Towards a Painterly Aesthetic

German art historian Heinrich Wölfflin (1864-1945) first used the term “painterly” to distinguish between Baroque and Renaissance art.

Wölfflin felt that Baroque art was “painterly” and focused on mass, light and shade, whilst Renaissance art was linear, portraying the world in clearly defined shapes.

Linear art emphasizes solidity by using outlines and even lighting throughout to distinguish the individual subjects within a composition. By representing subjects in an objective manner, linear art conveys a sense of stability.

In contrast, the subjects in painterly art are less clearly defined as a result of broad brushstrokes and form is lost in shadow due to uneven lighting, design elements blend together to present a more continuous composition which flows through the painting creating a sense of dynamism.

Consequently, form and pattern are more characteristic of linear art, whilst movement is more readily associated with painterly art.

The term now has a much broader scope, not being limited to critical evaluations of Baroque and Renaissance art. Consequently, its use is now more widespread, being applied to any works of art where brushwork and the medium of the paint are clearly visible. Artists widely regarded for painting in this manner include Titian, Rembrandt, Velázquez and Goya. provides the following definition: “painterly refers to the application of paint in a ‘loose’ or less than controlled manner, resulting in the appearance of visible brushstrokes within the finished painting” (, ca. 2017).

Additionally, the term can be applied to the technique or approach of the artist, as well as to the appearance of the finished artwork.

Software applications exist which apply a “painterly” look to photographs – either at the time the image is produced electronically or subsequently. As a result of using such applications, images mimic recognizably artistic styles such as oil or watercolor painting, or are based on styles like van Gogh or Impressionism. Theoretically, the resulting photographs are referred to as having a “painterly aesthetic”.

In reality, however, the term “painterly aesthetic” is widely used in reference to any image which displays at least one characteristic commonly associated with a traditional painting method.


Characteristics of painterly art include:

Chromatic progression

Warm and cool tones

Complementary and contrasting colors

Broken tones

Broad brushstrokes




One aim of my project is to produce a series of images which not only bring into question our relationship with food, but which also have a “painterly aesthetic”.

Key areas of research are the use of techniques, both in camera and post-processing, which add a painterly element to the visual appeal of the images.

Silent Killer” is the analysis of an image to which post-processing techniques have been applied in order to achieve a painterly aesthetic.



Clarke, Michael (2010) Oxford Concise Dictionary of Art Terms. London: Oxford University Press

Nygard,Travis and Wren, Linnea (2003) ‘Heinrich Wölfflin’, in Murray, Chris (ed.) ‘Key Writers on Art: The Twentieth Century’. Oxon: Routledge

Tate.Org ca. 2017. Art Terms entry: ‘painterly’ [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: Monday 17 April 2017)

2 thoughts on “Towards a Painterly Aesthetic

  1. Pingback: “Silent Killer” | The Photographic Art of Food - An MA Photography Project

  2. Pingback: An Alternative View … | The Photographic Art of Food - An MA Photography Project

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