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 34 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 (28) and ends with the artworks that were on six lists. Part 2 includes the works of art on four or five of the original source lists. Part 3 includes all the works on three 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

489. 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.

490. 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. 

491. 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.

492. 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). 

493. Beaker with Ibex Motifs

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 4200-3500 BCE
Period/Style: Susa I Period; Ancient Susa (now Iran); decorative art
Medium: Painted terra-cotta drinking vessel (called a beaker or a bushel)
Dimensions: 11.4 inches tall by 6.4 inches wide
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

494. 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.

495. Kamares Ware Jug

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 2000-1900 BCE
Period/Style: Minoan (Palace of Phaistos); zoomorphic; decorative art
Medium: Painted ceramic vessel
Dimensions: 10.6 inches tall
Current location: Archaeological Museum of Heraklion, Crete, Greece

496. 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
Akhenaten,_Nefertiti_and_their_children 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. 

497. 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.

498. You Vessel in the Shape of a Feline (La Tigresse)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 1150-1050 BCE
Period/Style: Shang Dynasty, China
Medium: Dark green bronze
Dimensions: 12.7 in. tall, 9.3 in. long, and 9.2 in. wide
Current location: Cernuschi Museum of Asian Arts, Paris, France
you vessel
During the Shang (c. 1600-1046 BCE) and Zhou (c. 1046-256 BCE) Dynasties, Chinese artists created many yu (or you) vessels, which had knobbed lids and swinging handles, and were used to hold alcoholic beverages and possibly other liquids, possibly for offering sacrifices. Some yus were zoomorphic, including the late Shang Dynasty You Vessel in the Shape of a Feline, also known as La Tigresse). The open-mouthed feline stands on its two back paws and embraces a tiny human figure with its front paws. Against a background of square spirals, a common design feature of late Shang Dynasty carving, there are a number of dragons. Standing on the yu’s lid is a goat with large ears and horns, while the back of the handle contains depictions of unusual animals with pointed ears and curving bodies. While the you dates to the time of the Shang Dynasty, several anomalies have led archaeologists to conclude that it came from Hunan, which was not part of the Shang Kingdom farther north.

499. 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.

500. Raimondi Stele

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 900-200 BCE
Period/Style: Chavín culture; Peru
Medium: Polished granite monument with relief sculptures and incised designs
Dimensions: 7 ft. tall
Current location: Museo Nacional de Arqueología Antropología e Historia del Perú, Lima, Peru

501. 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. 

502. 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
Ludovisi_throne_center 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

503. Chimera of Arezzo

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 400 BCE
Period/Style: Etruscan; Italy
Medium: Bronze statue
Dimensions: 2.5 ft. high by 4.2 ft. long
Current location: Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Florence, Italy

404. 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.

505. 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).

506. Capitoline Venus

Artist: The statue is a Roman copy by an unknown artist of a Greek original by an unknown artist that is a variation on the Aphrodite of Cnidus (400-300 BCE) by Praxiteles.
Date: c. 300-100 BCE (Greek original); c. 96-192 CE (Roman copy)
Period/Style: Ancient Greece; Hellenistic period
Medium: The Capitoline Venus is a marble sculpture. The original Greek statue was bronze. Dimensions:  6.3 ft. tall Current location: The Capitoline Venus is in the Capitoline Museums in Rome. The Greek original is lost.

507. 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).

508. 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.

509. 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.

510. 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.”

511. 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.”

512. Wall Paintings, House of Marcius Lucretius Fronto

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 25-75 CE
Period/Style: Ancient Rome; Late Third Style and Fourth Style; Italy
Medium: Paintings on the walls of Ancient Roman residence
Dimensions: The paintings cover most of the walls of a small house
Current location: Pompeii, Italy       

513. Portrait of a Flavian Woman (Fonseca Bust)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 69-96 CE
Period/Style: Ancient Rome; Flavian Period; Italy
Medium: Marble sculpture (bust)
Dimensions: 24.8 in. tall
Current location: Capitoline Museums, Rome, Italy
flavian woman
Fashionable women during the period of the Flavian emperors (Vespasian, 69–79 CE; Titus, 79–81 CE; Domitian, 81–96 CE) wore their hair in the unusual style depicted in this bust (see image above). The skills required to shape the hair in such a way required a specially-trained slave called an ornatrix. Juvenal mocked the hairstyle in his Satires: “So important is the business of beautification; so numerous are the tiers and stories piled one upon another on her head! In front, you would take her for an Andromache; she is not so tall behind: you would not think it was the same person.” Satires (VI.502) (see rear view of hairstyle in image below).
fonseca bust rear view

514. Commodus as Hercules

Artist: Unknown
Date: 192 CE
Period/Style: Ancient Rome; Italy
Medium: Marble sculpture (portrait bust)
Dimensions: 4.3 ft. tall
Current location: Capitoline Museums, Rome, Italy

 515. The Admonitions Scroll

Artist: Although the scroll is traditionally attributed to Gu Kaizhi (c. 345-406 CE), most scholars now believe it was painted after his death, although it may be a copy of a Gu original.
Date: c. 400-800 CE
Period/Style: Southern and Northern Dynasties or Tang Dynasty; China
Medium: Hand-painted silk scroll
Dimensions: 9.6 in. tall by 11.3 ft. long
Current location: British Museum, London, England, UK
The scroll contains nine scenes (out of an original 12) that are Illustrations for the book titled Admonitions of the Instructress to the Court Ladies, a text composed by Zhang Hua (c. 232-300 CE).  Above: Scene 4: Lady Feng and the bear. Below: Scene 12: The instructress in charge of admonitions boldly speaks to all the palace ladies.

516. 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).

517. Eternal Shiva (Sadashiva)

Artist: Unknown
Date: The relief sculpture of Sadashiva and other carvings in the Cave of Shiva date to between 400 and 900 CE. Most scholars believe they were made between 400 and 700 CE, and many believe that the work was completed by c. 550 CE.
Period/Style: Hindu; India
Medium: Carved basalt rock in high relief
Dimensions: 17.9 ft. tall
Current location: Cave of Shiva, Elephanta Island (Gharapuri), Maharashtra, India

518. 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.

519. 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.” 

