Art History 101 – Part 4: 1500-1599

The following list is Part 4 (1500-1599) of my attempt to trace the history of human artistic endeavors by finding the best, most significant, and most highly-regarded works of visual art (primarily painting and sculpture) from all times and places and presenting them in chronological order.  The seven Art History 101 lists contain every work of art that was on at least three of over 30 ‘Best Works of Art’ lists that I collected from the Internet and books. Although most of the resources available to me focused almost exclusively on the art of Western Civilization, the list does identify some of the most significant artworks produced by the artists of Asia, Africa and South America. Each entry includes the date of the work, the artist’s name, the name (or names) of the work, the style or culture associated with the work, and the location where the work was produced.  In addition, I have included a brief essay with description (including measurements), artistic materials used, background and interpretation.

Because I believe visuals are essential for discussing the visual arts, I have included images of the art works,  In most cases, you can click on the images to enlarge them. (I have tried to use public domain images where possible. In other cases, I believe this is a fair non-commercial use for educational purposes. If there are copyright concerns, please let me know.)

For the rest of the Art History 101 series, click on the following links:
Part 1 (Prehistoric Era-399 CE)
Part 2 (400-1399 CE)
Part 3
 (1400-1499)
Part 5 (1600-1799)
Part 6 (1800-1899)
Part 7 (1900-Present)

To see a three-part list of the Best Works of Visual Art organized by rank (that is, with the items on the most lists at the top), start here: Part I.

1500-1599

235. Portrait of the Doge Leonardo Loredan

Artist: Giovanni Bellini
Date: 1501-1504
Period/Style: High Renaissance; Venetian School; Venice, Italy
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 2 ft. tall by 1.5 ft. wide
Current location: National Gallery, London, England, UK

Giovanni Bellini was in his seventies when he received the commission to paint the portrait of the newly-elected Doge of Venice, Leonardo Loredan. The Doge was the Chief Magistrate of the Republic of Venice and he served for life; Loredan would serve from 1501 to 1521, two of the most turbulent decades in Venice’s history. Bellini’s portrait, although modestly proportioned, shows the viewer a commanding leader in the traditional pose of a Classical portrait bust. First, Bellini breaks with the tradition of painting secular portraits in profile and brings Renaissance humanism into the portrait gallery, with a full-faced view of the subject. Then, Bellini uses his expertise, including the technique of impasto, in which paint is layered on thickly to create raised sections that diffuse light, to create a sense of realism, depth and detail in the ceremonial robes and hat (the corno ducale) and the Doge’s skin. Crucially, he captures the Doge’s steely gaze as he begins his difficult journey as head of state. Even the blue background is shaded from dark at the top to a lighter shade farther down, to create the illusion that the sun is shining on the Doge’s face.

236. The Virgin and Child with St. Anne

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
Date: Most sources give a date of c. 1503, but Leonardo may have continued to work on the painting until his death in 1519, when it was still in his possession.
Period/Style: High Renaissance; Italy
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 5.5 feet tall by 3.7 feet wide
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

An unfinished masterpiece, The Virgin and Child with St. Anne remained incomplete upon Leonardo da Vinci’s death in 1519, when it was found in his workshop. The work shows three generations of the Holy Family: St. Anne, her daughter Mary and Mary’s son Jesus. The baby holds on to a lamb, symbol of his suffering and death, and his mother tries to pull him away, while grandmother gazes at the child with a contemplative smile. Like so many of Leonardo’s works, the composition is pyramidal, here with a spiraling effect, and the various elements (figures, immediate landscape, distant mountains) are pulled together by expert use of the sfumato technique to create a subtle haze. Sigmund Freud believed he found the outline of a vulture in Mary’s robe, which he felt referred to a vulture Leonardo remembered from childhood. (Freud remembered the story wrong: it was a kite, not a vulture.) Random Trivia: The recent controversial cleaning and restoration of the painting, which some experts claim removed some of the sfumato and left the painting too bright, led to the resignation of two members of the Louvre staff in 2011. (See pre-restoration version in image below.)

237. David

Artist: Michelangelo (full name: Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni)
Date: Begun in 1501; completed in 1504
Period/Style: High Renaissance; Florence, Italy; religious
Medium: Sculpture carved from Carrara marble
Dimensions: 17 ft. tall by 6.5 ft. wide; the statue weighs more than six tons
Current location: The original sculpture is in the Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence, Italy. A replica has stood outside the Palazzo della Signoria in Florence since 1882.
 michelangelo david front
In 1501, officials from the Florence Cathedral sought out Michelangelo and asked him to carve a statue of the Biblical hero David from a huge (and expensive) block of Carrara marble that had been sitting in their courtyard since at least 1463. Two other sculptors had begun work on the statue, but abandoned the project. Instead of showing David with the dead Goliath, as was standard, Michelangelo decided to show the Bible hero in the moment after he has decided to fight the giant but before the actual battle – muscles tensed and attention peaked. David stands in a contrapposto pose that is evocative of the sculpture of Ancient Greece, the ideal that inspired so much Renaissance art. The David was originally commissioned to be one of several statues on the roof of Florence’s cathedral, and this upward looking perspective may explain why the figure’s head and hands are oversized compared to the rest of the body. After Michelangelo completed the work, cathedral officials decided it would be impossible to raise the six-ton statue to the roof, and decided to place it in the public square outside the Palazzo della Signoria, where it was unveiled in 1504. Erected during a period when the Medici family was banished from the Republic and democracy was flourishing, the David became a symbol of the power of the common people over tyrants. In 1873, because of weather damage, the statue was moved inside the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, where it remains. A replica was installed in the original location in 1910 (see image below left).  Random Trivia: (1) In 1991, a man smuggled a hammer into the museum and used it to destroy part of the David’s left foot, which was later restored using marble from the same quarry that provided the original stone. (2) The plan to place other statues on the roof of the Duomo never came to fruition, but in 2010, as part of the Florens 2010 forum, a fiberglass replica of the David was installed temporarily on the cathedral’s roof (see image below right).
david replica  david-duomo-firenze

238. The Marriage of the Virgin (Lo Sposalizio)

Artist: Raphael (born Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino)
Date: 1504
Period/Style: High Renaissance; Florence, Italy
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 5.75 ft. tall by 4 ft. wide
Current location: Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan, Italy

Raphael was still working as an assistant to Pietro Perugino when he painted The Marriage of the Virgin for the Franciscan church of San Francesco in the Umbrian town of Città di Castello. Although the matter is subject to some dispute, Raphael probably apparently based the composition on Perugino’s version of the same theme, from 1503-1504, which is now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Caen (see image below keft), and both paintings are indebted to Perugino’s 1486 Sistine Chapel fresco The Delivery of the Keys. Raphael’s version is unanimously considered the better of the two versions by far. His rendering captures the ideal beauty, perfection and harmony that are essential features of the High Renaissance style. The painting is based on a story from Jacobus de Varagine’s 13th Century book The Golden Legend, according to which Mary had many suito and each suitor was given a wooden rod to carry. God would indicate Mary’s prospective husband by making flowers bloom miraculously from the end of one of the rods.  Raphael shows the suitors on the left, each carrying his rod, and Joseph, placing the ring on Mary’s finger, with flowers at the end of his rod. One of the suitors is so upset at losing that he is breaking his rod over his knee. The priest marrying Joseph and Mary has a double beard reminiscent of many depictions of Moses. The perspective lines lead us back to the circular Renaissance structure in the rear, which recalls Bramante’s Tempietto (see image below right) of 1502. The perspectival lines actually converge on the open doorway of the building, leading to an open doorway on the other side and outside again, with the hazy landscape in the distance.  The Brera curator comments: “All elements are connected to each other by mathematical relations of proportion and placed according to a clear, logical hierarchical order … . The realisation of this coherent organism perfectly demonstrates Raphael’s vision.” Random Trivia: Franz Liszt wrote a composition for solo piano based on Raphael’s painting with the title “Sposalizio”; it is the first piece in his Années de pèlerinage:  Deuxième année – Italie (1858).
 

239. Adam and Eve (The Fall of Man)

Artist: Albrecht Dürer
Date: 1504
Period/Style: Northern Renaissance; Germany
Medium: Paper prints made from engravings
Dimensions: Each print is 10 inches tall by just under 8 inches wide
Current location: Various collections

Germany artist Albrecht Dürer was known as much for his engravings (and the widely-disseminated prints made from them) as for his oil paintings. In 1504, Dürer used his theory of the perfectly proportioned human form to make an engraving of Adam and Eve. Dürer poses his subjects in classical contrapposto stances, with all the body’s weight resting on one foot. Having Adam and Eve turn their heads toward each other detracts from the physical realism but adds to the emotional tension. Scholars have noted that the setting is less a Garden of Eden than a dense, somewhat menacing German forest. A mountain ash is chosen to represent the Tree of Life, while the Tree of Knowledge is a fig tree that inexplicably produces apple-shaped fruits. Four of the animals depicted represent the medieval idea of the humors, or temperaments of man: cat (choleric); rabbit (sanguine); ox (phlegmatic) and elk (melancholic). Random Trivia: In the top left of the print, a parrot sits on a branch over a sign in Latin (known as a cartellino) which translates to “Albrecht Dürer of Nuremberg Made This 1504.” Unlike the other animals shown, parrots were not native to Germany, but were a popular exotic pet at the time. 

240. The Holy Blood Altarpiece (Altar of the Holy Blood)

Artist: Tilman Riemenschneider
Date: Completed c. 1505
Period/Style: Northern Gothic; Northern Renaissance; Germany; religious
Medium: Limewood altarpiece (with some glass) containing unpainted sculptures in high and low relief
Dimensions: 29.5 ft. tall
Current location: St. Jakob Church, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
The Altar of the Holy Blood is a late Gothic masterpiece by German sculptor Tilman Riemenschneider. The altarpiece was built to house a supposed relic – a drop of Jesus’s blood – that was kept in a cross made of rock crystal. The triptych’s center panel depicts the Last Supper, which takes place in a real space with a table and glass windows at the rear (see detail in second image above). Breaking with Northern Gothic tradition, Riemenschneider did not have the figures painted; instead, he took on the challenge of carving in the details that paint would have provided, such as facial features. Riemenschneider also breaks with the traditional iconography by placing Judas (identifiable by the purse he carries, with the 30 silver pieces he received for betraying Jesus) in the center of the composition, facing Jesus. Riemenschneider captures the moment that Jesus gives Judas a piece of bread, a sign that he knows who will betray him. The wings are carved in low relief, with Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey on the left (see image below left) , and the agony in the garden of Gethsemane on the right (see image below right). Various other figures adorn the space above and below the central panels.
riemenschneider 2 

241. San Zaccaria Altarpiece

Artist: Giovanni Bellini
Date: 1505
Period/Style: High Renaissance; Venetian School; Venice, Italy; religious
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions:16.4 ft tall by 7.7 ft wide
Current location: San Zaccaria Church, Venice, Italy

Bellini’s San Zaccaria Altarpiece is a sacra conversazione between the Madonna and Child, at center, and (from left) St. Peter, St. Catherine, St. Lucy and St. Jerome. The female saints, who are martyrs, each holds a palm frond, a symbol of martyrdom. St. Peter holds the keys to heaven and St. Jerome, who translated the Bible into Latin, reads a Bible. Bellini uses the real architecture of the church in combination with the laws of perspective and trompe l’oeil effects to create an illusionistic chapel niche. Notes Dr. Sally HIckson: “There is virtually no break between the real architecture of the frame and the completely illusionistic, vaulted chapel in the painting — one exists on a continuum with the other.” One of Bellini’s innovations is to open up the architectural space to allow us to view landscape features in the background. Scholars believe that this painting shows the influence of Bellini’s student Giorgione, who would soon become a major figure in Venetian painting. Random Trivia: Photographer Thomas Struth created a large-scale photograph featuring Bellini’s altarpiece in 1995 (entitled San Zaccaria, Venice) as part of a series showing people interacting with works of art in museums and other venues (see image below).

242. Madonna del Prato (Madonna of the Meadow)

Artist: Raphael
Date: 1505-1506
Period/Style: High Renaissance; Italy; religious
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 3.7 ft. tall by 2.9 ft. wide
Current location: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria

Florentine painter Raphael’s Madonna of the Meadow shows the Virgin Mary watching over her son Jesus and the infant John the Baptist in a lush green meadow. Jesus takes hold of a cross held by John, signaling his willingness to endure the suffering and death to come. He puts his other hand on his mother, who supports the unsteady toddler. Raphael adopts Leonardo da Vinci’s techniques of pyramidal composition and chiaroscuro to create the illusion of substantial forms, but he rejects Leonardo’s dark palette, choosing instead the lighter colors of his teacher Perugino. Mary is posed in contrapposto, with her right leg along a diagonal orthogonal; her body provides a barrier between the two innocent children and the world that stretches out behind her. She manages to look at both children at once, and all three figures are linked through hand and eye contact. The curves of the landscape behind them echoes the curves of Mary’s red and blue garments. Despite the aerial perspective, which gives an immensity and immediacy to the landscape, Raphael achieves a sense of calm and serenity in both the green meadow and the tender moment in the foreground.

