Best Works of Art of All Time – Ranked, Part 3

This is Part 3 of a meta-list of the most highly-regarded paintings, sculptures and various other works of visual art. For Part 1, go HERE. For Part 2, go HERE. To create the list, I collected more than 30 lists of “Best Works of Art” from websites and books and combined them into one list. This list contains the paintings and sculptures (and several pieces of decorative art) on three or more of the original source lists, organized by rank, that is, with the artworks that were on the most lists at the top. Part 1 begins with the artwork that was on the most lists (26) and ends with the artworks that were on 6 lists. Part 2 includes the works of art on 4 or 5 the original source lists. Part 3 includes all the works on 3 of the original source lists.


  • This is a meta-list that combines multiple lists made by critics, academics and other experts.  These are not my personal opinions.
  • Many of the images are public domain but some are not. I believe that these images are covered by the fair use and educational purpose exceptions.
  • Although I tried to find lists of the best art from all places and all times, most of the lists I found focused on the art of Western Civilization, and some of those lists focused almost exclusively on Western European and North American art.  I apologize for the ethnocentric biases of my sources.
  • The heavy emphasis on Western European artists working between 1300 and 1700 also means that many of the most highly regarded works contain Christian religious imagery. At that time, most people viewing the art would have been familiar with these stories and symbols, but today many folks trying to appreciate these works are not Christian, or may not otherwise be as familiar with Christian imagery as the average art-viewing European of that time. The same goes for the mythology of Greece, Rome and other cultures, which often provide the subject matter for works of art. Reading up on Christian religious imagery and Greco-Roman mythology may help to put the art in context.
  • Some of the images portray the unclothed human form. I don’t think there is anything obscene about any of these images, but if you are offended by nudity, please be warned.
  • For a chronologically-organized history of visual art, check out the Art History 101 lists, starting HERE.

On 3 lists

417. Venus of Laussel

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 23,000 BCE
Period/Style: Upper Paleolithic; Gravettian culture, France
Medium: relief carved in limestone
Dimensions: 17.5 in. high
Current location: Musée d’Aquitaine, Bordeaux, France
Laussel 2
In 1911, French physician J.G. Lalanne was exploring a natural shelter created by a rock overhang in the Dordogne Valley near Marquay in southwestern France, when he discovered a series of human figures carved onto the limestone wall. He also found a block of limestone on the cave floor that appeared to have detached from the wall, that contained a bas relief carving of a female figure once decorated with red ochre paint. Now known as the Venus of Laussel, the carving on the limestone block measures and depicts a nude female with some typical Venus figurine characteristics: exaggerated breasts, hips, buttocks and genitalia, no facial features, and no feet. One hand is pressed on her lower abdomen. The other, in a departure from Venus iconography, holds a device with 13 lines carved on it.  Scholars have had lively debates about the meaning of the object and the 13 lines. Many believe the figure holds a hollowed-out bison horn which some interpret as a cornucopia and others as a musical instrument.  A few experts believe the object is a crescent moon. As for the number 13, some have identified it as the number of days of the waxing moon; others note that it may stand for the 13 months, or menstrual cycles of the lunar year. As with many other Venus images, the carving has been dated to the Gravettian culture of the Upper Paleolithic.

418. Venus of Kostenki

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 23,000-21,000 BCE
Period/Style: Upper Paleolithic; Gravettian culture; Ukraine
Medium: Figurine carved from limestone
Dimensions: 4 in. tall
Current location: State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia
venus of kostenki
Kostenki refers to a series of more than 20 Paleolithic sites along the Don River in the Ukraine. In addition to dwellings made of mammoth bones, flint tools and bone implements, archaeologists have found a number of Venus figurines.  Although a more primitive mammoth ivory figurine from Kostenki dates to 28,000 BCE, the one featured in the image above dates to 23,000-21,000 BCE. The figurine’s head bends toward the chest and is carved to show striations (possibly hair or a head covering) that completely obscure the face. The figure’s braceleted arms are pressed to its body, which possesses the large breasts and belly (possibly indicating pregnancy) common to Venus figurines. Unlike a typical Venus figurine, Venus of Kostenki appears to be wearing clothing or ornament draped around her neck and above her breasts, which then appears to tie in the back (see image at right above, showing rear of figurine). Some scholars have identified this plait as one of the first depictions of woven plant-fiber cloth. 

419. Ritual Scene, Addaura Cave

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 11,000 BCE
Period/Style: Upper Paleolithic/Mesolithic; Epigravettian/Magdalenian culture; Italy
Medium: Engravings on cave wall
Dimensions: The entire frieze (including human and animal figures) runs diagonally about 8.2 feet. The standing human figures in the engraving are 7-10 inches tall
Current location: Monte Pelligrino, Sicily, Italy
addaura cave
Engravings on the wall of Addaura Cave on Sicily’s Mt. Pellegrino tell a bizarre story, the meaning of which is disputed by archaeologists. (For a numbered diagram of the entire frieze of engravings, credited to Leighton (1998), see image below.) An outer circle shows various animal figures, which surround a group of more than a dozen human figures. At the center of the group are two humans in awkward, probably painful horizontal positions – their heads are covered and they may be bound. Two of the standing humans appear to be wearing masks and are raising their arms. Theories abound. Some say the engravings show a religious ritual- the two central figures are being tortured or sacrificed and the two masked standing figures are shamans. But some find homoerotic connotations or even an acrobatics display. Note: Due to dangerous conditions, the caves have been closed to the public since 1997.

420. Plastered Human Skulls, Jericho

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 9000-6000 BCE
Period/Style: Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period; Jordan
Medium: Plaster (sometimes painted) and shell covering bone
Dimensions: The skulls range in size from 6.5-8.5 inches tall to 5-7 inches wide
Current location: Various collections
Between 9,000 and 6,000 BCE, people living in Jericho and other parts of the Levant (primarily Palestine, Israel, Jordan and Syria) changed the way they handled the bodies of deceased family members. They would bury the bodies beneath their homes but in at least some cases they would remove the head, clean it down to the skull and then use plaster, sea shells and paint to recreate the face of the dead relative. Archaeologists have speculated that this practice may be evidence of ancestor worship or possibly just a way to remember loved ones. At least 62 plastered human skulls dating from 7000-6000 BCE (and possibly older) are located in museums around the world. The images show:
(1) Plastered skull from Jericho, c. 7000 BCE, location unknown (top row, left);
(2) Plastered skull , c. 7000 BCE, Jordan Museum, Amman, Jordan (top row, right)
(3) Plastered skull with shell eyes, Jericho, c. 8200-7500 BCE, British Museum, London (bottom row, left)
(4) Plastered skull, 8,800–6,500 BCE, Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel (bottom row, right). 

421. Seated Scribe

Artist: Unknown
Date: Dates from the 4th Dynasty (2620-2500 BCE), 5th Dynasty (c. 2450-2325 BCE) and 6th Dynasty (c. 2345 BCE–c. 2181 BCE) have been suggested, with most sources favoring the 4th or 5th Dynasty.
Period/Style: Ancient Egypt; Old Kingdom, 4th or 5th Dynasty; portrait statue
Medium: Painted limestone, eyes inlaid with rock crystal in white magnesite with copper and arsenic; nipples made from wooden dowels,
Dimensions: 21.1 inches tall, 17.3 inches wide, and 13.8 inches deep
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

Discovered at Saqquara in 1850 by Auguste Mariette, the limestone statue of a Seated Scribe shows a scribe at work, using his loincloth as a working surface. The precise location where the statue was found is unknown, as the excavation journal is lost.  We know nothing about the identity of the scribe. Some have speculated that he was or was associated with Pehernefer, an official who worked in the late 3rd and early 4th Dynasty. Special attention has been paid to the figure’s eyes, each of which consists of a rock crystal set inside a piece of white magnesite, with a copper rim and arsenic.  The statue is unusual in that the figure is seated (a position usually reserved for royalty) and that he is depicted in the act of writing (he holds a scroll in one hand and probably originally held a writing instrument in the other). The layer of fat around his belly indicates that he is well-fed, an indication that he is well compensated for his work.

422. Akhenaten and His Family (Akhenaten, Nefertiti and their Children)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 1353-1334 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Egypt; New Kingdom; 18th Dynasty; royal portrait
Medium: Sunken relief sculpture in limestone
Dimensions: 12.2 in. high by 15.3 in. wide
Current location: Egyptian Museum, Berlin
When Amenhotep IV became Egypt’s ruler during the 18th Dynasty of the New Kingdom, he ushered in dramatic changes. First, he rejected the polytheistic religion that had governed Egyptian life for millennia and introduced a monotheistic religion centered on Aten, the sun god. In honor of this paradigm shift, the pharaoh changed his name to Akenhaten. A third change took place in art. Instead of the formal, idealized portraits and scenes of the past, artists of what became known as the Amarna period represented figures (including the royal family) more realistically and in less formal settings. The relief sculpture known as Akenhaten and His Family is an example of sunken relief, in which shapes are defined by carving a sunken line around the outline. The relief showing the figures of Akenhaten, his wife Nefertiti, and three of their children shows more realism in depicting bodies and shows the leader in a very informal environment while Aten shines his light on them. Certain older traditions remain: all the figures are presented in profile and the children are depicted as miniature adults. 

423. Papyrus of Ani (Egyptian Book of the Dead)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 1250 CE
Period/Style: Ancient Egypt; New Kingdom; 19th Dynasty; religious
Medium: Painted papyrus scroll
Dimensions: The section shown in the first image is 16.5 inches tall by 26.3 inches wide
Current location: British Museum, London, England, UK

The Papyrus of Ani is considered the finest extant example of what is called the Egyptian Book of the Dead. (The term Book of the Dead was applied to these books in recent times. The actual title of the book has been translated as the Book of Going Forth By Day or the Book of Emerging Forth into the Light.) Each copy of the book consists of papyrus scroll containing declarations and spells designed to help the deceased person in the afterlife. Each example contains somewhat different texts; most or all contain abundant illustrations. The Papyrus of Ani was created for the tomb of a Theban scribe named Ani. It was found by British Egyptologist Sir E.A. Wallis Budge in 1888 in a cache of loot found in the possession of grave robbers. Budge’s acquisition of the scroll has been characterized as a theft. In the section of the scroll shown in the image above, we see Ani being judged to determine if he qualifies for entry into the Afterlife. The god Anubis kneels by a balance on which he weighs Ani’s heart (on the left) against a feather (on the right) representing Maat, the god of truth and order. Ani stands to the right of his heart and his wife stands to the left.  Above them, Ani’s soul-bird perches on a small shrine, waiting for the verdict to fly free. The baboon on top of the balance is one form of the god Thoth. (Another form is the ibis-headed figure on the right.) At the far right, a monster with the head of a crocodile and a body that is part lion and part hippo, waits to devour Ani’s heart if he fails the test. Fortunately, Ani’s heart and the feather balance perfectly, allowing Ani to proceed. The image below shows the final scene in the scroll.

424. Lioness Devouring a Boy

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 900-700 BCE
Period/Style: Phoenicia; Lebanon
Medium: Carved ivory panels with gold leaf and inlaid carnelian lapis lazuli.
Dimensions: Each panel is 4 in. high by 4 in. wide.
Current locations: One panel is at the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad; the other is in the British Museum in London.
lioness devouring a boy
While excavating the ruins of Nimrud, the capital city of the Assyrian Empire in the 9th and 8th Centuries BCE, in what is now Iraq, archaeologists found two nearly identical ivory carvings of a lioness attacking and eating a boy. One is in the British Museum; the other is in the Baghdad Museum, where it was eventually recovered after looters absconded with it in 2003. The carving was found at the bottom of a well in the ruins of the palace of Ashurnasirpal II, an Assyrian king who reigned from 883-859 BCE. The carving appears to be part of a piece of furniture, perhaps a throne, and is carved in the Phoenician style, indicating that it was made in a Phoenician city, in present day Lebanon, and came to Assyria as a gift or as the spoils of war. The carving is detailed – the boy appears to be African and has armlets and bracelets containing jewels.  Above the boy and lion is an elaborate carving of lilies and papyrus plants. There are traces of significant decoration, much of it lost: much of the ivory was covered with gold leaf overlay and inlaid with bits of red carnelian and blue lapis lazuli, including a bit of lapis on the lioness’s forehead. Where the lapis is gone, there are traces of the blue mortar used to attach it. The boy’s gold leaf skirt is still partially intact, as are the gold-trimmed curls of his hair. Some have interpreted the scene, particularly the lioness’s embrace of the boy and the position of the boy’s head, as having maternal or even erotic overtones. A further clue to interpretation is the lapis lazuli mark on the lioness’s forehead, which may refer to a Phoenician goddess who sometimes took the form of a lion.

425. Kore from the Cheramyes group (Hera of Samos)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 570-560 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Greece; Archaic period
Medium: Marble statue
Dimensions: 6.3 ft tall
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris
hera of samos
In 1875, archaeologists discovered a life-size marble statue of a female figure not far from the ruins of the temple to Hera on the island of Samos in Greece. A carved inscription states that the statue was a gift to the temple from Cheramyes, an Ionian aristocrat. At first, experts believed that the statue was intended to depict Hera herself, but in the 20th Century, at least three other similar statues (all missing their heads) have been found with the same inscription, indicating that the figures were intended to represent female servants of the temple. The figure is shown wearing three garments: a thin pleated linen tunic known as a  chiton; a thicker garment made of wool known as a himation, and a veil that presumably draped over the head.  The sculptor has rendered the garments in skillful detail so as to show the contours of the body underneath. 

426. Ludovisi Throne

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 470-460 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Greece; Classical period
Medium: Relief sculptures on three side of a block of white marble
Dimensions: 2.9 ft. high by 4.6 ft. long (center panel); 2.7 ft. high by 2.2 ft. long (left panel); 2.8 ft. high by 2.3 ft. long (right panel)
Current location: Museo Nazionale Romano, Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Rome
The Ludovisi Throne is not a throne but a set of relief sculptures on three sides of a block of white marble that has been hollowed out in the rear. It may have been made by Greek artists in Sicily about 470-460 BCE,  The central panel, shows either Aphrodite rising from the sea, with two of the Fates providing a veil, or Persephone returning from Hades (see image above). On the right panel, a veiled woman takes incense from a box to offer it in an incense burner (see image below left). The panel on the left shows a girl with her hair in a kerchief playing a double flute called an aulos (see image below right). This relief, which measures is the oldest Greek sculpture of a nude woman and one of the only depictions of a woman crossing her legs. Scholars have noted that the position of the figure’s right leg is anatomically impossible. The piece was part of the Ludovisi family collection for many years; it is now in the Museo Nazionale Romano in Rome. A number of facts have led some scholars to doubt the authenticity of the piece. The iconography is unlike most relief sculpture of the same era. On the other hand, an exact replica of the Ludovisi Throne fits perfectly into a gap in the foundation of an Ionic temple to Aphrodite near Locri, Italy, dating to about 480 BCE.
Ludovisi_throne_left side  Ludovisi_throne_right side

427. Battersea Shield

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 350-50 BCE
Period/Style: Celtic; La Tène style; England
Medium: Bronze shield facing, with enamel and glass
Dimensions:2.5 ft. tall by 1.1 ft. wide
Current location: British Museum, London, England, UK
The Battersea Shield is not an true shield, for two reasons. First, this bronze sheet is only a facing that would have been attached to a wooden shield. Second, even with the wooden shield behind it, this small, elaborately decorated but extremely thin bronze facing (with no visible battle damage) was almost certainly not meant to go into battle. Instead, art historians believe the Battersea Shield was designed for display and also perhaps as a votive offering. This last purpose may explain why the Celtic artifact was dredged from the River Thames in London in 1857, since a common Celtic method of making an offering was to throw the object into the river. The shield is decorated in classic Celtic La Tène style, with many circles and spirals. The decorative elements are confined to three roundels with highly worked bronze, repoussé decoration, engraving, and enamel. Within the roundels are 27 small round compartments in raised bronze with red cloisonné enamel and opaque red glass (see detail in image below.) While the shield appears to be a single piece, it is actually composed a several different parts, with hidden rivets holding it all together. 

428. The Marathon Boy (Ephebe of Marathon)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 340-330 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Greece; Late Classical or Early Hellenistic period
Medium: Bronze statue with eye insets
Dimensions: 4.3 ft. tall
Current location: National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece

The Greek bronze sculpture known as Marathon Boy or Ephebe of Marathon was found in the Bay of Marathon in the Aegean Sea in 1925. A boy, perhaps a victorious athlete or the god Hermes, stands and looks at something in his left hand, while his right hand probably leans against a column. The pose is an exaggerated contrapposto or S-curve that is reminiscent of Praxiteles and his school. The inset eyes of the statue add to the boy’s expressiveness (see detail in image below).

429. Stag Hunt Mosaic

Artist: The mosaic contains the signature “Gnosis created.”  It is not clear if this is a name referring to the creator of the mosaic, the creator of an earlier painting upon which the mosaic is based, or simply refers to the Greek word for knowledge (gnosis).
Date: c. 300-280 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Macedonia; Hellenistic period
Medium: Floor mosaic made from pebbles set in cement
Dimensions: The central scene (emblema) measures 10.6 feet tall by 10.4 feet wide.
Current location: Archaeological Museum of Pella, Greece

Archaeologists excavating a residential home in Pella, in what was then Macedonia, north of Greece discovered several floor mosaics made by placing colored pebbles in cement.  One of the mosaics represents the legend of the abduction of Helen, giving rise to the name the House of the Abduction of Helen, but the most highly-regarded mosaic is a large scene showing two figures hunting a male deer, or stag. Scholars have suggested that the figure on the right is meant to be Alexander the Great, based on his hairstyle, the date of the mosaic, and the fact that Pella was Alexander’s birthplace. The other figure may be the axe-wielding god Hephaistos, or perhaps his namesake Hephaestion, one of Alexander’s generals. The scene may refer to the myth in which Artemis turns Actaeon the hunter into a stag when he tries to rape her, after which his own hounds tear him apart.  The scene may also refer symbolically to Alexander’s conquest of Persia. Scholars note the use of shading, foreshortening, and overlapping figures, which create a sense of three-dimensionality to the figures and the space they inhabit. Such effects would have been even more difficult to achieve using pebbles of various sizes and colors than with mosaics made from pre-cut stone.  The mosaic may be a copy of an earlier painting. The reddish figures against a black background recalls the red-figure vase-painting style of the Greek Classical era. Professor Jordan Wolfe notes that “[t]he emotion of this scene makes it typical Hellenistic. The extreme violent movement of the nude figures and the intense drama of the hunt characterize this era’s unique stylizations.”

430. The Three Graces

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 200-100 BCE (Ancient Greek original)
Period/Style: Ancient Greece; Hellenistic period
Medium: Marble sculptures
Dimensions: About 4 feet tall
Current location: The Ancient Greek original is lost. Roman copies may be found in various collections. Three_Graces
The Three Graces (Charites in Greek, Gratiae in Latin) – Aglaia (Beauty), Euphrosyne (Mirth), and Thalia (Abundance) – are minor goddesses who served as the handmaidens of Aphrodite. The Three Graces was a Greek Hellenistic period bronze or marble sculpture created in the 2nd Century BCE depicting the Graces as nude girls, posed so that the two on the ends face one way while the one in the center, draping her arms over her companions, faces the other direction. This configuration of the Graces was highly influential so that future sculptures almost always presented them this way. Drapery-covered water jars frame the trio and provide support.  Art experts have noted the flatness of the composition and speculate that the model for the Greek sculptor may have been a fresco or bas relief. The Greek original has been lost and is only known by Roman marble copies made in the 2nd Century CE, many of which are missing the figures’ heads and many of their arms. Despite the serious damage, the arrangement and setting of this piece set the standard for future depictions of the Graces in art through the centuries. Shown are the Roman copy in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (image above) and the copy in the Piccolomini Library, in Siena Cathedral, Italy (image below).