520. Shaka Triad

Artist: Kuratsukuri Tori (also known as Tori Busshi)
Date: 623 CE
Period/Style: Asuka Period; Japan
Medium: Statues made from gilt bronze
Dimensions: I have been unable to find the measurements of the artwork.
Current location: Kondo, Horyu-ji Temple, Nara, Japan

The Shaka Triad shows the historical Buddha (Shaka, or Shakyamuni) surrounded by attendants Monju Bosatsu and Fugen Bosatsu. According to legend, the statue is a portrait of Prince Shōtoku Taishi, the founder of Hōryūji Temple and a major patron of Early Buddhism in Japan. It was commissioned by Empress Suiko.

521. 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, MA
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).

522. Mosaics, Dome of the Rock

Artist: Unknown
Date: The original interior mosaics were created during the building of the Dome of the Rock in  688-692 CE, but many of the original tiles were replaced during the Ottoman renovations in the 16th Century. The original exterior mosaics were removed and replaced with Ottoman-style faience tiles in the 16th Century. In the 1960s, the exterior Ottoman tile decoration was replaced with faithful copies produced in Italy.
Period/Style: Umayyad Caliphate, Islamic Art; Israel/Palestine
Medium: Mosaic tiles decorating the exterior and interior of a large religious shrine
Dimensions: Each exterior wall of the octagonal building is 60 ft. long. The central dome is 66 ft. in diameter and 67.2 ft. tall.
Current location: Temple Mount, Jerusalem (Old City), Israel/Palestine
The Dome of the Rock is an Islamic religious building that sits atop one of the most sacred and most disputed sites on earth. According to Jewish and Christian tradition, it was here, on the highest spot in old Jerusalem, that Abraham nearly sacrificed his son Isaac, and where King Solomon built the second Temple, the hub of Judaism for centuries (the same Temple from which Jesus chased out the moneylenders), until the Romans destroyed it in 70 CE. To Muslims, the site meant all the foregoing and more, for according to Islamic tradition, it was from this spot that an angel led the prophet Mohammed up into heaven, where he met Jesus and Moses and saw God. As part of their wave of conquests in the early 7th Century, Muslim armies captured this spot and all of Jerusalem in 637 CE. Fifty years later, Umayyad Caliph Abd-al-Malik ordered a shrine to be built around the holy rock at the top of the hill; historians estimate that construction of the magnificent golden-domed structure, which was based on a Byzantine model, took place between 688 and 692 CE. The decoration of the Dome on the Rock, as the shrine came to be known, consisted of multicolored mosaics made of glazed ceramic tiles. According to tradition (based in part on Islamic teachings), the designs do not include animals or human figures. Instead, the mosaics include numerous plant designs as well as inanimate objects such as vessels, crowns and jewels (see images above). Experts have noted the influence of both Byzantine mosaic technique and vegetal motifs and also Persian/Sasanian iconography, such as winged crowns. The mosaics are noted for their variety and the artist’s willingness to have the designs run counter to the underlying structure of the architecture. According to two scholars, Dome of the Rock mosaics demonstrate both the “non-realistic use of realistic shapes” and the “anti-naturalistic combination of naturalistic forms.” R. Ettinghausen & O. Grabar, The Art and Architecture of Islam 650-1250 28-34 (Yale Univ. Press 1994) ( In 1099, Christian Crusaders captured Jerusalem and converted the Dome on the Rock into a church. Then, in 1187, Saladin won back Jerusalem for Islam. In the 16th Century, when Jerusalem was part of the Ottoman Empire, Suleiman the Magnificent engaged in a series of renovations to the Dome on the Rock, including adding to or restoring much of the tilework. The exterior tilework was replaced with Ottoman-style tiles from Iznik (see image below). As for the interior, there is little evidence to indicate which mosaics are original 9th Century tiles and which were added or replaced in the 16th Century. Scholars who have studied the mosaics believe that, in the interior at least, the restoration did not significantly change the designs or patterns, but mostly replaced broken or missing tiles. The next major renovations occurred in 1955-1964, sponsored by Jordan. In 1967, to complicate matters, Israel captured the hilltop and for a short time flew the flag of Israel over the Dome of the Rock. The shrine is now cared for by the Islamic community. In 1981, UNESCO designated the Old City of Jerusalem and its walls, including the Dome of the Rock, as a World Heritage Site.

 523. Wall Paintings, Mogao Caves (Caves of the Thousand Buddhas)

Artists: Unknown
Date: The caves (which number 500 or more) were built and decorated between the mid-4th Century CE and 1368 CE, with most of the activity taking place during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE).
Period/Style: Tang Dynasty; Buddhist Art; China
Medium: Paintings on cave walls
Dimensions: There are many thousands of square feet of murals in the caves.
Current location: Dunhuang, Gansu, China
Some of the most highly-regarded murals in the caves show the Western Paradise of Amitabha Buddha (also known as Amitabha Pure Land), including paintings in Cave 217 (c. 700-750 CE) (see above image) and Cave 172 (c. 800-900 CE) (see below image).

524. 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.”

525. 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.” 

526. Mosaics, Daphni Monastery

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 1081-1111
Period/Style: Byzantine; Komnenian period; Greece; religious
Medium: Mosaics decorating interior church walls
Dimensions: Mosaics cover much of the interior space of the small church
Current location: Chaidari, Greece

527.  Façade Relief Sculptures, Modena Cathedral

Artist: Wiligelmo (also known as Wiligelmus)
Date: c. 1110 Period/Style: Romanesque; Italy; religious
Medium: Relief sculptures decorating the façade of a religious building
Dimensions: There are four sets of reliefs depicting stories from the Book of Genesis.
Current location: Modena Cathedral (official name: Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption and Saint Geminianus), Modena, Italy
Wiligelmo was one of several sculptors who worked on the cathedral, including students from his studio, but his work on the façade is the most-highly regarded.  The top image shows (from left): the creation of Adam, the creation of Eve, and the temptation of Adam and Eve. The second image shows the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise, and Adam and Eve working.

528. Relief Sculptures, Angkor Wat

Artist: Unknown
Date: The temple was built during the reign of Khmer King Suryavarman II, who ruled from 1113 to 1145 or 1150.
Period/Style: Khmer, Cambodia
Medium: Relief sculptures
Dimensions: There are nearly 13,000 square feet of reliefs in the temple complex.
Current location: Siem Riep, Cambodia. The relief sculptures relate eight different stories from Hindu writings, including The Churning of the Ocean of Milk, a creation story, stories of battles, and stories of King Suryavarman II.