243. Hergottskirche Altarpiece (St. Mary Altar; Creglingen Altarpiece)

Artist: Tilman Riemenschneider
Date: While some art historians date the altarpiece to 1495-1499, most believe it was made after the Holy Blood Altar in Rothenburg, and assign it dates of 1505-1508.
Period/Style: Northern Gothic; Northern Renaissance; Germany; religious
Medium: Altarpiece with relief sculptures carved from linden wood
Dimensions: 30.2 ft. tall by 12.1 ft. wide when open. The center panel is 6 ft. wide.
Current location: Herrgottskirche, Cregligen-am-Taube, Germany

Tilman Riemanschneider is a transitional figure in Northern European art, with one foot in the Northern Gothic tradition that had reigned for centuries, and another in the new humanistic approach of the Renaissance, which had slowly been making its way north from Italy. The Hergottskirche Altarpiece combines elements of the old and new. A triptych with unpainted sculpted wood figures, its center panel depicts in high relief the Assumption of Mary into heaven as the 12 apostles look on (see detail in image below). The left wing shows the Visitation and the Annunciation in low relief. The right wing, also in low relief, shows the Nativity and the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. Above the main panels is a depiction of the Coronation of Mary. Below in the predella are the Adoration of the Magi, a non-biblical scene of a five-year-old Jesus giving a speech, and the reliquary, where a relic was kept until it was lost. Throughout the piece, but particularly in the center panel, Riemenschneider’s figures possess a fluidity and motion derived from the flowing lines of their garments. Random Trivia: The altarpiece was situated so that every year on the feast of the Assumption of Mary (August 15) the light from the setting sun illuminated that carved scene (calendar changes have since pushed the date back to August 25).

244. Mona Lisa (La Gioconda)

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
Date: Most agree that the painting was begun in Milan about 1503, with major work completed by 1506, but that Leonardo continued to work on the portrait and may not have completed it until 1516-1517. Some scholars believe the painting begun in 1503 has been lost and the surviving portrait was not begun until 1513.
Period/Style: High Renaissance; Italy; secular portrait
Medium: Oil paints on Lombardy poplar panels
Dimensions: 2.5 ft. tall by 1.7 ft. wide
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
Mona_Lisa
The Mona Lisa is probably the most famous painting in the world; it has been studied, copied, parodied and used in thousands of advertisements, memes and cartoons. The small painting is a portrait of Lisa del Giocondo (born Lisa Gherardini), the third wife of Francesco di Bartolomeo di Zanobi del Giocondo, a Florentine cloth and silk merchant. But although del Giocondo commissioned the work, there is no evidence that he ever paid for it or received it. In fact, Leonardo da Vinci kept the painting with him for years, probably continuing to work on it after he moved from Italy to France. It was eventually purchased by French king Francis I, the patron of Leonardo’s last years. The painting, which follows Leonardo’s favorite compositional model, the pyramid, shows the subject in a three-quarter pose. The subject’s face and clothing (in the fashionable Spanish style) are painted using a technique called sfumato, in which features are blurred into one another using light and shadow instead of being clearly delineated, creating a sense that the painted objects are slightly out of focus. Some aspects of the painting hearken back to traditional Madonna paintings, but the artist distances us from the subject by inserting the arm of a chair between her and the viewer. Also distancing us from the subject is her famous enigmatic expression with the half-smile that, some have said, looks on the viewer with bemusement while she keeps her secrets to herself. Richard Alleyne of The Telegraph writes, “One of the charms of the [Mona Lisa] is that she appears radiant one moment and then serious and sardonic the next”, The landscape behind the Mona Lisa has also attracted attention; Leonardo uses a technique called aerial perspective to show us an idealized landscape. A contemporary drawing of the painting by Raphael shows a different background, with prominent columns. This has led some art historians to speculate that an earlier version of the portrait has been lost and the existing version (without the columns) came later. Random Trivia: Two parodies are shown below: at left, a print by Eugène Bataille (a.k.a. Sapeck) of Mona Lisa smoking a pipe, which was published in Le Rire in 1887; at right, Marcel Duchamp’s L.H.O.O.Q. (loosely translated by Duchamp as “there is a fire down below”) which was published in 1920 along with a Dada manifesto in the journal 391.
mona lisa parody  Marcel_Duchamp,_1919,_L.H.O.O.Q

246. The Tempest

Artist: Giorgione (born Giorgio Barbarelli da Castelfranco)
Date: c. 1506-1508
Period/Style: High Renaissance; Venetian School; Venice, Italy; landscape with figures
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.7 ft. tall by 2.4 ft. wide
Current location: Galleria dell’Accademia, Venice, Italy
giorgione tempest Giorgione was one of a school of Venetian painters who pioneered a High Renaissance style that differed from that of Florence and Rome in its focus on creating form through color instead of drawing. Giorgione, who is only known from about six existing works, created the enigmatic painting known as The Tempest for the Venetian noble Gabriele Vendramin. Considered the most representative of Giorgione’s surviving works, The Tempest has been called the first true landscape painting. There is no scholarly consensus on how to interpret the painting, which was listed in a 1530 catalog as “the little landscape on canvas with a tempest, gypsy woman and a soldier.” The most common theories include: (1) a shepherd or a soldier ignores a Gypsy woman nursing a baby, while a storm brews behind them; (2) after being expelled from Eden by God (represented by the lightning), Adam and Eve stop so that Eve can nurse her son Cain; (3) Joseph, Mary and Jesus rest during their flight into Egypt to escape Herod; (4) Giorgione paints a family portrait of himself, his wife and their child; (5) the goddess Demeter nurses one of the twins she had with Iasion, who stands and looks, unaware that Zeus is preparing to kill him with a thunderbolt; and (6) Paris the shepherd watches as his wife Onenone, the mountain nymph, nurses their son Corythus. Each interpretation has its own meaning for the lightning, the stork/crane on the roof and the broken columns. As one critic pointed out, however, “none of [the interpretations] is totally convincing.” To add to the mystery, X-ray analysis shows that Giorgione had originally painted a nude female in place of the man on the left.

247. The Three Philosophers

Artist: Giorgione (completed by Sebastiano del Piombo)
Date: c. 1506-1509
Period/Style: High Renaissance; Venetian School; Venice, Italy; landscape with figures
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4 ft. tall by 4.75 ft. wide
Current location: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria
giorgione three philosophersThe Three Philosophers, commissioned by Venetian noble Taddeo Contarini, was one of Giorgione’s last works; he was so ill at the end that Sebastiano del Piombo had to add the finishing touches. Scholars believe that significant portions of the painting were trimmed away over the years, leaving the composition unbalanced. The work received its name in 1525, during the cataloging of the owner’s art, when it was described as “Three philosophers in a landscape.” The true meaning of the scene is a mystery, although many have attempted an explication. Traditionally, the painting was said to show the three Magi standing before a grotto where Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus were staying, but the overwhelming weight of scholarship has rejected this interpretation. Some identify the turbaned man as the Muslim philosopher Averroes. Some say the cave that the sitting young man is measuring is Plato’s cave, from which we see the shadows of the Ideal Forms. Others argue that the men stand for three phases of life (young, middle aged and old), three time periods (Antiquity, Middle Ages, Renaissance) or three religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism). Some have tied the painting to astronomical events, noting that the bearded man is holding a scroll containing the word, “eclipse.” There is consensus on Giorgione’s masterful handling of light and delicate sfumato technique, as well as his bold use of color, all of which combine to create a fully-realized work of art, no matter what its intended subject.

248. Adam and Eve

Artist: Albrecht Dürer
Date: 1507
Period/Style: Northern Renaissance; Germany, religious
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels (set of two)
Dimensions: Each painting is 6.8 ft. tall by 2.7 ft. wide.
Current location: Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain
 
Three years after his popular Adam and Eve engraving, after his second trip to Italy, Albrecht Dürer took on the same subject to create a pair of oil paintings showing a first couple who are slimmed-down and more natural-looking than the 1504 engraving (see images above). Scholars believe these are the first two life-size nudes in the history of German painting. Dürer blends the realistic detail of Northern European painting with the Italian treatment of light and shadow to create two figures who emerge from the dark background as fully realized bodies. Their expressions and stances also tell a story. Eve, whose stance has been described as “almost dancing”, has barely taken the fruit from the snake when she is already looking over to Adam with a seductive look. Adam, on the other hand, seems a bit befuddled and is cast as the unwitting victim of Eve’s womanly wiles. Note also that while the paintings consist of two separate panels, the poses of the two figures balance each other as in a traditional diptych. Random Trivia: The pair of paintings has had many illustrious owners, from Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II to Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus to kings Philip IV and Charles III of Spain, before arriving at the Museo del Prado in Madrid in 1827. 

249. The Pastoral Concert

Artist: Titian (born Tiziano Vecelli) 
Date: c. 1508-1510
Period/Style: High Renaissance; Venetian School; Venice, Italy
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.4 feet tall by 4.5 feet wide
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
pastoral concert The painting known as the Pastoral Concert or Pastoral Symphony is considered by some to be the masterpiece of the Venetian Renaissance. It was originally attributed to Giorgione, but more recently, scholars have come to believe that it is an early work by Giorgione’s pupil, Titian. The meaning of the painting, with its two clothed males and two nude females, has been the subject of endless debate, but many scholars now interpret the piece as an allegory about poetry. The young man with the lute, dressed as an aristocrat, is a superior lyricist, while his companion, dressed as a peasant, is an ordinary poet. The two nudes are the muses of poetry, with the symbolic attributes of lyricism: playing the flute and drawing water. The women are part of the supernatural world, which explains why the men do not notice them, and why they are comfortable with their nudity. The shepherd playing the bagpipes… not sure where he fits in. The artist’s decision to depict the flute-playing Muse from behind was innovative, and very influential. It is said that Manet painted his Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe – another composition with two clothed men and two nude women – after viewing The Pastoral Concert in the Louvre in Paris (where it remains) in 1863. 

250. The School of Athens

Artist: Raphael 
Date: 1510-1511
Period/Style: High Renaissance; Rome, Italy; allegory/portraits
Medium: Fresco painted on the walls of a reception room
Dimensions: 16.5 ft. tall by 25 ft. wide
Current location: Stanza della Signatura, Vatican Palace, Vatican City
school of athensThe School of Athens is one of several frescoes that Florentine artist Raphael painted on the walls of a suite of reception rooms in the Vatican Palace. The School of Athens, an allegorical painting on the topic of philosophy, adorns one wall of the Stanza della Segnatura (Room of the Signatura) and bears the inscription “Causarum Cognito” (“Seek Knowledge of Causes”). The frescoes on the other three walls represent Poetry and Music, Theology, and Law. Painted with impeccable attention to the laws of linear one-point perspective, Raphael’s fresco shows an open forum that recedes into the background. At the center, at the perspectival vanishing point, Plato (holding the Timaeus) and Aristotle (with the Nicomachean Ethics) walk and talk together (see detail below left). The remaining figures represent other philosophers, but there is some dispute about their identities. Most scholars agree that Socrates, Pythagoras, Euclid, Ptolemy and Zoroaster are among those pictured. As models for some of the figures, Raphael drew upon his fellow artists: art historians have found portraits of Raphael’s mentor Leonardo da Vinci (as Plato), Michelangelo (as Heraclitus), Donatello (as Plotinus), Donato Bramante (as Euclid or Archimedes), and Raphael’s own self-portrait (as Apelles, looking at the viewer – see detail below right). The inclusion of Bramante the architect is particularly apt, as the architecture that surrounds the philosophers imitates his style. The School of Athens is a tribute to Renaissance humanism, the proponents of which saw themselves as continuing the Classical tradition of scholarly investigation embodied in these ancient philosophers. Random Trivia: Rock band Guns n’ Roses used two of the figures on the right side of The School of Athens in the cover art for their Use Your Illusion albums.
plato and aristotle  

251. The Fetus in the Womb

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
Date: 1510-1513
Period/Style: High Renaissance; Italy
Medium: Drawing in artist’s notebook made with black chalk, sanguine, pen and ink wash on paper.
Dimensions: 12 inches tall by 8.7 inches wide
Current location: The Royal Collection, UK

A scientist as well as an artist, Leonardo da Vinci studied human anatomy by sketching cadavers, with the assistance of Marantonio della Torre, an anatomist. He sketched the fetus and uterus of a deceased pregnant woman and made extensive notes on his observations. This and other drawings of the fetus are located in the third volume of Leonardo’s notebooks. The drawings contain new revelations about the physiology of development and debunk some myths (such as the belief that the uterus contained more than one chamber).

252. Christ Carrying the Cross

Artist: Follower of Hieronymus Bosch
Date: c. 1510-1535
Period/Style: Early Netherlandish; Northern Renaissance; Netherlands; religious
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 2.4 ft tall by 2.6 ft wide
Current location: Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Ghent, Belgium
Although the official notation at the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent, Belgium attributes Christ Carrying the Cross to Hieronymus Bosch and dates it between 1510 and 1516, the year of Bosch’s death, many scholars now believe that it was painted by a follower of Bosch, not Bosch himself, between 1510 and 1535. The crowded street scene shows Jesus (at center) and St. Veronica (at left, with the image of Jesus on her veil) surrounded by a variety of ghoulish and gruesome members of the public. Also shown are the penitent and impenitent thieves, who are crucified with Jesus. Random Trivia: Although the attribution of the painting in Ghent is in question, Bosch did paint at least two versions on the same theme, one in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, dated to the 1480s (see image below left) and one in the Palacio Real in Madrid, dated to 1505–1507 (see image below right).
 

