)
Raphael – Italian (1483-1520)
El Greco – Greek (1541-1614)
Frans Hal – Dutch (1580-1666)
Nicolas Poussin – French (1594-1665)
Diego Valazquez – Spanish (1599-1660)
Jophannes Vermeer – Dutch (1632-1675)
Joshua Reynolds – English (1723-1792)

Later names like William Bouguereau, Jean-Leon Gerome, Dante Gabriel Rosetti, Sir John Everett Millais, Tissot, and Lord Frederick Leighton were added.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it does indicate the different origins of some of the major players during this time.

The original works of these artists can be found in most of the galleries in Europe and acquisition of originals is not and easy process. However, prints of all sizes have been made by many suppliers.

For more information on some of the Old Masters go to


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