431. Funeral Banner of Lady Dai

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 180-160 BCE
Period/Style: Han Dynasty; China; decorative art
Medium: Painted silk banner
Dimensions: 6 ft. long
Current location: Hunan Provincial Museum, Changsha, China

The tombs of three elite members of the Han Dynasty – the Marquis of Dai, his wife Lady Dia and their son – were discovered in 1972 at Mawangdui in Hunan Province, China. In Lady Dai’s tomb, a silk banner was found on top of the innermost of four nesting coffins. The purpose of the banner is unclear – it may have been used to identify the dead during mourning ceremonies, or it may have been intended to assist the soul of the deceased in traveling to the afterlife. The banner is important for being one of the earliest paintings of naturalistic scenes, as well as the earliest portrait of a real person (Lady Dai) in Chinese painting.  The banner is divided into four sectors: (1) at the top is the afterlife, with various deities (see detail in image below left); (2) below that is a scene showing Lady Dai, in a beautiful gown, standing on a platform (with three servants behind her), receiving tribute from two kneeling men (see detail in image below right); (3) below that is a mourning scene, showing Lady Dai’s funeral; and (4) at the bottom is a representation of the underworld.  The various registers are linked with figures of interlaced dragons.  “The delicacy of the rhythmic line is typical of Han art,” according to art historian Frederick Hartt.

432. Gundestrup Cauldron

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 150-1 BCE
Period/Style: Celtic; Thracian (?); decorative art
Medium: bowl made from silver (with gilding, tin and glass) with relief sculptures on inner and outer layers
Dimensions: 27 in. in diameter and 16.5 in. tall
Current location: National Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark

The Gundestrup Cauldron is a silver Iron Age bowl that was discovered in a peat bog near the town of Gundstrup, Denmark in 1891. The cauldron was in pieces when it was found; one piece of the outer layer of panels was missing and archaeologists had to decide how to assemble the remaining seven exterior panels, five interior panels and one base panel (see image above). The exterior panels show alternating male and female busts, along with other figures, usually animals (see detail in first image below). The interior panels show an assortment of scenes filled with symbols, including a man with a broken wheel, a cadre of soldiers and the killing of three bulls. One of the interior panels shows a antlered man or god holding a snake in his hand (see detail in second image below). The base of the cauldron depicts a large bull, two dogs and a woman holding a sword. The cauldron is made primarily of silver from France and Germany, but there are also significant amounts of gold for gilding, English tin for soldering, and Mediterranean glass for the figures’ eyes. The cauldron was constructed over a long period of time; at least three different silversmiths worked on it, using materials of differing quality. The cauldron was repaired numerous times with inferior materials prior to its discovery. Experts in the history of silverworking have declared unequivocally that the techniques used on the cauldron were not known in the Celtic world at the time the object was made, but are consistent with the sophisticated silversmithing skills of the Thracians, who lived in an area that occupied parts of present-day Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey. On the other hand, the designs on the cauldron are consistent with Celtic mythology and depict Celtic helmets and a Celtic war trumpet, or carnyx. One theory is that Celts who lived near Thracians commissioned a cauldron with Celtic imagery from Thracian silversmiths, although it is not clear how the cauldron traveled to Denmark. Other archaeologists believe that the cauldron’s imagery represents a type of international mix of characters and symbols.

433. Boshan Incense Burner (Boshan-lu), Tomb of Liu Sheng

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 113 BCE
Period/Style: Western Han Dynasty; China; decorative art
Medium: Bronze incense burner with gold inlays
Dimensions: 10 inches tall
Current location: Hebei Provincial Museum, Shijiazhuang, China

An item often found in Han Dynasty tomb, a boshan-lu is a bronze incense burner with a lid representing the sacred mountains that human souls pass through on their way to the afterlife. The most highly regarded such incense burners is that found in the tomb of Liu Sheng, who died in 113 BCE. Liu was a king who ruled over a portion of the Western Han empire; he was the son of Emperor Jing and the brother of Emperor Wu. The bronze consists of three parts: (1) the base or foot, from which three dragons emerge to support the bowl; (2) the bowl, which is decorated with a swirling pattern (made from inlaid gold) representing the waves of the Eastern Sea; and (3) the lid, which represents clouds and mountain tops with various animals among them and a legendary hunter at the  top.  Smoke rising through the holes in the lid would have given the impresson of mist drifting over the mountaintops.  Residue found inside the incense burner indicates it was used and was not simply ornamental.  According to A. Gutkind Bulling in an article in Expedition magazine, “in beauty and quality of workmanship this [boshan-lu] is unsurpassed.”

434. Gemma Augustea

Artist: The cameo is generally attributed to Dioscurides or one of his followers
Date: c. 10-30 CE
Period/Style: Ancient Rome; early Imperial period; decorative art
Medium: low-relief cameo engraved gem made from a double-layered Arabian onyx stone
Dimensions: 7.5 inches tall by 9 inches wide; 0.5 inches deep
Current location: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria

The Gemma Augustea is a large cameo carved from an Arabian onyx stone that had two layers: one white and one dark brown. The artist (possibly Dioscurides, a renowned sculptor and favorite of Emperor Augustus) carved the white portion of the stone into reliefs, leaving the brown layer as background. The large cameo consists of two scenes, divided by a horizontal ground line.  The top scene shows an emperor (probably Augustus) sitting half naked in the pose and dress of a god. He is receiving the corona civica – a crown given to someone for saving Roman lives – from Oikoumene, a figure who represents the civilized world. Sitting next to Augustus is Roma – the goddess of Rome – who resembles Augustus’s wife Livia. The eagle represents Jupiter. Other figures probably include Tiberius (far left) and Germanicus (in front of the horse), two of Augustus’s possible successors. In the lower scene, we see Roman soldiers and gods subduing barbarians (probably Celts) and erecting a tropaion (a victory monument). Mars and Hermes may be represented. The dating of the cameo is somewhat controversial. A date before Augustus’s death in 14 CE would be unusual, as Augustus did not allow himself to be worshipped as a god in Rome (although this could have  been a gift to someone in the provinces).  A more likely date is during the reign of Tiberius (14-37 CE); the cameo can be interpreted to show that Augustus is choosing Augustus as his successor.  Frederick Hartt points out that the artist is “constantly suggesting space in the foreshortening of the human figures, the chariot, and the horse.”  According to Julia Fischer, “The Gemma proclaimed Augustus’s greatest accomplishment, the Pax Romana, his military victories, his connections to the gods and his god-like status, and his hopes for dynastic succession.”

435. Flying Horse of Gansu

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 25-220 CE
Period/Style: Eastern Han Dynasty; China
Medium: Bronze sculpture
Dimensions: 3.6 in. tall by 16.1 in. long; 17.6 pounds
Current location: Gansu Provincial Museum, Lanzhou City, China
An ancient Chinese legend tells of a heavenly steed that can run so fast it can fly, overtaking even the birds. A bronze sculpture of a horse found in a general’s tomb in China’s Gansu Province in 1969 and dating to the East Han Dynasty may depict this legend in three dimensions. The statue shows a horse galloping through the air, angled slightly upward, letting out a joyful neigh, while one hoof treads on a swallow flying through the air. The swallow, who appears quite startled at this intruder into his airspace, also provides the base upon which the statue is perfectly balanced. Scholars have noted that the horse’s legs accurately reflect their positions in a gallop. The statue is known by many names including Flying HorseFlying Horse of GanzuGalloping Horse and the unwieldy but highly descriptive Bronze Galloping Horse Treading on a Flying Swallow

436. Portrait of the Four Tetrarchs

Artist: Unknown
Date: 300-305 CE
Period/Style: Late Roman Empire; Turkey; royal portraiture
Medium: Sculpture made from porphyry
Dimensions: 4.3 feet tall
Current location: St. Mark’s Basilica, Venice, Italy

Roman Emperor Diocletian (reigned 284-305 BCE) instituted the Tetrarchy, a short-lived system that divided the Roman Empire into eastern and western halves, with a senior Augustus and a junior Caesar ruling each portion. The Portrait of the Four Tetrarchs, which now stands on the exterior of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, was originally two separate statues with one Augustus and one Caesar each.  Most scholars believe that the bearded figures are the older Augustii, who are shown embracing the younger clean-shaven Caesars.  It is not known where the sculptures were made or by whom; they are carved from porphyry, a purple-red stone that stood out from the typical marble stone, and also imitates the purple robes worn by Roman Emperors. The statues were brought to Constantinople, where they stood (attached to porphyry columns) for nearly a millennium until Crusaders sacked the city in 1204 and removed them as booty (knocking off a foot in the process), bringing them to Venice, where they were installed as a single group sculpture on the southwest corner of St. Mark’s Basilica. (Part of the lost foot and plinth were discovered in an archaeological dig in Istanbul in the 1960s and are now on display there in the Archaeological Museum – see image below.)  The statues are evidence of the move – deliberate or inadvertent – away from naturalism and Classical ideals that characterized the art of the era (see also the Arch of Constantine on this point).  Art historian Frederick Hartt sums up the artistic revolution (or, in the view of some, the decline) embodied in these figures: “Nothing remains of the naturalistic tradition in the representation of the human body, which had evolved … throughout more than three thousand years. The figures have been reduced to cylinders, their legs and arms  to tubes, their proportions to those of dolls, and their faces to staring masks. … [O]nly the individuality of their frowns differentiates these figures.”  The cause of this detour off the path of Classicism is much debated.  What is clear is that the next 1000 years of art history in Europe can be divided between those artists who sought (in various ways) to return to or revive Classicism and naturalism, and those who did not.

437. Relief Sculptures and Murals, Tikal

Artists: Unknown
Dates: 300-869 CE
Period/Style: Mayan
Medium: Relief sculptures and carvings made of stone, stucco, and wood
Dimensions: The many artworks range in size. Stelae found at Tikal range from 4.4 ft. tall to 6.9 ft. tall.
Current location: Guatemala

Tikal was a major Mayan city in what is now northern Guatemala. The Mayans built dozens of limestone structures, including enormous temples and pyramids, over a period from 4th Century BCE to 900 CE, although the city reached its peak between 200 and 900 CE. Throughout the temples and other structures, the Mayans carved relief sculptures, with or without hieroglyphics, on limestone walls, lintels made of sapodilla wood, and standing stones called stelae. They also painted colorful murals on some of the walls. The images shown are:
(1) the front of Stela 31, the accession monument of Siyal Chan K’awiil II, which was dedicated in 445 CE (top left)
(2) a diagram showing the reliefs on Stela 31 (top right)
(3) a large stucco mask of a god installed on a platform of Temple 33, flanking a stairway (see image above); and
(4) a wooden lintel from Temple IV showing Tikal ruler Yik’in Chan K’awiil seated on a litter, in celebration of a military victory in 743 CE (see image below).
Tikal was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.

438. Vienna Genesis

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 500-550 CE
Period/Style: Medieval period; Byzantine style (with Classical elements); Syria; religious
Medium: Illustrated manuscript (codex) made with tempera paints on purple-dyed parchment
Dimensions: Each page is 13.1 inches tall by 10/6 inches wide
Current location: Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna, Austria

The Vienna Genesis is an illustrated manuscript from the 6th Century containing an abbreviated version of the Book of Genesis in Greek, it was probably created in Syria. At the bottom of each page is a painted miniature. The pages are made of calf vellum dyed royal purple. The existing book consists of 24 pages, but it is believed that the original was much larger. The Vienna Genesis is the oldest extant example of an illustrated Christian religious text and contains elements of Classical and medieval artistic styles. Among the Classical elements is the semi-nude woman who represents the personification of the river in the depiction of Rebekah and Eliezer at the Well. The images show:
(1) Rebekah and Eliezer at the Well (see detail in top image);
(2) Jacob Crossing the River/Jacob Wrestling with the Angel (see detail in second image above); and
(3) God’s Covenant with Noah after the Flood (see full page in image below).

439. Transfiguration of Christ

Artist: Unknown
Date: 548-566 CE
Period/Style: Medieval; Byzantine; Egypt; religious
Medium: Mosaic in the apse of a church
Dimensions: 6.5 ft. tall by 8.2 ft. wide
Current location: St. Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai, Egypt

The well-preserved mosaic in the apse of the church in St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai is the earliest surviving artistic representation of an event in the Christian Gospels known as the Transfiguration, when Jesus revealed his divine nature to three of his apostles, Peter, John and James. Jesus in seen surrounded by an almond-shaped mandorla, flanked by two prophets, Moses and Elijah. Below him, in various poses, are the three Apostles. Rays of light emanate from Jesus’ body.  A single ground line curves around the apse, on which all the three apostles and two prophets are standing, kneeling or lying. (In later representations of the scene, Moses and Elijah are usually shown floating in the air on either side of Jesus.) The medallions above show the apostles (with substitutes for the three shown in the main scene), while those below show various prophets. The mosaic dates to the time of Byzantine Emperor Justinian and may have been commissioned by him. In religious terms, the Transfiguration was important in a number of theological controversies in the early Church regarding the true nature of Christ. The Transfiguration was cited as support for the belief that Jesus’s essential nature was both divine and mortal. The Byzantine artistic style shows these figures without the naturalism of the Classical era, but as nearly weightless and stylized, inhabiting a heavenly sphere symbolized b the gold background. The location of the mosaic, at the foot of Mount Sinai in Egypt, was important because it was where Moses was said to have received the Ten Commandments from God. Due to its isolated location, the mosaic survived the later waves of iconoclasm that destroyed so much Christian art of this period.

440. Rossano Gospels (Codex Purpureus Rossanensis)

Artist: Unknown
Date: The exact date of the Gospels is disputed, with a majority of scholars dating it to the second half of the 6th Century CE (c. 550-599). Some experts believe it was written in Italy after the Byzantine Empire reconquered the Italian peninsula from the Ostrogoths in 553 CE. Some believe it was produced in Syria or Palestine and brought to Italy later, perhaps by someone escaping the waves of art-destroying iconoclasm that swept the Byzantine church from 726-787 and 814-842.
Period/Style: Medieval; Byzantine; Italy; religious
Medium: Illustrated manuscript (codex) with tempera paints on purple-dyed parchment
Dimensions: Each page is 11.8 in. high by 9.8 in. wide
Current location: Diocesan Museum, Archepiscopal Palace, Rossano, Calabria, Italy

The Rossano Gospels are considered to be the earliest known illuminated manuscripts of Christian New Testament writings. Written in Greek, the existing pages (188 out of an estimated 400, part of which could be a missing second volume) contain the Gospel of Matthew, most of the Gospel of Mark and a portion of a letter regarding the concordance of the gospels. The pages of parchment are dyed purple, hence the Latin name Codex Purpureus Rossanensis. The text is written in two columns of 20 lines each; the first three lines of each gospel are written in gold ink, with the remainder in silver. The 15 illuminated pages have been placed at the beginning of the manuscript instead of integrated with the text, as in later manuscripts. Twelve of the illuminated pages depict episodes from the life of Christ (including Christ before Pilate, shown in the image above), often with the evangelists pictured on the bottom half of the page. One of the illuminated pages shows the four evangelists in a circle of concordance. Another is a portrait of Mark the Evangelist, with an angel (see image below). The portrait of St. Mark is believed to be the first known evangelist portrait, although at least one scholar believes it is a later insertion. According to one commentator, “The Rossano miniatures are painted with extraordinary refinement and economy. Like the illustrations in the Vienna Genesis, they distill the narrative action in a few, convincing gestures. Hellenistic naturalism survives in the soft, highlighted garments, dramatic action, and details of setting.” 

441. The Thirteen Emperors Scroll

Artist: Attributed to Yan Liben
Date: c. 650-673 CE
Period/Style: Tang Dynasty; China; royal portraiture
Medium: Ink and color on silk scroll
Dimensions: 1.7 ft. tall by 17.4 ft. long
Current location: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts
13 emperors  thirteen emperors 3
In 7th Century China, painters and other artists were held in low regard socially. Yan Liben was an aristocrat and a government official specializing in architectural matters who served in the administrations of two Tang Dynasty emperors (Taizong and his son Gaozong). To Yan’s shame, however, it was his hobby of painting that made him famous at court. His most acclaimed painting, The Thirteen Emperors Scroll, covers 700 years of Chinese history through portraits of pre-Tang emperors beginning with the Emperor Zhao Di, from the Western Han Dynasty, who reigned from c. 86-74 BCE, to Emperor Yang Di, of the Sui Dynasty, who reigned from 605-617 CE. The sequence is chronological from right to left except for the 7th, 8th and 9th emperors. Each emperor is presented in a separate scene with his entourage (but with no background, which was felt to be distracting) in dignified poses that emphasize their imperial status. At least one commentator has suggested that emperors with more lofty reputations (such as the founders of dynasties) are represented as larger and with more pleasant expressions than emperors known for their cruelty or for military defeats. The entire scroll is viewable online HERE. The images shown are:
(1) Liu Bei, Emperor Zhaolie Di, Shu Han Dynasty (reigned 221-223 CE) (top left);
(2) Yang Jian, Emperor Wen Di, Sui Dynasty (reigned 581-604 CE) (top right)
(3) Chen Bozong, Emperor Fei Di, Chen Dynasty (reigned 566-568 CE), seated at left, and Cao Pi, Emperor Wen Di, Wei Dynasty (reigned 221-226 CE), seated at right (first image below); and
(4) Chen Shubao, Emperor Xuan Di, Chen Dynasty (reigned 569-582 CE) (second image below).

442. Book of Durrow

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 650-700 CE
Period/Style: Medieval; Insular style; Ireland/England/Scotland; religious
Medium: Illustrated manuscript with ink and color on vellum
Dimensions: Each page is 9.6 inches tall by 5.7 inches wide
Current location: Trinity College Library, Dublin, Ireland

A much earlier precursor of the more famous Lindesfarne Gospels and Book of Kells, the Book of Durrow is one of the earliest northern European illuminated manuscripts using the Insular style, found in Ireland and the British Isles. According to tradition, the manuscript was created at Durrow Abbey in Ireland, although some have speculated that it came from a monastery in Northumbria in England or in western Scotland.  To create the illustrations that surround and accompany the text, the artist has drawn inspiration from a number of sources: Celtic art; Anglo-Saxon metalwork; Egyptian and Syrian illustrated manuscripts; Germanic zoomorphic designs; and Pictish stones from Scotland.  The first letter of the text is enlarged and decorated. The intricately-designed carpet pages – so called because they resemble Persian rugs – contain interlaced animals and Celtic spirals,  triskeles (triple spirals), ribbon plaits, and circular knots (see image above).  The pages for the four Evangelists are unusual in their iconography. Here, Matthew is represented by a man (see image below left); Mark by an eagle; Luke by an ox (or calf); and John by a lion (see image below right). In the standard representations adopted later the lion stands for Mark and the eagle represents John.  The representation of Matthew shows a lack of naturalism – one commentator likened it to a giant buckle with a head and feet. 

443. High Cross of Muiredach

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 875-925 CE
Period/Style: Medieval; Celtic; Insular style; Ireland; religious
Medium: Burial cross made of several blocks of sandstone, with relief sculptures
Dimensions: The cross is 19 ft. high (including the base). The base measures 2.2 ft. tall by 4.7 ft. wide at the bottom and 3.6 ft. wide at the top. The 6 ft. tall shaft is 2.1 ft. wide and 1.7 ft. deep at the bottom.
Current location: Monasterboice, County Louth, Ireland

The High Cross of Muiredach is one of three tall Celtic crosses located at ruins of the Monasterboice monastery, in County Louth, Ireland. The large cross stands on a base in the form of an attenuated pyramid; the shaft of the cross tapers somewhat as it goes up. The top stone, or capstone, is shaped like a house with a sloping roof. All four sides of the cross are divided into panels with carvings, usually with Biblical themes, but also some geometric and abstract patterns. The central panel on the west face depicts the Crucifixion (see image above), while the central panel on the east face of the cross shows The Last Judgment (see detail in image below). The carvings include 124 figures, who generally wear contemporary clothing and hairstyles. The ring surrounding the head of the cross contains 17 different geometric or abstract patterns. The cross would originally have been painted in bright colors. The cross gets its name from a Gaelic inscription at the bottom of the west face that reads, “A prayer for Muiredach who had this cross made.”