253. Frescoes, Sistine Chapel Ceiling

Artist: Michelangelo 
Date: The work began in 1508 and was completed in 1512.
Period/Style: High Renaissance; Rome, Italy; religious
Medium: Frecoes painted on chapel ceiling
Dimensions: 131 ft. long by 43 ft. wide
Current location: Sistine Chapel, Vatican Palace, Vatican City
sistine chapel ceiling Michelangelo_-_Creation_of_Adam michelangelo sistine chapel sun and moon  “I am no painter,” Michelangelo wrote to a friend while painting the frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Although he was known for his sculptures, Michelangelo was commissioned by Pope Julius II to paint religious scenes over the blue ceiling (dotted with stars) of the chapel where the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church met to elect new popes. Michelangelo’s formidible reputation earned him an unusual amount of control over the ontent of the frescoes. The complex scheme includes a realistic but fictitious painted architecture, complete with putti (or cherubs) in grisaille, portraits of both Biblical patriarchs and prophets and pagan sibyls believed to have predicted the coming of Christ), portraits of Jesus’s ancestors, and scenes from the Old Testament. There are nine large panels in the center of the ceiling, with three panels each for the Creation, the story of Adam and Eve, and the story of Noah and the Flood. The specific scenes, all referenced in the Book of Genesis are (in chronological order): (1) God separates the light from the darkness; (2) creation of the sun, the moon and vegetation (see third image above); (3)  God separates the land from the sea; (4) creation of Adam; (5) creation of Eve; (6) original sin and banishment from the garden of Eden; (7) the sacrifice of Noah; (8) the flood; (9) the drunkenness of Noah. Michelangelo set up his scaffolding at the far end of the chapel and began painting the Noah story. When he came back down to see his progress from below, he realized the figures were too small to be seen clearly (the ceiling is 68 feet high) so he simplified his compositions and made the figures larger. The final six panels he painted are the most magnificent. The Creation of Adam (see second image above) is justly the most famous image of the ceiling: God, swathed in an angel-festooned cloud, reaches out his hand, while the waking human being reaches out and their fingers almost touch. Throughout the work, Michelangelo pays tribute to an idealized notion of the human form – perfectly muscled beings (the women’s bodies look male for a reason: nude female models were not morally acceptable in the Renaissance) who seem sculpted rather than painted. The work took five years, with a break in the middle. Contrary to myth, Michelangelo stood upright on scaffolding, not on his back, while executing the work, which required him to tilt his head backward for long periods. Over the years, candle smoke darkened and subdued the frescoes, so much so that when a 20-year restoration was completed in 1999, a few were shocked by the brilliance and vividness of the original colors, although most were astonished by the revelation of the artist’s “jewel like palette.”  The images below show: at left, the Prophet Joel; and, at right, the Libyan Sibyl. Random Trivia: In 1509, soon after beginning the project, Michelangelo wrote a poem to his friend Giovanni da Pistoia lamenting his experience of painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling, which includes the line, “My brush, above me all the time, dribbles paint so my face makes a fine floor for droppings!”
Joel_(Michelangelo)  sibyl sistine chapel

254. The Sistine Madonna

Artist: Raphael
Date: 1512-1514
Period/Style: High Renaissance; Italy; religious
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 8.7 ft. tall by 6.4 ft. wide
Current location: Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden, Germany

The curtains open on a heavenly scene: at the apex is the Madonna, her blue robe still swaying as if she has just arrived on the cloudy platform, and holding an older-than-usual Christ child resting comfortably in his mother’s arms. Below Mary are St. Sixtus, a former Pope, and St. Barbara.  Still further down are two cherubs resting on a balustrade, which also supports the papal crown. In the background, barely visible, are the white faces of cherubs innumerable. Raphael was commissioned by Pope Julius II to paint a Virgin, Child and Sts. Sixtus and Barbara as an altarpiece for Benedictine basilica of the Monastery of San Sisto in Piacenza. The work soon became known as the Sistine Madonna. In 1754, Polish King Augustus II bought the painting and moved it to Dresden. During World War II, the Sistine Madonna was saved from Allied firebombing. At the end of the war, the Soviets came into possession of the painting and brought it to Moscow, only to return it to Germany in 1955. Random Trivia: Since at least the beginning of the 20th Century, the two cherubs at the bottom of the Sistine Madonna have become cultural icons and have been used as decoration and on such items as t-shirts, postcards and wrapping paper (see image below).

255. Moses, Tomb of Pope Julius II

Artist: Michelangelo
Date: c. 1513-1515
Period/Style: Late Renaissance/Mannerism; Italy
Medium: Marble statue
Dimensions: 7.7 feet tall by 6.8 feet wide
Current location: San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome, Italy

Pope Julius II’s 1505 plan for Michelangelo to design and sculpt his tomb in St. Peter’s Basilica was plagued by delays and complications, not the least of which was the same pope’s 1508 command that Michelangelo paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. After completing the chapel in 1512, Michelangelo began work on the tomb, which was to have over 40 statues on multiple tiers (see 1505 drawing by Michelangelo of one version of his plan below left). Michelangelo placed Moses in a pose similar to that of the prophets on the Sistine Chapel ceiling; he has just returned from Mt. Sinai to find the Israelites worshipping the Golden Calf, and the anger shows in his face and throughout his body (see first image). Because Moses was to be placed on a high tier, some of his proportions are exaggerated to compensate for the upward-looking viewer. After Pope Julius II died in 1513, the Vatican severely downscaled Michelangelo’s original, placing Moses in the center of a two-tiered monument and placing it not at St. Peter’s Basilica but in the much smaller church of San Pietro in Vincoli (see image below right showing the entire Tomb of Julius II, which was not completed until 1545). Many are confused by the horns on the head of Moses, although they are a common sight in Medieval and Renaissance representations of the figure from the Book of Exodus. According to St. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate Bible, when Moses returned from Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments, he had grown horns. Scholars now believe that St. Jerome mistranslated the original Hebrew term “keren”, which can mean both “growing horns” and “emitting rays of light.” It remains in San Pietro in Vincoli (St. Peter in Chains) in Rome. Random Trivia: Although the “Tomb” of Julius II is located in San Pietro in Vincoli, his body is actually interred in St. Peter’s Basilica, along with the other popes.
 

256. Melencolia I

Artist: Albrecht Dürer
Date: 1514
Period/Style: Northern Gothic; Northern Renaissance; Germany; allegory
Medium: Paper print from copper engraving
Dimensions: 9.5 inches tall by 7.3 inches wide
Current locations: Varioius collections

For so many centuries (and even today), only the richest people could dream of owning original art by well-known artists. Prints made from woodcuts and engravings (and later etchings) were relatively inexpensive artworks that middle class people could afford. Albrecht Dürer had proved in 1498 with his Apocalypse that there was a market for his prints. In 1513-1514, he created three copper engravings that have become known as the Master Engravings, including Melencolia I. The monochrome print announces its title by means of a bat-like creature carrying a banner in the background, where a beacon of light and a rainbow over the ocean appear to bring hope. In the foreground, however, melancholy rules. A winged figure sits dejected, head in hand, next to a putto in the same state. The winged figure holds a caliper and is surrounded by the unused tools of mathematics, geometry and carpentry. On the wall is a magic square that adds up to 34 in every direction and gives us the date of the print (see detail in image below). One scholar called the print a spiritual self-portrait of the artist. Medieval thought saw melancholia as the worst of the four humors, associated with black gall and often leading to insanity. Renaissance humanists, on the other hand, identified melancholy as the mood of the artistic genius. An influential treatise listed the creative imagination as the first and lowest of the three states of mind (beneath reason and spirit), which perhaps explains the “I” in the title. At least one art historian has noted the irony of Dürer identifying with a paralyzed and powerless artist when he was in fact at the peak of his artistic powers and productivity in 1514.
MagicSquareBig

257. Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione

Artist: Raphael
Date: 1514-1515
Period/Style: High Renaissance; Italy; secular portrait
Medium: Oil on wood panels, later transferred to canvas
Dimensions: 2.7 ft. tall by 2.2 ft. wide, although the lower portion may have been trimmed.
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

Humanist, writer and diplomat Baldassare Castiglione would become famous in 1528 as the result of his famous book on proper aristocratic behavior, The Book of the Courtier, but at the time of this portrait, he and Raphael were rising stars in Urbino’s political and cultural circles. When Castiglione was assigned as ambassador to the Vatican in 1514, he left his family behind, but in a letter he implied that they could console themselves by looking at his portrait. The portrait to which Castiglione referred may be the one that hangs today in the Louvre in Paris. That portrait, painted in Rome during the winter of 1514-1515, shows Castiglione as the perfect courtier – understated, sensitive and humane. Shown in three-quarter profile with a direct gaze against a plain tan background, Castiglione seems very real. Raphael has used a pyramidal composition and a limited palette. His treatment of the gray squirrel fur has been singled out by art historians as remarkable, if counterintuitive. Many consider it the pinnacle of Renaissance portraiture. 

258. The Isenheim Altarpiece

Artist: Matthias Grünewald (Mathis Gothart or Neithardt) (paintings); Niclaus of Hagenau (sculptures)
Date: 1515 or 1516.
Period/Style: Northern Gothic; Northern Renaissance; Germany/France; religious
Medium: Wooden altarpiece with painted and sculpted panels
Dimensions: 9 ft. tall by 10 ft. wide (center panel); 7.5 ft. tall by 2.5 ft. wide (wings); 2.5 ft. high by 11 ft. wide (predella).
Current location: Musée Unterlinden, Colmar, France
isenheim 1 Grunewald_Isenheim2 Isenheim 2The monks of the Monastery of St. Anthony in Isenheim ran a hospital. When visitors to the chapel of the hospital looked up at the altar, they saw a Crucifixion scene like no other: Christ’s twisted, emaciated torso is afflicted with plague-like sores. The message to the sick and their caregivers is that Jesus shares the suffering of the hospital’s patients. The altarpiece contains a sculpted scene by Niclaus of Hagenau when fully open but is best known for the paintings of Matthias Grünewald, who retained an expressionistic Gothic sensibility even as he adopted the most recent Renaissance techniques. Due to hinged panels, the altarpiece presents several views, which would have been opened on Sundays and holy days. The first view, with the wings closed, shows the Crucifixion in the center, and two protectors of the sick, St. Sebastian (being martyred) on the left wing and St. Anthony on the right wing. The predella below shows the Lamentation over Christ’s Dead Body. The second view shows the Annunciation, the Nativity (with a concert of angels) and the Resurrection. The third view contains two paintings of events in the life of St. Anthony, with sculpted figures of St. Anthony, St. Augustine and St. Jerome in the center. Matthias Grünewald’s Gothic realism inspired 20th Century expressionists like Otto Dix and George Grosz. The altarpiece also inspired an opera and symphony (Mathis der Maler) by 20th Century composer Paul Hindemith.

259. Madonna of the Harpies

Artist: Andrea del Sarto
Date: 1515-1517
Period/Style: High Renaissance (with elements of Mannerism); Italy
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 6.8 feet tall by 5.8 feet wide
Current location: Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy

Andrea del Sarto may have had difficulty following instructions. When the nuns of the San Francesco de ‘Macci convent asked him to paint the Coronation of the Virgin Mary with Sts. Bonaventure and John the Evangelist, he returned with a painting showing the Virgin Mary standing on a pedestal with gruesome harpies carved into it (see detail in image below), and while he did include St. John, he painted St. Francis instead of St. Bonaventure. An inscription in the pedestal mentions the Assumption, but current thinking is that the picture is supposed to refer to Mary’s triumph over evil (symbolized by the harpies), as described in the Book of Revelations. Del Sarto arranges his figures in a pyramidal compositional framework. The baby Jesus, standing in contrapposto, appears older and more muscular than is typical. He forms a triangle (through pose and gaze) with the two playful putti below him; their lightheartedness contrasts with the seriousness of the adults. Madonna of the Harpies is considered Andrea del Sarto’s most important contribution to Renaissance painting. Del Sarto was renowned for his skills by contemporaries, but he has been eclipsed somewhat by his more famous High Renaissance contemporaries Leonardo, Raphael, and Michelangelo, whose work he was able to synthesize to incorporate the best of each artist’s style. In the words of art historian Jill Kiefer, Madonna of the Harpies is “considered to be the prototype of classicism instilled into religious subjects, a refined synthesis of Leonardesque `sfumato’, Raphaelesque balance, and plastic monumentality in the style of Michelangelo.” 

260. Rebellious Slave and Dying Slave

Artist: Michelangelo
Date: Michelangelo began work in 1513 and abandoned the unfinished figures c. 1516.
Period/Style: High Renaissance; Rome, Italy; religious
Medium: Marble sculptures
Dimensions: The Rebellious Slave is 6.8 ft. tall; the Dying Slave is 7 ft. tall
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
 
The pair of unfinished marble statues known as the Dying Slave (see image above at left) and Rebellious Slave (see image at right) were originally meant to be part of Michelangelo’s elaborate Tomb of Pope Julius II, a project that consumed the artist for nearly 40 years. He conceived an enormous three-tiered monument including over 40 statues (see drawing of one version of the plan below left). After the pope’s death, however, the new pope (Leo X, a member of the Medici family) ordered the tomb scaled down to a simple wall tomb (now located in Rome’s San Pietro in Vincoli) and much of Michelangelo’s work had to be abandoned. Many of the other planned figures, including the Dying and Rebellious slaves (now at the Louvre), the Genius of Victory (at the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence – see image below right) and four other unfinished slaves at the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence were no longer necessary. (The term “slave” is a 19th Century term; documents from Michelangelo’s time refer to the figures as “prigioni”, or prisoners.) The Rebellious Slave strains to release his fettered hands from bondage, twisting his body and forcing his head and knee toward the viewer. The Dying Slave appears to be at the moment of death – letting himself slip away from this world into the next with something like acceptance. Both figures embody (literally) Michelangelo’s knowledge of and devotion to the nude male form, its sensuality as well as its dignity. Random Trivia: In 1546, long after it was clear that the statues would never be used for their original purpose, Michelangelo gave them to his friend Roberto Strozzi in gratitude for allowing the artist to convalesce in Strozzi’s Roman home during a serious illness. Today they stand in the Louvre.
 

