Painting With Blood: War Throughout The Ages

This gallery is a collection of various paintings depicting war throughout the ages. War has shaped human history perhaps more than any other action, and has been a subject of artworks throughout our history as well. These paintings depict both mythological and actual historical battles. This gives us insight into both the religious beliefs of our ancestors, and the major events that shaped their world.

In this beautiful oil painting, Alexander the Great is shown going to battle against the Persian King Darius III. We can immediately see the use of empty space between the two rulers. This allows us to notice immediately the two are staring directly at each other and they are clearly the two most important subjects in this painting. That being said Alexander is made to stand out even more with his flowing bright red cape. The bird above his head is probably an eagle, which was often used to depict the god Zeus, whom Alexander believed to be his father.
This work was painted around 1610 and shows us a depiction of the Roman God of War, Mars coming home from war to his lover Venus. The artist is using two gods to show us a happy scene of a soldier coming home to his loved one, which is something we still see to this day. If we look at directly behind Mars though, we can see military equipment is still being manufactured. This could be the artist telling us to enjoy moments of peace while we can, because another war is always right over our shoulder.
This painting depicts Saint James raised from the dead and fighting in the fictional Battle of Clavijo. While not an actual historical battle it was a very popular theme among Spanish artists. If we first look at the fallen soldier, he is painted in a realistic style. This contrasts greatly with Saint James who is painted to look slightly blurred and distorted to make him appear almost ghostlike. The lights shining down on him from Heaven leave little doubt as to his divinity.
This Japanese scroll is from a set depicting events from 1159 in the Heian period of Japanese history. It shows a battle during the Heiji Civil War. We can get a good sense of the chaos of war by first looking to the neatly structured geometric formations of soldiers symbolizing order. If we then move onto the frantic scenes of battle, this sense of order has gone away. These two contrasting elements work together to give us a sense of how chaotic these times must have been.
This nighttime landscape painting shows us what is probably the night before Punia Castle was destroyed by an order of Teutonic knights in 1336. The centerpiece to this painting is quite apparently the full moon illuminating the entire scene in an ominous yet peaceful light. The reflection of the moon on the water forms a line which takes us past the peaceful looking castle and onto the banks across where the crusaders are preparing to bring them death and destruction.
Here we are seeing the moment that the Battle of San Romano was won by the Florentines in 1432. The leader of the rival army, Bernardino della Ciarda is seen in the center of the circle of horses taking a lance to the chest. By having the horses the horses on each side of della Ciarda facing different directions, we can tell he is surrounded without actually having to see those obscured by his own soldiers in the center of the circle with him. The lances on either side combine to form a sort of implied wall, further enforcing the fact that the fallen leader has no escape.
This painting is by an unknown artist and was painted around the year 1600 in Greece. It resides on the wall of a Katholikon (church) in Patmos, Greece. This gruesome painting depicts young men slaughtering innocent women and children. The use of red is very prevalent and is probably used to make us think of blood being spilled. The placement of the ruler on his throne above the grieving women makes us feel her pain and hopelessness as he calmly sits above watching his men brutally murder innocents. Here we are seeing one of the horrible truths of war, as a ruler commands his men to do horrible atrocities while keeping his own hands clean. This pattern is unfortunately repeated throughout history across all cultures.
While a French artist painting a depiction of an American Civil War naval battle may seem strange at first, this battle actually happened right off the coast of France in 1864. Here we see the Union ship U.S.S. Kearsage sinking the Confederate ship, the C.S.S. Alabama. The contrast of the dark grey smoke against the blue sky brings us to focus on the sinking Alabama. The line coming from the bowsprit of the Kearsage aiming directly at the center of the sinking ship lets us know exactly who is responsible for her destruction.
Here we are looking at a mounted cavalry heading into battle during the first battle of Villers-Bretonneux during the First World War. The detailed horses and riders in the foreground contrast greatly with the blurry ones towards the back, however this detail upfront allows us to imagine what those in the back must look like. The way the artist depicts each horse exerting itself in a slightly different position lets us imagine all of them galloping together in a ferocious charge. Both the furious whipping of the riders and the huge dust clouds obscuring those behind them reinforce this ferocity. Combining these elements, we can feel the sense of urgency of the men charging into battle.
This piece from 1941 is a depiction of England’s victory over Germany in a great aerial battle during World War II. The winding river in the foreground opens up into a huge body of water, above which a chaotic battle is taking place, The artists use of this curvy line rather than a straight one helps prepare us for the chaos and random change in direction one associates with an intense aerial battle. The white trails from those still engaged in the battle contrast with black of the fallen planes symbolizing death which is always inevitable in war.
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This user gallery has been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.