444. Relief Sculptures, Cloister, Abbey of Santo Domingo de los Silos

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 1075-1160
Period/Style: Medieval; Romanesque; Spain; religious
Medium: Relief sculptures in abbey cloister
Dimensions: The pier reliefs are approximately 3 ft. tall
Current location: Santo Domingo de los Silos, Spain

The Benedictine Abbey of Santo Domingo de Silos was initially constructed in the 11th Century in the Romanesque style by Abbott Dominic of Silos, whose name was eventually given to the church.  Subsequent renovations have left only the double-story arched cloister in its original form. The piers at the four corners and capitals of columns supporting the arches of the cloister are carved with reliefs.  There are two different styles, indicating that a new sculptor or set of sculptors completed the project after a break in the early 12th Century. The capitals are decorated with animals, dragons, centaurs, lattices, mermaids, and other figures, while the piers at the corners have large reliefs depicting scenes from the life of Christ.  These reliefs would have originally been painted.  Some believe the sculptor of the pier reliefs also carved the sculptures on the exterior of the Abbey of St. Pierre in Moissac, France.  One of the pier reliefs shows the scene of Doubting Thomas (see image above). As is typical of Romanesque sculpture, symbolic values supersede naturalism. For example, the figure of Christ is much larger than the apostles around him, symbolizing his larger spiritual importance. Another of the piers contains scenes of the Entombment of Christ, on the left, and the Descent from the Cross, on the right (see image below). In the Descent from the Cross, Frederick Hartt notes that the line itself is “the carrier of intense emotion … – the sad tilt of Christ’s head, the stiff line of his his right arm liberated from the Cross, the gentle line of Mary’s head pressed to his right hand, the delicate lines of the drapery, and the looping folds of Christ’s garments.” 

445. Reclining Buddha, Gal Vihara

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 1154-1180
Period/Style: Sinhalese; Buddhist; Sri Lanka; religious
Medium: Relief sculpture carved from granite gneiss
Dimensions: 46.3 ft. long
Current location: Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka
Reclining Buddha
During the 12th Century, Sinhalese King Parakramabahu I built the Gal Vihara temple at Polonnaruwa, in north-central Sri Lanka. The temple features four Buddhas carved deeply into a single granite rock face: two seated, one standing and one reclining (see first image below). These sculptures are considered some of the finest examples of ancient Sinhalese art. The Reclining Buddha is the largest of the four figures (see image above). It shows the Buddha in the lion posture as he attains parinirvana, or final nirvana, at the moment of death. He lies on his right side with his right arm supporting his head on a pillow and his left arm resting on his body (see detail in second image below). Lotus flowers are carved on his right palm and the soles of his feet. The Buddha’s left foot is withdrawn slightly to indicate that he is not merely resting. Gal Vihara and other parts of the ancient city of Polonnaruwa were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982.

446. Face Towers, Bayon Temple

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 1190-1210
Period/Style: Khmer culture; Mahayana Buddhism; Cambodia
Medium: Relief sculptures carved in stone
Dimensions: Bayon Temple has 37 stone towers, each 13 feet tall. The towers contain a total of approximately 200 faces.
Current location: Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Bayon Temple, located at Angkor Thom in what is now Cambodia, was built during the reign of Khmer ruler Jayavarman VII around the end of the 12th and beginning of the 13th Century CE as a Mahayana Buddhist shrine. Later rulers altered and adapted Bayon to serve as a Hindu temple and then as a Theravada Buddhist shrine. The temple contains a series of bas relief sculptures, but its most remarkable features are the approximately 200 “face towers” that rise above the main body of the temple; each tower contains one or more faces of a serenely smiling male figure with closed eyes. Some scholars believe the faces represent Lokeshvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion, while others think they depict Jayavarman VII himself, based on comparison with other sculptures of the king. Some have suggested that the faces are intended to show Jayavarman as the Bodhisattva. The images above show details of the face towers. The image below provides an overview of the ruins of Bayon Temple.

447. Bare Willows and Distant Mountains

Artist: Ma Yuan
Date: c. 1190-1200
Period/Style: Southern Song Dynasty; Ma-Xia School; China; landscape painting
Medium: Ink and color on a silk fan mounted on paper
Dimensions: 9.4 inches tall by 9.5 inches wide
Current location: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts

Chinese artist Ma Yuan was born into a family of painters and like his father and grandfather before him, he became a painter at court of the emperor. Ma Yuan served Southern Song Dynasty Emperors Guangzong (reigned 1189-1194) and Ningzong (reigned 1194-1224). Emperor Ningzong admired Ma’s work so much that he wrote several poems inspired by the artist’s paintings. Although Ma was adept at a number of types of painting, he excelled in landscapes. With another painter he founded the Ma-Xia school. One of the principles of Ma-Xia was one-corner composition, in which the major elements of the painting are collected on one side or in one corner, while the remainder of the picture were left mostly empty. This philosophy earned Ma Yuan the sobriquet ‘One-corner Ma.’ A popular fashion in Song Dynasty art was the painting of fans. Ma Yuan painted Bare Willows and Distant Mountains on a silk fan which was then mounted on an album leaf (see first image). A verse couplet is written on the right side of the fan. The painting on the fan is a landscape, with the mountains and willow tree balancing each other. In the lower right corner, a traveler approaches some huts (see detail in image below). In keeping with Ma-Xia principles, the landscape is idealized and rendered poetic, eliminating all unnecessary elements.

448. The Last Judgment

Artist: Pietro Cavallini
Date: c. 1293
Period/Style: Medieval; Gothic/Byzantine; Italy; religious
Medium: Fresco painted on church wall
Dimensions: 10.5 ft. tall by 45.9 ft. long
Current location: Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, Rome, Italy

As with so many churches in Rome, Santa Cecilia in Trastevere contains the artistic and architectural evidence of multiple buildings, reconstructions and renovations through the centuries.  Most of what visitors see now dates to the major renovations in the 17th and 18th centuries, but remains of a mosiac in the apse date from a 9th Century Carolingian church, while the ciborium above the altar (by Arnolfo di Cambio) and frescoes by Pietro Cavallini date to the end of the 13th Century. Cavallini’s fresco was covered up by a redesign in 1724-1725. It wasn’t until 1900, during restoration work, that Cavallini’s frescoes – now much damaged – were rediscovered.  The Last Judgment, which is located on the wall facing the altar is considered a masterpiece (see detail in image below). While still firmly entrenched in the Byzantine-style, his figures show more humanity, both in expression and monumentality. Shaped by contrasts of dark and light (known as modeling) instead of line, and showing physical forms through the depiction of the robes (see detail in top image), Cavallini’s figures set the stage for proto-Renaissance artists such as Giotto. Cavallini also anticipates the linear perspective of Renaissance art by attempting (somewhat unsuccessfully) to depict the arrangement of the chairs as receding in space from the central depiction of Jesus (flanked by angels, his mother and John the Baptist) (see detail in second image above). True linear perspective would not be rediscovered until the 15th Century.

449. Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains

Artist: Huang Gongwang
Date: 1347-1350
Period/Style: Song Dynasty; China; landscape painting
Medium: Scroll painted with monochrome ink using the wash painting technique.
Dimensions: The original scroll measured 1 ft. high by 22.7 ft. long but has been separated into two pieces: one piece, The Remaining Mountain is 1.7 ft. long. The other piece, The Master Wuyong Scroll, is 20.9 ft. long.
Current location: The smaller, beginning portion of the scroll is at the Zhejiang Provincial Museum in Hangzhou, China.  The much larger section is in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, Taiwan.
Dwelling_in_the_Fuchun_Mountains_(first_half)dwelling in fuchun
Song Dynasty painter Huang Gongwang (1269-1354) was one of the Four Yuan Masters, a group of Chinese painters who espoused literati painting, which focused on individual expression and learning rather than immediate visual appeal. As one of the older Yuan masters, Huang was also strongly influenced by the artists of the Five Dynasties period. Huang’s greatest surviving masterpiece is Dwelling in the Funchun Mountains, a landscape scroll made with monochrome ink using the wash painting technique. The painting was highly regarded by later generations, but it was nearly destroyed in 1650 when its then-owner, Wu Hongyu, tried to burn it on his deathbed. A family member intervened, but not before the painting was separated into two pieces. The smaller of the two pieces, which is the the first part of the painting, is referred to as The Remaining Mountain (see top image above) and is located in China. The larger portion of the scroll, known as The Master Wuyong Scroll (see second image above), is located in Taiwan. The two pieces were briefly reunited in 2011 in Taipei. The scroll depicts an idealized view of the Fuchun Mountains where Huang lived, with river scenery, marshes, mountains and hills, as well as human elements such as houses. In rendering the landscape elements, Huang has reduced the buildings, plants and geographical formations to their most basic forms. Huang first laid out the composition using light ink, then finished by successively applying darker and drier brushwork. During this phase, he sometimes altered shapes, strengthened lines and added texture strokes or groups of trees. He also applied brush dots as abstract accents. Huang Gongwang completed Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains at the age of 82. 

450. Apocalypse Tapestry

Artists: Jean Bondol (Hennequin of Bruges), Nicolas Bataille, & Robert Poinçon
Date: 1377-1382
Period/Style: Medieval; Franco-Flemish School; religious
Medium: Tapestry made with wool, silk, silver and gold
Dimensions: The original tapestry was 436 feet long in six 78-foot sections and 20 feet high. The reconstructed tapestry is now 328 feet long.
Current location: Musée de la Tapisserie, Château d’Angers, Angers, France

When Louis I, Duke of Anjou, saw an illustrated manuscript given to his brother, Charles V of France, he decided to commission something bigger and better: a huge tapestry containing an illustrated version of the Book of Revelation (also known as the Book of the Apocalypse), the final book of the Bible, which is attributed to St. John the Evangelist. The book tells the story of the end of the world, in which demons, devils and dragons wreak havoc on the population until Jesus Christ returns to vanquish the evildoers and bring the Last Judgment to mankind. Various versions of the story had been circulating throughout Medieval Europe and were very popular among the Christian populace during those times of war, plague and famine. Louis asked Flemish artist Hennequin de Bruges (also known as Jean Bondol) to design and sketch the scenes and he hired Parisians Nicolas Bataille and Robert Poinçon to weave the massive tapestry using wool, silk, silver and gold. The entire process took only seven years and was completed in 1382. The Apocalypse Tapestry originally contained 90 separate scenes. The Duke and his family displayed the tapestry for about a century. In 1480, they donated it to Angers Cathedral, where it remained until the French Revolution. Anti-clerical protesters looted the tapestry, cut it up and used the pieces for flooring, to protect orange trees from frost and to fill holes in walls. In 1848, clerics began collecting the surviving fragments, which were returned to the cathedral in 1870. The reconstructed Apocalypse Tapestry is now 328 feet long; of the original 90 scenes, 71 have been found. The front has faded, but it is entirely reversible and the back side still has vibrant color.  The images show:
(1) An angel blows a trumpet, opening one of the seals of the Apocalypse and causing a shipwreck (see top image above);
(2) The many-headed lion (the Beast of the Sea) receives the fleur-de-lis (symbol of France) from the many-headed dragon (the False Prophet), a reference to England’s domination of France during the 100 Years’ War (see second image above); and
(3) The fourth horsesman – Death – is depicted as a skeleton-headed corpse; this was an innovation in French religious iconography, where personified Death had previously been shown as a living human being (see image below).

451. North Doors, Florence Baptistery

Artist: Lorenzo Ghiberti
Date: Begun 1403; completed in 1424.
Period/Style: Late Gothic/Early Renaissance; Italy; religious
Medium: Set of doors with gilded bronze relief sculptures in quatrefoils
Dimensions: 16.6 ft. tall
Current location: The original doors are in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Florence, Italy. The doors on the Florence Baptistery are replicas.

The Baptistery in Florence has three sets of bronze doors that are decorated with relief sculptures. The south doors were done by Andrea Pisano in 1330-1336; Lorenzo Ghiberti did the north doors between 1403-1424, and the east doors (known as the Gates of Paradise) from 1425-1452. The 23-year-old Ghiberti won a competition to sculpt the north doors over such names as Brunelleschi and Jacopo della Quercia. The north doors consist of a large frame consisting of rosettes and prophets’ heads, inside of which are 28 panels (14 per door), each surrounded by a polylobate Gothic frame known as a quatrefoil, each of which was set inside a square frame with plant motifs. Only the relief figures were gilded; the bronze in the background has acquired a dark patina over the centuries. Twenty of the panels depict the life of Christ, and eight panels portray the evangelists and church fathers. While Ghiberti’s work on the north doors shows some signs of the naturalism that would usher in the Renaissance, the style of the reliefs is essentially Gothic. A major restoration project was undertaken in 2012-2015. The original doors were removed, restored and moved to the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, where they have been on display (and safe from the ravages of the weather) since late 2015. In January 2016, a faithful replica of the North Doors was installed at the Baptistery. The image above shows the restored North Doors in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. The image below shows the restored version of The Temptation of Christ.

452. Deposition of Christ (Santa Trinità Altarpiece)

Artist: Fra Angelico
Date: c. 1432-1434 or c. 1437-1440
Period/Style: Early Renaissance; Italy; religious
Medium: Tempera paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 5.75 ft. high by 6.1 ft. wide
Current location: San Marco Museum, Florence, Italy

Originally, Lorenzo Monaco had been commissioned by the Strozzi family to paint an altarpiece for the Strozzi Chapel in the Santa Trinità church in Florence, but Monaco died after finishing only the three scenes above the arches and the commission went to Fra Angelico. (The man known as Fra Angelico (“Angelic Brother”) was born Guido di Pietro in Tuscany in about 1400. He became a painter and a Dominican monk early in his life.) At first Fra Angelico worried that the three Gothic arches would hinder his work, but he worked within the constraints by organizing the figures into three groups. In the center, the wood of the cross, the ladders, and the blue sky behind them provide a neutral background for focusing on the dead body of Jesus. The cross bar of the cross disappears behind the arch, creating the illusion of space. Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea and St. John help to lower Jesus from the cross. Mary Magdalene kisses his feet, a sign of repentance. On the right, an unidentified man – perhaps a portrait of one of the Strozzi family –  shows doubters the nails and the horns from the crown of thorns. The background landscape shows the Holy City and Calvary. On the sides of the frame are twelve full-length portraits of saints standing on columns and eight medallions with portrait busts. While Fra Angelico chooses not to show the movements of the limbs of the figures beneath their draperies (similar to Giotto), his use of light to model the figures derives from Masaccio’s pioneering works. In the words of Frederick Hartt, “In the poetry of this fully Renaissance picture, Christian mysticism is blended with a new joy in the loveliness of created things, transfigured by faith.” 

453. Virgin and Child with Canon van der Paele (Madonna with Canon van der Paele)

Artist: Jan van Eyck
Date: c. 1434-1436
Period/Style: Early Netherlandish; Flanders (now Belgium); religious
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 4.6 ft tall by 5.8 ft wide (including frame)
Current location: Groeningemuseum, Bruges, Belgium
van der paele madonna
Jan van Eyck’s Virgin and Child with Canon van der Paele is an early example of a sacra conversazione, in which various religious figures are gathered without reference to any specific religious event.  Here, the donor (Canon van der Paele, a wealthy priest) kneels before Mary and Jesus, with Saint Donatian of Reims (patron saint of Bruges) at left and St. George (the donor’s name saint) at right. The Canon reads from a Book of Hours and carries a pair of eyeglasses. On Mary’s throne, van Eyck has carved scenes showing Old Testament scenes, including  Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel. Note that in contrast to medieval convention, in which figures from the heavenly realm – Jesus, Mary and the saints – are depicted as larger than earthly mortals, all the figures here are shown at the same scale. Scholars attribute this change in tradition to a change in societal attitudes about the role of human beings known as humanism. Van Eyck’s use of oil glazes to create realistic details is evident throughout, and in particular on the blue and gold garment worn by St. Donation. Random Trivia: Van Eyck used the reflectivity of St. George’s armor to include several reflections. St. George’s helmet reflects the Virgin and Christ Child, while his shield shows the painter himself (wearing a red chaperon similar to that worn in Portrait of a Man in a Red Turban) (see detail in image below).

454. Scenes from the Life of Noah

Artist: Paolo Uccello
Date: c. 1436-1440
Period/Style: Early Renaissance; Italy; religious
Medium: Frescoes painted on cloister wall
Dimensions: The upper portion of the fresco measures 7 ft. tall by 16.7 ft. wide
Current location: Santa Maria Novella, Florence, Italy

By all accounts, Paolo Uccello was obsessed with one-point perspective, and nowhere is his obsession more evident than in the frescoes he painted in the cloister of Santa Maria Novella in Florence with Scenes from the Life of Noah. The work consists of two frescoes, each containing two scenes. The lunette above contains The Flood (or The Deluge) on the left and The Waters Receding on the right. Below is a rectangular fresco showing The Sacrifice of Noah and The Drunkenness of Noah. The frescoes were painted in a greenish monochrome that gives the cloister its nickname, Chiostro Verde (Green Cloister). The frescoes were transferred to canvas and restored in 2013-2014. The Flood shows the huge ark on the left, with the waters rising beside it, leading the soon-to-be-drowned humans outside to agonize or attempt to climb aboard.  On the right, we see the ark again, with Noah leaning out the window releasing a bird, and dead bodies strewn about (see detail in image below). Various details – including a ladder and the mazzocchio (a wood and wicker support for headdresses) – “serve to exhibit Uccello’s prowess in forcing unwilling objects to comply with the laws of one-point perspective”, in the words of Frederick Hartt. A clean-shaven elderly man stands outside, possibly blessing the land.  Some have speculated that he represents Cosimo de’ Medici the Elder (a patron of the church) or Pope Eugene IV (who was staying at Santa Maria Novella at the time).  Hartt points out that “[a]lmost in spite of Uccello’s obsession with perspective”, the painting “exerts great dramatic power.

455. The Youthful David (David with the Head of Goliath)

Artist: Andrea del Castagno
Date: c. 1450
Period/Style: Early Renaissance; Italy; religious
Medium: Paint on a leather-covered wooden shield
Dimensions: 3.8 ft. tall by 2.5 ft wide (top) and 1.3 ft wide (bottom)
Current location: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

The painted shield known as The Youthful David (but labeled by the National Gallery of Art as David with the Head of Goliath) is unique in art history. While decorative shields were common in 15th Century Italy for use in civic parades or religious processions, they were usually decorated with coats of arms. It was very unusual for such a shield to have a painted scene, as here, and even more rare for the painter to be someone of the stature of Andrea del Castagno. The Youthful David is the only shield painted by a recognized master that has survived to the present day. The artist Andrea del Castagno here shows a young David (a Florentine symbol/mascot) with his sling in an energetic pose (possibly based on a Classical model), with the head of Goliath beneath his feet, thus showing both the moment before the fight and the outcome of the fight at the same time.  Painting David on a shield may have reminded viewers of the line from Psalm 91, “His truth shall be thy shield and buckler.” In keeping with Renaissance principles, David’s body is modeled with light and shadow to create the impression of a three-dimensional form, and he realistically inhabits the painted landscape, with the realism even extending to his wind-blown garments.

456. Portrait of a Lady

Artist: Rogier van der Weyden
Date: c. 1460
Period/Style: Early Netherlandish;
Medium: Oil paints on oak panels
Dimensions: 13 in. tall by 10 in. wide
Current location: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Although we know that Flemish artist Rogier van der Weyden (1399? – 1464) made many portraits in the last years of his life, this small panel is the only surviving portrait of a woman attributable to him. The woman (her name is lost) is dressed in the fashionable Burgundian style, which the artist reveals in loving detail, but the clasped hands and lowered gaze indicate penitent humility. Van der Weyden uses the elaborate veil as the touchstone for a series of geometric symmetries that balance the composition. Random Trivia: Anatomists might note that the lady’s left ear is positioned higher on her head than normal; art historians suspect that the artist may have raised the ear in order to balance his portrait, thus favoring aesthetic truth over anatomical.