261. The Transfiguration

Artist: Raphael
Date: 1516-1520
Period/Style: High Renaissance; Rome, Italy; religious
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 13.25. ft. tall and 9.1 ft. wide
Current location: Vatican Museums, Vatican City

One of Raphael’s last paintings, The Transfiguration is the crowning achievement of his short career; he died in 1520 at the age of 37. Commissioned by Cardinal Giulio de Medici as an altarpiece for the Narbonne Cathedral in France, The Transfiguration went instead to the church of San Pietro in Rome. An early modello indicates that Raphael’s original design was to portray only the transfiguration of Jesus on Mt. Tabor, but he eventually adopted the concept of another artist and divided the canvas in two, with the Transfiguration in the upper register, and the Miracle of the Possessed Boy in the lower portion. The upper portion shows a floating Jesus framed by an illuminated cloud, while prophets Moses and Elijah fly up to meet him.  On the ground below are James, Peter and John. (See image below left for Raphael’s preparatory studies of Sts. Peter and John, which are in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford University.) The upper portion of the composition may be understood as a series of intersecting triangles, as Romantic painter J.M.W. Turner explained in a lecture to the Royal Academy on the subject in 1802 (see Turner’s visual aid, which is in the Tate Collection, in the image below right). Despite the theological importance of the story in the upper section, the lower register seems more alive. It shows the apostles unsuccessfully trying to cure a boy believed to be possessed with demons (although some scholars have identified the illness as epilepsy, which was widely misunderstood even in the Renaissance). The boy, surrounded by his family, is rendered with passionate intensity, while the apostles, on the left, seem at a loss. St. Matthew, at lower left, gestures to the viewer, to include us in the events. From a compositional standpoint, the kneeling woman in the figura serpentina pose in the foreground, plays a crucial role – she links the apostle group with the boy and his family, and her closeness and intense reflection of light draw the viewer’s eye to her. From the point of view of art history, Raphael’s work anticipates both Mannerism, which was about to begin, and the Baroque style of a century later. Random Trivia:  Napoleon confiscated the painting and brought it to France 1797. The painting was returned to Italy in the Treaty of Paris in 1815 and is now located in the Vatican Museums in Vatican City. A mosaic copy from 1767 adorns a chapel in St. Peter’s Basilica.
 

262. Portrait of Pope Leo X with Two Cardinals (Pope Leo X)

Artist: Raphael
Date: c. 1518-1520
Period/Style: High Renaissance; Rome, Italy; portraiture
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 5.1 ft. tall by 3.9 ft. wide
Current location: Uffizi Gallery, Florence

The papacy of Leo X was rocked by controversy: in 1517, Martin Luther had issued his 95 Theses.  Among Luther’s complaints was his condemnation of Leo X’s sale of indulgences to help fund the building of the new St. Peter’s Basliica. Leo X, the first pope from the powerful Medici family of Florence, was also known for a different kind of indulgence: his appetites for pleasure brought disrepute to the office, although his strong support for the arts kept many artists employed. Study of the underpainting shows that Raphael initially planned to depict only the pope, but later added his two relatives: Giulio di Giuliano de’ Medici (the future Pope Clement VII) on the left and, probably, Luigi de’ Rossi on the right. Unlike the typically idealized portraits of the High Renaissance (including by Raphael himself), this portrait is not particularly flattering; Leo is shown as overweight and with a five o’clock shadow. The purpose of the painting has been debated. Some believe it was sent to a family wedding that the Pope could not attend. Those who believe the painting had a religious purpose point to the open illustrated Bible on the table (see detail in image below). The Bible has been identified as what is now known as the Hamilton Bible, a 14th Century manuscript that was owned by Leo’s father, Lorenzo “the Magnificent” de’ Medici. (Other Medici references include the bell, which is adorned with Medici symbols, and the knob on the pope’s chair, which resembles the round balls, or palle, that make up the Medici coat of arms.) The Bible is opened to the last page of the Gospel of Luke and the first page of the Gospel of John. In Luke, Jesus tells the Apostles to pray in the Temple, which could be a reference to Martin Luther’s attacks on the building of St. Peter’s Basilica.  The Gospel of John begins “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him.”  This may be a reference to Pope Leo X himself, whose birth name was Giovanni (Italian for John); the implication of the passage is that obedience to the pope is essential, in contrast to Martin Luther’s doctrine that faith alone was necessary for salvation. According to art historian Christine Zappella, despite its unusual characteristics, the painting belongs to the best work of the period: “The unflattering likeness of Leo, along with intricate details, such as the reflection of the interior of the room on the metal surface of the ball on the chair, show a complete mastery of the art of painting and a conception of naturalism entirely in keeping with the goals of the High Renaissance.”

263. Man with a Glove

Artist: Titian
Date: c. 1519-1522
Period/Style: High Renaissance; Venetian School; secular portrait
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.3 ft tall by 2.9 ft wide
Current lcoation: Musée du Louvre, Paris, Paris

Titian’s portrait of a young Venetian aristocrat (art historians are unsure of his identity – some believe it is Gerolamo Adorno) pays close attention to his fashionable clothing (including his status-symbol gloves), haircut and jewelry, including the ring on the index finger of his right hand bearing a coat of arms. Save for a block of marble at right, the space around the subject (who is shown in a three-quarters view, looking to his left), is dark and nearly devoid of detail. Titian was an early proponent of the psychological portrait, which sought to convey the subject’s character more through facial expression instead of attributes and other physical objects. Here, the lighting of the portrait directs the eye to the subject’s turned head, where we see the determined expression of a young man wishing to be taken seriously.  “Only the young man’s piercing eyes betray his sensitivity, his melancholy grace and his poise” comments the curator of the Louvre. Although the dominant colors is black, due to the subject’s clothing (black was the characteristic color for young aristocrats of the day), Titian still manages to provide a wide range of muted colors through his use of glazes.  

264. The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb

Artist: Hans Holbein the Younger
Date: 1520-1522
Period/Style: Northern Renassiance; Germany; religious
Medium: Oil and tempera paints on limewood panels
Dimensions: 1 ft. high by 6.5 ft. long
Current location: Kunstmuseum, Basel, Switzerland
HolbeinDeadChrist The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb is a macabre study of the humanness of Jesus and the horror of death. Lying on a stone slab within a claustrophobic wooden box, rigor mortis setting in, flesh beginning to rot, Jesus’ dead eyes look toward heaven and his open mouth seems about to speak (see detail in first image below). His hair falls over the edge of the stone block, into our space. The middle finger of Jesus’ right hand is raised and extended, as if trying to point (see second image below). Above the body, angels holding instruments of the Passion carry an inscription on a paper scroll inscribed with Latin words for “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” Scholars do not know what the unusually long, narrow piece was intended for: the predella of an altarpiece, the top of a tomb or a stand-alone piece for gruesome meditation? No one knows. We do know that, according to legend, Holbein’s model was a body fished out of the Rhine. As Jonathan Jones of The Guardian observes, the painting’s realism is meant to communicate that death awaits us all: “There is nothing Christlike about this body, nothing to set it apart. It is anyone’s corpse. Holbein presents it as naturally and clinically as a pathologist showing you an accident victim on a hospital mortuary slab. Few artists have ever exposed our fate more ruthlessly.” Random Trivia: Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky was so obsessed with the painting that his wife had to drag him away from it for fear that it would trigger an epileptic seizure; he later had a character in The Idiot comment that the painting could make someone lose his faith. 

265. Descent from the Cross (Deposition from the Cross)

Artist: Rosso Fiorentino (born Giovanni Battista di Jacopo)
Date: c. 1521
Period/Style: Late Renaissance/Mannerism; Italy; religious
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 12.3 ft tall by 6.4 ft wide
Current location: Pinacoteca, Volterra, Italy

Considered Rosso Fiorentino’s greatest work, Descent from the Cross, painted in the Mannerist style, presents us with two distinct areas of activity. At the top, four men remove the body of Jesus from the cross, their limbs forming a series of interlocking geometric patterns around the limp body of the dead man. Unlike the centrally-concentrated compositions of the High Renaissance, we find the figures dispersed, seeking the frame instead of the center. The landscape is significantly reduced.  The lower portion of the painting focuses on the grief of Jesus’ friends and family: at right, St. John covers his face in solitary grief, while at left, Mary stands between two other grieving women, while a prostrate Mary Magdalene clutches her legs. Frederic Hartt finds the painting “profoundly disturbing”; he notes “stiff, angular beings in the spasmodic motion of automatons”, “nude figures [that] look deliberately wooden [and] the draped ones like mere bundles of cloth.” Descent from the Cross was painted for the Volterra Duomo (Volterra Cathedral), but is now located in the Pinacoteca Comunale in Volterra. Random Trivia: The figure of Jesus may be based on a study for the Pietà by Michelangelo from 1519-1520, which is now in the Louvre (see image below).

266. The Bacchanal of the Andrians

Artist: Titian
Date: 1523-1526
Period/Style: Late Renaissance; Venetian School; Venice, Italy; mythological
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 5.7 ft tall by 6.3 ft wide
Current location: Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain
bacchanal of the andrians The Bacchanal of the Andrians is one of a series of mythological paintings made by Titian for the Camerini d’alabastro (alabaster chamber) of the castle of Alfonso I d’Este of Ferrara. The painting is based on a story told by 2nd Century CE Roman writer Philostratus, who imagined the visit of Bacchus and his entourage to the island of Andros, a magical place where wine, not water, flowed in its river. Titian paints the Andrians in varying states of inebriation as they await the visit of Bacchus, the god of wine, whose ship can be seen in the distance. Along with his teacher Giovanni Bellini and his colleague Giorgione, Titian’s work embodies the Venetian School’s tenet that color, more than form or content, is the emotional core of the painter’s art. Frederick Hartt notes: “The freedom of the poses (within Titian’s trangular system) is completely new. … Titian has extracted the greatest visual delight from the contrast of warm flesh with shimmering drapery and of light with unexpected dark.”  Random Trivia:  The sleeping nude at the lower right may have been an inspiration for Goya’s The Naked Maja (c. 1800).

267. Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror

Artist: Parmigianino (born Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola)
Date: c. 1524
Period/Style: Late Renaissance/Mannerism; Italy; self-portrait
Medium: Oil paints on convex wood panel
Dimensions: 9.6 inches in diameter
Current location: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria
Parmigianino’s Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror operates on a number of levels. It is, first of all, a virtuoso performance that demonstrates the 21-year-old painter’s talent, and he hoped it would earn him commissions. Parmigianino looked into a convex mirror, which distorts reflections so that objects change size and sharp edges become curved, and painted exactly what he saw. To increase the effect, he had a woodworker create a concave wooden platform on which to paint. Not coincidentally, his hand – the painter’s most important tool – is exaggerated by the mirror into monumentality. On a deeper level, however, the painting raises issues about the act of seeing. Parmigianino has created a painting that appears to be a mirror – complete with round frame – and asks us to look at it, as if we are looking into a mirror, but instead of our own reflection, we see his. The painting matches the Mannerist philosophy nicely, for Mannerists welcome distortion, even celebrate it. Random Trivia: In 1975, John Ashbery published an award-winning book of poetry titled Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror – the title poem reflects on the meaning of Parmigianino’s painting:

“As Parmigianino did it, the right hand
Bigger than the head, thrust at the viewer
And swerving easily away, as though to protect
What it advertises. …

Chiefly his reflection, of which the portrait Is the reflection, of which the portrait Is the reflection once removed.
The glass chose to reflect only what he saw
Which was enough for his purpose: his image
Glazed, embalmed, projected at a 180-degree angle. …”  

268. Portrait of François I King of France (Francis I)

Artist: Jean Clouet (with François Clouet?)
Date: c. 1525-1530
Period/Style: Northern Renaissance; Fontainebleau School; France; royal portrait
Medium: Oil paints and tempera on wood panels
Dimensions: 3.1 ft tall by 2.4 ft wide
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris

In this portrait, French painter Jean Clouet (possibly with the help of his son François) depicts the king of France without crown or scepter, but attired in the most opulent jewelry and Italian clothing. The artist (considered part of the Fontainebleau School, which was strongly influenced by Italian Renaissance styles) reminds us of the royal nature of the subject by showing us the crowns in the brocaded background. The king, who was beset by a great many political troubles during his reign (including a period of imprisonment by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V), was a great patron of the arts and so beloved by Clouet and his colleagues. He wears the medal of the Order of St. Michael, which he served as Grand Master. 

269. Pesaro Madonna (Madonna di Ca’ Pesaro)

Artist: Titian
Date: Begun in 1519 and completed in 1526
Period/Style: High Renaissance; Venetian School; Venice, Italy; religious
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 16 ft. tall by 8.8 ft. wide
Current location: Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari Church, Venice, Italy
titian pesaro
When Venetian painter Titian received a commission from Jacopo Pesaro, a bishop who served as the pope’s naval commander, to paint an altarpiece with the Madonna and Child for the family chapel, the artist knew exactly where the painting would be hung – on the left side of the church near the entrance – and so he made an historic decision. Because most viewers would approach the painting from the left, Titian decided to place Jesus and Mary in the upper right portion of the canvas, thus breaking hundreds of years of religious painting tradition in which the Madonna and Child were placed in the center. Consistent with the off-center composition, the perspectival vanishing point is far to the right. This off-center placement opened up numerous compositional possibilities for Titian and those who came after him, thereby changing the course of art history. The painting includes another break with tradition. Prior painters often relied on isosceles triangles (with two equal sides) in their compositions, but in the Pesaro Madonna, Titian created a series of scalene triangles (with three different sides), one beginning with Mary, another with St. Peter, who is below her on the staircase (see detail in image below). These triangles connect the kneeling donor with the Franciscan saints above him. Using the postures and gestures of the saints, and the placement of St. Peter’s keys and the banner held by the soldier (who holds captured foreign enemies – a reference to Pesaro’s 1502 victory over the Turks), Titian creates a series of diagonals that impart movement and energy. In particular, the contrasting positions of Mary and Jesus link the viewer to both the donor on the left (through St. Peter), and the donor’s family on the right (through St. Francis). In contrast with the energetic gesturing of the saints (and the angels above), the Pesaro family inhabit a more mundane world, pictured in profile (but for one curious child who stares directly at the viewer) and a little flat. Titian uses the rich, deep colors that characterize much of Venetian painting of this period.  Random Trivia: The large columns in the center of the painting are unprecedented, but x-ray analysis indicates that they were a later addition and Titian may not have painted them.

