Fantasy is a genre that is not widely recognised as a specific historical movement when it comes to art. Perhaps because historians have simply not deemed it as a movement or perhaps because it has such a rich history, that it cannot be pinpointed to an exact time or location. When considering the wild imaginations of fantasy, it is not unusual to label it as a fairly modern advancement but to say that fantasy art is only a modern development of creativity is not quite true, as fantastical creatures have been featured on canvas for many centuries.
The early beginnings of fantasy can be found in mythology, folklore and religious art from all over the globe. Greek mythology, Christian mythology, Chinese folklore and African faiths and superstitions about magic are all roots to the fantasy genre. Religious mythology in particular, stems artworks featuring angels, demons, gods, centaurs and other mythical creatures.
For example, Dutch/Netherlandish Renaissance painter Hieronymus Bosch, often painted ominous scenes of religious themes and biblical allegories, by depicting devilish monsters and dark forest creatures that are not present in the real world. Michelangelo and Gustave Moreau have also, at times, featured ghoulish, imaginary creatures in their art work and draconic creatures appear as far back as ancient Mesopotamian art and literature, so fantasy as an element in art has been present for a long time.
However, these paintings were not seen in the same way as we look at them today. These pieces of art were also rooted in a time of dominating religious and spiritual beliefs, that would not allow them to be labelled as simply the creation of an artists’ imagination. However, these paintings were not seen in the same During these times, depicting such terrifying monsters was a constant reminder against sin. Fantasy art as we know it today, could not truly exist in these artists’ lifetimes, as use of such imagery was perceived as a real threat and therefore fantasy art as a concept could only really exist after belief in witches and demons was abandoned.
A real turning point for the fantasy genre started with the exotic imaginations of children book authors. In the middle of the 19th century, Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland was one of the first books to have illustrated pages. For the first time, readers could link a visual experience with their own imagination, filled with talking ducks, grinning cats, smoking caterpillars and of course the illustrious ‘Jabberwock, with eyes of flame’.
For the first time, readers could link a visual experience with their own imagination, filled with talking ducks, grinning cats, smoking caterpillars and of course the illustrious ‘Jabberwock, with eyes of flame’. The illustrations of other children’s book classics such as The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Pinocchio and the like, are also at the heart of the fantasy art development. This fantasy element quickly became popular among authors, artists and film creators alike and brought such prominent and popular pieces of literature and film such as The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, A Game of Thrones, Twilight and more.
From these inspirational worlds of imagination, came a flood of artists in a race to see who could create the most fantastic creatures of all. Even Tolkien himself created artwork to better illustrate the world that he had created.
Though a lot of fantasy art is now labelled as fan art, it does not mean it should loose any integrity, as it cannot be denied that these fantastical creations are true masterpieces. From themes that include vampires, demons, witches, dragons, elves, fairies and even creatures that do not have names, the fantasy genre is true artistry.