457. The Hunt in the Forest (The Hunt)

Artist: Paolo Uccello
Date: 1470
Period/Style: Early Renaissance; Florence, Italy
Medium: Tempera and oil paints with gold leaf on wood panels
Dimensions: 2.2 ft. tall by 5.4 ft. wide
Current location: Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, England, UK
The Hunt in the Forest (also known as The Hunt, or The Hunt by Night) was the last major work by Florentine painter Paolo Uccello before he died in 1475. We do not know who commissioned it, but it may have been designed for a spalliera (the back of a bench or the headboard or footboard of a bed) for a prosperous Florentine family. The Hunt in the Forest is a fine example of the use of linear perspective (see first image). The artist used a grid on the wood panels to ensure that objects diminished in size as they became more distant. The perspectival vanishing point also serves the painting’s subject matter, as the dogs chase the roebuck into the distance at the work’s dark center, while the brightly-colored hunters and their entourages hesitate amid the noise and disorganization (see detail in image below). The scene is remarkable for its setting – a moonlit night in the forest – and its chaos. It is also a rare example of a contemporary secular subject painted for domestic use from this period. It is not clear is whether the scene is supposed to be real or imaginary, but the foliage of the trees was originally lined with gold leaf, giving it a magical sparkle, and there is at least one (probable) Classical reference: the crescents on the horses’ dressings may be crescent moons, symbol of Diana, goddess of the hunt.

458. The Temptation of St. Anthony (St. Anthony Tormented by Demons)

Artist: Martin Schongauer
Date: c. 1470-1475
Period/Style: Northern Gothic; Germany
Medium: Paper prints made from copper engraving
Dimensions: 11.8 inches tall by 8.6 inches wide
Current location: Various collections

According to his 4th Century CE biographer, Athanasius, St. Anthony was an Egyptian hermit who often retreated to the desert to meditate and pray. His practice of asceticism led to an ability to levitate, according to Athanasius.  Martin Schongauer, an Alsatian artist, created an engraving showing the levitating St. Anthony beset by nine devils and demons, which may be a conflation of two scenes described by Athanasius in his biography.  We see a rocky crag at lower right and a serene St. Anthony under attack.  The monsters result from the combination of highly realistic elements of reptiles, mammals, birds and fish to produce what the Metropolitan Museum of Art curator calls “some of the most fantastic and grotesque fabrications in the history of printmaking.” The print depicts St. Anthony’s firm determination in the face of evil as an example for all Christians as they struggle with powerful temptations. Schongauer’s Northern Gothic style combines elements of Early Netherlandish art with German painting styles. Random Trivia: Michelangelo painted a copy of the print in 1487 when he was 12 years old (see image below). Many believe that the painting, known as The Torment of St. Anthony, that is in the collection of the Kimbell Art Museum in  Forth Worth, Texas, is Michelangelo’s original, although there is some dispute about the attribution.

459. John the Baptist in the Wilderness

Artist: Geertgen tot Sint Jans
Date: c. 1485-1490
Period/Style: Early Netherlandish; Netherlands, religious
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 16.5 in. tall by 11 in. wide
Current location: Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen, Berlin

The John the Baptist described in the Gospels had little time to go somewhere quiet and think. He was occupied with baptizing his many followers and broadcasting the news that the Messiah was coming. But a popular book about the life of John the Baptist included an account of time he spent alone in the wilderness, which was probably the inspiration for Geertgen tot Sint Jans’s John the Baptist in the Wilderness, Painted in the Early Netherlandish style, the small painting was probably meant for private devotion, perhaps in a monk’s cell. Wearing a brown garment made of camel hair, St. John sits on a rock ledge, his attribute, the haloed Lamb of God, by his side, and leans his head in his right hand, looking pensive, even somber. A clue to the subject of his meditation is the position of his feet, which unconsciously imitate the position of Jesus’s feet on the cross. Although the ‘wilderness’ seems more like a well-managed park (within view of a city), the abundance of wildlife, particularly birds on the ground and in the air, gives a sense of hope, even salvation, to contrast with the doldrums into which St. John appears to have sunk. He even seems to have become a part of the landscape, as the folds of his blue cloak echo the curves of the topography.

460. 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.

461. The Marriage of the Virgin (Lo Sposalizio)

Artist: Raphael
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).

462. 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).

463. 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.

464. 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. 

465. 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).

466. 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. 

467. 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).

468. 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.

469. 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.”

470. 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.  

471. 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).

472. The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb

Artist: Hans Holbein the Younger
Date: 1520-1522
Period/Style: Northern Renaissance; Germany; religious
Medium: Oil and tempera paints on limewood panels
Dimensions: 1 ft. high by 6.5 ft. long
Current location: Kunstmuseum, Basel, Switzerland
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. 

473. 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).

474. 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.

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

Artist: Tintoretto
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
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.

476. 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.

477. 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
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.

478. 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
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.

479. Cardinal Fernando Niño de Guevara (Portrait of a Cardinal)

Artist: El Greco
Date: 1600
Period/Style: Late Renaissance/Mannerism; Spain; religious portrait
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 5.6 ft. tall by 3.5 ft. wide
Current location: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY

Born in Crete and living in Toledo, Spain, El Greco had spent time in both Venice and Rome, where he was influenced by the works of both the Mannerists and the Venetians, particularly Titian. El Greco’s portrait of Cardinal Cardinal Fernando Niño de Guevara owes much to Titian’s psychological portraiture. The subject was at the time the Grand Inquisitor of Spain, at whose hands many heretics had been put to death, and El Greco conveys the intensity of this man, with his unusual black-rimmed glasses, and his powerful position with an overall sense of heightened tension. The use of color is quite Venetian (as is the signature, contained on the piece of paper lying on the floor), but the painting also includes many Mannerist elements, such as the exaggerated, elongated forms and unusual gestures, including as the cardinal’s left hand clutching the arm of the chair, while the right hand seems lifeless and limp. El Greco also brought his love of the Byzantine to the work. As one commentator noted, “The painting’s surfaces … seem to suggest the flickering light and glow of a Byzantine icon . The cardinal, enveloped under these watery surfaces, seems about to dematerialize.” The portrait was probably commissioned by a relative, possibly the cardinal’s nephew Pedro Lasso when the cardinal spent time in Toledo with Philip III and members of the Madrid court.

480. The Entombment of Christ

Artist: Caravaggio
Date: 1602-1603
Period/Style: Baroque; Italy
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions:10 ft. tall by 6.7 ft. wide
Current location: Vatican Museums, Vatican City

In some ways, The Entombment of Christ (also known as The Deposition) is a typical Caravaggio painting. Using tenebrism, the artist isolates a group of figures in a spotlight, while the background is nearly invisible.  The chiaroscuro effects of this type of lighting are highly dramatic. The figures here – the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, Joseph of Aramithea, Nicodemus, and the dead body of Jesus – are arranged in a diagonal composition that begins with Magdalene’s hands raised to heaven and ends with Jesus’s hand and shroud connecting with the cold stone in which he will be buried. The people are real, not idealized. Caravaggio represents the Madonna as an older woman, whose hand reaches out to touch her son. The man in orange holding Jesus is foreshortened, sending him into the viewer’s space, along with the body of Jesus and the massive stone slab. In a graphically realistic detail that tells us that Jesus is truly dead, the man carrying him has slipped his hand around Jesus’s side and his fingers have entered the wound made by the soldier’s sword. The Entombment of Christ was originally commissioned by Alessandro Vittrice for the Santa Maria church in Vallicella, part of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri; it is now in the Vatican Museums.

481. Fray Hortensio Félix Paravicino

Artist: El Greco
Date: 1609
Period/Style: Late Renaissance/Mannerism; Baroque; Spain
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.7 ft. tall by 2.8 ft. wide
Current location: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts

Fray Hortensio Félix Paravicino, born in Madrid of Italian parents, was a cleric and intellectual who became friends with El Greco during the artist’s last years. A professor of rhetoric, an acclaimed poet and a sought-after orator, Paravicino sat for his portrait at the age of 29. In 1641, long after El Greco’s 1614 death, Paravicino dedicated four sonnets to him in a published collection, which included the line: “Crete gave him life, Toledo his brushes and a better homeland… .” El Greco restricts his palette to the blacks and whites of his subject’s clerical vestments, producing the effect that we are seeing past the physical and into the psychological reality of the man. El Greco was rejected by the painters of his time for his failure to adapt to the new Baroque style. Instead, he continues to paint using his own personal blend of the Byzantine-influenced Mannerism. Neil Collins analyzes the ways in which El Greco evokes the subject’s spirituality:  First, the composition is dominated completely by Paravicino’s face and the spiritual energy or other-worldliness it exudes. Second, the ghostly, shroud-like white of the Friar’s tunic endows him with a certain ethereal quality, reinforced by the paleness of his skin and hands. Third, the folds of the friar’s habit, the angle of his left arm and the books, all contribute to the creation of an imperceptible rhythm or movement, which further adds to the sense of other-worldliness.”  Random Trivia: The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston purchased the painting in 1904 for $17,166 on the advice of painter John Singer Sargent.

482. The Water Seller of Seville

Artist: Diego Velázquez
Date: 1618-1622
Period/Style: Baroque; Spain
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: Each version is approximately 3.4 ft. tall by 2.6 ft. wide
Current location: Version 1: Apsley House, London, England, UK; Version 2: Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy; Version 3: Private collection (?).

Between 1618 and 1622, Spanish painter Diego Velázquez made three very similar paintings entitled The Water Seller of Seville (also known as The Water Carrier of Seville). Made early in Velázquez’s career, before he became court painter for the King of Spain, the paintings are notable for their dignified treatment of the main subject, an old, poor man in tattered clothing who ekes out of a living by selling fresh water from a jug, a common profession for the very poor and a much needed service during Seville’s scorching summer heat. The old man hands a glass of water (with a fig for flavoring) to a boy, while (in two out of the three versions) an adult man drinks from a glass in the background (thus representing the three ages of Man). The most highly regarded of the three versions is the one in London’s Apsley House, the former home of the Duke of Wellington (see image above). How it got there is an interesting story. At the beginning of the 19th Century, the painting was located in Spain, but when Napoleon’s troops invaded Spain, they took the painting with them as the spoils of war. Then, in June 1813, anti-Napoleon troops led by the Duke of Wellington won the Battle of Vitoria, and in the process recaptured over 80 looted masterpieces from Napoleon, including The Water Seller of Seville. When the Duke returned the artworks to their rightful home in Spain, the Spanish King allowed the Duke to keep the Velázquez masterpiece as a token of his gratitude. The version in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence gives more prominence to the third figure, who is drinking from a glass (see image below left). In a third version, which may be in a private collection, this background figure has completely disappeared (see image below right). 

483. The Martyrdom of St. Serapion

Artist: Francisco de Zurbarán
Date: 1628
Period/Style: Baroque; Spain; religious
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.9 ft. tall by 3.4 ft. wide
Current location: Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut
Zurbaran st serapion
The Royal, Celestial and Military Order of Our Lady of Mercy and the Redemption of the Captives, commonly known as the Mercedarians, was an order of Catholic monks whose mission was to offer themselves as hostages in exchange for Christians imprisoned or enslaved around the world. As a result of this mission, many Mercedarians became martyrs, including the subject of this painting, St. Serapion of Algiers. Serapion, who was born in the British Isles, joined the Mercedarians in the 13th Century after fighting in the Crusades. In 1240, he went to Algiers to offer himself as a hostage for the release of some Christian captives, but when the ransom money did not arrive on schedule, he was nailed to an X-shaped cross, then dismembered and disemboweled. The Mercedarians in Seville, Spain commissioned Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbarán, who did most of his work for monasteries, to paint a portrait of St. Serapion of Algiers for their De Profundis chapel, which was set aside for the laying out and funeral services of deceased members of the order. Instead of highlighting  the gruesome physical violence or the pain and suffering that St. Serapion experienced, Zurbarán shows his subject in a quasi-crucified pose (the wood of the cross just barely visible), head slumped in the tranquil peace of death. The saint’s white robes (the Mercedarian medal hanging on his chest is the only splash of color) would have reminded the monks viewing the painting not of the human suffering he endured but the sacred eternal light they believed he now shared. The Martyrdom of St. Serapion is now at the St. Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut where it recently underwent an extensive cleaning and restoration (click to see video).

484. The Triumph of Bacchus (Los Borrachos)

Artist: Diego Velázquez
Date: 1628-1629
Period/Style: Baroque; Spain; mythological
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 5.4 ft. tall by 7.4 ft. wide
Current location: Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain
velazquez los borrachos
In The Triumph of Bacchus, (often referred to by the nickname Los Borrachos “the drunks”), Spanish painter Diego Velázquez takes a mythological subject and inserts in into a contemporary setting. On the left are the god Bacchus, sitting on a wine vat, his bare flesh painted an unearthly white, with classical robes and a classical satyr behind him. The rest of the painting, however, appears to be set in 17th Century Spain; Bacchus is carousing with folks from all walks of life, but particularly the poor, one of whom holds up a bowl of wine and grins directly at us, as if to invite us to the party. The message to viewers would have been clear; Bacchus’s gift of wine is meant to ease the cares of daily life, and the poorest people had the most cares and were the most deserving of the gift. 

485. Statue of St. Andrew

Artist: François Duquesnoy
Date: Duquesnoy’s full-size stucco model was unveiled in its niche in St. Peter’s in 1629, but the completed marble sculpture was not delivered until 1633 or later.
Period/Style: Baroque; France; religious
Medium: Marble statue
Dimensions: 14.8 ft. tall
Current location: St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City

During the 1630s, an aesthetic battle raged between Classical and Baroque sculptors. Flemish-born François Duquesnoy, who lived in Rome most of his life. was thought to possess a mixture of characteristics, although some labeled him a classicist. When Pope Urban VIII decided to place marble statues in the octagon of St. Peter’s Basilica to represent important relics possessed by the Vatican, Duquesnoy was one of the four sculptors he chose, along with Andrea Bolgi, Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Francesco Mochi. Duquesnoy was charged with the Statue of St. Andrew, one of the 12 apostles, who, according to legend, was martyred on a diagonal or saltire cross. As for the relic, the Vatican had received a skull reported to be St. Andrew’s in 1462. Duquesnoy sculpted St. Andrew looking up to heaven, one arm outstretched, the other carrying his cross. The draperies are considered classical in style, while the upper body and head are more theatrical, in keeping with the Baroque. Although one critic described the piece as “static and posed”, another noted that the entire composition “accentuates the diagonals.”

486. The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp

Artist: Rembrandt
Date: 1632
Period/Style: Baroque; Dutch Golden Age; The Netherlands
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 7.1 ft. tall by 5.5 ft. wide
Current location: Mauritshuis, The Hague, The Netherlands
In January 1632, 26-year-old Dutch painter Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was just beginning his career. His commission from the Amsterdam Guild of Surgeons to paint a group portrait for their board room may have been his first group portrait. To complicate matters, the portrait would be taken at a public dissection. The Guild allowed just one such event each year, and it was a true social occasion, with members of the public, dressed for the theater, paying admission to watch the Praelector Anatomiae expound on the mysteries of human anatomy. By law, the cadaver was the body of an executed criminal. Therefore, the Guild scheduled the public dissection for January 16, 1632, the day that convicted armed robber Adriaan Adriaanszoon (alias Aris Kindt) was to be hanged. Rembrandt sketched as a preparator performed the dissection of the cadaver’s left arm and when Dr. Nicholaes Tulp stepped in to begin the lesson. In the resulting group portrait, known as The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, Rembrandt represented the anatomy of the arm with remarkable accuracy (although medical experts note that Rembrandt has the flexor compartment originating at the lateral epicondyle, where it should be the medial epicondyle). More importantly for those who commissioned the portrait, Rembrandt portrays each man as a unique individual who is engaged in the lesson. (For posterity, one of the figures is shown holding a list of the names of the portrait subjects.) Rembrandt has grouped his subjects into a triangular composition, with Dr. Tulp, the only one in a hat, in a featured position; light illuminates each of the men’s faces and the cadaver. Instead of painting nine separate individuals, Rembrandt has created a unified mass to which each individual contributes. Some experts believe that the figures at the top and far left were added at a later date. This is the first painting that the artist signed simply as “Rembrandt” and one critic has noted that the cadaver’s navel is also in the shape of an “R.”  The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp was originally hung in Anatomical Hall in Amsterdam, home of the Amsterdam Guild of Surgeons. Twenty-three years later, Rembrandt painted a companion piece – The Anatomy Lesson of Jan Deijman – but it was damaged by fire in 1723 and only a fragment remains.

487. The Garden of Love

Artist: Peter Paul Rubens
Date: c. 1633
Period/Style: Baroque; Flanders (now Belgium)
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 6.5 ft. tall by 9.4 ft. wide
Current location: Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain
rubens garden of love
The Garden of Love, which at one point hung in the bedroom of the King of Spain, is believed to be celebration of Rubens’ marriage to his second wife, Hélène Fourment, and some scholars believe that the man in the hat on the left is a self-portrait of the artist. The painting converts a realistic scene of the well-to-do cavorting in their fashionable finery into an allegorical fantasy of love, marriage and fertility by adding supernatural and symbolic elements, including: a dog (symbol of faithfulness), a pair of doves, numerous Cupids (who interact with the mortals), fountains with sculptures of the Three Graces and Nursing Venus, and a peacock (symbol of the goddess Juno, protector of matrimony). Although many of the elements are Classical in inspiration, the architectural setting is based on the Mannerist portico of Rubens’ house in Antwerp. 

488. Rape of the Sabines (Abduction of the Sabine Women)

Artist: Nicolas Poussin
Date: There are two versions. Version 1 was made c. 1633-1635. Version 2 was made c. 1637-1638.
Period/Style: Baroque; France; history painting
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: Version 1 measures 5.1 ft. tall by 6.9 ft. wide. Version 2 measures 5.2 ft. tall by 6.75 ft. wide.
Current location: Version 1 is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. Version 2 is in the Musée du Louvre, Paris, France.

Nicolas Poussin painted two versions of the legendary Roman story of the abduction of the Sabine women in the 1630s (see earlier version in image above and later version in first image below). According to the myth, the Romans decided to resolve their ongoing strife with the neighboring Sabines by forcibly abducting, marrying and impregnating their women, thus uniting the tribes. The Romans invited the Sabines to a festival and, when Roman leader Romulus raised his cloak, the Roman men abducted the Sabine women.  It is this moment that Poussin chooses to paint in both versions.  Romulus stands on a raised platform at left, giving the signal, while mayhem takes place below. As the Metropolitan Museum of Art curator notes, “This dramatic story gave Poussin the opportunity to display his command of gesture and pose and his knowledge of ancient sculpture and architecture.” The two paintings are quite similar, but there are differences, as Neil Collins points out: “The painting in the Met is more controlled, more static, but more colorful; while the Louvre picture is more dynamic and has more depth.” Both paintings use the architectural background as a way to keep the eye from wandering, and to anchor the artist’s use of linear perspective.  Random Trivia: The pose of the man and woman in the lower left sector of the painting may have been inspired by Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s marble sculpture, The Rape of Proserpina (1621-1622), at the Galleria Borghese in Rome (see detail in second image below).

