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Beginning in the Renaissance, narrative paintings of great historical moments were held in high regard in Western art tradition. Esteemed painters created large-scale works of heroic battles and surrenders, considered the most difficult in the hierarchy of genres.
This view persisted in through the Baroque, Rococo, and Neoclassical periods, and did not waver until 19th century artists began to resist against the academic and government influence on art making. Prior to the invention of the lithograph, detailed etchings and engravings of history paintings were made as inexpensive reproductions of works on canvas or frescos for framing and decoration, or as book illustrations.
In 18th century France, printmakers combined both etching and engraving, and eventually mezzotints to create highly finished prints. In contrast to cheap reproductions, these large prints were created laboriously and sold for high prices. Wood engraving was also popular until photomechanical reproduction methods in the mid 1880s rendered it obsolete.
In the early 19th century Great Britain, it was often more profitable for an artist to sell the copyright of a painting to printmakers for reproduction than to sell the painting itself
In Leon Battista Alberti's 1436 treatise on paintings, it was first said that history paintings and subject matter had the greatest ability to impact the viewer and thus became known as the most noble form of art
Battista's opinion was reinforced by Giorgio Vasari in "Lives of the Artists," printed in the 16th century, and is still considered one of the most important early books on art