529. The Tale of Genji Scroll (Genji Monogatari Emaki) 

Artist: The work is traditionally attributed to Fujiwara no Takayoshi, but scholars now believe he was not involved and the artist or artists are unknown.
Date: The scroll was created in the 12th Century, most likely between 1120 and 1140.
Period/Style: Heian Period; Japan
Medium: Painted scroll
Dimensions: Approximately 67.5 feet of scroll with text and paintings.
Current locations: Tokugawa Art Museum, Nagoya, Japan and Gotoh Museum, Tokyo, Japan
Tale of Genji Scroll tale of genji scroll 6 mistletoe tale of genji scroll 5 The Tale of Genji Scroll is a 12th Century illustrated version of The Tale of Genji, which was written by Lady Murasaki Shikibu in 1021. It is the oldest surviving story scroll and the oldest surviving non-Buddhist scroll in Japan. Although the scroll has traditionally been attributed to Court painter Fujiwara no Takayoshi, scholars now believe that the work is not his, although artists connected with Takayoshi are believed to have been involved. Scholars estimate that the original scroll was 450 ft. long, with 20 rolls, over 100 paintings and more than 300 sheets of calligraphy. Only about 15% of the original work survives: 19 paintings, 65 sheets of text and 9 pages of fragments are divided between the Tokugawa Art Museum in Nagoya and the Gotoh Museum in Tokyo. The style of the scroll derives from the Classical Japanese tradition known as Yamato-e and not from the Chinese-influenced styles that we’re becoming popular at the time. The artists used the technique of tsukuri-e (“manufactured painting”), which involves four steps: (1) select scenes from the story with visual effects; (2) draw the scene in black and white; (3) add color to the drawing and add colored details; and (4) re-draw the black outlines from the original design. The artists of the Tale of Genji Scroll frequently used two pictorial techniques: (1) fukinki yatai, or ‘blown-away roof’, which gives the viewer a bird’s eye view of the scene, from an upper diagonal perspective, with roofs and ceilings invisible; and (2) hikime kagibana or ‘slit eyes and hook nose’, a method of drawing human faces so they look almost exactly alike, and are seen in full or partial (30% angle) profile, never in full frontal view. Despite the strictures of hikime kagibana, the artist(s) manage to express a great deal of emotion by altering the size and shape of the characters’ feature and the tilt of their heads or by using inanimate objects symbolically. Shown above are three images from the Tale of Genji Scroll: (1) Chapter 39, Evening Mist (Gotoh Museum); (2) Chapter 45, Mistletoe (Tokugawa Art Museum); and (3) Chapter 36, Oak Tree (Tokugawa Art Museum).

530. Death of the Virgin

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 1220-1230
Period/Style: Medieval; Romanesque/Gothic; France; religious
Medium: Relief sculpture on exterior of church building
Current location: Strasbourg Cathedral, Strasbourg, France
This group is on the tympanum of west portal of south transept, also known as the Portal of the Virgin.  There is a plaster replica, c. 1900, in Adolphus Busch Hall at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA.

531. Psalter of St. Louis

Artist Unknown
Date: c. 1253-1270
Period/Style: Medieval; Rayonnant Gothic; France; religious
Medium: Illustrated manuscript on parchment
Dimensions: Each page is approximately 8.2 in. tall by 5.7 in. wide
Current location: Bibliothèque nationale, Paris, France

532. Heiji Monogatari Emaki (The Tale of Heiji Scroll)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 1250-1300
Period/Style: Kamakura period; Yamato-e style; Japan
Medium: Illustrated manuscript made with paint and ink on paper handscroll
Dimensions: There are three extant scrolls. Scroll 1 (Boston) measures 1.3 ft. tall by 24 ft. long; scroll 2 (Seikadō Bunko Art Museum) measures 1.4 ft. tall by 33.2 ft. long; scroll 3 (Tokyo National Museum) measures 1.4 ft. tall by 374 ft. long.
Current location: Portions of the scroll are in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA, US; the Seikadō Bunko Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan, and the Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, Japan. The Heiji Monogatari Emaki contains the text (with illustrative paintings) of the The Tale of Heiji, which relates the story of the Heiji rebellion (1159–1160) between the Taira and Minamoto clans. The image above shows the burning of Sanjō Palace by Fujiwara no Nobuyori (an ally of the Minamoto clan) and Minamoto no Yoshitomo. This painting is contained on the scroll at the Museum of Fine Art in the Boston, MA.

533. 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.

534. Belleville Breviary

Artists: Jean Pucelle
Date: c. 1323-1326
Period/Style: Medieval; Northern Gothic; France; religious
Medium: Illuminated manuscript; grisaille and tempera on vellum
Dimensions: The breviary consists of two volumes. Each page is 9.4 in. tall by 6.7 in. wide.
Current location: Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, France

A breviary is a type of prayer book. Volume 1 (see pages above) of the Belleville Breviary contains the prayers used during the summer, while volume 2 (see page below) contains those used during the winter.  Pucelle was familiar with the innovations of Giotto as well as the work of Sienese artists such as Duccio.  His work shows a proto-Renaissance treatment of pictorial space.

535. Triumph of Death

Artists: Buonamico Buffalmacco 
Date: c. 1335-1341
Period/Style: Medium: Fresco painted on the wall of a building housing a cemetery.
Dimensions: The fresco is approximately 49.2 ft. wide.
Current location: Campo Santo, Pisa 
The Triumph of Death fresco is one of a number of murals Buonamico Buffalmacco painted on the cloister walls of the Camposanto – a building housing an enormous cemetery – in the Piazza del Duomo in Pisa, Italy.  The fresco has been detached from its original location (where it suffered damage during World War II) and is now preserved in a separate room at the Camposanto. Above is a view of the entire fresco. Below are details, including a view of Hell.

536. 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).

537. 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.

538. St. Mark

Artist: Donatello
Date: 1411-1413
Period/Style: Early Renaissance; Italy; religious
Medium: Marble sculpture
Dimensions: 7.75 ft. tall
Current location: Orsanmichele Church Museum, Florence, Italy

Donatello’s statue of St. Mark was commissioned by the Linen-weavers and Peddlers Guild to be displayed in a niche on the exterior of the Orsanmichele Church in Florence, which also served as a granary. It is considered one of the first great achievements of the Renaissance. Donatello sculpted the proportions of the body so they would look natural when seen from below, as the niches were above street level. The statue (without its niche) is located in the museum on the second floor of the church (see image above). The original statue has since been replaced by a replica (see image below).

539. 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.” 