270. The Four Apostles

Artist: Albrecht Dürer
Date: 1526
Period/Style: Northern Renaissance; Germany; religious
Medium: Oil paints on lindenwood panels (pair)
Dimensions: Each panel measures 7.1 ft. tall by 2.5 ft. wide
Current location: Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Germany
durer apostles 1 durer apostles 2
As the Protestant Reformation swept through Northern Europe in the 16th Century, everyone had to make a choice whether to adopt the new faith or stay with the Roman Catholic church. For artists, the Reformation had significant consequences for their ability to make a living. The Roman church was the primary source of artistic commissions, while the new Protestant churches were wary of religious imagery. In these uncertain times for artists, the 55-year-old Albrecht Dürer decided not to wait for a commission, but to create a work of art and then try to find a buyer for it. He painted two panels showing four Apostles and presented it to the Town Council of Nuremberg, Germany, a Protestant community. Fortunately for Dürer, the town fathers accepted his offer. The two panels show St. John the Apostle and St. Peter (on the left) and Sts. Paul and Mark (on the right), with their attributes: John (open book), Peter (keys), Mark (scroll) and Paul (Bible). Always attuned to the desires of his audience, in his representation of the apostles, Dürer has taken care to emphasize Protestant values over Roman Catholic ones. John and Paul were favorites of Martin Luther, so they are placed in front. Peter, the apostle who most represents the Roman church, is depicted as old and somewhat out of touch, as he reads along from the Gospel of John in John’s Bible. The focus on reading the Bible reflects Luther’s belief that individuals should maintain a personal relationship with God by reading Scripture, preferably in their native language. To that end, quotations from the Bible in German taken from Martin Luther’s translation are displayed on the bottom of each panel.

271. The Deposition from the Cross (The Entombment of Christ)

Artist: Jacopo Pontormo (born Jacopo Carucci)
Date: Begun in 1525 and completed in 1528
Period/Style: Late Renaissance; Mannerism; Florence, Italy; religious
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 10.25 ft. tall by 6.3 ft. wide
Current location: Capponi Chapel, Santa Felicità Church, Florence, Italy

How do you follow Raphael, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci? At the end of the High Renaissance, it seemed as if these masters had done everything that could be done in painting and sculpture and done it better than it could be done again. Like so many younger generations, the artists of the Late Renaissance, known to art historians as Mannerists, decided to do something completely different. Instead of creating idealized Classical forms, they elongated the figures, or posed them in impossible positions. They expanded the somewhat subdued High Renaissance color palette and dared to combine hues that seemed to clash. Instead of subjugating their artistic egos to rational humanism and universal mathematics, they tried to outdo one another in outlandish experimentation and technical achievements that would draw attention to the skills of the artist. Jacopo Portormo was a genius of early Mannerism who was drawn to the most experimental aspects of Michelangelo’s work (for example, his twisting Libyan Sibyl from the Sistine Chapel). His masterpiece, set back in a tiny chapel in a dark Florentine church not far from the Ponte Vecchio, depicts either the Deposition of Christ or the Entombment of Christ. The confusion about the title results from the almost complete absence of the traditional iconography. There is no cross, no tomb, no ladder and almost no landscape – only a swirling, dancing mass of figures. At left of center, two young men (or are they angels?) in awkward poses prop up the dead body of Jesus. The green and pink palette is bizarre, as are the figures, which seem flat and weightless, almost Medieval. The overall arrangement is anything but rational and mathematic and there is no real attempt at a sense of perspective or of setting the people in a realistic space. What we do see are the strong emotions of the characters (especially Mary, who has been separated from the body of her son), and a disorienting mass of odd colors and shapes that is charged with emotional energy.

272. The Battle of Alexander at Issus (Alexander’s Victory)

Artist: Albrecht Altdorfer
Date: 1529
Period/Style: Northern Renaissance; Danube School; Germany; world landscape painting; history painting
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 5.2 ft. tall by 4 ft. wide
Current location: Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Germany

The Battle of Alexander at Issus is one of eight historical paintings by German artist Albrecht Altdorfer commissioned by Duke William IV of Bavaria to hang in the Duke’s Munich residence. The painting depicts the 333 BCE battle in which Alexander the Great defeated Darius III of Persia. The work is the most famous example of the 16th Century Northern European genre of world landscape painting: by ignoring the normal rules of perspective (and realism), Altdorfer shows us the details of a battle in the foreground (see detail below left), but as we move back, we see a grand overview of a large portion of the world, including the Mediterranean Sea and the lands bordering it. The dramatic sky is significant on metaphorical and symbolic levels. Alexander was said to have drawn his power from the sun, while the crescent moon (at upper left) is a symbol of the East and, later Islam. Although Altdorfer’s grand scale, level of detail and official banner inscription all suggest an intent to depict the historical event accurately, the painting contains numerous inaccuracies and anachronisms, some of which are surely deliberate. For example, Alexander’s men wear 16th Century armor and Darius’s troops are dressed as 16th Century Turks (see detail below right). These elements lead scholars to believe Altdorfer intended to compare Alexander’s victory over the Persians with the contemporary struggle between Europe and the Ottoman Empire, as exemplified by the Siege of Vienna in 1529 (the year of the painting), where an outnumbered collection of Europeans repulsed an attack by Suleiman the Magnificent and his Ottoman warriors.
the-battle-of-issus-  Albrecht_altdorfer battle of alexander

273. The Assumption of the Virgin

Artist: Correggio (full name: Antonio Allegri da Correggio)
Date: Begun in 1526; completed in 1530
Period/Style: Late Renaissance/Mannerism; Italy; religious; “di sotto in sù”
Medium: Frescoes painted on church ceiling
Dimensions: 35.8 ft. by 39.2 ft.
Current location: Parma Cathedral, Parma, Italy
assumption of the virgin A massive fresco painted in the dome of the Parma Cathedral, The Assumption of the Virgin is an example of di sotto in su (from below to above) perspective. Correggio manages to dissolve the interior of the church so that we seem to be looking directly into the clouds above, watching the Virgin carried by angels into heaven. The illusionistic painting blends so well with the architecture that the viewer is never quite certain what is real and what is painted. Due to the church’s architecture, the entire scene would only have been visible to clergy who had access to all areas. The public would only have been able to see the lower portions. Among the most unusual features of the fresco is the figure of Jesus – we see him in a somewhat undignified pose, from below, floating in space, with his bare legs dangling, a testament to his human nature (see detail below left). Adam and Eve flank Mary as she extends her arms to ascend into heaven (see detail below right). Eve offers an apple, while Adam points to himself guiltily. Random Trivia: An 18th Century priest who served at the Parma Cathedral had no love for the fresco, famously describing it as “frogs’ legs stew.”
  

274. The Fall of the Giants

Artist: Giulio Romano (born Giulio Pippi)
Date: 1530-1532 or 1532-1534
Period/Style: Late Renaissance; Mannerism; Mantua, Italy; mythological
Medium: Frescoes on walls and ceiling of a residential palazzo
Dimensions: The frescoes cover all four walls and the ceiling of the Sala dei Giganti in the Palazzo del Te.
Current location: Sala dei Giganti, Palazzo del Te, Mantua, Italy
The immense Fall of the Giants fresco in Mantua, Italy is a high point of early Mannerism. The Mannerists were not interested in the serene, restrained and balanced compositions of High Renaissance masters such as Raphael. They believed in grand gestures, in creating works of art that showcased the skill of the artist and if that led to excess or lack of realism, then so be it. Mannerism has a “rebelling against our teachers” flavor generally so it should come as no surprise that the artist who painted the Fall of the Giants, Giulio Romano, was a student of Raphael himself. The fresco takes up two walls (see top image) and the ceiling (see second image above) of a room in the Palazzo del Te, the home of Ludovico Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua. It relates the story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses in which giants attempt to overthrow the gods on Mt. Olympus by piling up mountains to reach them. In response, Jupiter sends down a hail of thunderbolts, throwing the rebellion into chaos. Romano’s captures the action at the moment when the rebellion begins to collapse. Romano’s use of fictive architecture and illusory effects make it seem that the entire fresco is collapsing in on the viewer. This effect is enhanced by a gradual downslope in the floor as one approaches the walls, which depict the jumbled scene of desperate giants scrambling to stay alive amid the tumbling boulders dislodged by the gods’ thunderbolts (see detail in image below).

276. Jupiter and Io

Artist: Correggio 
Date: c. 1530-1533
Period/Style: High Renaissance; Parma School; Mantua, Italy; mythological
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 5.4 ft. tall by 2.3 ft. wide
Current location: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria

Correggio was a High Renaissance artist who worked in Parma, a backwater compared to Rome and Florence, so his influence at the time was negligible. But later generations of Baroque and Rococo artists found inspiration in his Rubenesque women and his openly sensual treatment of mythological subjects. Jupiter and Io is Correggio’s voluptuous late Renaissance oil painting illustrating a story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses in which Jupiter, the king of the gods, envelops himself in a smoky gray cloud to seduce Io, a mortal river nymph. Jupiter and Io was one of a series of paintings on the subject of The Loves of Jupiter commissioned by Federico II Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua. The series of paintings was most likely intended for a private room in the Duke’s palace, but they were given instead to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V during a visit to Mantua. Jupiter and Io, the most highly regarded painting in the series, has a dreamlike sensuality. Jupiter’s face emerges from the cloud to give Io a kiss on the cheek, while Io, her substantial body twisted in the throes of passion, pulls Jupiter’s cloud-engulfed hand closer around her waist. Other paintings in the Loves of Jupiter series include: Leda with the Swan (1531-1532) (see image below left); Danaë (c. 1531) (see image below right); and Ganymede Abducted by the Eagle (1531-1532) (see image below bottom).
leda-and-the-swan  danae

277. The Ambassadors

Artist: Hans Holbein the Younger
Date: 1533
Period/Style: Northern Renaissance; Germany/England; portraits
Medium: Oil paints on oak panels
Dimensions: 6.75 ft. tall by 6.87 ft. wide
Current location: National Gallery, London, England, UK
the ambassadors holbein Northern Renaissance painter Hans Holbein the Younger was born in Germany but spent much of his career in England, eventually rising to become court painter for King Henry VIII. He is best known for his portraits, the most highly-regarded of which is the double portrait known as The Ambassadors. On its face The Ambassadors is a portrait of two French diplomats, most likely Jean de Dinteville, a landowner (left), and Georges de Selve, the Bishop of Lavaur (right). But this painting contains many mysteries. The table between the two men, in the center of the composition, contains numerous symbols of religion and science or commerce, including two globes, a quadrant, a torquetum, a polyhedral sundial, an Oriental carpet, a Lutheran hymn book, and a lute with a broken string (a symbol of discord) (see detail in image below left). A half-hidden crucifix hangs in the upper left and the floor tiles bear a pattern that English viewers would have recognized from Westminster Abbey. Most bizarre is an anamorphically-rendered skull in the bottom center, which can only be seen properly if the painting is approached from the side (see image below right). The skull represents death and mortality, which lurk unrecognized in our midst, but it may also be an example of Holbein showing off his grasp of technique. The entire ensemble raises more questions than it answers, but appears to ask the viewer to enter into a debate about the interaction between science and religion, between the concerns of the rising scientific and merchant class and those of the clergy – are they in conflict or can they coexist?
ambassadors detail 

278. Tombs of Lorenzo de’ Medici and Giuliano de’ Medici (The Medici Tombs)

Artist: Michelangelo
Date: Michelangelo received the commission in 1520 and completed the statuary for the tombs by 1534, but the tombs were not assembled until 1545.
Period/Style: Late Renaissance/Mannerism; Florence, Italy
Medium: Monumental tombs composed of marble sculptures and architectural elements
Dimensions: Each tomb is 20.7 ft. tall and 13.8 ft wide.
Current location: Sagrestia Nuova (Medici Chapel), Basilica of San Lorenzo, Florence, Italy
    Due to multiple factors – including political disruptions that forced the Medici family into exile – Michelangelo only completed part of a complex architectural and sculptural program for the Medici Chapel in the Church of San Lorenzo in Florence. The Sagrestia Nuova (New Sacristy) contains the tombs of two of the lesser Medicis:  Lorenzo di Piero, Duke of Urbino (see images at left above) and Giuliano di Lorenzo, Duke of Nemours (see images at right above). Michelangelo completed the architectural work in 1524 and completed the marble statuary by 1534, when he was summoned to Rome, but the pieces Michelangelo left behind were not assembled until 1545. The two tombs have a similar program: a memorial statue of the Medici in a second-story niche, while in the foreground, male and female allegorical figures representing the times of day: Night (female) and Day (male) for Lorenzo and Dawn (female) and Dusk (male) for Giuliano. The figures of Night (see detail below left) (with her grinning mask and owl) and heavily-muscled Day (see detail below right) are “trapped” in contrapposto poses, that, in art historian Frederick Hartt’s words, “defeat the very meaning of contrapposto”, which was originally an attempt to give figures freedom of motion. The statues of the Medicis themselves are a study in contrasts: Giuliano is presented in a confident, outgoing pose, while Lorenzo is depicted in a contemplative, introspective posture, head resting on his fist, leading to the nickname “Il Pensieroso” (“the thoughtful one”). The statues are dressed in Roman armor (a reference to their roles as captains of the Roman Catholic Church); their features are not accurate portraits but idealized images.  According to Giorgio Vasari, when Michelangelo was asked why he did not sculpt the faces with the actual likenesses of the deceased, he said, “Who will know what they looked like in a thousand years time?”

279. Madonna of the Long Neck (Madonna and Child with Angels and St. Jerome)

Artist: Parmigianino 
Date: 1535
Period/Style: Late Renaissance; Mannerism; Parma, Italy; religious
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 7 ft. tall by 4.3 ft. wide
Current location: Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy
Parmigianino_-_Madonna_with the long neck
Parmigianino’s unfinished Mannerist masterpiece was commissioned by Italian noblewoman Elena Bacardi for her family chapel in a Parma church; it soon acquired the nickname Madonna of the Long Neck for the extra vertebrae the artist added to give Mary’s neck a swanlike undulation. Elongated figures such as Mary’s are a hallmark of Mannerist art, which rejected the naturalism of the High Renaissance in favor of works that took High Renaissance trends to their logical conclusion, even if that meant a tribute became a critique. Other proportions are distorted as well: the baby Jesus, awkwardly posed as in a Pietà, is much larger than any human baby; and the slim upper and extra-wide lower portions of the Madonna’s body don’t match. Most bizarre is the tiny St. Jerome (apparently required for the commission): Parmigiano parodies the rules of perspective, which require distant figures to be painted smaller than close ones, to confuse the viewer into thinking that St. Jerome is not far away but shrunken to the size of a statuette. Because Jerome and the unfinished architecture need the right side of the painting, Parmigianino crammed all the angels into the left, ignoring symmetry, and at the same time eroticizing them in ways that must have scandalized (or perhaps titillated) contemporaries.

