We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more Italian Renaissance Learning Resources - The National Gallery of Art

Italian Renaissance Learning Resources

In collaboration with the National Gallery of Art

Narrative art

Term used to describe art that provides a visual representation of some kind of story, sometimes based on literary work. It is found throughout the world, and it appears not only as an art form in its own right in both two and three dimensions but also as decoration on a variety of objects. Narration, the relating of an event as it unfolds over time, is in principle a difficult task for the visual arts, since a work of art usually lacks an obvious beginning, middle and end, essential features of any story. Nevertheless, since ancient times many works of art have had as their subjects figures or tales from mythology, legend, history, or sacred texts. The artists overcame the inherent limitations of visual narrative by representing stories that the viewer might be expected to know and by providing key scenes to trigger memory.

In the period before 1500, narrative art was characterized by complex forms of relating historical events. Influenced by the medieval visual tradition, Renaissance narrative art developed a very sophisticated iconographic vocabulary based on biblical stories. Even illiterate Christians understood the stories the artists’ visual symbols represented.

Dominique Collon, Randy R. Becker