540. The Annunciation of Cortona

Artist: Fra Angelico
Date: c. 1433-1434
Period/Style: Early Renaissance; Italy; religious
Medium: Tempera on wood panels
Dimensions: 5.7 ft. tall by 5.9 ft. wide
Current location: Museo Diocesano, Cortona, Italy
The Annunciation is the central panel of an altarpiece that Fra Angelico painted for the Church of St. Dominic in Cortona, although at some point it was transferred to the Church of Gesù and now hangs at the Museo Diocesano in Cortona.  In addition to the Annunciation, the altarpiece includes several scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary on the predella (see image above). The Annunciation takes place in a loggia with elaborate columns (atop one of which is a roundel with the image of the prophet Isaiah, who predicted the birth of Jesus). Mary is dressed elegantly and sits on an ornately decorated seat; the Angel Gabriel, too, is highly ornamented. Fra Angelico has chosen to paint the words of the conversation (taken from the Gospel of Luke) in rippling gold streams between the mouths of Mary and the angel (see first image below). As the Holy Spirit (in the form of a dove) hovers over Mary in a halo of golden light, Gabriel says, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the highest shall overshadow thee” and Mary responds, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” The words of the angel read left to right, while Mary’s words are upside down and read from right to left. As more than one commentator has noted, the words of Mary are designed to be legible only to God, looking down from above. Outside, we see the walled garden, symbol of Mary’s virginity, but we also see Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden. The message is that the birth of Jesus will finally take away the sin that they committed. Random Trivia: The depiction of the Visitation in the predella contains what art historians believe is the first identifiable landscape in Italian art – a view of Lake Trasimeno, the Chiana Valley and the town of Castigliona Florentino (see second image below).

541.  Portrait of a Princess (A Princess of the House of d’Este)

Artist: Pisanello (born Antonio di Puccio Pisano or Antonio di Puccio da Cereto)
Date: There are a range of date estimates. Louvre dates the painting c. 1425-1450, but other dates given by scholars are 1434, c. 1435-1440, c. 1435-1445, c. 1436-1438 and 1449.
Period/Style: International Gothic; Italy; secular portrait
Medium: Tempera on wood panels
Dimensions: 17 in. tall by 12 in. wide
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

The embroidery on the young woman’s sleeve shows the two-handled vase that is a symbol of the Este family of Italian nobles, but the subject’s specific identity is unknown. The presence of a sprig of juniper (Italian: “ginepro”) may be a hint that this is Ginevra d’Este, the daughter of Niccolò III d’Este of Ferrara and Parisina Malatesta. 

542. 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).

543. 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.

544. Werl Altarpiece (Werl Triptych)

Artist: Scholars have disputed the attribution of the work; while most agree that Robert Campin painted it, a minority believe it was executed by his workshop assistants as a pastiche.
Date: 1438
Period/Style: Early Netherlandish; Flanders; religious
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: Each wing of the original triptych is 3.3 ft. high by 1.5 ft. wide.
Current location: Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain
Originally a triptych, the Werl Altarpiece is missing its central panel, leaving us with the wings. The left wing shows the donor, Franciscan priest Heinrich von Werl, kneeling in prayer before the devotional scene in the missing central panel. Behind him is his intermediary, John the Baptist, with his attribute, the Lamb of God. In an homage to van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait, a mirror on the wall reflects the room and reveals a figure not otherwise visible (see image below). The right panel shows St. Barbara sitting in a contemporary room with a book and a blazing fire; the viewer looks down from a high angle. The sumptuous green of her clothes contrasts with the rich red of the cushions. The tiled floor shows perspective, and the statue of the Holy Trinity on the mantle is a marvel in miniaturism. The figure is identified as St. Barbara by the tower outside the window, a reference to the story that her father locked her in a  tower. Art historians have noted that while the artist excelled in rendering the furnishings of St. Barbara’s room and in showing the effects of two light sources (sun and fire) of different qualities, his work on St. Barbara’s figure lacks substance.

545. The Annunciation (Cell 3, San Marco)

Artist: Fra Angelico
Date: Scholars have a variety of opinions about when Fra Angelico painted his frescoes on the walls of San Marco Monastery. Date ranges include: c. 1438-1450; c. 1438-1443; c. 1439-1444; and c. 1440-1442.
Period/Style: Early Renaissance; Italy; religious
Medium: Fresco on the wall of a monk’s cell in a monastery
Dimensions: 5.8 ft. tall by 4.8 ft. wide
Current location: San Marco Museum, Florence, Italy

546. 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.

547. Madonna and Child with Scenes from the Life of St. Anne (The Pitti Tondo)

Artist: Fra Filippo Lippi
Date: 1452-1453
Period/Style: Early Renaissance; Italy; religious
Medium: Tondo (circular painting) made with tempera on wood panels
Dimensions: 4.4 ft. in diameter
Current location: Palatine Gallery, Palazzo Pitti, Florence, Italy

548. The Agony in the Garden

Artist: Giovanni Bellini
Date: c. 1459-1465
Period/Style: Early Renaissance; Venice, Italy; religious
Medium: Tempera on wood panels
Dimensions: 2.7 ft. tall by 4.2 ft. wide
Current location: National Gallery, London, England, UK
Bellini - Agony in the Garden The Agony in the Garden depicts that moment when, just prior to his arrest, Jesus asked God to “take this cup away from me” while his disciples slept. Most painters depict the scene in the depths of night, to emphasize that this was a dark hour in the life of Jesus. Giovanni Bellini upends that tradition with his rendition of the Biblical theme. Consistent with iconographic tradition, Jesus prays while an angel presents him with the sacrificial cup, the foreshortened disciples sleep, and off in the distance, Judas leads a cadre of Roman soldiers to make their arrest, but the scene-stealer is dawn, its salmon-colored light bringing a glow of hope to the bleak, rocky ‘garden’, as well as to the houses in an Italian hill town that doubles as the City of Heaven. Instead of focusing on Jesus’s impending suffering and death, Bellini is already thinking ahead to the salvation that Christians believe his death and resurrection brought about. The composition (without the dawn light) owes much to the previous treatment of the same subject by Bellini’s older brother-in-law Andrea Mantegna, and both paintings appear to be derived from a c. 1450 sketch by Bellini’s father Jacopo (see image below).  