280. Portrait of Henry VIII (Tudor Dynasty Mural, Palace of Whitehall)

Artist: Hans Holbein the Younger
Date: 1536-1537 (original mural); 1537-1547 (best copies)
Period/Style: Northern Renaissance; England; royal portrait
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: The Rome copy is 2.9 ft. tall by 2.4 ft. wide. The Liverpool copy is 7.8 ft. tall by 4.4 ft. wide. The Madrid study is 11 in. tall by 7.8 in. wide.  The copy of the mural is 2.9 ft. tall by 3.25 ft. wide.
Current location: The original was destroyed by fire. The 17th Century copy of the mural is in the Royal Collection, England, UK. The preparatory drawing is in the National Portrait Gallery in London. A preparatory study is in the Museo Thuyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid. Excellent copies are in the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica in Rome (three-quarter length, possibly by Holbein) and the Walker Gallery of Art in Liverpool (full length). Other copies are in various collections.
The most famous portrait of England’s King Henry VIII was part of a mural that was destroyed in a fire in 1698 and is known only from copies made by Hans Holbein the Younger and his workshop between 1537 and 1547. The copy in the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica in Rome, from 1540, shown in the top image, is considered by some to be by Holbein himself. It shows the king in the costume that he wore for his April, 1540, wedding to Anne of Cleves. The Rome copy, like many others, is a three-quarters portrait. The Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool has an excellent full-length copy copy (not shown), which was completed by the workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger between 1537 and 1547. The original mural showed two generations of Tudors: Henry VIII with his wife at the time, Jane Seymour, and his parents Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. A 17th Century copy of the full mural by Remigius van Leemput in second image above). Shown below left is a 1537 preparatory cartoon by Holbein of the left half (showing Henry VIII in a less frontal pose than the final version), now in the National Portrait Gallery in London. There is also small preparatory portrait of Henry VIII by Holbein (measuring 11 in tall by 7.9 in wide and dated to 1537) at the Museo Thuyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid (see image below right). The portrait, copies of which were widely distributed, is often cited as an example of misleading propaganda, as it presents an image of a king who is more sturdy, healthy and well-proportioned than the actual person being depicted.
 

281. Venus of Urbino

Artist: Titian
Date: 1538
Period/Style: Late Renaissance; Venetian School; Venice, Italy; allegory/mythological
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.9 ft. tall by 5.4 ft. wide
Current location: Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy
titian venus of urbinoVenetian master Titian painted the canvas known as Venus of Urbino for Guidobaldo II Della Rovere, Duke of Urbino, probably for his 1534 wedding, to adorn a cassone, or bridal chest. In determining the subject and pose, Titian drew from Sleeping Venus, of 1510 – which was begun by Titian’s mentor Giorgione but finished by Titian himself (see image below) – but with dramatic changes. Titian’s Venus is no ideal goddess or allegory of Beauty (there are no Classical indicia, for example): she is a real woman, sensual, alluring and comfortable with her body. She gazes directly at the viewer, confident in her physicality while exuding amorous feelings. Venus carries posies in one hand – a gift from her lover – and shyly hides (or casually draws attention to?) her private parts with the other. The love being celebrated is marital, Titian reminds us, by including the dog (symbol of fidelity) and the maids looking for a trousseau in a cassone that may have been similar to the one the painting was created for. The maid scene balances the composition, given Titian’s bold decision to bisect the painting with a featureless screen, which serves the purposes of emphasizing Venus’s light head and torso against a dark background and also creating a private space for Venus and those who dare to meet her gaze.

282. The Ardabil Carpets

Artist: Attributed to Maqsud of Kashan
Date: 1539-1540
Period/Style: Safavid Dynasty; Persia (now Iran); decorative art
Medium: Carpets made from silk and wool
Dimensions: Each carpet was originally 34.5 ft. long by 17.5 ft. wide
Current locations: The better-preserved carpet is in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England, UK. The other carpet is in the Los Angeles County Museum, Los Angeles, California.
Ardabil_CarpetIn about 1539-1540, during the reign of Shah Tahmasp I, of the Safavid Dynasty in Persia, Maqsud of Kashan (along with 8-10 assistants) made two carpets, probably in Tabriz in what is now Iran. Each carpet had a silk foundation with a wool pile, 300-350 knots per square inch. The subtle, almost abstract design includes a central medallion, at the center of which is a roundel shaped like a geometrical pool from a traditional Islamic garden. Maqsud signed and dated each carpet and added a couplet from a ghazal by poet Hafez Shirazi. After completion, the carpets were taken to the shrine of Shaykh Safi al-Din Ardabili (d. 1334) in the town of Ardabil, where they remained for at least 300 years. After an earthquake in the 1870s, the shrine sold the carpets. By 1890, when British carpet broker Ziegler & Co. bought the carpets, they were in horrendous condition. The carpet broker decided to cannibalize one of the carpets to obtain material to repair the other. When he had completed the job, he sold the restored Ardabil Carpet to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (see image above). The other carpet, which is incomplete, was sold on the private market until finally J. Paul Getty bought it and eventually donated it to the Los Angeles County Museum in 1953. Random Trivia: For years, scholars were puzzled by the difference in size between the two lamps in the rug pattern. Eventually, they realized that it was a trick of perspective: when one looks at the larger lamp from the position of the smaller lamp, both lamps appear to be the same size.

283. The Last Judgment (Fresco, Sistine Chapel Altar Wall)

Artist: Michelangelo
Date: Begun in 1534; completed in 1541.
Period/Style: Late Renaissance; Mannerism; Rome, Italy; religious
Medium: Fresco on wall of Sistine Chapel
Dimensions: 45 ft. tall by 39 ft. wide
Current location: Sistine Chapel, Vatican Palace, Vatican City

Twenty-five years after painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo returned to paint a giant fresco of The Last Judgment on the altar wall in the Mannerist style. As with all depictions of the the Last Judgment, Michelangelo shows Christ’s second coming and the division of the saved (oon the left) from the damned (on the right). At the top of the composition, angels bring the symbols of Christ’s passion, including the cross and crown of thorns. Due to Michelangelo’s reputation, he was able to negotiate a significant amount of artistic freedom in exercising the commission from Pope Paul III. Nevertheless, the nudity of many of the figures in the fresco alarmed some clerics. Even before the painting was complete, the Pope’s master of ceremonies, Biagio da Cesena, called the work “disgraceful” and said that it was more appropriate for the “public baths and taverns.” In response, Michelangelo painted Cesena’s face on Minos, judge of the underworld, giving him donkey ears and wrapping a serpent around him to cover (and bite!) his genitals (see detail in image below left). When Cesena protested, the Pope reportedly quipped that he could do nothing because his jurisdiction did not extend to Hell. After Michelangelo’s death in 1564, the Vatican ordered Daniele da Volterra to paint over many of the figures’ genitalia. Many of these fig leaves were removed over 400 years later during the extensive cleaning between 1980 and 1994. The restorers relied heavily on a copy of Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment commissioned by Cardinal Allesandro Farnese and painted by Marcello Venusti in 1549, before the fig leaves were added. (Venusti’s copy is now in the Museo da Capodimonte in Naples – see image below right.) Unfortunately, the restorers found that in some cases Volterra had scraped off the offending material and painted on fresh plaster instead of merely painting over the original, thus permanently marring the masterpiece.
 

284. Venus, Cupid, Folly & Time (An Allegory with Venus and Cupid)

Artist: Bronzino (born Agnolo di Cosimo)
Date: c. 1545 Period/Style: Late Renaissance; Mannerism; Italy; mythological
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 4.8 ft. tall by 3.8 ft. wide
Current location: National Gallery, London, England, UK
Bronzino venus cupid
Florentine Mannerist Bronzino’s most highly-regarded work, Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time was commissioned by Cosimo de’ Medici (for whom Bronzino worked as court painter) as a gift for Francis I of France. The allegorical painting possesses many Mannerist features: the twisting figura serpintinata poses of the central characters, which seem almost impossible; the busy, jumbled composition; and the ambiguous narrative. Some scholars have even suggested that – consistent with the Mannerists’ interest in intellectual games – the painting creates a puzzle that requires inside knowledge to solve. There are multiple theories about the identities of the characters and the story Bronzino is telling. All agree that the central figure is Venus, whose son Cupid is engaging her in an incestuous embrace. This transgressive act appears to be eliciting a strong reaction from the others, who may include Folly (right center, about to shower the couple with rose petals), Time (right top, holding a drapery or pulling back a curtain), Jealousy or Syphilis (left center, screaming in agony), Oblivion (left top, with a mask-like head); and Pleasure or Fraud (between Venus and Folly, with honeycomb and body of a dragon). Random Trivia: Animator Terry Gilliam took Cupid’s right foot, reversed it, and used it in the opening animation sequence for the Monty Python’s Flying Circus television show (see image below).

285. Pope Paul III and His Grandsons

Artist: Titian
Date: 1545-1546
Period/Style: Late Renaissance; Venetian School; Venice, Italy; portraiture
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 6.9 ft. tall by 5.8 ft. wide
Current location: Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples, Italy

Pope Paul II and His Grandsons is a portrait of Pope Paul III (Alessandro Farnese, seated) and his grandsons Cardinal Alessandro Farnese (at left) and Ottavio Farnese painted by Venetian master Titian during a visit to Rome. One of the more worldly popes, Paul III kept a concubine, fathered four illegitimate children, appointed family members to important posts and used the papacy to accumulate wealth and power to himself and his Florentine family. In this triple portrait, Titian reveals much about the complex character of the pope, the aging process and the fraught political maneuvering involved in passing on one’s legacy. Neil Collins notes “the coloristic magic that Titian creates with his rich, warm Renaissance color palette.” The painting is much rougher than Titian’s usual work and appears to be unfinished (note the absence of the pope’s right hand), leading some to suggest that he stopped working on the commission when it became clear that Holy Roman Emperor Charles V was superseding Pope Paul III both politically and militarily. Yet the painting was apparently delivered to the patron; it remained in storage in a household of the Farnese family for a century before being rediscovered. Pope Paul III and His Grandsons is now in the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples, Italy alongside many other Farnese family heirlooms.

286. The Miracle of the Slave (The Miracle of St. Mark Freeing the Slave)

Artist: Tintoretto (born Jacopo Robusti)
Date: 1548
Period/Style: Late Renaissance/Mannerism; Venetian School; Venice, Italy; religious
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 13.6 ft tall by 17.8 ft wide
Current location: Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice, Italy
Miracle_of_the_Slave_by_Tintoretto Based on a story in Jacopo da Varazze’s bestselling 13th Century book, The Golden Legend. Tintoretto’s Miracle of the Slave shows St. Mark descending from above to save the life of a slave who was about to be murdered for venerating the relics of another saint. An early work of Tintoretto’s, it wears its influences on its sleeve: the drama and use of perspective owe a great deal to Mannerism; his use of color is consistent with that of the Venetian School (Bellini, Giorgione & Titian) and his anatomies pay tribute to Michelangelo. HoOrst de la Croix and Richard Tansey point out the contrasting Mannerist and non-Mannerist elements of the work: “The entire composition is a kind of counterpoint of motion characteristic of Mannerism… [yet] [t]he motion … is firmly contained within the picture fram, and the robustness of the figures, their solid structure and firm movement, the clearly composed space, and the coherent action have little that is Manneristic. … And the tonality – the deep golds, reds, and greens – is purely Venetian.” The Miracle of the Slave was originally commissioned for the Scuola Grande di San Marco in Venice; it is now in the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice.

