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Early art often portrayed epics of historical or mythological origin, or religious scenes. This was an important part of the handover from the oral story telling tradition. People could recognise the characters, gestures, colour symbolism or attributes. An example is the wine god Bacchus, portrayed with the vine around his head, the grapes and the wine glass.

Towards the end of the 19th century, artists began to turn their attention towards aspects of everyday life such as work, home and family life. “Leisure time” was a new phenomena, and this was also a subject in visual arts.

In works of this period, the epic story of heroic drama no longer dominates, but rather life as experienced by ordinary people. It was no longer merely the wealthy who were portrayed, but ordinary workers, fishermen and farmers.