549. Polyptych of the Misericordia (Madonna della Misericordia)

Artist: Piero della Francesca
Date: The work was commissioned in 1445 and completed in 1462.
Period/Style: Early Renaissance; Italy; religious
Medium: Oil paints and tempera on wood panels
Dimensions: The entire polyptych measures 8.9 ft. tall by 10.8 ft. wide. The center panel showing the Madonna with her spreading cloak measures 4.4 ft. tall by 3 ft. wide.
Current location: Pinacotea Comunale, Sansepolcro, Italy
In 1445, the Confraternity della Misericordia, a lay Christian group in Sansepolcro, Italy, commissioned Sansepolcro native Piero della Francesca to paint what is now known as the Misericordia Altarpiece, or the Polyptych of the Misericordia (see image above, showing recreated altarpiece). The commission specified certain subjects and styles, including the outdated Gothic trope of a solid gilded background for the figures. Although the commission required delivery of the finished altarpiece in three years, Piero did not complete it until 17 years later, in 1462. The altarpiece, which contains Piero’s earliest surviving work, shows his indebtedness to Donatello and Masaccio and his love of geometric forms. It also embodies a tension between the donors’ desire for the styles and forms of a previous generation, and Piero’s embrace of modern Renaissance principles. The earliest panels completed were those of St. Sebastian and St. John the Baptist. Next were the Crucifixion, St. Benedict, the Angel, the Madonna of the Annunciation, and St. Francis. Piero finished the figures of St. Andrew and St. Bernardino about 1450. Despite the commission’s edict that Piero perform all the work himself, Piero assigned the predella, with five scenes of the life of Jesus, to his assistants. The last panel Piero painted was the centerpiece, the Madonna della Misericordia (Virgin of Mercy) (see image below). While the practice of making the Virgin Mary much larger than her followers is a holdover from the Gothic style, the piece contains many Renaissance attributes. The Virgin stands with her hands outstretched, enfolding a group of eight kneeling townspeople in her mantle, including an anonymous member of the donor confraternity (with hood). The mantle echoes the arch above the Virgin’s head. Despite the limitations posed by the two-dimensional gilded backdrop, Piero manages to create a realistic three-dimensional space within the mantle that recalls the apse of a church. 

550. Battle of the Nudes (Battle of the Nude Men)

Artist: Antonio del Pollaiuolo
Date: Various dates have been given for the creation of the engraving, including c. 1465, c. 1465-1475, and c. 1470-1495.
Period/Style: Early Renaissance; Italy
Medium: Paper print made from an engraving
Dimensions: 1.3 ft. tall by 1.9 ft. wide
Current location: Various collections

551. St. George and the Dragon

Artist: Paolo Uccello
Date: c. 1470
Period/Style: Early Renaissance; Italy; religious
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 1.8 ft. tall by 2.4 ft. wide
Current location: National Gallery, London, England, UK
st. george and the dragon Italian artist Paolo Uccello painted two versions of the story of Saint George and the Dragon, which most European Christians knew from the 13th Century book of saints’ lives called The Golden Legend. The earlier version, from 1435-1440, showed a not very fearsome-looking green dragon rearing up on its hind (that is, only) legs, while the damsel watches Saint George drive the spear home (see image below). Thirty years later, Uccello returned to the subject (see image above). This time, he combined two aspects of the story, ignoring narrative flow in favor of pictorial balance. At the same time that St. George is spearing the loathsome dragon (which had been terrorizing the local people by bringing them the black plague), the damsel is taming him, using her belt as a leash. While it is difficult to see how both actions could occur simultaneously, the composition is now balanced nicely, with one human on each side, both interacting with the dragon. Uccello uses the spear to establish a sense of three-dimensional space; at the same time, by lining up the spear with the spiraling storm behind St. George, Uccello implies that heavenly power assisted the saint in accomplishing his heroic quest. Scholars have noted Uccello’s penchant for Gothic touches (such as the dragon’s wing emblems) as well as occasionally ignoring naturalism in favor of accurate perspective (as in the case of the oddly shaped patches of grass).

552. 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.

553. Portrait of a Man

Artist: Antonello da Messina
Date: 1475-1476
Period/Style: Early Renaissance; Venice, Italy; secular portrait
Medium: Oil paints on poplar wood panel
Dimensions: 14 in. tall by 10 in. wide
Current location: National Gallery, London, England, UK

Sicilian painter Antonello da Messina’s short sojourn in Venice in 1475-1476 had widespread impacts on the future of Venetian painting. Antonello was one of the first in Italy to completely absorb both the technique and the style of the Flemish oil painters from the Early Netherlandish school. Even on the small Portrait of a Man, Antonello shows how the multiple layers of oil paint, painstakingly applied, could produce astonishing effects. What was remarkable about this three-quarter portrait of a middle class man, possibly a self-portrait, was the treatment of light. As one critic noted, light sinks into the subject’s flesh at some points, turning his cheek to red and brown, and it reflects off his eyes and nose, as if it were reflected in a lake. Antonello da Messina had also mastered the Northern European attention to detail, as seen by his handling of the subject’s beard stubble. Yet, for all its Early Netherlandish elements, this was a portrait of an Italian by an Italian, for other Italians to view. There is humor in the idea that, even though the man is having his portrait painted, he seems wary or skeptical of the artist’s intentions – oil glazes catch that expression perfectly. 

554. Virgin Annunciate

Artist: Antonello da Messina
Date: c. 1476
Period/Style: Early Renaissance; Sicily, Italy; religious
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 17.7 in. tall by 13.8 in. wide
Current location: Palazzo Abatellis, Palermo, Italy

With the Virgin Annunciate, Antonello da Messina has created a vision of the Annunciation that upends the traditional iconography. First, there is no Angel Gabriel. Instead, by depicting only the Virgin Mary, the viewer becomes the sole witness to the holy event, perhaps even cast in the angel’s role. Second, there is no background, no architectural space (except the desk), no symbolic objects or allegorical figures to distract the viewer. What remains is the psychological truth – we see a young girl, a virgin, who has just learned that she will bear a child who is divine. Mary’s book, hands and gaze tell the whole story: she was disturbed from her reading by the angel, she put up her right hand out of fear (or ‘to make time stand still’, as one critic remarked), then clutched her veil, pointing to herself so as to ask how it could be, and finally the knowing gaze of willing acceptance of God’s will for her. Despite the spare composition and featureless background, Antonello manages to create a sense of real space with the book stand, desk and particularly Mary’s foreshortened hands. The Virgin Annunciate was painted in Antonello da Messina’s home in Sicily, with a local girl as model. It may be the last picture he ever painted. 