287. A Meat Stall with the Holy Family Giving Alms (The Butcher’s Stall)

Artist: Pieter Aertsen
Date: 1551
Period/Style: Northern Renaissance; Northern Mannnerism; The Netherlands; inverted still life/religious
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 3.8 ft. tall by 5.4 ft. wide
Current location: North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, North Carolina
butcher stallDutch painter Pieter Aertsen was one of the originators of the inverted still life, in which a narrative in the background is almost obscured by the still life in the foreground. The Butcher’s Stall presents at first glance a close-up view of fresh raw meat hanging in a butcher’s stall, with the flayed head of an ox eyeing the viewer blankly. The still life, which appears chaotic but actually forms a coherent composition, speaks of abundance and invites us to indulge. Behind the sausages and pretzels, however, are other stories. In the background to the right we see a woman of ill repute and a man who may be her customer (possibly the Prodigal Son from the Bible story) outside a tavern, where the ground is littered with oyster shells, a reputed aphrodisiac. To the far left, citizens go to church. Left of center, we see a man with a woman on a donkey – despite the lack of divine attributes, we know it is Mary, pregnant with Jesus, and Joseph on the way to Egypt to escape Herod’s wrath. Mary is giving alms to a needy boy out of her meager possessions (see detail in image below). The message is clear: when there is so much abundance, no one should go without. The example of the holy family should be heeded, particularly by those who have more.  The painting was apparently popular, so much so that Aertsen’s workshop made several copies, three of which are located at: Gustavianum, University Art Collections, Uppsala University, Sweden; Fundación Banco Santander, Madrid; and Bonnefanten Museum, Maastricht, Netherlands. Random Trivia: The sign in the upper right hand corner reads, “”Behind here are 154 rods of land for sale immediately, either by the rod according to your convenience or all at once”

288. Perseus with the Head of Medusa

Artist: Benvenuto Cellini
Date: Work began in 1545 and was completed by 1554.
Period/Style: Late Renaissance; Mannerism; Florence, Italy; mythological
Medium: Bronze sculpture with four-sided carved marble pedestal containing niches with bronze statuettes, and below that a panel with relief sculptures.
Dimensions: The entire sculpture with the pedestal is 17 ft. tall; the statue of Perseus alone is 10.5 ft. tall.
Current location: Loggia dei Lanzi, Piazza della Signoria, Florence, Italy
 
When Florentine sculptor and goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini proposed a large bronze sculpture of Perseus with the Head of Medusa to Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici, the Duke recognized a political opportunity. The marble statues of David and Hercules in the Loggia dei Lanzi, in Florence’s Piazza della Signoria, were symbols of the Republic, which the Medicis had overthrown. Placing a statue of Perseus in the Loggia holding up the head of the snake-headed Gorgon Medusa, which turned all who looked upon it to stone, and facing it toward the statues of the Republic, would make a political statement as well as a clever joke. Cellini’s Mannerist masterpiece has three separate parts: At the top is Perseus, sword in hand, weight on one foot, holding up the Medusa’s head while bowing his own. The hero is nude but for his winged cap, winged sandals and sash. He stands on Medusa’s headless body, which gushes blood from the neck, and the reflective shield that allowed him to outsmart the Gorgon. Directly beneath Medusa’s body (her arm hanging down links the two registers) is a four-sided marble base with four niches, containing bronze statuettes of Jupiter, Athena, Mercury and Danaë (the statuettes in the Loggia dei Lanzi are replicas; the originals are in the Bargello museum). Carved in the marble are goats’ heads, to represent the Duke’s zodiac sign, Capricorn, while on the corners are carved images of Diana of Ephesus. The marble base continues below the niches, where Cellini has installed a bronze panel containing a relief sculpture of Perseus rescuing Andromeda from Cetus (the original – see image below – is in the Bargello. Scholars believe this is the first time since Ancient Rome that the base of a sculpture included figurative sculpture integral to the work as a whole.

289. Landscape with the Fall of Icarus

Artist: Pieter Bruegel the Elder (?)
Date: c. 1555-1558
Period/Style: Northern Renaissance; The Netherlands; landscape/mythological
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions:2.4 ft. high by 3.7 ft. wide
Current location: Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels
XIR3675 Debate rages among art historians about the attribution of the painting titled Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, which is located in the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, in Brussels. While some believe the work was painted by Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder between 1555 and 1558, others are convinced that it is a later copy of Bruegel’s lost original. One of the clues to the mystery is that the artist of Landscape with the Fall of Icarus used oil paints on canvas, while all other Bruegel canvas paintings are made with tempera. On the other hand, a recent high-tech analysis suggests that the work was originally painted on wood panels and transferred to canvas later. The debate over attribution overshadows the painting itself, which is full of surprises. The ostensible subject is Ovid’s story of Icarus, who disobeys his father Daedalus, inventor of flying wing, and flies too close to the sun, melting the wax holding his wings together, causing him to fall and drown. In the story, Ovid mentions a ploughman, a shepherd and a fisherman who witness the tragedy. In Bruegel’s version, the three peasants take center stage, but instead of bearing witness, they mostly go about their business, supporting the Flemish proverb that, when a man dies, the farmer continues to plow. Icarus, meanwhile splashes into the water unnoticed (see detail in image at left below). The shepherd gazes into the air and apparently does not see Icarus, whose legs are visible in the water below and just in front of the angler. A 1590-1595 copy of Bruegel’s original at the Museum van Buuren in Brussels shows Daedalus in the sky at the point where the shepherd is looking (see image at right below); it is possible that overpainting caused the loss of this detail. Other unusual details are a knife and what appears to be a dead body in the bushes, ignored (like Icarus) by the hard-working peasants. Landscape with the Fall of Icarus is the only one of Bruegel’s paintings with a mythological theme. He uses aerial perspective to show the distant landscape, although the proportions of the ship and figures are not correct. Random Trivia: The painting inspired ecphrastic poems by both W.H. Auden (Musée des Beaux Arts, 1938) and William Carlos Williams (Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, 1960).
 

290. The Rape of Europa

Artist: Titian
Date: 1559-1562
Period/Style: Late Renaissance; Venetian School; proto-Baroque; Venice, Italy; mythological
Medium: Oil paints on canvas  
Dimensions: 5.8 ft. tall by 6.7 ft. wide
Current location: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, Massachusetts
rape of europa One of series of ‘poesies’ Titian painted for Philip II of Spain on mythological themes, The Rape of Europa (originally titled Europa) is based on Ovid’s story of Jupiter’s love for the mortal princess Europa, which leads the god to transform himself into a white bull. When Europa climbs onto his back for a ride, he swims away with her to the island of Crete (despite the desperate calls of her handmaidens, seen at far left center, amid a hazily-delineated landscape), where he impregnates her with a child who will become Minos, the founder of Cretan civilization. Titian attempts to show both Europa’s terror at this abduction and sexual assault, including the fear of sliding off the bull and into the water, while at the some time showing her erotic arousal as a result of this close encounter with the seductive power of the king of the gods. Note how Europa turns in a figura serpentina pose to expose her breast to Cupid’s arrows, a sign of submission, yet she is also unblalanced and fearful. The color of the sky, in particular, accentuates Jupiter’s passion, as well as the element of danger, while the bull’s leering eye tells us what is to come. The idea that a rape can be a sexually fulfilling experience for the victim is contrary to our current understanding, but Greco-Roman mythology did not see the two as mutually exclusive, at least when the encounter involved a god and a mortal. In order to heighten the drama, Titian shows us two vicious fish threatening, although a putto appears to have tamed one of the creatures (see detail in image below). Note also the rhyming curves between Europa’s arms and legs, her pink scarf, the bull’s tail, and Cupid’s bow. The Rape of Europa,was painted in Titian’s late style, with blurred lines, swirling colors and vibrant brushstrokes that prefigure the Baroque.

291. The Triumph of Death

Artist: Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Date: 1562
Period/Style: Northern Renaissance; Flanders (now Belgium); religious
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 3.8 ft. tall by 5.3 ft. wide
Current location: Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain
bruegel Thetriumphofdeath In The Triumph of Death, Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder links north and south by combining the Northern European tradition of woodcuts of the Dance of Death with Italian depictions of the Triumph of Death. On this canvas, an army of marauding skeletons destroys human life in myriad ways, while foolhardy humans respond either ineffectually or obliviously. Destruction is everywhere and indiscriminate, as peasants, soldiers, nobles, clerics and kings all fall before the triumphal march of Death. The presence of numerous Christian crosses and the circle of skeletons around a church house (see detail in image below) make the artist’s point that mortality of the human body is inevitable and only belief in Jesus Christ can save the soul from eternal death.

292. The Tower of Babel

Artist: Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Date: 1562
Period/Style: Northern Renaissance; Flanders (now Belgium); religious
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 3.7 ft. tall by 5.1 ft. wide
Current location: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria
Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_The_Tower_of_Babel The story of the Tower of Babel comes from the Book of Genesis: God’s people, led by King Nimrod (possibly pictured in lower left) decide to join together to build a tower in Babylon that will reach the heavens. This attempt to challenge God incurs his wrath, and he creates the many languages of earth, which force groups to disperse. In this work, Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder shows the tower being constructed. Having recently visited Rome, Bruegel chose the Colosseum for his model, which Christians of his day would have seen as a sign of overarching pride and persecution by the Roman Empire. Bruegel’s eye for detail and knowledge of construction techniques blinds us at first, and we believe that all is well. But on further inspection, it becomes clear that there are serious flaws in the tower’s design: (1) there are no stable horizontals, but only a winding spiral; (2) the arches are perpendicular to the ground, which causes instability (in fact, some have already collapsed); and (3) the lower floors were not completed before work on the upper floors commenced, a sure sign of trouble to come. The messages are clear: don’t play God, and pride goeth before a fall (or, here, a collapse). 

293. The Wedding Feast at Cana (The Wedding at Cana)

Artist: Paolo Veronese (born Paolo Caliari)
Date: 1562-1563
Period/Style: Late Renaissance; Mannerism; Venetian School; Venice, Italy; religious
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 22 ft. tall by 32.5 ft. wide
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
wedding at cana Venetian painter Paolo Veronese created The Wedding Feast at Cana in response to a commission from the Benedictine Monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice to paint the Gospel story in which Jesus changed water into wine. Veronese painted the work in the Venetian style but with elements of the Mannerism of the late Renaissance, Veronese combines ancient and contemporary details; some of the 130 guests are intended to represent current religious and political figures such as King Francis of France, Queen Mary of England, Emperor Charles V and Ottoman leader Suleiman the Magnificent (see detail below left). Presumably because the Benedictine monks took a vow of silence, no one in the painting is speaking. The only guest looking directly at the viewer is Jesus, who sits at the center (see detail below right). The painting hung in Venice from 1563 to 1797, when Napoleon looted it and brought it to Paris; it is now at the Louvre, where it holds the distinction of being the largest painting in the collection. The Louvre began restoring the painting in 1989, but two mishaps occurred in 1992 – a leaking air vent spattered the canvas with water, and then a support collapsed and the metal framework tore five holes in the canvas. The damage has since been repaired. Many visitors to the Louvre overlook the painting because it shares a room with a more famous neighbor, the Mona Lisa.
veronese wedding at cana detail  WeddingFeastDetail_Jesus

294. The Crucifixion

Artist: Tintoretto 
Date: 1565
Period/Style: Late Renaissance; Venetian School; Mannerism; Proto-Baroque; Venice, Italy; religious
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 17 ft. tall by 40.2 ft. wide
Current location: Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Venice, Italy
tintoretto crucifixion After winning a competition to create paintings for the interior of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco – a Venetian charitable guild – Venetian painter Tintoretto chose to cover one enormous wall with a painting of the Crucifixion of Jesus. This Crucifixion is like no other in art history – it teems with characters, many of them onlookers, whose movements give the painting a swirling frenetic energy. Workers are erecting the crosses for the two thieves that the Gospels tell us were crucified with Jesus: one is being lifted up, the other is still on the ground. A soldier on a ladder is getting a vinegar-soaked sponge to give to Jesus as a mocking response to his cry for water. Yet the center of the composition is strangely calm. At the base of the cross are the mourners – Mary and others – who huddle close together against the raucous crowd surrounding them (see detail in image below). Most calm of all is Jesus himself, looking very fit; he gazes down from the very top of the canvas on the spectacle below with knowing attention. A light surrounds him – it is perhaps a light he generates; it looks a bit like wings, that might take him up to heaven. Tintoretto’s habit of painting over a dark background layer gives the painting a haunted quality, but close inspection reveals that he has learned Titian’s use and control of color, even if his palette is somewhat less varied. Tintoretto admired Michelangelo’s work with the musculature of twisting figures, a passion that is evident here. (Tintoretto apparently made small wax models of some of the figures before painting them.) Although Venetian painting did not follow the same path as that of Roman and Florentine art, Tintoretto is probably the Venetian painter most influenced by Mannerism and The Crucifixion is his most Mannerist work.

295. The Hunters in the Snow (The Return of the Hunters)

Artist: Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Date: 1565
Period/Style: Northern Renaissance; Flanders (now Belgium); landscape/genre
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 3.8 ft. tall by 5.3 ft. wide
Current location: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria
Bruegel_Hunters_in_the_SnowPieter Bruegel the Elder was a Flemish artist known for his genre paintings of peasant life made for wealthy and bourgeois patrons. His most highly regarded work, known as The Hunters in the Snow, is one of six paintings commissioned by Niclaes Jonghelinck, a wealthy Antwerp merchant, depicting the seasons/months of the year. Bruegel’s rendering of winter works on both large and small scales. His color palette and rendering of the snow, ice, the gray-green sky (echoing the color of the frozen ponds below), the black crows, and leafless trees convey the cold and oppressive winter months. His imaginary landscape, which matches Flemish buildings and people with craggy Alpine peaks (based on sketches from Bruegel’s trip to Italy) creates a winter scene that seems both comfortably familiar and somehow not quite right (see detail in image below). In the left foreground, the largest figures are the hunters and their dogs, returning with little to show for their efforts (a dead fox is all we can see). The dangling sign on the inn – the Golden Hart, with a picture of a deer and St. Eustace – seems to mock their failure to bring home a larger prize. We can’t see their faces, but their body language communicates defeat (even the dogs – one of whom looks directly at us – hang their heads in shame). In the rest of the composition Bruegel contrasts the negativity of the failed hunting expedition with scenes of Flemish peasants at work and play: cooks singe the hair off a pig in a fire in preparation for a feast; people skate and play games on the ice; someone hunts birds. In what is known as a balcony composition, the space occupied by the hunters in the foreground is high above most of the activities far below. Bruegel creates a sense of movement and guides the eyes with a series of diagonals (the edge of “balcony”, the poles held by the hunters, lines of house and trees). Some art historians have wondered whether there is a deeper religious or political meaning to the painting, a message about how the bucolic life of the villages hides unjust deprivation, or perhaps a warning about complacency in the face of the possibility of eternal damnation – not in fire, but in ice.

296. The Harvesters

Artist: Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Date: 1565
Period/Style: Northern Renaissance; Netherlands; landscape
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 3.9 feet tall and 5.3 feet wide
Current location: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder-_The_Harvesters In 1565, Pieter Bruegel the Elder created six depictions of the seasons or the months of the year for Niclaes Jonghelinck, a wealthy Antwerp merchant and art collector, of which five are extant. The series of landscapes is notable for focusing on regular folk going about their daily business, with no religious or mythological narratives. The painting for summer (July and August) is The Harvesters, which shows peasants harvesting their crop of wheat. Some are hard at work, while others break for lunch; one man is taking a well-earned nap.  Although there is a peaceful serenity to the pastoral landscape, the workers’ activities create a sense of dynamic movement. The Harvesters is the only painting from the series located in the U.S.