489. Interior of Grote Kerk in Haarlem

Artist: Pieter Jansz. Saenredam
Date: 1636-1637
Period/Style: Baroque; Dutch Golden Age; Netherlands
Medium: Oil paints on oak panels
Dimensions: 1.9 ft. tall by 2.7 ft. wide
Current location: National Gallery, London, England, UK
grote kerk
Grote Kerk (now St. Bavo’s Church), was the largest church in Dutch artist Pieter Saenredam’s home town of Haarlem in the Netherlands. Grote Kerk began its life in the Middle Ages as a Gothic-style Roman Catholic church, but by the 1630s, the Protestant revolution had swept through the Netherlands, taking paintings and sculptures out of the churches and whitewashing the walls. Stripped of icons, the post-Reformation church interior emphasized the pure lines of the architecture, something that Saenredam spent much of his time capturing in a number of splendid paintings of Grote Kerk and other Protestant churches.  He combined a dedication to realism with a willingness to alter the facts to make a better picture. He studied perspective and made measurements of the churches, but he also felt free to alter perspective rules (as in Interior of Grote Kerk at Haarlem) and omit furniture and other clutter from the final product. This 1636-1637 work was one of several views of Grote Kerk that Saenredam painted over the years. This view is from the north side of the choir, east of the north transept.

490. Peasant Family in an Interior

Artist: Louis Le Nain and/or Antoine Le Nain
Date: 1640-1642
Period/Style: Baroque (with elements of proto-Realism); France; genre painting
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.7 ft. tall by 5.2 ft. wide
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
On the surface a simple, straightforward depiction of a peasant family by one or more of the Le Nain brothers, this painting explores two themes: one sociopolitical and the other aesthetic. On the first theme, the artist presents the nine peasants shown in a frieze-like relief not as grubby, drunken caricatures, but as dignified human beings worthy of our admiration as they struggle to survive – a controversial notion in the 17th Century. The aesthetic mission is the artist’s use of a restricted palette to examine of the effects of two sources of light. Cool sunlight coming from our left streams across the room and lights up the sides of faces, the meager meal of bread, wine and salt and the folds of garments. At the left, we see a second source of light, the warm glow of a fire, which lights up the faces of two younger family members and places another entirely in silhouette. Random Trivia: At least one art historian believes that the painting is meant to be an allegory representing The Three Ages of Man.

491. The Club-Footed Boy

Artist: Jusepe de Ribera
Date: 1642
Period/Style: Baroque; Spain/Italy; genre painting
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 5.4 ft. tall by 3 ft. wide
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

The subject of the painting known as The Club-Footed BoyThe Clubfoot, or The Boy with the Club Foot was a Neapolitan boy who was severely disabled and so poor that he had to beg for a living. Yet  Jusepe de Ribera, a Spanish-born painter who worked primarily in southern Italy, does not present him to us as an object of pity, condescension, sentimentality or even derision. Ribera uses a low angle to give the diminutive boy some stature, and he fills the canvas with his stunted body so we see him as a fellow human being. Most importantly, he does not idealize. The boy is playful – he wears his crutch like a soldier wears his rifle – and he is also clever. Being a beggar means being a performer, and here, he is performing for the artist, striking a pose. Ribera could have used the darker side of his palette to remind us of the horrors of poverty, but instead he paints the sky blue, the clouds white and the trees green. At bottom, Ribera never lost his roots in Spanish realism, even after many years in Italy. In the boy’s hand is a paper with the words in Latin, “Give me alms, for the love of God.” Italians of the 17th Century would have known that this was not Ribera’s attempt to tug at the viewer’s heartstrings – the paper was a type of permit or license that beggars had to carry to be allowed to solicit. Ribera knew that we do not need to see the boy’s misfortunes in order to claim him as a brother – it was enough to grant him a little dignity. 

492. The Supper at Emmaus

Artist: Rembrandt
Date: 1648
Period/Style: Baroque; Dutch Golden Age; Netherlands; religious
Medium: Oil paints on mahogany panels
Dimensions: 2.2 ft tall by 2.1 ft wide
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

Rembrandt was much taken with the story in the Gospel of Luke in which two of Jesus’ disciples meet him in Emmaus and join him for supper without recognizing him until he breaks bread, when suddenly they realize whom they are dining with. He painted at least three versions of the story and made a number of sketches as well. An earlier rendering from 1628-1629 is stark and highly dramatic, with Jesus seen almost in silhouette (see image below), while the 1648 version is almost neoclassical in the clarity and definition of the characters and the space they inhabit (see image above). The curator at the Louvre comments, “In this symphony of natural and divine light, everything is nuanced, from the iridescent colors of Christ’s robe to the gradated emotions of the faithful recognizing the risen Savior.” Coming later in Rembrandt’s career, the painting poses a problem for those who claim that Rembrandt’s work progressed consistently over his career from smooth and clear at the beginning to rough and dark at the end. 

493. Pope Leo Driving Attila from Rome

Artist: Alessandro Algardi
Date: 1646-1653
Period/Style: Baroque (with Neoclassical elements); Italy; religious
Medium: Relief sculpture on a church wall
Dimensions: 24.6 ft. tall
Current location: St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City

Italian sculptor Alessandro Algardi was out of fashion in the early 1640s. Although he was getting commissions, his more formal, classical style was not nearly as popular as the vivacious theatricality of Bernini and the other High Baroque sculptors. Then, in 1644, the wind began to blow in Algardi’s direction. Pope Innocent X was a fan of the severe style, and he commissioned Algardi to create what would become the largest high relief sculpture in the world at that time for a chapel in St. Peter’s Basilica. The subject of the relief was the legendary moment in 452 CE when Pope Leo I confronted Attila the Hun at the gates of Rome and convinced him (with the assistance of soldier angels flying down from heaven) not to pillage and loot the city. In the relief, which is known as Pope Leo Driving Attila from Rome or The Meeting of Leo I and Attila, the pope stands on the left, stern and full of courage, while Attila, on the right, is dejected and fearful (see detail in image below left). The two figures – each more than nine feet tall – emerge almost completely from the marble background and beyond the edge of the relief panel into the viewer’s space. Above them, the warrior angels are coming to the rescue – a supernatural event that apparently only Pope Leo and Attila can see (see detail in image below right). While the story dates to 452 CE, the message to the pope’s enemies was clear: If you cross me, I may bring divine retribution down upon you. The marble panel was a tremendous success for Algardi, who, sadly, died within a year, barely having had time to enjoy his good fortune. Algardi’s achievement had ripple effects throughout the art world. Illusionistic reliefs, which, like Algardi, had fallen out of fashion, surged in popularity and the art form saw true development for the first time in decades. 

494. The Three Crosses

Artist: Rembrandt
Date: c. 1653
Period/Style: Baroque; Dutch Golden Age; Netherlands; religious
Medium: Prints on paper and vellum made from drypoint engraving
Dimensions: 15.5 in tall by 18 in wide
Current location: Various collections

In the early 1650s, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was struggling financially and needed cash. First, he sold most of the engraved plates he had used for previous prints, and then he began work on a new print. Unlike paintings, which took a long time to paint and then copy, multiple copies of prints were relatively easy and quick to make, thus providing a good source of income. For The Three Crosses, also known as Christ Crucified Between the Two Thieves, he primarily used the drypoint technique, which allowed him to employ a more painterly hand to the plate than traditional engraving. The problem with drypoint was that the raised edge, or burr, quickly deteriorated after several uses, so to make a series of multiple prints required Rembrandt to rework the piece, so that earlier prints look quite different from later ones.  The Three Crosses is considered a masterpiece of the drypoint method, with a wealth of detail and drama, particularly in the complex treatment of the stream of light coming down from heaven to illuminate the moment of Jesus’ death. Due to the nature of drypoint, each extant print is unique. Art historians have divided up the prints into five “states” based on the time they were printed, and the amount of reworking that has been done. The first three states are similar, but for the fourth, Rembrandt made significant changes essentially creating a new work of art. For a comparison, see a third state print in the image above and a fourth state print, in the image below.

495. Jacob Blessing the Children of Joseph

Artist: Rembrandt
Date: 1656
Period/Style: Baroque; Dutch Golden Age; Netherlands; religious
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 5.7 ft. tall by 6.8 ft. wide
Current location: Museumslandschaft Hessen, Kassel, Germany
Jacob Blessing the Children of Joseph
In Chapter 48 of the Book of Genesis, Joseph brings his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim to his father, the patriarch Jacob, for his blessing. When Jacob blesses Ephraim, the youngest son, first, Joseph questions him, and Jacob explains that while both sons will father great kingdoms, Ephraim’s will be greater than Manasseh’s. In painting the scene, Rembrandt makes two important changes to the Bible story. First, he omits the questioning by Joseph. Instead, Joseph tenderly guides his father’s hand as he blesses Ephraim. Second, although the Bible story does not mention Joseph’s Egyptian wife Asenath, Rembrandt has given her an essential role in the blessing scene. Asenath stands apart from the blessing, but her approval is evident. Her quiet dignity gives the scene an emotional gravitas and her presence balances the composition. She is the link between the dying world of Jacob and the future that lies ahead for her, Joseph and especially their children. As one scholar commented, Rembrandt’s choice of warm yellows, browns and reds creates a mood that is “both intimate and sacred, both tender and solemn.’”As usual, Rembrandt carefully manipulates the light and dark areas, using chiaroscuro and tenebrism to emphasize the emotional intensity of this intimate moment. The painting is called, among other things,  Jacob Blessing the Children of Joseph, Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph and Jacob Blessing Ephraim and Manasseh.

496. Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild (The Staalmeesters)

Artist: Rembrandt
Date: 1662
Period/Style: Baroque; Dutch Golden Age; Netherlands; group portrait
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 6.3 ft. high by 9.2 ft. wide
Current location: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
syndics of the drapers guildCalled by many names (e.g., Syndics of the Drapers’ GuildThe Wardens of the Amsterdam Drapers’ GuildThe Syndics of the Clothmakers’ GuildThe Sampling Officials, and The Staalmeesters), Rembrandt’s group portrait of the government-appointed body that determined the quality of cloth sold by Amsterdam weavers is a masterpiece of the genre. The five syndics sit at a table covered with a Persian-style rug on a raised platform, while their attendant (in the back, hatless) stands ready to assist (first image). A book lies open on the table, but all five men are facing the viewer. Scholars disagree about what activity the men are engaged in. According to one theory, the syndics are making a presentation to an audience of Drapers’ Guild members and the book is a list of accounts. Others believe the men are conducting a private working meeting in which they are assessing a length of Persian-style rug against exemplars from a swatch book. In either case, Rembrandt’s genius was to create a portrait that defines the group, while also portraying the men as individuals. Each of the syndics is posed uniquely and shows a different facial expression, so that a range of complementary emotions greets the viewer. Each syndic is given equal weight in the composition. X-ray analysis shows that Rembrandt rearranged the positions of the men a number of times before arriving at a favored combination. Yet Rembrandt did not allow this emphasis of individuality to compromise the unity of the group. Three horizontal lines join the composition together: (1) along the table edge and the arm chair on the left; (2) through the hats and heads of the four seated syndics; and (3) the wainscoting on the wall above the figures’ heads. The hat of the man half-standing up forms a scalene triangle with the other hats. Furthermore, Rembrandt’s trademark chiaroscuro technique creates a light-filled space that isolates and unites the men between the front of the desk (where a warm, soft glow emanates from the redness of the rug) and the wall behind them. The Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild was commissioned by the Drapers’ Guild and hung in the Guild hall in Amsterdam until 1771; it is now in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Random Trivia: Rembrandt’s group portrait of The Staalmeesters is the source for the logo for Dutch Masters cigars (see image below).

497. The Regentesses of the Old Men’s Almshouse

Artist: Frans Hals
Date: c. 1664
Period/Style: Baroque; Dutch Golden Age; Netherlands; group portrait
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 5.6 ft. tall by 8.4 ft. wide
Current location: Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem, The Netherlands

The merchants and other leaders of The Netherlands in the 17th Century favored painted group portraits as a way to impress their peers and rivals and cement their legacy.  Both Frans Hals and Rembrandt made such portraits, which were usually hung in the establishments where the subjects did their work. The group portrait shown in the image above depicts the four regentesses (shown with their servant) of  the Old Men’s Almshouse (Oude Mannenhuis) in Haarlem, a charitable institution for the elderly indigent. The group portrait is a companion piece to a portrait of the more numerous male regents, also by Frans Hals (see image below left). Both paintings were hung on the walls of the Almhouse (now the Frans Hals Museum), where they remain today. The composition and palette unites the five women, as do their austere Calvinist clothes, but the painter’s attention to detail brings out the individuality of each subject through facial expression and gesture. Instead of the jovial group portraits of early in his career, this late group portrait by Hals emphasizes dignity and even a sense of the mortality of the aged subjects. The 1664 date is a guess based on the loose brush stroke technique (evidence that it was made late in Hals’ career) and the style of clothing worn by the subjects. Random Trivia: Hals’ painting of the Regentesses has been much studied and copied by other artists, including Americans John Singer Sargent, William Merritt Chase and James McNeill Whistler. (See image below right, showing Sargent’s 1880 copy of the right side of the painting, which is now in the Birmingham Museum of Art in Birmingham, Alabama.) 

498. The Feast of St. Nicholas (St. Nicholas Eve)

Artist: Jan Steen
Date: c. 1665-1668
Period/Style: Baroque; Dutch Golden Age; Netherlands; genre painting
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.7 ft. tall by 2.3 ft. wide
Current location: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

In this genre painting, Dutch artist Jan Steen represents the 10 members of a middle class family celebrating the Feast of St. Nicholas, which takes place on the evening of December 5th every year. A Catholic holiday that was adopted by Dutch Protestants, the Feast of St. Nicholas involved many rituals, many of which Steen represents in the painting: children left their shoes at the bottom of the chimney for St. Nick to fill with toys and candy (if they were good) or coal and sticks (if they were bad). Here we see an older brother showing two of his awed siblings the chimney that St. Nick came down, two children with toys and goodies and one crying bad boy who received only sticks (although Grandma is hinting that she has a gift for him). There are also certain special baked goods associated with feast, including the diamond-shaped duivekater (seen leaning against a table at lower right). Although The Netherlands was primarily a Protestant country at the time, art historians believe this painting was made for a Catholic, based on two clues: (1) the “golden girl” at the center is holding a doll dressed as St. John the Baptist (see detail in image below); and (2) despite a Protestant ban on baked goods in the images of saints, the little boy being held up by his older brother is holding a Sinterklaas-shaped cookie. The composition is organized along several diagonals, and Steen creates balance and interconnection through the postures, gestures and glances of the family members. The little boy near the center looks straight out, as if to invite the viewer to join in the festivities.

499. L’Enseigne de Gersaint

Artist: Jean-Antoine Watteau
Date: 1720-1721
Period/Style: Rococo; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 5.3 ft. tall by 10.1 ft. wide
Current location: Charlottenburg Palace, Berlin, Germany

One of Watteau’s last works, L’Enseigne de Gersaint (“The Shop Sign of Gersaint”)  was painted to fit into the arched space over the doorway to the Paris booth of the art dealer Edme François Gersaint on the Pont Notre-Dame. (According to Gersaint, it was Watteau himself who suggested the commission.) The current rectangular shape (and the division into two parts – see in image above) did not occur until later (sometime before 1732) by an another artist (possibly Watteau’s assistant Jean-Baptiste Pater), who added sections at the top of the painting. (The outline of the original arch is just barely visible in the image above.) The overall sense is of Parisian elites shopping for art as part of their daily routines. Watteau cleverly compares and contrasts the well-dressed aristocrats with the scantily-clad or nude figures in the paintings on the walls behind them, implying perhaps that the mythological figures are expressing the inner (lustful) desires of the mortals in the shop, who interact with genteel politeness.  Some commentators also see a political message. At the lower left, a shop worker places a portrait of Louis XIV (based on a portrait by Pierre Mignard) in a box (see detail in image below). Louis XIV had died in 1715, to be replaced by Louis XV; the painting signals the end of one regime and the beginning of the next.  Random Trivia: In an intriguing online essay, Martin Eidelberg suggests that the composition of the painting indicates that Watteau conceived of the work as a diptych of sorts, with two separate parts: “The figures in the right half are all inclined to the right, just as those in the left half turn in the opposite direction. It is almost as though each group had an aversion to the other. These poses emphasize the division of the signboard into two, independent units, and demonstrate that the two parts were from inception intended to be separate.”

500. Horses Being Restrained by their Grooms (The Marly Horses)

Artist: Guillaume Coustou the Elder
Date: Commissioned in 1739; completed and delivered in 1745.
Period/Style: Baroque; France
Medium: Pair of marble sculptural groups
Dimensions: Each group measures approximately 11 ft. tall, 9 ft. long and 4 ft. wide.
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
In 1739, French king Louis XV commissioned sculptor Guillaume Coustou the Elder to create two statues of horses being restrained by their grooms for the grounds of Château de Marly, a small French royal residence. The king sought a reimagining of the Ancient Roman Horse Tamers from the Piazza Quirinale in Rome (see image below). The resulting statues were the foremost achievements of Coustou’s career and among the finest examples of Baroque sculpture (see images above). Coustou carved two groups from blocks of Carrera marble – each with a groom and a horse (with the models selected personally by Louis XV in 1743). Each groom reaches up to grasp the reins of a rearing horse – the overall composition of each group is similar but with significant variation in pose and expression. Art historians have noted the tangible realism of the work, the spirited impetuosity of the figures, and the equestrian elegance and power that emanate from the energetic marble horses.  Unlike the Roman precursors, in which sizes of the humans and horses are not realistic with respect to one another (the humans are too large, or the horses are too small), Coustou has followed modern tradition in representing the figures on the same scale. Coustou delivered the sculptures to Château de Marly in 1745, and they soon became known as the Marly Horses or the Horses of Marly. In 1794, they were moved to Paris and installed on high plinths on the Place de la Concorde, at the entrance to the Champs Elysées until 1984 when concerns about weather damage led to their replacement by concrete replicas. The original Marly Horses, also known as Horses Being Restrained by their Grooms and the Horse Tamers, are now in the Louvre in Paris.

501. Mercury Attaching His Wings (Mercury Tying His Talaria)

Artist: Jean Baptiste Pigalle
Date: 1742-1744
Period/Style: Baroque; Neoclassical; France; mythological
Medium: Sculpture with versions made of carved marble and lead
Dimensions: The life-size marble and lead statues measure 6.1 ft. tall, 3.5 ft. wide and 3.4 ft. deep. The smaller marble statue in the Louvre measures 1.9 ft. tall, 1.1 ft. wide and 1.1. ft. deep.
Current locations: Musée du Louvre, Paris

pigalle mercury louvre  
In 1740, when sculptor Jean-Baptiste Pigalle traveled to Paris, he brought with him a terracotta statue of the messenger god Mercury. The model showed the god sitting on a rock, tying on his winged sandals, or talaria, and posed dynamically. The twisted shape of his crouching torso, the upward slant of his limbs and shoulder, his face turned skyward, not looking at his hands, and the weight of his left leg on his toes all created the powerful impression of imminent action. Pigalle offered the terracotta to the Art Academy as an admission piece, but the officials asked him to come back with a marble version. Pigalle first made a larger plaster version of his Mercury, added a plaster statue of Venus giving Mercury a message and exhibited them both at the 1742 Paris Salon. In 1744, he presented the Academy with a marble Mercury and was promptly admitted (see image in second row above, at left, showing the statue at the Louvre). In 1746, the Royal Administration ordered Pigalle to make two more life-size marble statues of Mercury and Venus, which Louis XV presented to Frederick of Prussia in 1748. The statues can be found on the grounds of the Sans-Souci Castle in Berlin (see top image above). In 1753, a life-size cast was made in lead, which is also in the Louvre (see image in second row above, at right). Scholars have praised Pigalle’s creation, which incorporates both Baroque and Neoclassical elements,  for its concentration of form and concentrated pose, such that it has become an allegory of speed. Random Trivia: PIgalle’s Mercury is so iconic that soon after 1744, other artists began incorporating it into their paintings, such as Jean-Baptiste Chardin’s 1748 The Drawing Lesson, now at the Art Institute of Chicago (see image below).