555. Virgin and Child with Eight Angels (Raczynski Tondo)

Artist: Sandro Botticelli
Date: 1477-1478
Period/Style: Early Renaissance; Florence, Italy
Medium: The circular painting, or tondo, was made with muted tempera paints on wood panels.
Dimensions: 4.4 ft. in diameter
Current location: Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen, Berlin, Germany
Painted after The Adoration of the Magi, Sandro Botticelli’s first success, but before his greatest masterpieces, Madonna and Child with Eight Angels (also referred to as the Raczynski Tondo after one of its owners) portrays the Virgin Mary breastfeeding her son Jesus (a discreet nipple is visible, although Jesus faces the viewer), while eight wingless boy angels sing hymns and hold lilies, symbol of Mary’s purity. As one critic observed, the hymns are antiphonal, with one section singing while the other waits its turn. There is strict symmetry to the composition. The goal of the piece is to engage the viewer in a devotional experience and to that end, Botticelli has three of the figures – Mary, Jesus and one of the angels – engage the viewer with direct or almost direct eye contact. The infant and the angel express a mix of curiosity and invitation, while the Madonna’s liquid eyes and tilted head communicate some deep sadness.

556. 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.

557. Procession in St. Mark’s Square (Procession of the True Cross in Piazza San Marco) 

Artist: Gentile Bellini
Date: c. 1496
Period/Style: Renaissance; Venetian School; Venice, Italy; religious
Medium: Tempera on canvas
Dimensions: 11.4 ft. tall by 25 ft. wide
Current location: Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice, Italy

The painting was commissioned for the Grand Hall of the Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista in Venice. The canvas commemorates a miracle said to have taken place on April 25, 1444 involving a relic said to be a piece of the cross that Jesus was crucified on. When members of the Scuola were bringing the relic through St. Mark’s Square, a man knelt in front of it and asked for his sick son to be healed (the man is barely visible to the right of the canopy). When the man went home, the child was cured.  

558. Self-Portrait

Artist: Albrecht Dürer
Date: 1500
Period/Style: Northern Renaissance; Germany; portrait
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 2.2 ft. tall by 1.6 ft. wide 
Current location: Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Germany

No one had seen anything quite like it before: a full-frontal self-portrait of an artist painted with the solemnity and iconography of a religious icon. At the time, portraits were done either in profile or a three-quarter view (as in Dürer’s 1498 Self-Portrait); instead, Dürer depicts himself in the way that painters normally represented Jesus. Audacious, abundantly self-confident, but also moodily introspective, Dürer seems to be implying that he (and presumably other artists) are like gods and should be treated with the same reverence and respect accorded to religious figures. The painting is also known as Self-Portrait at Twenty-Eight Years Old Wearing a Coat with Fur Collar.

559. 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 suitors 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).

560. 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.

561. 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. 

562. Virgin of the Rocks (II)

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
Date: Most scholars date this version of the Virgin of the Rocks to 1495-1508, although some say it was painted between 1483 and 1486.
Period/Style: High Renaissance; Italy; religious
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 6.2 ft. tall by 3.9 ft. wide
Current location: National Gallery, London, England, UK

Scholars have long debated why Leonardo da Vinci painted two versions of Virgin on the Rocks, which are now in the Louvre in Paris and the National Gallery in London, respectively (see National Gallery version in image). They do known that Leonardo accepted a commission for an altarpiece for the chapel of the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception in the church of San Francesco Maggiore in Milan that was due in 1483. They also know that he delivered an altarpiece with a center panel of the Virgin on the Rocks to the church in 1508. Unanswered questions are: (1) Which painting came first? and (2) Why paint a second one? One theory is that Leonardo finished the commissioned work and then sold it to a private buyer, requiring him to paint another. Most scholars believe that the Louvre version was painted in 1483-1486 and the National Gallery version in 1495-1508, but a few experts believe the order should be reversed. Everyone seems to agree that the altarpiece wings, each depicting a musical angel, were painted by Leonardo’s assistants (second and third images). Virgin of the Rocks (II) focuses on the adoration of Jesus by the infant John the Baptist in a rocky landscape with the Virgin Mary and an angel. Like many of Leonardo’s works, the composition is pyramidal. Art historians have pointed out a number of differences between this painting and Virgin of the Rocks (I) in the Louvre: (1) these figures are larger; (2) the angel’s hand is not raised and pointing, but rests on her knee; (3) the angel’s eyes are downturned, not looking at the viewer; (4) the rocks are painted more meticulously; (5) there is less sfumato; (6) there is very little use of the color red; (7) haloes and John’s cross-shaped staff are present here; (8) the flowers are fanciful and not botanically accurate.

563. The Fetus in the Womb

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
Date: c. 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: The page is 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).

564. 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).  

565. Landscape with St. Jerome

Artist: Joachim Patinir
Date: The Prado gives the dates 1516-1517, while another source says 1515-1519.
Period/Style: Northern Renaissance; Flanders (now Belgium); religious/landscape 
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 2.4 ft. tall by 2.9 ft. wide
Current location: Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain

566. The Assumption of the Virgin

Artist: Titian
Date: The work was begun in 1516; the completed altarpiece was unveiled in 1518.
Period/Style: High Renaissance; Venetian School, Venice, Italy 
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 22.5 ft. tall by 11.7 ft. wide
Current location: Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice, Italy

567. 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 location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

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.  

568. St. Luke Drawing the Virgin (St. Luke Painting the Madonna)

Artist: Jan Gossaert
Date: The Kunsthistorisches Museum gives the date c. 1520, but estimates from other sources include: 1515-1525; 1520-1530; and 1520-1522.
Period/Style: Northern Renaissance; Flanders (now Belgium); religious
Medium: Oil paints on oak panels
Dimensions: 3.6 ft. tall by 2.7 ft. wide
Current location: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria

569. 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).

570. 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
HolbeinDeadChrist The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb is a macabre study of the humanness of Jesus and the horror of death. Lying on a stone slab within a claustrophobic wooden box, rigor mortis setting in, flesh beginning to rot, Jesus’ dead eyes look toward heaven and his open mouth seems about to speak (see detail in first image below). His hair falls over the edge of the stone block, into our space. The middle finger of Jesus’ right hand is raised and extended, as if trying to point (see second image below). Above the body, angels holding instruments of the Passion carry an inscription on a paper scroll inscribed with Latin words for “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. “Scholars do not know what the unusually long, narrow piece was intended for: the predella of an altarpiece, the top of a tomb or a stand-alone piece for gruesome meditation? No one knows. We do know that, according to legend, Holbein’s model was a body fished out of the Rhine. As Jonathan Jones of The Guardian observes, the painting’s realism is meant to communicate that death awaits us all: “There is nothing Christlike about this body, nothing to set it apart. It is anyone’s corpse. Holbein presents it as naturally and clinically as a pathologist showing you an accident victim on a hospital mortuary slab. Few artists have ever exposed our fate more ruthlessly.” Random Trivia: Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky was so obsessed with the painting that his wife had to drag him away from it for fear that it would trigger an epileptic seizure; he later had a character in The Idiot comment that the painting could make someone lose his faith.