297. The Census at Bethlehem (The Numbering at Bethlehem)

Artist: Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Date: 1566
Period/Style: Northern Renaissance; Flanders (now Belgium); religious landscape
Medium: Oil paints on oak panels
Dimensions: 3.8 ft. tall by 5.4 ft wide
Current location: Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels, Belgium
Bruegel__The_Census_at_Bethlehem_The Census at Bethlehem appears at first glance to be a contemporary winter scene in a Flemish village, seen from above, with folks going about their business and children playing in the snow. Upon closer inspection, however, we see people lined up to pay the tax collector and a young couple – the man carrying a carpenter’s saw and the woman in blue sitting on a donkey – just arriving (see detail in image below). According to the Gospel of Luke, the Roman emperor wanted a count of everyone in the empire, so Joseph and his fiance Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus, traveled from Galilee to Bethlehem, Joseph’s family seat, to be counted and pay a tax. The artist’s innovation was to place the Biblical scene in a familiar context, to which his viewers could relate, and to depict the main characters as just two ordinary people in a crowded village square – Bruegel positions Joseph and Mary off center and does not draw attention to them. Bruegel managed to insert some political commentary as well: at the time, Protestants in the Netherlands were rebelling against the strict Catholic rule of Spain and the Hapsburgs. By placing the two-headed eagle of the Hapsburgs on the door of the tax collector, Bruegel was commenting on the ongoing political troubles. The census was not a frequent subject for artists, and winter landscapes were also rare. Perhaps as a result, this painting spawned over a dozen copies, including several by the artist’s son, Pieter Brueghel the Younger.

298. The Peasant Wedding (The Peasant Wedding Feast)

Artist: Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Date; 1567
Period/Style: Northern Renaissance; Flanders (now Belgium); genre painting
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 4.1 ft. tall by 5.4 ft. wide
Current location: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria
Bruegel_Peasant_Wedding_ Scholars tell us that Bruegel’s The Peasant Wedding is a relatively accurate depiction of life among farm workers in mid-16th Century Belgium and The Netherlands. According to tradition, the contented bride sits against a green curtain, with a paper crown on her head (and another hanging above) and does nothing. It’s not clear which man is the groom – he could be the man pouring the beer or the one asking for more. The food is bread, porridge and soup, which is being carried on a door taken off its hinges. Two men play pijpzaks, a cousin of the bagpipes. The room is a barn or threshing floor, and there is a season’s worth of grain stacked up, creating the back wall. There is a significant amount of drinking going on – probably beer, although art historians who read this as an updated story of the Marriage at Cana believe the plentiful liquid is wine. The figures in conversation at the far right of the table may be the Franciscan priest who married the couple and the wealthy landlord. While many see the painting as a celebration of peasant life and reward after hard work (shown by the rake and corn), some interpret it as a screed against gluttony.
Bruegel_Peasant_Wedding_(detail)_

299. The Blind Leading the Blind (The Parable of the Blind)

Artist: Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Date: 1568
Period/Style: Northern Renaissance; Netherlands; allegorical
Medium: Distemper (glue-size) on linen canvas
Dimensions: 2.8 ft. tall by 5.1 ft. wide
Current location: Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples, Italy
Bruegel_-_The_Parable_of_the_Blind_Leading_the_Blind_ Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s painting known as The Blind Leading the Blind has its origin in a statement by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, referring to the Pharisees: “If one blind person guides another, they will both fall into a ditch.” In this work, Jesus’s prediction appears to be coming true: the blind guide (in a feat of foreshortening by the artist – see detail in image below) has tumbled onto his back into a ditch, and his five followers seem about to follow him. Bruegel increases the tension of the scene by composing on a steep diagonal, while the roofs of the houses in the background add to the overall sense of falling. Bruegel does not portray the blind men with sentimentality, but renders them in exact detail. Ophthalmologists who have studied the painting note that each of the five men whose faces are visible has a different medical cause for his blindness (for example, the eyes of the white-capped man on the right appear to have been removed). They also praise Bruegel’s accuracy in showing the men with their heads up, the better to use their senses of hearing and smell. To paint The Blind Leading the Blind, Bruegel limited his palette to a relatively subdued palette of gray, green, brown, red and black.  The presence of a Catholic church (Sint-Anna) has caused much dispute among art historians wondering if Bruegel intended some comment on the contemporary rebellion of Protestants against Catholic rule in the Netherlands. Random Trivia: Bruegel, who normally used oil paints, employed a much older technique, a less-expensive alternative to oil painting called tüchlein in German (also known as glue-size and distemper), for this painting.

300. Feast in the House of Levi

Artist: Paolo Veronese
Date: 1573
Period/Style: Late Renaissance/Mannerism; Venetian School; Italy; religious
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 18.2 ft tall by 41.9 ft wide
Current location: Galleria dell’Accademia, Venice, Italy
feast_in_the_house_of_levi The Basilica di Santi Giovanni e Paolo, a Dominican church in Venice, commissioned Paolo Veronese to paint a gigantic canvas of the Last Supper for the wall of the friars’ refectory (dining room). Breaking with standard iconography, Veronese portrayed the Last Supper as a sumptuous and somewhat decadent Venetian feast, attended not just by Jesus and his Apostles, but by people from all walks of life, even a dog (see detail below left). The painting’s eccentricities aroused the ire of the Catholic Inquisition, which found Veronese’s inclusion of “buffoons, drunken Germans [and] dwarfs” to be disrespectful and grounds for charges of heresy (see detail of jester with parrot below right). The Inquisition gave Veronese three months to revise the painting or face its wrath, but instead of altering his work, Veronese simply changed the title, claiming now that the scene depicted was not the Last Supper but the Feast in the House of Levi, a minor event which, according to the Gospel of St. Mark, was attended by various sinners from the local community. Apparently satisfied, the Inquisition took no further action. (To read a fascinating and unintentionally humorous transcript of the Inquisition’s interview of Veronese – including illustrations – go here.) 
 

301. The Rape of the Sabine Women (Abduction of a Sabine Woman)

Artist: Giambologna (born Jean de Boulogne)
Date: 1581-1583
Period/Style: Late Renaissance; Mannerism; Florence, Italy; history/mythology
Medium: Marble sculpture
Dimensions: 13.4 ft. tall (without pedestal)
Current location: Loggia dei Lanzi, Piazza della Signoria, Florence, Italy
Giambologna_sabine One of the features of the Mannerist style is the celebration of the artist and his (because they were almost always men) special talent. Instead of using their abilities in the service of creating realistic and rational artworks that fit into a sense of universal harmony, Mannerist artists tried to outdo one another and be noticed for their daring feats of artistic derring-do, especially those that would impress sophisticated art lovers. The Flemish artist Jean de Boulogne, who acquired the nickname Giambologna after coming to Italy, was always looking for ways to enhance his reputation as one of Florence’s best sculptors. So when his patrons the Medicis gave him a large block of marble with no specific commission, he decided to sculpt first, and decide on the subject later. He was interested in the aesthetic problems of sculpting three figures in a vertical composition. The sculptural group shows three nudes: an older man crouching in fear below as, above him, a young man grasps onto a struggling woman, whose arms reach out over her head. It was only after the sculpture was complete and placed on display in Florence’s main square that it was decided that the subject was the Rape of the Sabine Women. According to legend, during the early days of Rome, there was friction with the neighboring Sabines. In order to build ties between the two settlements, the Romans invited the Sabines to a feast and then forcibly abducted and married their women, creating blood ties between the groups and eventually ending the feud. The piece is an exemplar of the Mannerist style with its twisting figures and dynamic diagonals. Another Mannerist trademark: there is no obvious front view; the viewer must walk all the way around the sculpture to take it all in.

302. Young Man Among Roses (A Young Man Leaning Against A Tree Amongst Roses)

Artist: Nicholas Hilliard
Date: c. 1585-1590
Period/Style: Elizabethan; England; portrait
Medium: Oval miniature portrait painted in watercolor on vellum and mounted on cardboard
Dimensions: 5.3 inches tall by 2.9 inches wide
Current location: Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England, UK

Nicholas Hilliard was renowned as a miniaturist (including painting illuminated manuscripts), goldsmith and portrait painter. He worked for the courts of Elizabeth I and James I and painted the miniature portraits of many in court circles. Young Man among Roses is an oval miniature portrait, a common medium at the time for giving as a calling card or as a personal memento to the object of one’s amorous feelings. The man pictured in the miniature known as Young Man Among Roses is believed by some experts to be Robert Deveraux, 2nd Earl of Essex, who was romantically linked with Queen Elizabeth I. By showing the subject surrounded by five-petaled eglantine roses, Elizabeth’s personal symbol, some believe the Earl (if it is he) is boldly declaring his love for the Virgin Queen herself. The Latin quote above the subject’s head provides another intriguing clue. It translates as “… a praised faith/Is her own scourge, when it sustains their states/Whom fortune hath depressed.” No matter the subject or his object, scholars agree that the miniature captures the charm and freshness of Hilliard’s best work, which, though conservative by continental European standards, embodies the spirit of Elizabethan England. Hilliard’s style shows the influence of Hans Holbein’s portraits and 16th Century French art, the latter of which he obtained through visits across the Channel in the late 1570s.

303. The Burial of the Count of Orgaz (The Burial of Count Orgaz)

Artist: El Greco (born Doménikos Theotokópoulos)
Date: Work begun in 1586 and completed in 1587 or 1588
Period/Style: Late Renaissance; Mannerism; Spain; religious/portraits
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 15.7 ft. tall by 11.8 ft. wide
Current location: Iglesia de Santo Tomé, Toledo, Spain

Born on the island of Crete, Doménikos Theotokópoulos (known as El Greco) spent most of his life in Spain, where he painted his most-praised work, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz. The painting depicts a 14th Century Spanish legend in which St. Stephen and St. Augustine descend from heaven to bury Don Gonzalo Ruíz, a Toledo noble and knight who had been generous to the Catholic Church. El Greco was commissioned to paint the scene in the side-chapel of the Virgin in his parish church of Santo Tomé in Toledo, Spain. The painting was famous in El Greco’s lifetime for its accurate portrayals of many Toledo notables (including a self-portrait – see image below left – and a portrait of El Greco’s illegitimate son, Jorge Manuel – see image below right). Painting in the Mannerist style (with elements that hearken back to the Byzantine), El Greco divides the canvas between the heavens and the earth, but does not ground the scene by providing a horizon line or a perspectival vanishing point, omissions that serve to emphasize the supernatural quality of the events depicted. Scholars have particularly praised El Greco’s adept use of color in the work, from the black and gold of the nobles’ clothing to the grays and ochres in the heavenly scene, and the touch of bright red contrasting with Mary’s deep blue cloak.
El_Greco_-_The_Burial_of_the_Count_of_Orgaz_detail  el greco detail

305. The Last Supper

Artist: Tintoretto
Date: 1592-1594
Period/Style: Late Renaissance; Mannerism; Venetian School; Proto-Baroque; Venice, Italy; religious
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 12 ft. tall by 18.7 ft. wide
Current location: Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice, Italy
Tintoretto_-_The_Last_SupperTintoretto consciously sought to unite the Florentine use of line with the Venetian use of color, but he was also influenced by Mannerism, in that he explored compositions and techniques that consciously broke the rules of the High Renaissance. When Tintoretto painted The Last Supper, he ignored past precedents. In the famous Last Supper in Milan, Leonardo da Vinci used single-point perspective focused on a central Jesus at a table that paralleled the picture plane and used diffuse, even, natural lighting. Tintoretto’s disjointed composition uses a diagonal table with perspective lines that never quite meet; Jesus, pictured at the moment of the Eucharist (“this is my body…”) is off-center, and the right side of the canvas is filled with minor characters, including a curious cat and a maid whose face is completely in shadow. The only light sources in the dark room are a mystical lamp overflowing with flame and smoke, and the powerful glow of Jesus’ halo. The existence of haloes on Jesus and the apostles (except Judas) is another break with recent tradition and in some ways a return to medieval iconography. Even more of a departure are the swarms of translucent angels hovering around the ceiling (see detail in image below). High Renaissance humanism sought to depict the spiritual realm using only the elements of the natural world; Tintoretto felt comfortable depicting mystical phenomena directly.

306. View of Toledo

Artist: El Greco (born Doménikos Theotokópoulos)
Date: Most sources date the painting to 1595-1600, with some narrowing it to 1597-1599, although some art historians have dated it to 1600-1614.
Period/Style: Mannerism; Spain
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.9 ft. tall by 3.6 ft. wide
Current location: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY

The history of Toledo, Spain is rich with cultural heritage, religious intensity, and political significance. From the Romans to the Visigoths, the Moors (who tolerated a large Jewish community) and the Christians, each group left its mark. Between the 5th and 7th Centuries CE, the Christian church convened approximately 30 synods in Toledo to address various religious controversies. In the 16th Century, Toledo was the capital of Holy Roman Emperor Charles I. Toledo was also the adopted home of Doménikos Theotokópoulos, better known as El Greco, who lived and worked there from 1577 until his death in 1614. It is not surprising then, that when El Greco needed a landscape for the background of his painting of St. Joseph and the Christ Child (c. 1597-1599), he painted a version of the Toledo skyline (see image below). What he did next was surprising, however, He reworked the background into an independent landscape, one of only two he ever painted, and possibly the first Spanish landscape ever, View of Toledo (see image above). Rather than creating an accurate documentary rendering of his beloved city, El Greco painted an emblematic landscape, or spiritual portrait, that captured the essence of the city. The artist includes the Castle of San Servando, the Alcázar, the Cathedral, the Alcántara Bridge, the Tagus River and other landmarks, but he has has made some adjustments to accommodate the viewpoint he has chosen (looking from the north at Toledo’s eastern section) – valuing emotional truth over cartographic. The dramatic contrast of hills and sky creates an emotional reaction that opens us up to the mystical qualities that El Greco wants to convey, of what one commentator called his “Byzantine memories.”

To continue on to Art History 101, Part 5 (1600-1799), click here.

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