502. A Lion Attacking a Horse (A Horse Attacked by a Lion)

Artist: George Stubbs
Date: The series of 16 paintings was created between 1762 and 1770.
Period/Style: Neoclassical, with elements of Romanticism; France
Medium: Most of the paintings were made with oil paints on canvas, but one was made with enamels on a copper plate
Dimensions: The sizes of the paintings range from 8 ft. tall by 10,9 ft. wide to 9.5 inches by 11.1 inches.
Current locations: Various collections

British artist George Stubbs was obsessed with the theme of a lion attacking a horse; he made at least 16 paintings of the subject during his career, most of which are somewhat confusingly referred to as either A Lion Attacking a Horse or Horse Attacked by a Lion. Known primarily for his paintings of horses, Stubbs went to the zoo to sketch lions and other wild animals to increase the drama and invoke a sense of the untamed wild in his work. One art historian suggests that Stubbs’ dramatic renderings of noble horses under attack move us because they invoke what Edmund Burke called the sense of the sublime, brought on by experiencing a frightening event from a safe distance or through the lens of art. The examples shown above are:
(1) A Lion Attacking a Horse (1770), Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut; oil paints on canvas; 3.2 ft. tall by 4.1 ft. wide (top image), where the struggle between the king of beasts and his prey is reduced to a corner in a vast landscape;
(2) A Lion Attacking a Horse (1762), Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut; oil paints on canvas; 8 ft. tall by 10.9 ft. wide (bottom row at left), the first in the series and perhaps the largest of Stubbs’s paintings on the theme; and
(3) Horse Attacked by a Lion (1769), Tate, London, England, UK; enamels on copper plate, 9.5 in. tall by 11.1 in. wide (bottom row at right), with an unusual octagonal shape.

503. Voltaire Nude

Artist: Jean Baptiste Pigalle
Date: 1776
Period/Style: Baroque; Neoclassical; France
Medium: Marble sculpture
Dimensions: 4.9 ft. tall, 2.9 ft. wide, 2.5 ft. deep
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris
Pigalle-Voltaire Statue  pigalle voltaire
In the 1770s, when sculptor Jean-Baptiste Pigalle set out to immortalize Voltaire, the lion of the French Enlightenment, neither Pigalle nor Voltaire was a young man. Pigalle’s goal was to present the truth, in form, expression and gesture. The artist spent eight days at Voltaire’s home in Ferney working on his head and face. Later, he had an elderly soldier pose nude for the body. The result was a life-size marble sculpture of a mostly nude Voltaire (there is a cloth in his lap), seated, with a dynamic pose and a facial expression that seems to show a belief in mind over matter. The placement of the head on the body is somewhat awkward, but otherwise the anatomy of the human form is rendered naturally and without idealizing. The contemporary reaction to Pigalle’s Voltaire was loudly and universally negative. One head of state offered to buy the statue a coat. The public was not ready to see its intellectual giant presented to them as a frail old man. The statue remained in Pigalle’s studio until his death in 1785. Its reputation has been rehabilitated over time.

504. Portrait of Mrs. Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Artist: Thomas Gainsborough
Date: 1785-1787
Period/Style: Romanticism; Great Britain; portraiture
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 7.2 ft. tall by 5 ft. wide
Current location: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Famous soprano Elizabeth Linley gave up her singing career to marry famous playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan in 1773. Gainsborough painted her when she was 31 years old. Note the impressionistic way the subject’s dress and hair are painted as if it were part of the windblown landscape. Contrast the treatment of the subject’s face, which is rendered with precise detail to bring out her personality. According to the curator at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., which owns the painting, it “is executed in liquid paint, blended wet into wet, applied in many layers in order to create a rich and sumptuous effect, with thin washes in free-flowing brushstrokes for the details.” The Portrait of Mrs. Richard Brinsley Sheridan (also known simply as Mrs. Richard Brinsley Sheridan) belongs to the tradition of grand manner portraits.

505. The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch (The Skating Minister)

Artist: There is considerable debate over the attribution. Scottish painter Henry Raeburn has traditionally been considered the artist, but recent scholarship points to French painter Henri-Pierre Danloux
Date: c. 1795-1799
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.5 ft. high by 2.1 ft. wide
Current location: National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, UK

The Skating Minister is the short name for a small portrait of Church of Scotland minister Reverend Robert Walker, with the official title The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch. In addition to being minister of Canongate Kirk, Walker was a member of the Edinburgh Skating Club, which may have been the world’s first such organization. The club usually met on Duddingston Loch, where Reverend Walker is shown skating on Duddingston Loch. The Reverend is a confident skater (the position of his arms alone tells us this) who exhibits perfect control on the much-scarred ice. Some scholars have drawn an analogy between the intellectual and scientific accomplishments of the 18th Century Scottish Enlightenment and the coolly rational exercise of the Skating Minister. There is significant controversy about the identity of the artist who painted Rev. Walker’s portrait, which has become an icon for Scottish heritage and adorns t-shirts and coffee mugs. The work was attributed to renowned Scottish portrait painter Henry Raeburn in part because Raeburn and Walker were acquaintances, and certain aspects of the style matched Raeburn’s other work, although it was agreed that there were aspects of the painting that were unlike any other Raeburn painting. For example, Raeburn normally painted life-size portraits of figures at rest, so a small portrait of a figure in motion would be unique in his oeuvre. In 2005, a museum curator suggested that The Skating Minister had been painted by French artist Henri-Pierre Danloux, who had visited Edinburgh several times in the late 1790s and who commonly painted smaller portraits, often of subjects in motion. X-ray analysis also revealed that, where Raeburn always used lead white paint as underpainting on his subjects’ faces, there is no lead white paint under Walker’s face. Despite the mounting evidence in favor of Danloux, some experts still believe that the work should be attributed to Henry Raeburn.

506. The Colossus

Artist: The painting was traditionally attributed to Francisco Goya but that attribution has come into question. Some say the artist is Goya’s assistant Asensio Juliá. The label at the Prado says the painting is by a “Follower of Goya.”
Date: c. 1808-1812
Period/Style: Romanticism; Spain
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.8 ft. tall by 3.4 ft. wide
Current location: Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain
the colossus
The Colossus (also known as The Giant, The Panic, or The Storm) portrays a giant with a clenched fist, either standing or striding in a valley through clouds that encircle his waist, while in the foreground people and animals flee in terror. The painting is the source of two controversies: first, what does it mean? and second, did Goya paint it?  Many scholars believe that the painting is an allegory about the Peninsular War, which began in 1808 when Napoleon’s French armies invaded Spain. Under one theory, the angry giant represents the French behemoth that was invading Spain and terrorizing the public.  A second theory holds that the giant stands for the strength of the Spanish people as they rise up to throw out the French invaders and establish their independence. The second theory gains support from the 1810 poem The Prophecy of the Pyrenees, by Juan Bautista Arriaza, which tells of a giant rising from the mountains to defend Spain against Napoleon in the light of the setting sun, clouds encircling his waist, and the Pyrenees reduced to stumps next to his limbs.  (Query, though, why the populace is fleeing in terror from a giant who is there to save them.)  The artist is working within the Romantic style, and the composition has been described as centrifugal, with elements moving along diagonal lines toward the margins (except for a stubborn mule, who stands motionless).  X-ray evidence reveals that in an earlier composition, the giant faced forward, toward the viewer. The Colossus has much in common with Goya’s Black Paintings and a later Goya etching called The Giant, from 1814-1818 (see image below).  Nevertheless, there has been raging debate since at least 2001 about whether Goya painted The Colossus. Some scholars allege that The Colossus shows signs of slow, insecure brushstrokes, inferior colors and materials and mistakes of proportion and perspective that are inconsistent with Goya’s other work.  Furthermore, some art historians believe that markings they interpret as the initials “A.J.” indicate that Goya’s assistant Asensio Juliá is the painter. As a result of the dispute, the Museo del Prado, where The Colossus is located, changed its attribution from Francisco de Goya to “Follower of Goya” in 2008.  As of the present date, the debate rages on in articles, books and press releases with no end in sight.

507. Portrait of a Woman Suffering from Obsessive Envy (Insane Woman; The Hyena)

Artist: Théodore Géricault
Date: c. 1822
Period/Style: Romanticism; Realism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.4 ft. tall by 1.9 ft. wide
Current location: Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyons, France

Although the origin of Théodore Géricault’s series of portraits of mentally ill asylum patients is uncertain, it may have been intended to support two now-discredited psychiatric theories.  The first theory was “monomania”, the idea that certain individuals suffered from a singular fixation that led to aberrant, often delusional behavior.  Physician Jean-Etienne-Dominique Esquirol, whose clinical focus was monomania, made many sketches of patients in an attempt to learn more about the nature of their illnesses. Some of those sketches were on display at the Paris Salon of 1814, where Géricault may have seen them. The second theory was that the study of physiognomy – the physical features of a person’s skull and face – could reveal much information about their personality and even allow the diagnosis of mental disorders.  Étienne-Jean Georget, the chief physician of the Salpêtrière, the women’s asylum in Paris (and a protege of Esquirol’s), ascribed to both theories and he may have commissioned Géricault to make portraits of individuals with particular diagnoses as a way to support the idea that mental illness (as we now call “madness” and “insanity”) is written on the face of the sufferer. (Another theory is that Géricault offered to paint the works in return for Georget’s help with Géricault’s own struggles with his mental health.) Although there is no definitive proof that Georget commissioned the paintings, he did have them in his possession when he died.  All five existing paintings (there is some evidence that five more were made but are missing) are highly realistic, in three-quarter profile, with dark, non-descript backgrounds. In an essay, art historian Ben Pollitt notes, “Critics often remark on the painterly quality of the work, the extraordinary fluency of brushwork, in contrast with Géricault’s early more sculptural style, suggesting that the erratic brushwork is used to mirror the disordered thoughts of the patients.” Regarding the Woman Suffering from Obsessive Envy specifically, the curator of the Lyons museum comments, “By avoiding all hints of the picturesque, the artist has portrayed a true clinical likeness of this madwoman, thereby breaking with the traditional rules of portraiture.” Random Trivia: The four other extant portraits from the series are: A Man Suffering from Delusions of Military Command (Am Römerholz, Winterthur, Switzerland) (see image below left); A Child Snatcher (Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, Massachusetts) (see image below right); A Woman Addicted to Gambling (Musée du Louvre, Paris, France); and A Kleptomaniac (Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent).

508. The Sea of Ice (The Wreck of Hope)

Artist: Caspar David Friedrich
Date: 1823-1824
Period/Style: Romanticism; Germany
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.2 ft. tall by 4.2 ft. wide
Current location: Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany
Caspar_David_Friedrich_sea of ice
When German landscape artist Caspar David Friedrich was 13, he went ice skating and fell through the ice into the frigid water.  Friedrich’s younger brother Christoph managed to save him, but then Christoph himself drowned before Caspar’s eyes. It is impossible to know if Friedrich’s childhood trauma had any influence on his painting The Sea of Ice, which imagines a shipwreck in the Arctic Sea (see first image above), but it is difficult to look at the jumbled mass of broken ice without thinking of Friedrich’s past. The Sea of Ice was painted in response to a commission by German art collector Johann Gottlob von Quandt, who asked Friedrich to create a painting on the subject of “Northern Nature in the whole of Her Terrifying Beauty.” Friedrich’s painting, which was originally titled An Idealized Scene of an Arctic Sea, with a Wrecked Ship on the Heaped Masses of Ice, was inspired by Sir William Edward Parry’s account of his failed 1819 attempt to find the Northwest Passage, although Parry did not lose any ships on the voyage. In The Sea of Ice, we see the mast and stern of the wrecked HMS Griper, one of Parry’s ships, barely visible in the center right of the canvas (see detail in image below). The dominant feature of the composition is the ice, piled up in massive sheets that jut at sharp angles into the sky like some prehistoric dolmen or pyramid.  While Friedrich had not been to the Arctic, he had made detailed winter sketches of the frozen Elbe River in Dresden. Some critics have interpreted the painting as a statement about nature’s rejection of man’s attempts to intrude on her or tame her.  It is worth noting that Friedrich places the viewer in the same position he was in at the age of 13: watching helplessly as the ice and cold, in their cruel inevitability, take another victim.  The Sea of Ice (also known as The Wreck of Hope) was considered too radical in composition and subject for Friedrich’s contemporaries and did not sell in Friedrich’s lifetime.

509. Rue Transnonain, le 15 de Avril 1834

Artist: Honoré Daumier
Date: 1834
Period/Style: Romanticism; Realism; France
Medium: Lithographic prints
Dimensions: The image is 11.25 inches tall by 17.4 inches wide on a larger paper sheet.
Current location: Various collections
daumier print Honoré Daumier was well known in France for his caricatures of high society elites, and satirical representations of the justice system and the art world, but his lithographic print Rue Transnonain, le 15 de Avril 1834 was the most anti-establishment image yet, and the establishment was not pleased. In April 1834, a series of successively more repressive French laws – particularly a law restricting the formation of labor unions – brought the working classes out to protest en masse.  After a sniper’s bullet killed a police officer on April 14, the authorities retaliated on April 15 with a series of gruesome murders, such as those represented in Daumier’s lithograph. The power of the image comes in part from the initial impression that the man in the center wearing nightclothes is sleeping. A second glance makes its clear that this is a tragic scene of death: the blood stains, the unnatural position of his nightshirt, and – most horrifying of all – the small child, possibly the man’s son, lying dead beneath him. The print was published in L’Association Mensuelle, leading the government to confiscate copies of the magazine and eventually close it down. The police also confiscated the lithographic stone used to make the prints.

510. The Slave Ship

Artist: J.M.W. Turner
Date: 1840
Period/Style: Romanticism; England; seascape
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.9 ft tall by 4.0 ft wide
Current location: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts
turner the slave ship
Turner’s original title for The Slave Ship was Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhoon Coming On. The painting illustrates the story of the slave ship Zong, which in 1781 encountered a typhoon. In order to collect insurance payments for enslaved people who were “lost at sea”, the captain threw 133 dead and dying human beings into the sea. With the ship in the background, Turner focuses our attention on the human-made misery in the foreground, as the abandoned people – those who are still alive – struggle in the heaving waves. For Frederick Hartt, “The ship itslelf, the occasional figures, and the fish feasting on corpses in the foreground were obviously painted at great speed only after the real work, the movement of fiery waves of red, brown, gold, and cream, had been brought to completion.” The Museum of Fine Arts curator comments, “Turner captures the horror of the event and the terrifying grandeur of nature through hot, churning color and light that merge sea and sky.”

511. Ploughing in the Nivernais

Artist: Rosa Bonheur
Date: 1849
Period/Style: Realism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.3 ft. tall by 8.3 ft. wide
Current location: Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France

Was French Realist painter Rosa Bonheur’s Ploughing in the Nivernais inspired by the opening scene in George Sand’s 1846 novel La Mare au Diable, which describes oxen plowing a field? No one knows for sure. The painting, which was commissioned by the French government and won a medal at the Paris Salon of 1849, stars two teams of Charolais oxen; the humans accompanying them play minor roles (see detail in image below). This is the autumn sombrage, which opens up the farmland to aerate the soil during the winter.  The curator of the Musée d’Orsay comments that the painting is “a hymn to agricultural labor, whose grandeur was magnified because, in these post-revolutionary days, it was easy to contrast with the corruption of the city. It is also tribute to provincial regions – here the Nivernais, with its agricultural traditions and rural landscapes.” Random Trivia: Not only was Rosa Bonheur a famous and successful woman artist, she was also a lesbian who was relatively open (for the time) about her sexual orientation. She lived with her first partner, Nathalie Micas, for over 40 years until Micas’ death, and later began a relationship with the American painter Anna Elizabeth Klumpke.

512. The Last of England

Artist: Ford Madox Brown
Date: 1852-1855
Period/Style: Pre-Raphaelite; England
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 2.7 ft. tall by 2.4 ft. wide
Current location: Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham, England, UK
Brown the last of england
In 1852, 350,000 emigrants left England for other lands, setting a record. Pre-Raphaelite godfather Ford Madox Brown painted The Last of England after his friend sculptor Thomas Woolner left for Australia. Brown himself was considering a move. The middle-class couple in the oval painting are modeled on Brown and his wife Emma. They sit in the rear of a boat with blank faces as they leave England behind, in hopes of finding Eldorado, as the lifeboat promises. An infant is nestled in Emma’s shawl; her large pink ribbon, tossed by the wind, connects her with her husband (as does the baby: she holds its hand, while he holds its foot and her hand). Their umbrella, which offers little protection against the wind and waves, frames the family on the right. Behind them, we see a steamboat passing beneath the white cliffs of Dover. Ford wrote a poem to go with the painting; it concludes: “…She grips his listless hand and clasps her child,/Through rainbow tears she sees a sunnier gleam,/She cannot see a void where he will be.” To mimic the cold weather on the boat, Brown painted outside in his garden. Random Trivia: Brown painted another version of the scene in 1860 with a different color scheme but otherwise nearly identical in composition. The later painting is located in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England (see image below).

513. Orpheus

Artist: Gustave Moreau
Date: 1865
Period/Style: Symbolism; France; mythological
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 5 ft. tall by 3.3 ft. wide
Current location: Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Like many of his fellow Symbolists, French painter Gustave Moreau was fascinated by the story of Orpheus. According to Greek myth, the gifted musician Orpheus enticed the Maenads (worshippers of Bacchus) with his music, but then refused their amorous advances. In their anger, they tore him apart and threw his head and lyre into a river. In his Orpheus, Moreau added an epilogue of his own devising, in which a Thracian girl retrieves the head of Orpheus and his lyre from the river. In Moreau’s imagined scene, the girl gazes at the face of the dead Orpheus, which is strangely similar to her own, in a bizarre landscape reminiscent of some Italian Renaissance backgrounds. Music-playing shepherds perch improbably on a huge rock formation at upper left (see detail in image below), balanced by a pair of turtles promenading in the lower right near the girl’s bare feet, a possible reference to the legend that a turtle’s shell was used to make the first lyre. The entire image is suffused with a yellowish twilight haze. Some critics have attributed the painting’s dreamlike imagery to the artist’s opium-fueled hallucinations. Orpheus (also known as The Head of Orpheus and Thracian Girl Carrying the Head of Orpheus) is now located at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.  Random Trivia: As a model for the head of Orpheus, Moreau used a cast of the face of Michelangelo’s Dying Slave (1513-1516), which is at the Louvre in Paris.