571. Bacchus and Ariadne

Artist: Titian
Date: The work was begun in 1520 and completed in 1522 or 1523.
Period/Style: Late Renaissance; Venetian School; Venice, Italy; mythological
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 5.75 ft. tall by 6.25 ft. wide
Current location: National Gallery, London, England, UK
Titian_Bacchus_and_Ariadne Titian painted the Classical story of Bacchus and Ariadne for the Alabaster Room of the Ducal Palace in Ferrara, Italy, for which the Duke of Ferrara, Alfonso d’Este, had commissioned mythological-themed paintings by Titian and other well-known artists. In the story, Theseus has abandoned his lover Ariadne on the island of Naxos, when Bacchus, the god of wine, meets Ariadne and falls in love with her, eventually turning her into a constellation. Titian’s painting shows Ariadne shortly after Theseus has sailed (his ship is visible at the far left) and she is both mourning the loss and calling him back. At the same moment, Bacchus and his motley crew of revelers emerges from the forest, with the god in front with his cheetah-drawn chariot. Bacchus takes one look at Ariadne and leaps out of his chariot in a passion, while Ariadne, frightened by the sudden intrusion, turns in a contrapposto pose to look at Bacchus, who has one foot suspended in the air. There is an electricity in their eyes meeting that bridges the gap between them. Titian foreshadows the end of the story by showing Ariadne’s constellation in the daytime sky in the left corner. As one commentator noted, each figure is engaged in at least two contradictory movements. Details include a King Charles Spaniel that appears in other Titian works, a character reminiscent of Laocoön, who is fighting with a serpent, and a gold urn inscribed with Titian’s signature. The cleaning and renovation of the painting has been controversial. Removal of the varnish, which had grown very dark, revealed the bright Venetian colors beneath, but also dislodged some paint, which had to be repainted. As a result, some experts claim that the blue sky is now flat and pallid and the painting is tonally out of balance. 

572. 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).

573. Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling

Artist: Hans Holbein the Younger
Date: c. 1526-1528
Period/Style: Northern Renaissance; Germany/England; secular portrait
Medium: Oil paints and tempera on oak panels
Dimensions: 1,8 ft. tall by 1.3 ft. wide
Current location: National Gallery, London, England, UK

German painter Hans Holbein the Younger spent a good portion of his career in England, where his knowledge of the Northern Renaissance had a significant influence. During his first trip to England, from 1526-1528, he painted the portrait known as Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling.  He painted the subject, a young woman, with exquisite attention to detail, taking care to differentiate between three different white garments: her fashionable white ermine cap, her white shawl, and the white cambric showing on her chest and wrists. Some scholars have speculated that the portrait was part of a husband-wife pair, of which the husband’s portrait is missing. Some have attributed the highly-detailed realism of the portrait to Holbein’s Gothic roots, although the substantiality and naturalism of the figure seem to be derived from the Renaissance. The starling and squirrel were probably added later, and at least one expert believes that Holbein painted a man’s hands (perhaps an assistant’s) to show them holding the squirrel. Although both starlings and squirrels were popular pets in England at the time, recent scholarship suggests that the animals may provide clues to the sitter’s identity. Some scholars suspect that the subject of the portrait is Anne Lovell, wife of Sir Francis Lovell, whose family coat of arms includes three squirrels, all crouching and eating a nut, as in the painting (see detail in second image). Furthermore, starling may be a pun on the Lovell homestead at East Harling. Art historians have focused a great deal of attention the squirrel’s tail. One expert notes that its curve echoes the vines in the background; another suggests that the placement of the tail implies a hidden sensuality beneath the sitter’s straight-laced appearance.

574. Interior Decorations, Chateau de Fontainebleau (first phase)

Artist: Rosso Fiorentino, Francesco Primaticcio, and others
Date: Rosso Fiorentino began work in 1530, while Primaticcio arrived in 1532.  The first phase of work was completed some time in the 1540s. 
Period/Style: First School of Fontainebleau; Mannerism; Italy/France
Medium: The decorations include a combination of painting, stucco, woodwork, metalwork and sculpture.
Current location: Chateau de Fontainebleau, Fontainebleau, France

575. Portrait of Francis I on Horseback

Artist: François Clouet
Date: c. 1540 (original); c. 1530-1599 (National Trust version)
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 10.7 in. tall by 8.2 in. wide
Current location: There are two versions. The original is in the Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy. The National Trust, England, UK owns a slightly different version.

François I (1495-1547) became king of France in 1515, after the death of his his cousin, Louis XII. François’s first court painter was Jean Clouet; in 1541, after Jean’s death, Jean’s son François Clouet became court painter.  The Uffizi version is show above; the National Trust version is below.

576. The Three Ages of Man and Death

Artist: Hans Baldung Grien
Date: Most sources indicate it was made between 1539 and 1544, although some say it is significantly older, from 1509-1510.
Period/Style: Northern Renaissance; Germany; allegorical
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.9 ft. tall by 2 ft. wide
Current location: Museo del Prado in Madrid

The Three Ages of Man and Death is an allegorical painting by German artist Hans Baldung Grien. Three figures stand on a bleak, desolate landscape. At the far right, Death carries his hourglass and broken spear. He leads an old woman by the arm to her demise. The old woman grabs hold of the beautiful young woman next to her. Is the older woman trying to avoid death by clinging to youth, or is she trying to drag the young woman with her? Below them on the ground is a sleeping infant, oblivious to his fate, and, an owl, symbolizing something. Above in the sky we see Jesus on the cross, flying to the sun. The painting may allude to a traditional German belief that young beautiful women are a symbol of death. Other scholars have noted that the emphasis of the painting on the fragility of human existence and evanescent quality of beauty and youth bring it into the vanitas genre, in which viewers are intended to reflect on the fleeting nature of our mortal lives. 

