Online Resources to Find the Best Art History Timeline

May 13, 2016

In order to fully grasp the work of any artist or art movement, it is important to know and understand its position in the history of art. The artistic and historical context plays a great deal when it comes to understanding works of art, as well as the artistic developments and traditions that preceded and served as an influence, good or bad. The history of art is such an immense and vast space for exploration with so many different art movements, styles and ideas, and it is very easy to get lost in it. Using technology and the interactive capabilities of the internet, it can get easier to grasp the bigger picture.

When deciphering the sometimes confusing world of art history, it is important to have quality information that is organized in a consistent manner. The chronology is a great help with this, allowing you to understand the role of the art in culture and the place of the artist in society throughout the history. The interesting thing about chronology is that you see how some things have happened at the same time, and how often these things are different from one another or have influenced various aspects in different ways. This is why a timeline format is becoming more and more popular as a means to graphically and logically illustrate the progression of art. Timeline often serves as the organizing structure for many exhibitions as well, and many museums use this format to display their rich collections online. Even though some would argue that the timeline architecture offers a very deterministic narrative structure and that it lacks a more nuanced historical understanding and a more active relationship to the past, it can be very helpful for art noobs to make the attempt to make sense of the art world. We bring you some of the art history timelines available online that will surely illuminate the path into the vast history of the world of art.

The Met's Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

The Met's Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History is a rich and comprehensive resource that pairs essays and works of art with chronologies. Telling the story of the history of art and culture through the rich Met collection, this useful timeline is a great source of reference, research and learning. Categorized by art movement and style, artists and makers, geography materials and technique, object and subject matter, the timeline is comprised of 300 chronologies, around 1000 essays and more than 7000 works of art, offering a chronological, geographical and thematic exploration. Each timeline includes representative art from the Museum's collection, a chart of the time period, a map of the region, an overview, a list of key events, allowing visitors to compare and contrast art from all around the world through a linear outline of art history.

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With over 35 million articles, Wikipedia is an extensive portrait of human history and it offers a valuable insight on the ways humanity interprets and catalogizes history and knowledge. Histography is a data visualization tool that transforms Wikipedia's entries on historical events into an interactive timeline. Even though it is not reserved for art history only, the 14-billion-year timeline can be examined through various eras or specific categories where art is one of them. By clicking on the art category, the visitor is offered with the art history timeline where each pivotal artwork, movement or event is represented by a dot that connects you to a Wikipedia entry, video content or related events. Presented in the form of a sound wave where amplitudes present the diversity and scope of Wiki knowledge, this timeline self-updates daily. The only problem is that it is maybe not as user-friendly as it should be, since these dots are rather small making it difficult to navigate through the timeline precisely.

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The Art Story

Founded as an educational non-profit organization in 2009, The Art Story aims to demystify Modern and Contemporary Art and sort through all the noise of the art world. Presenting artists, artistic ideas, styles and movements, this website sheds light on the history of modern and contemporary art in an easy and user-friendly way. Discussing the history of art, pivotal artistic achievements and progression of artistic discoveries, each page is meant to be an exhaustive analysis and a self-sufficient resource for understanding. You can examine art history through several categories, or by choosing several versions of the timeline that present segments of art history in a linear way.

Tate Modern Timeline

The Tate Modern uses the format of timeline extensively. They often make thematic timelines commissioned by artists as background to exhibitions, as well as timelines documenting individual artistic careers or artistic movements. Apart from the various timelines you can choose from, Tate Modern also has a very comprehensive and highly informative glossary for all key art terms, styles and movements.

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The Timeline of Italian Futurism at Guggenheim

It is not the timeline of all art history, but if you are interested in the history of Italian Futurism, head over to the Guggenheim website. Accompanying the exhibition from 2014 titled Italian Futurism 1909-1944: Reconstructing the Universe that explored the intense rise and fall of this controversial art movement, the Guggenheim has created a quite informative and user-friendly timeline. This timeline traces significant moments from the history of this movement that has developed during the transformative years of the first half of the 20th century, and sets them alongside major political, social and technological events.

Featured image: Natalia Goncharova - Cyclist, 1913.

The Timeline of Abstract Art

With cultures across the globe having been using non-figurative and highly symbolic decoration for centuries, the Abstract Art is actually rooted in the early human civilization. Although it has become the dominant art of the 20th century, Abstract Art has first started to evolve in the 19th century. If you are interesting in tracing the origins and developments of this artists style, you should head to the BBC website. Using images and clips from the vast BBC archive, they have created a rather useful timeline that traces the history of Abstract Art and features all the key artworks.

Featured image: Wassily Kandinsky, via

The Timeline of African American Art

Oh Freedom! is the joint project of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Museum of African American History and culture. This educational website on American art and its intersections with African American history teaches about the African American civil rights struggle, the movement's impact on American history, and its connections to artistic and cultural expression with artworks from these two collections being the core of the project. The website has a handy timeline with artists and artworks set alongside the key historical events, with pop-up windows containing more information. The instruction manual can be found as a PDF file.

Featured image: Joseph Rugolo - Mural of Sports, 1937, via