514. The Execution of Emperor Maximilian

Artist: Édouard Manet
Date: 1867-1869
Period/Style: Realism; France; history painting
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: There are four oil paintings of various sizes, including a preparatory sketch 1.6 ft. tall by 1.9 ft. wide; an unfinished version 6.4 ft. tall by 8.5 ft. wide; a reassembled version that is 6.3 ft. tall by 9.3 ft. wide; and a completed intact version that is 8.3 ft. tall by 10 ft. wide.
Current location: Kunsthalle Mannheim, Mannheim, Germany (completed intact version); National Gallery, London, England, UK (dismantled and reassembled version); Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts (unfinished version); Ny Carlsberg Glyptothek, Copenhagen, Denmark (preparatory oil sketch). Paper prints of the lithograph may be found in various collections.
Manet execution
Manet_-_L'execution_de_Maximilien_(London)  Manet,_The_Execution_of_Emperor_Maximilian,_1867 MFA
The Execution of Emperor Maximilian is a painting by French artist Édouard Manet of a contemporary political event. In 1861, Mexican President Benito Juárez imposed a two-year moratorium on loan-interest payments to French, British and Spanish creditors. This action led the Second French Empire under Napoleon III to invade Mexico, depose Juárez, and place Maximilian, the son of Archduke Franz Karl of Austria and Princess Sophie of Bavaria, on the throne as Emperor of Mexico. Forces loyal to Juárez and the Mexican Republic fought a continual civil war, and when France withdrew its troops in 1866, Maximilian’s empire collapsed. On June 19, 1867, the victorious republicans executed Emperor Maximilian and two of his generals. This news led Manet to begin work on The Execution of Emperor Maximilian, which ultimately resulted in three large canvases (one mostly unfinished), a small preparatory study, and a lithograph. Manet’s composition owes much to Goya’s The Third of May, although with distinctly different politics. Goya’s work pays tribute to the Spanish rebels who fought the French Empire under Napoleon I, while Manet appears to sympathize with the deposed emperor, a puppet of the French under Napoleon III, against the republicans. Manet does introduce one ambiguous political note: although the soldiers in the large unfinished canvas wear the uniforms of the Mexican Republican Army, all the other versions feature soldiers wearing 19th Century field dress that was common to many armies, including that of Napoleon III’s France.  
The image show: 
(1) Completed, intact version; 1868–1869, 8.3 ft. tall by 10 ft. wide, at the Kunsthalle Mannheim in Mannheim, Germany (top image above);
(2) Completed version, cut into pieces and later reassembled; 1867–1868, 6.3 ft. tall by 9.3 ft. wide at the National Gallery in London (second row above, at left);
(3) Unfinished version; 1867, 6.4 ft. tall by 8.5 ft. wide, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (second row above, at right);  
(4) Preparatory sketch; 1867, 1.6 ft. tall by 1.9 ft. wide, at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptothek, Copenhagen, Denmark (below left);
(5) Lithographic print; 1869  (below right). Manet created a lithograph based on the painting but refused to make prints during his lifetime. An edition of 50 was produced in 1884, after his death.
Manet_-_L'exécution_de_Maximilien_(Copenhagen)  manet execution print

515. Snap the Whip

Artist: Winslow Homer
Date: 1872
Period/Style: Realism; US
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 1.8 ft. tall by 3 ft. wide. The preparatory study is 12 in. high by 20 in. wide.
Current locations: Butler Institute of American Art, Ohio. The preparatory study is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY.
homer snap the whip
In 1872, when American artist Winslow Homer painted Snap the Whip, the United States was undergoing a number of transitions. The society was becoming more urban and less agrarian. Education reforms threatened the little red schoolhouse of yesteryear; and the nation was reunited after a fierce and devastating Civil War. Some critics see all these themes and more in Snap the Whip, which appears at first glance, to be a simple depiction of eight boys at play during a recess break from school. The game they are playing requires working together as a team and staying connected – possibly a reference to the post-Civil War world. The setting, with its wildflowers, the schoolhouse and watching teachers, an image of order, may evoke a nostalgia for the agrarian ways that were passing by. Homer may also be drawing attention to the growth and development of young boys by contrasting their childish bare feet with their manly suspenders. Homer uses the line of the mountain as an echo of the line of boys. He also divides the painting into two sets of threes: (1) mountains, schoolhouse and boys playing; and (2) three groups of boys: three anchoring on the right; four running in the center; and two falling on the left. Homer made several versions of the subject, including two oil paintings. A smaller preparatory study, which lacks the mountains in the background, is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (see image below).  The larger oil painting is in the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio (see image above).
Snap_the_Whip - Winslow_Homer

516. L’Apparition (The Apparition)

Artist: Gustave Moreau
Date: 1874-1876
Period/Style: Symbolism; France
Medium: There are several versions including two made with oil paints on canvas and one watercolor.
Dimensions: 4.6 ft. tall by 3.4 ft. wide (Musée National Gustave Moreau); 3.4 ft. tall by 2.3 ft. wide (Musée d’Orsay); 1.8 ft. tall by 1.5 ft. wide (Harvard Museums).
Current locations: Musée National Gustave Moreau, Paris; Musée d’Orsay, Paris; Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, Massachusetts

The Apparition, by French Symbolist Gustave Moreau, shows King Herod’s daughter Salome, in her dancing costume, at the moment that John the Baptist’s severed head appears to her in a vision. The others in the room – Herod, his wife Herodias and a man who may be the executioner – seem bored. Art historians disagree about whether Salome’s haunting vision takes place before or after she asked for and received the Baptist’s head on a platter. If before, it is an image of Salome’s wish fulfilled; if after, it may be an image of remorse, like Banquo’s ghost. Scholars have traced elements of The Apparition  to Benvenuto Cellini’s Perseus with the Head of Medusa (the head of John the Baptist, dripping with blood), a Japanese print (the halo around the head) and the Alhambra (the interior architecture and decoration). Moreau made multiple versions of The Apparition, all slightly different. Three are shown:
(1) the most famous version is the watercolor in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris (formerly in the Louvre) measuring 3.4 ft. tall by 2.3 ft. wide (see image above);
(2) the largest version, at the Musée National Gustave Moreau in Paris, is made with oils on canvas,  measuring 4.6 ft. tall by 3.4 ft. wide (see image below left);
(3) the Harvard Art Museums in Cambridge, Massachusetts has a version painted with oils on a canvas measuring 1.8 ft. tall by 1.5 ft. wide (see image below right).
Random Trivia: Oscar Wilde was reportedly inspired to write his play Salome (1893) after viewing Moreau’s watercolor, then at the Louvre.

517. Bathers at Asnières

Artist: Georges Seurat
Date: 1884
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; Pointillism/Divisionism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 6.6 ft tall by 9.8 ft wide
Current location: National Gallery, London, England, UK
Asnières was a working class suburb close to Paris and Seurat signals to us with clothing and the industrial scene in the background that his subjects are working class people enjoying a day of leisure along the River Seine. To emphasize the social class of the bathers, Seurat depicts some wealthier folks (with top hat and parasol) taking a boat ride from a working class man. In contrast to the “capturing a fleeting moment” quality of Impressionism, Seurat (working here with a number of innovative brush techniques but before his invention of what we now call pointillism) brings a classical sensibility to the composition that renders it timeless rather than momentary. The placement of the figures, with echoes of posture and color, the diagonal line of the river bank, along with the heat haze that covers all, contribute to this sense that we are transcending time. Not long out of art school, Seurat dutifully made over a dozen preparatory sketches and oil paintings for this major work (see Conte crayon drawing of figure, now at Yale University Art Gallery, below left, and Black Horse, from 1883, a study in oils now at the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinbugh, below right). Its new style and sensibility were considered problematic by critics, and it was rejected by the Paris Salon. In protest, Seurat joined with other rejected painters to found the Groupe des Artistes Indépendants, which exhibited the painting at its own, alternative Salon. Random Trivia: X-ray analysis reveals that Seurat reworked the painting in the years after its initial exhibition in 1884, adding some pointillist dots to some areas, changing the position of the legs of one figure and possibly adding another figure to balance the composition.
seurat prep for bathers  seurat black-horse-study-for-bathers-at-asnieres-georges-seurat

518. The Models

Artist: Georges Seurat
Date: 1886-1888
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; Pointillism/Divisionism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 6.6 ft. tall by 8.2 ft. wide
Current location: Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Seurat_-_The Models
The Models was the third large painting Georges Seurat made using the technique of pointillism. He had been challenged by someone who said that the tiny dots of paint were fine for outdoor scenes, with trees, grass and water, but that Seurat’s method could not accurately represent the nude human form. Seurat met this challenge with The Models, which depicts three nude female figures in the artist’s studio, in front of Seurat’s pointillist masterpiece A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grand Jatte. It is not clear whether there are three separate models or one model painted in three poses: standing, sitting drying off, and sitting taking off or putting on her stockings. Scholars have found precedents for all three poses: Venus Pudica (Aphrodite of Cnidus) for the standing pose; Ingres’ Valpinçon Bather for the first sitter and the Hellenistic Boy with Thorn for the other sitter. The presence of the earlier painting and the numerous props scattered about (hats, shoes, parasols, a basket of flowers) imply that the model or models are or were posing for the Grand Jatte painting. Taken as a whole, the painting raises issues about the nature of truth and artifice in art.  Random Trivia: Seurat also made a much smaller version of The Models measuring 1.3 ft. tall by 1.6 ft. wide, that is in the private collection of Paul G. Allen (see image below).

519. The Parade (Circus Sideshow)

Artist: Georges Seurat
Date: 1887-1888
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; Pointillism/Divisionism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.3 ft. tall by 4.9 ft. wide
Current location: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Seurat parade
Having shown that pointillism could work for outdoors daytime scenes with Bathers at Asnières and A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grand Jatte, and indoor scenes with The Models, Seurat tackled a nocturnal scene in The Parade (also known as Circus Sideshow and La Parade de Cirque). The setting is a working class district of Paris in 1887. Fernand Corvi’s traveling circus has come to town. In order to entice citizens to buy tickets, the circus put on a free sideshow of music and acts in the evening. We see the circus performers raised on a stage beneath a row of gaslights. Front and center, on a plinth, is a trombone player with a strange conical hat, looking both passive and confrontational. Behind the trombonist are three other musicians, spaced evenly and wearing identical clothing. At the right, the ringmaster stands at attention (see detail in image below showing pointillist technique). In the foreground, only their heads and hats visible, is the audience, lined up, as one art historian put it, as if in an Assyrian relief. A wry humor pervades the scene, with the matching musical trio in the background and the row of hats at the lower edge. Seurat exhibited The Parade at the 1888 Salon des Indépendants in Paris. Three years later, Seurat returned to the theme in The Circus.

520. The Lady of Shalott

Artist: John William Waterhouse
Date: 1888
Period/Style: Pre-Raphaelite; England
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 6.0 ft. tall by 7.4 ft wide
Current location: Tate Britain, London, England, UK
According to a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, the Lady of Shalott was woman from the time of King Arthur who lived in a tower and was forbidden to look out her window, lest she die. Instead, she looked at the outside world through a mirror, and made tapestries all day. One day, she sees handsome Sir Lancelot in her mirror and turns to look at him from her window. The mirror cracks and the curse begins. She hastily brings some belongings to a canoe to find Lancelot, but she dies before she makes it to Camelot. Waterhouse shows his tragic heroine as she is about to let go of the chain tying the boat to the bank. Two of the three candles on the boat have gone out, a metaphor (along with the crucifix) for her impending death. The colors, theme and attention to nature are consistent with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’s tenets, although Waterhouse’s brushwork is more apparent than in earlier Pre-Raphaelite paintings.

521. Vision after the Sermon

Artist: Paul Gauguin
Date: 1888
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.4 ft tall by 3.0 ft wide
Current location: National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, UK
gauguin vision after the sermon
Gauguin’s painting shows Breton women after church services witnessing a vision of Jacob wrestling with the angel, a story from the Bible that symbolizes human struggles with faith. Gauguin rejects many traditions here: he draws a dark line around large flat patches of color to delineate form, instead of using tonal shading. He breaks the rules of perspective, which would have made the foreground women smaller. The tree trunk and branches organizes the composition, with the vision on one side and the congregation on the other, but his decision to make the Biblical story so small relative to the entire canvas perplexed contemporary viewers. Art historians have recognized the influence of Japanese prints in Gauguin’s painting, including Hokusai’s Sumo Wrestlers (17901793) (see image below left) and Hiroshige’s Flowering Plum Tree (which was copied by Van Gogh in 1887, see image below right).

522. The Card Players

Artist: Paul Cézanne
Date: Series of five paintings made between 1890 and 1895
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: The five paintings in the series range from 1.5 ft. tall by 1.8 ft. wide (smallest) to 4.4 ft. tall by 5.9 ft. wide (largest).
Current locations: Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Courtauld Institute of Art, London; Musée d’Orsay, Paris; private collection.

The playing of card games has been a subject for painters since at least the early Baroque. Caravaggio painted a card game, as did Georges de la Tour, the Le Nain Brothers and Dutch Golden Age painters. In the 19th Century, French artists such as Daumier, Caillebotte and Degas painted card players. Most of these earlier paintings create drama around the game itself; a common theme is to show one player trying to cheat another.  When Paul Cézanne took up the subject matter in about 1890, he stripped away the narrative elements, choosing instead to focus on the formal elements of the work: color, shape, texture and composition.  He made five versions of The Card Players in a five or six year period, although art historians are undecided on the order. There are two versions with three players and three versions with two players. (Some experts believe the three-player versions came first; others disagree.) Cézanne did not paint a card game directly, but painted the individual figures – most of them were workers on his family’s estate – in separate studies, then painted them together onto the final canvas. As Neil Collins notes, the painting “conveys a sense of timeless tranquility.” “Cézanne’s peasants are all studiously intent on the card game in front of them, and make no attempt at conversation. There is no excitement or melodrama.” X-ray studies indicate that the smaller three-person version in New York may have been a preparatory study for the larger version in Philadelphia.  That version is unique for having the most figures (five), who imitate the X-shape made by the cards on the table (see image above).  In the two-person versions, as Dr. Ben Harvey notes, “The details of the game have receded still further and life has been stilled.” (See image below, showing the version in the Musée d’Orsay.) This stillness arises in part from the way that Cézanne paints the figures. As Dr. Harvey points out, “Cézanne’s card players, like many of his figures, occupy a space somewhere between the painting of figures and the painting of objects.”  The five versions are:
(1) (1890-1892?) Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 4.4 ft. tall by 5.9. ft. wide (see image above):
(2) (1890-1892?) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY 2.1 ft. tall by 2.6 ft. wide;
(3) (1892-1893?) Private collection 3,1 ft, tall by 4,2 ft, wide;
(4) (1892-1895?) Courtauld Institute of Art, London 1.9 ft. tall by 2.3 ft. wide; and
(5) (1894-1895?)  Musée d’Orsay, Paris 1.5 ft, tall by 1.8 ft. wide (see image below).

523. The Child’s Bath

Artist: Mary Cassatt
Date: 1893
Period/Style: Impressionism; US/France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.3 ft tall by 2.2 ft wide
Current location: Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois

It was fellow Impressionist Edgar Degas who reportedly suggested that Mary Cassatt – an American living in Paris – should do a series of artworks featuring mothers and children. Cassatt, who never married and had no children, liked the idea; The Child’s Bath is one of a number of works exploring the theme. Like Degas, Mary Cassatt was fascinated with Japanese prints. The compression of space, the overhead point of view, and the blocks of color that characterize forms familiar from those prints all find their way into this major work – a genre painting of a mother giving her daughter a bath. We look down at the tender domestic scene, with its many points of physical connection and echoes of gesture, just as the mother and child look down at the tub of water. Art historian Frederick Hartt comments, “The intimate Impressionist point of view is strengthened by a superb sense of color and design, the three-tone stripes of the mother’s dress serving as a kind of architectural enframement for the sturdy little girl, fascinated at having her feet washed.”

524. Mahana No Atua (Day of the God)

Artist: Paul Gauguin
Date: 1894
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; France/French Polynesia
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.2 ft. tall by 3 ft. wide
Current location: Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois
Gauguin - Day of the God
After leaving his native France for Tahiti in 1891 to escape “everything that is artificial and conventional”, Paul Gauguin visited France between 1893 and 1895, after which he returned to the South Seas, where he remained until his death in 1903. Gauguin spent much of his visit to France working on an account of his experiences in Tahiti. He also made some paintings, including Day of the God (Mahana No Atua), which may have originated as an illustration for his book. Gauguin divides his canvas in thirds.  In the top register, a statue of the Polynesian god Hina or Taaroa is the focus of a religious ceremony that appears to involve two women in white carrying offerings, a man in white playing a flute, and two women in red dancing. In back of them, a couple in white embraces and another woman in white moves to the left. Gauguin arranges all nine figures (including the statue) so they create a frieze or procession. In the middle register, three nude figures are arranged symmetrically at the water’s edge; one immerses her feet in the water, another just dips her toes, while the third retreats from the water entirely; they may represent birth, life and death. In the foreground, what appear to represent colorful reflections in the water possess the unnatural flatness of color fields in abstract painting. Random Trivia: Gauguin was disappointed with the stone architecture and sculpture of the Polynesians (much of which had been destroyed by Christian missionaries), so he often used other sources as models for statues in his Polynesian paintings. The statue in Mahana No Atua is based on relief sculptures at the Buddhist temple at Borobudur in Indonesia. Gauguin kept a collection of photographs with him in Tahiti that included Borobudur reliefs as well as art and architecture from India, Egypt and other parts of Southeast Asia.

525. Dessert: Harmony in Red (The Red Room)

Artist: Henri Matisse
Date: 1908
Period/Style: Modernism; Fauvism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 5.9 ft tall by 7.2 ft wide
Current location: State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia
matisse dessert
Henri Matisse once said, “I find that all these things … only become what they are to me when I see them together with the color red.” After Russian art collector Sergey Shchukin commissioned Matisse to create a painting to be titled Harmony in Blue, Matisse tried his best to fulfill the request, but after a while, he painted over the blue room with his signature red. Dessert: Harmony in Red (sometimes called simply Harmony in Red or The Red Room) presents us with a room decorated with vases and bowls of fruit, a woman, a table and two chairs, and a window opening to a garden, but what draws us in are the wallpaper and tablecloth, which seem to blend together in a sea of oozing red that seems less like the color of an object and more like the simple existence of a large area of paint on a canvas. In this red sea, we find the self-conscious deconstruction of the illusions that had held sway in art since the Renaissance. 

526. The City Rises

Artist: Umberto Boccioni
Date: 1910
Period/Style: Modernism; Futurism; Italy
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 6.5 ft. tall by 9.9 ft. wide
Current location: Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
The Italian Futurists of the early 20th Century saw museums as graveyards for the dead art of the past. Instead, they sought to celebrate living activity: movement, machines, speed, and human laboring to create the world of the future. Umberto Boccioni’s large canvas The City Rises (originally titled Labor) was intended to be a visual manifesto for Futurist painting – it celebrates the erection of a new electricity plant in Milan, city of the future (in contrast with Venice and Rome, cities of the past). The streets are crammed with trams, people working, and magnificently rendered horses, all in motion. (Some have pointed out the irony that the central focus of the painting is horses – machines of the past – and not machines of the future, such as automobiles.) The City Rises shows Boccioni’s style in transition: the divisionism (a style of contrasting adjacent colors similar to Seurat’s pointillism) of his early training is still evident here; in a year or two, he would be borrowing from the Cubists instead. 

527. L’Atelier Rouge (The Red Studio)

Artist: Henri Matisse
Date: 1911
Period/Style: Modernism; Fauvism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 5.9 ft. tall by 7.2 ft. wide
Current location: Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
matisse red studio
French artist Henri Matisse, co-founder of an art movement that became known as Fauvism, depicted his art studio in The Red Studio (L’Atelier Rouge) as a place where time stands still, symbolized by the grandfather clock with no hands.  The only elements of the room that are pictured in somewhat realistic colors are Matisse’s own works of art – paintings, sculptures and ceramics – and the means of creation, in this case a box of crayons at the lower left – within his (and our) easy reach.  As Robert Hughes notes in The Shock of the New, the rest of the space is unreal, soaked in a flat red that “describes itself aggressively as fiction.”  The room’s furnishings and elements of the architecture are defined by scratchings in the red overlay to expose the lighter-colored underpainting.  The left corner of the room does not exist except as it is defined by the paintings on the walls, which seem to approach the place where the corner should be.  The flat surface at the left is only a possibility of a window. Hughes again: “The Red Studio is a poem about how painting refers to itself: how art nourishes itself from other art and how, with enough conviction, art can form its own republic of pleasure, a parenthesis within the real world – a paradise.”  

528. The Accordionist

Artist: Pablo Picasso
Date: 1911
Period/Style; Modernism; Analytic Cubism; Spain/France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.3 ft tall by 2.9 ft wide
Current location: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY

Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque spent the summer of 1911 in Céret, in the French Pyrenees, where they both produced some of the most abstract examples of Analytic Cubism, including Picasso’s The Accordionist, which is so abstract that one of its owners apparently took it for a landscape. By this stage, Picasso had abandoned any attempt to represent objects through volume or perspective; he has also reduced his palette to a near monochrome to emphasize the broken fragments of painted space in various shapes and sizes that fill up the canvas. The effect is to make us peer at the canvas, trying to make an accordionist (or any familiar object) appear by imposing our will on the images before our eyes. Art historians tell us that there is a darker area representing a man’s face or head near the top of the painting, an arm resting on a chair on the right, and, in the center, several fingers playing three round buttons on an accordion. 

529. I and the Village

Artist: Marc Chagall
Date: 1911
Period/Style: Modernism; Cubism; Surrealism; Russia/France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 6.3 ft. tall by 5 ft. wide
Current location: Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY

Russian-Jewish artist Marc Chagall painted I and the Village about a year after he relocated to Paris from the small Russian village where he was raised.  The painting represents a unique mixture of landscape, symbolism, and dream imagery.  Chagall’s work shows the influence of Cubism, which dominated the Paris art world at the time, but also employs intense colors that were shunned by the Cubists.  Scholars have offered many interpretations for the multiplicity of overlapping images.  The dominant figures are a green-faced man with a cap who is wearing a chain with a cross and holding a glowing plant or tree (possibly the Tree of Life).  The green-faced man is making eye contact with a large animal, possibly a cow or  goat, that has a small goat being milked on his face, possibly to remind us of the close connections between animals and humans in Chagall’s rural village, and a Hasidic belief that animals were humanity’s link to the greater universe.  Three intersecting circles may represent the sun, the orbit of the earth around the sun, and the orbit of the moon around the earth, or possibly an eclipse of the moon.  In the upper register, there is a row of houses and a Russian Orthodox Catholic Church.  Two of the houses are upside down, as is a woman playing the violin.  A man in black carrying a scythe walks past the upside-down woman.  Bright patches of red, green and blue form the palette for the center of the painting.  The artist appears to have no regard for natural color or size, or even the law of gravity.  This is consistent with a statement of Chagall’s, “For me a painting is a surface covered with representations of things … in which logic and illustration have no importance.”

530. Tiger

Artist: Franz Marc
Date: 1912
Period/Style: Der Blaue Reiter; Cubism; Expressionism; Germany
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.6 ft. high by 3.7 ft. wide
Current location: Stadtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich, Germany
German Expressionist painter Franz Marc played an important role in the development of abstract art. Marc was a founding member, with Wassily Kandinsky, of Der Blaue Reiter group, which was intensely concerned about color and, inspired by Van Gogh and Gauguin,  believed that certain colors could be linked to specific emotional and spiritual states.  In Tiger (also known as The Tiger), Marc explores the theory of color with luminous reds, purples and greens in the background, while the yellow and black of the tiger signal ominous imminent aggression.  But Marc is also indebted to Cézanne geometric shapes and the Analytic Cubism of Picasso and Braque.  Shape and color exist in tension with one another: here, the angular blocks of the tiger’s body conceal it among the similar background shapes, while the colors set it apart and thrust it forward. Random Trivia: Franz Marc died in 1916 at the Battle of Verdun.

531. The Windows (Simultaneous Windows)

Artist: Robert Delaunay
Date: Most of the paintings in the series were made in 1912, but Delaunay returned to the theme in 1913 and 1914.
Period/Style: Cubism; Orphism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: There are 22 paintings in the series of various sizes
Current location(1912-1914) Various collections

As French artist Robert Delaunay pushed the boundaries of Cubism into an exploration of color and vision that he called Simultaneism (but poet Guillaume Apollinaire’s term Orphism – from Orpheus – caught on instead), he began painting works along common themes, creating series that contain multiple individuals. These include the Saint-Sévrin series (1909–10); the City series (1909–11); the Eiffel Tower series (1909–12); the City of Paris series (1911–12); the Window series (1912–14); the Cardiff Team series (1913); and the Circular Forms series (1913).  In the Windows series, comprised of 22 or 23 paintings and sketches created mostly in 1912, with a few in 1913 and 1914, Delaunay approaches the level of complete abstraction.  The only representational object in most of the works in the series is a central triangle denoting the Eiffel Tower.  Among overlaid swathes of translucent contrasting and complementary colors, yellow predominates, perhaps a reference to the Parisian sunshine streaming through an open window. In each of the Windows series, Delaunay seeks to depict the process of vision and the ways that light structures vision.  Many of the series are in private collections, but a number are on exhibit in museums around the world. The image show:
(1) A Window (1912) at Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris (first image above);
(2) Windows Open Simultaneously (First Part, Third Motif) (1912), made with oils on a canvas measuring 1.9 ft. tall by 4.1 ft. wide, at the Guggenheim Museum in New York (second image above);
(3) Windows Open Simultaneously (First Part, Third Motif) (1912), made with oils on a canvas measuring 18 in. tall by 14.8 in. wide, is at the Tate Modern in London (image below left); and
(4) Simultaneous Windows on the City (1912), made with oils on a canvas measuring 18 in. tall by 15.7 in. wide, is now in the Hamburger Kunsthalle in Hamburg, Germany (image below right).

532. La bouteille de Suze (Bottle of Suze)

Artist: Pablo Picasso
Date: 1912
Period/Style: Modernism; Synthetic Cubism; Spain/France
Medium: Pasted papers, gouache, and charcoal
Dimensions: 2.1 ft. tall by 1.6 ft. wide
Current location: Kemper Museum, Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri

After spending several years exploring the possibilities of Analytic Cubism, Cubism co-founders Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque moved into the next phase of their modernist revolution: Synthetic Cubism. in which (in Frederick Hartt’s word), “the painters no longer sought to disintegrate the obect but to reassert it.”  In the process, Picasso, Braque and others invented what we now call collage (from the French word coller, which means to glue or paste). In Picasso’s La Bouteille de Suze, the artist uses piece of newsprint, construction paper and wallpaper, with gouache paints and charcoal, to show us a table in a cafe, with a liquor bottle and a burning cigarette in an ashtray. Calling La Bouteille de Suze “the epitome” of Synthetic Cubism, Hartt notes that the “[n]ewspaper clippings, used as opaque equivalents of the floating planes in Analytical Cubism, are held in a structure of lines, and dominated by the bright blue [table].” The scene recalls the common pasttime of many Parisians: drinking and smoking in a cafe while reading the newspaper. The newspaper articles report on war atrocities as well as Parisian social events. As the curator of the Kemper Museum points out, “Picasso’s work can thus be seen as simultaneously warning against the absurdity of modern life while also delighting in life’s simple pleasures.” 

533. The Uncertainty of the Poet

Artist: Giorgio de Chirico
Date: 1913
Period/Style: Metaphysical Art; Italy
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.5 ft. tall by 3.1 ft. wide
Current location: Tate Modern, London, England, UK
dechirico the-uncertainty-of-the-poet
The Uncertainty of the Poet is an example of Italian artist Giorgio de Chirico’s ‘metaphysical art’, which sought to create images that evoke, in his words, “the profound and solitary joy of revelation” (see image above).  Like the Surrealists who would later claim him as their godfather, de Chirico presents ordinary objects in irrational relationships with their settings and each other.  The Uncertainty of the Poet, with its twisting marble torso, bunch of bananas and distant train, tells no story, but creates visual poetry that is reminiscent of the imagery of dreams.  Some critics have pointed out that de Chirico sets up a contrast between timeless objects (the marble statue) and fleeting phenomena (the decaying fruit), although one commentator has suggested that what appears to be a damaged statute is actually a headless, limbless creature made of living flesh.  To increase the sense of unreality, de Chirico deliberately breaks the rules of perspective: there is no logical connection between the building with the arches and the low brick wall behind it, for example; the train appears to be very distant, but it also seems very close to the end of the building, which is not far away.  The train itself appears to be riding on the brick wall, unless there is a more distant trestle and train track that happens to be the same height as the wall.  Most confusing of all is the top of a sailing vessel that seems to be in the same plane as the train, yet there is no other sign of water.

534. The Rock Drill

Artist: Jacob Epstein
Date: 1913-1914
Period/Style: Vorticism; US/UK
Medium: Sculpture consisting of carved plaster figure and rock drill.
Dimensions: 6.75 ft. tall by 4.6 ft. wide
Current location: The original sculpture has been dismantled. A portion of it was recast in bronze in 1916 as Torso in Metal from Rock Drill and is at the Tate Britain in London.

American-born British artist Jacob Epstein created Rock Drill, part-sculpture, part-Readymade, in 1913-1914.  Rock Drill consisted of a robot-like carved plaster figure that sits astride an actual US-made rock drill (see photograph above). The plaster figure had a small figure nestled in its abdomen. Although Epstein did not sign the Vorticist Manifesto, the movement adopted Rock Drill as the pinnacle of Vorticist art.  At the time of its exhibition at the Brighton City Art Gallery from December 1913 to January 1914, Rock Drill was hailed as a celebration of modern machinery, power and masculine virility. Epstein destroyed the sculpture in 1915, however, and in 1916 reworked the torso into a bronze sculpture, Torso in Metal from Rock Drill, which critics described as defenseless and melancholic (see image below left).  In 1940, Epstein described Rock Drill retrospectively in negative terms as “the armed sinister figure of to-day and to-morrow .. [with] no humanity.”  In 1974, Ken Cook and Ann Christopher reconstructed the original Rock Drill, which is now located in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, in Birmingham, England (see image below right). Random Trivia: Star Wars fans have noted the resemblance between the figure in Rock Drill and General Grievous and his battle droids.  
Torso_in_Metal_from_'The_Rock_Drill'_by_Jacob_Epstein,_Tate_Britain  Rock_Drill_Reconstruction,_1974_-_Birmingham_Museum_&_Art_Gallery

535. The Embrace (The Loving; Lovers (II); Couple (II))

Artist: Egon Schiele
Date: 1917
Period/Style: Expressionism; Germany
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.2 ft. tall by 5.5 ft. wide
Current location: Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, Austria
schiele embraceA protege of Gustav Klimt and together with Klimt and Oskar Kokoschka, a member of the Vienna Secession, Austrian Expressionist painter Egon Schiele was known (and was notorious) for making sexually explicit works of art featuring himself, girls and young women, and his model/mistress Valerie Neuzil. After Schiele’s marriage to Edith Harms in 1915, his work gradually became more concerned with love and intimacy than the objectification of sexual acts.  The Embrace, from 1917, shows a nude couple, presumably Schiele and his wife, in a tender moment.  Neither face is visible, but the way the woman has wrapped her arms around her lover expresses a deep tenderness.  A light-colored ruffled blanket frames the contrasting light and dark bodies, and the woman’s abundant dark hair overlaps the man’s shorter dark hair.  The couple on the bed seems to float against the yellow background. Sadly, a year after Schiele painted The Embrace, Edith, six months pregnant, died in the flu epidemic of 1918.  Egon Schiele died of the same illness three days later, at age 28.

536. The Elephant Celebes

Artist: Max Ernst
Date: 1921
Period/Style: Surrealism; Germany
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.1 ft. tall by 3.5 ft. wide
Current location: Tate Modern, London, England, UK

German Surrealist and Dadaist Max Ernst obtained the inspiration for The Elephant Celebes from a photo in a British anthropological journal showing a large clay corn-bin used by the Konkombwa people of Sudan (see image below). Ernst transformed the corn bin into a metallic elephant-like machine/animal (see image above). He set the horizon low to emphasize the bulk of the contraption. A large hose or tube emerges from near the top of the body, ending with a white collar and a horned bull’s skull.  At the top of the body is a set of indeterminate items, perhaps metal sheets, in blue and red, with one staring eye or eye-like feature.  Two tusks peek out from the other end of the ‘elephant’, implying the existence of another head (or perhaps the only true head) at the unseen, opposite end of the creature. The elephant stands on a flat concrete or paved geometrically shaped patio surrounded by grass, with mountains in the distance.  To the left is a pole; to the right is a tall structure with totem-like sections. Two angled protrusions (perhaps phallic) point toward the elephant – one is bright red and near it hovers a red ball.  A short blue pole stands behind the elephant’s left ‘leg’.  In the lower right corner, a headless nude female figure wearing a surgical glove gestures, either for the viewer to look at the elephant or for the elephant to come to her.  Above, two fish fly or swim from left to right.  There is an airplane-like object in the air, as well as a trail of smoke pointing downward. Ernst’s original title was Celebes, which was the former name of the Indonesian island now known as Sulawesi.  Ernst told one of the owners that the title came from a German children’s rhyme with sexual connotations that begins “The elephant from Celebes/has sticky yellow bottom grease.”  As with so much Surrealist art, the painting possesses the imagery and logic of a dream, and may also draw on the Freudian technique of free association.

537. The Harlequin’s Carnival

Artist: Joan Miró
Date: 1924-1925
Period/Style: Surrealism; Spain
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.2 ft. tall by 2.9 ft. wide
Current location: Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York
miro harlequin-s-carnival
By the time he painted The Harlequin’s Carnival (also known as Carnival of the Harlequin) in 1924-1925, Catalan Surrealist Joan Miró was working almost entirely out of his imagination, creating creatures and objects that had little relation to objects in the world outside the canvas.  The occasion of The Harlequin’s Carnival is probably the Christian festival known variously as Mardi Gras or Carnival, on the eve of the fasting season of Lent, when people wear masks and engage in merrymaking.  Unfortunately, the host of the party, the Harlequin himself, is despairing.  Based on a common theater character, usually a servant who plays tricks on his master, pines for an unrequited love and plays the guitar, the Harlequin here is transformed into a guitar with a head, arms and feet.  He has a hole in his heart and a sharp spike in his head.  According to Miró, he painted The Harlequin’s Carnival during a time when he was struggling financially and not sure if he was going to succeed as an artist. Ironically, it was this painting that became his first acknowledged masterpiece.  

538. Christo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer)

Artist: The statue was designed by Paul Landowski and built by engineers Heitor da Silva and Albert Caquot. The statue’s face was created by Gheorghe Leonida.
Date: Begun in 1922; completed in 1931.
Period/Style: Art Deco; Poland/France/Brazil
Medium: Sculpture made from soapstone and reinforced concrete
Dimensions: The entire sculpture is 125 feet tall. The statue is 98 ft. tall. The pedestal is 26 ft. tall. It weighs 635 metric tons.
Current location: Corcovado Mountain, Tijuca Forest National Park, near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The inspiration for the Christ the Redeemer statue overlooking Rio de Janeiro in Brazil was a feeling among certain Roman Catholic Brazilians that the world had entered a time of godlessness. The group raised money for a statue and eventually chose Polish-French sculptor Paul Landowski to design the immense monument. In working on the design, Landowski began with Leonardo da Vinci’s rule that the body of a statue should be 7.5 times the height of the head. But Landowski soon recognized that the rule did not work on this colossal scale.  Using Leonardo’s measurements would make it look like Jesus had a giant head on a stumpy body. Instead, Landowski’s designed a statue in which the body is approximately 12 times the height of the head. Not only is Christ the Redeemer a major religious monument, it is also landmark that can be seen from nearly everywhere in the city below (see photo below by Mariordo), a tourist attraction and the inspiration for similar statues around the world.

539. Lobster Telephone

Artist: Salvador Dali
Date: 1936
Period/Style: Surrealism; Spain/France
Medium: Composite made from painted plaster lobster atop plastic telephone.
Dimensions: 6 in. tall, 12 in. wide and 6.6 in. deep
Current location: The five versions are located at: Dalí Universe in London, UK; the Museum für Kommunikation in Frankfurt, Germany; the Edward James Foundation in London; the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra; and the Tate Modern in London.
Lobster Telephone 1936 by Salvador Dalí 1904-1989
Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí  once wrote, “I do not understand why, when I ask for a grilled lobster in a restaurant, I am never served a cooked telephone.” Dalí answered his own question with Lobster Telephone, a 1936 composite of an ordinary working telephone mounted by a lobster made of painted plaster. The object and was commissioned by wealthy, eccentric English poet Edward James, who also owned three Dalí sofas shaped like Mae West’s lips. Lobster Telephone fulfills the requirements for a Surrealist object: the artist has combined items that are normally not associated with each other to produce an effect that is simultaneously playful and menacing.  For Dali, both lobsters and telephones had sexual connotations; to emphasize this connection, he placed the sexual organs of the lobster directly over the mouthpiece of the telephone.  He also believed that Surrealist objects such as Lobster Telephone could unlock the hidden desires of one’s unconscious mind.  On another level, Lobster Telephone is simply (and intentionally) hilarious.  There are five versions of the original Lobster Telephone, four of which were originally purchased by Edward James to replace all the standard phones at his country manor. Random Trivia: There are also six versions of Lobster Telephone made with an off-white telephone at various museums.

540. Number 5, 1948

Artist: Jackson Pollock
Date: 1948
Period/Style: Abstract Expressionism; Action Painting; US
Medium: Synthetic resin gloss enamel on wood fiberboard
Dimensions: 4 ft. tall by 8 ft. wide (or 8 ft. tall by 4 ft. wide (Pollock never specified whether the painting should be displayed horizontally or vertically).
Current location: Private collection
pollock number-5 1948
In 1947, American Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock began creating a new type of painting in which the action of making the art became a process of discovering what the painting wanted to be. He rejected representation and narrative. Inspired by Navaho sand painting (see second image above), Pollock took his canvases off the easel and placed them unstretched and unprimed on the floor of his barn. He used synthetic resin-based paints called alkyd enamels and industrial house paints, put aside paintbrushes and worked with pieces of wood, glass and metal instead.  He walked, almost danced around (and on) the canvas, spilling, throwing and spraying paint over it until it reached an emotional peak. Sometimes he would hang the canvas on a wall for a time, to allow gravity to pull the paint earthward.  When finished, there were layers of paint covering the canvas, thicker in some places than others. In the first years of the drip technique, the palette of the paintings wavered between black and white, on the one hand, and muted earth tones, on the other. Pollock also generally rejected descriptive titles, which implied that the painting was ‘about’ something other than itself, in favor of numbers and dates. He created in relative obscurity – although critic Clement Greenberg was an early booster – until August 8, 1949, when Life magazine asked, “Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?” After that, Pollock was a superstar. Number 5, 1948 has been described as having the quality of a dense bird’s nest. The painting is a ‘replica’ of an earlier version that was damaged while being shipped to its purchaser, Alfonso A. Ossario. Instead of attempting to repair the damage, Pollock decided to paint an entirely new canvas. Random Trivia: In 2006, Number 5, 1948 was sold for $140 million, the highest price ever paid for a painting at that time. 

541. Empire of Light

Artist: René Magritte
Date: 1949-1955
Period/Style: Surrealism; Belgium
Medium: 17 paintings made with oil paints on canvas; 10 works made with gouache on paper
Dimensions: The paintings range in size from 7.1 in. tall by 9.8 in. wide to 3.7 ft. tall by 4.8 ft wide
Current locations: Various collections

Belgian Surrealist René Magritte made seventeen oil and ten gouache versions of L’Empire Des Lumières (known as The Empire of LightThe Empire of Lights or The Dominion of Light), most of them between 1949 and 1955. Each painting in the series depicts a nocturnal street scene with houses and trees. (As the series progressed, the settings, originally urban, became more suburban.) In the center of the canvas, a streetlamp illuminates a house, which is often shuttered. Some of the paintings show artificial light coming from behind residential windows. Above the nighttime streetscape is a daytime skyscape, which shows a bright blue sky streaked with billowing white clouds. As with other works by Magritte and the Surrealists generally, an impossible scene is rendered very realistically. According to one theory, the experience of simultaneous day and night not only collides with the viewer’s understanding of reality, but also triggers an emotional reaction of fear, unease and distrust of the day, a reaction usually associated with the night. (Magritte had a more positive spin: “This evocation of night and day seems to me to have the power to surprise and delight us.”)  The Empire of Light series became very popular among Magritte collectors, who put pressure on the artist to produce more versions, leading to the multiple variations that now exist. Three of the oil paintings are shown:
(1) The Empire of Light II, 1950, made with oils on a canvas measuring 2.6 ft. tall by 3.2 ft. wide, now in the Museum of Modern Art in New York (see image above);
(2) The Empire of Light, 1955, made with oils on a canvas 6.4 ft. tall by 4.2. ft. wide, at the Guggenheim Museum in New York (see image below left); and
(3) The Empire of Light, 1954, made with oils on a canvas measuring 3.7 ft. tall by 4.8 ft wide, now in the Musée Royaux des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, Belgium (see image below right).