577. Salt Cellar (Saliera)

Artist: Benevenuto Cellini
Date: 1543
Period/Style: Late Renaissance; Mannerism; Florence, Italy; decorative art
Medium: Salt cellar made of ivory, rolled gold, and vitreous enamel, with sculpted figures. 
Dimensions: 10.2 in. tall by 13,2 in. wide
Current location: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria

The figures represent the sea (male, with trident) and the earth (female). The man reaches out to a salt cellar shaped like a ship, while the woman touches a miniature temple that holds pepper.  Cellini made the object for Francis I of France.

578. 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.

579. 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
Miracle_of_the_Slave_by_Tintoretto Based on a story in Jacopo da Varazze’s bestselling 13th Century book, The Golden Legend. Tintoretto’s Miracle of the Slave shows St. Mark descending from above to save the life of a slave who was about to be murdered for venerating the relics of another saint. An early work of Tintoretto’s, it wears its influences on its sleeve: the drama and use of perspective owe a great deal to Mannerism; his use of color is consistent with that of the Venetian School (Bellini, Giorgione & Titian) and his anatomies pay tribute to Michelangelo. HoOrst de la Croix and Richard Tansey point out the contrasting Mannerist and non-Mannerist elements of the work: “The entire composition is a kind of counterpoint of motion characteristic of Mannerism… [yet] [t]he motion … is firmly contained within the picture fram, and the robustness of the figures, their solid structure and firm movement, the clearly composed space, and the coherent action have little that is Manneristic. … And the tonality – the deep golds, reds, and greens – is purely Venetian.” The Miracle of the Slave was originally commissioned for the Scuola Grande di San Marco in Venice; it is now in the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice.

580. Diana and Actaeon

Artist: Titian
Date: 1556-1559
Period/Style: Late Renaissance; Venetian School; proto-Baroque; Venice, Italy; mythological
Medium: Oil paints on canvas  
Dimensions: 6.1 ft. tall by 6.7 ft. wide
Current location: The painting is co-owned by the National Gallery, London, England, UK and National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK.

Diana and Actaeon was one of a series of ‘poesies’ that Titian painted for Philip II of Spain on mythological themes. The painting illustrates the story in which the hunter Actaeon inadvertently observes the goddess Diana and her nymphs bathing. As retribution for this transgression, Diana will turn Actaeon into a stag, which is then pursued and killed by his own hunting dogs. As with the other five paintings in the series, the source story comes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

581. Netherlandish Proverbs (The Blue Cloak)

Artist: Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Date: 1559
Period/Style: Northern Renaissance; Flanders (now Belgium)
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels  
Dimensions: 3.8 ft. tall by 5.3 ft. wide
Current location: Staatliche Museen, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, Germany
netherlandish-proverbs-1559The Dutch language used in much of the Low Countries (present-day Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg) in the 16th Century was filled with proverbs and idioms, so much so that a cottage industry had developed of scholarly collections and popular illustrations, as well as multiple references by Rabelais in his novel Gargantua and Pantagruel. Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder saw this interest in proverbs as an opportunity to highlight his theme of man’s moral weakness and foolishness. In Netherlandish Proverbs (also known as The Dutch Proverbs), Bruegel painted literal illustrations of over 100 proverbs, all dramatized by the citizens of a typical Flemish town and their possessions. The subject was a popular one, as witnessed by the 16 copies of Netherlandish Proverbs painted by Bruegel’s son, Pieter Brueghel the Younger. Some of the proverbs are the same as or similar to those familiar in 21st Century America, such as “banging your head against a brick wall” and “armed to the teeth”, while others would not be familiar, such as “shear them but not not skin them” (don’t press an advantage too far), “there is more in it than an empty herring”, (there is more to it than meets the eye); and “having the roof tiled with tarts” (to describe a very wealthy person).  (For a list of many of the proverbs, indicating their meaning and location in the painting, go here.) For many years, the painting was referred to as The Blue Cloak, or The Topsy-Turvy World, which refers to a saying that a woman cheating on her husband is said to be putting a blue cloak on him – the illustration of this proverb lies near the center of the painting (see detail in image below). Scholars have noted Bruegel’s expert use of color to draw attention to the many scenes, particularly red and blue. 

582. 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, MA
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.

583. The Four Seasons

Artist: Giuseppe Arcimboldo
Date: Arcimboldo produced three original sets of four paintings, with variations in each set, in 1563, 1572, and 1573.  He also produced later copies of the originals.
Period/Style: Late Renaissance; Mannerism; Italy
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: All the paintings are in portrait format, with heights ranging from 3 ft. to 2.2 ft. and widths ranging from 1.7 ft. to 2.4 ft.
Current location: Spring from the original 1563 set is in the collection of the Real Academia de San Fernando, Madrid, Spain. Winter and Summer from the same 1563 set are in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria. A full set from 1573 is located in the Musee du Louvre, Paris, France.  Winter from the 1572 set is in the Menil Collection, Houston, TX.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo was an Italian artist of the late Renaissance who painted his share of religious and mythological themes, landscapes and traditional portraits, none of which are remembered today. Instead, Arcimboldo’s legacy is what might be considered a novelty act, if it did not reach beyond novelty to the sublime: he painted human heads and faces (even the occasional bust) whimsically constructed from various organic materials: flowers, fruit, branches, roots, leaves, even sea creatures. The figures look human but they are meant as allegories for specific aspects of nature, one of The Four Seasons, or The Four Elements, in Arcimboldo’s two most famous series. Experts have noted that Arcimboldo’s confabulations actually fulfill one of the goals of Mannerism – to connect human nature with nature itself. They point out that the materials used are not randomly selected but relate thematically to the subject of the painting. The Four Seasons was so popular that Arcimbold made a number of copies, each with minor variations. Of the representations of the four seasons, Winter has a stark solidity that even the evergreen leaves of hair cannot dispel – the craggy roots and fungal lips remind us of death or the temporary coma that winter imposes on nature; the straw mat is as much cloak as shroud. Shown above are Winter (top), Summer (above left) and Spring (above right) from the original 1563 set.  Below are two other versions of Winter, from the Louvre, dating to 1573 (below left, with painted border), and the Menil Collection in Houston, dated 1572 (below right).
arcimboldo winter 4 arcimboldo winter 5

584. The Harvesters

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

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

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

586. Pine Trees (Pine Forest)

Artist: Hasegawa Tohaku
Date: c. 1580
Period/Style: Azuchi-Momoyama period; Hasegawa School; Japan; landscape
Medium: Ink on two six-panel folding screens
Dimensions: Each screen is 5.1 ft. tall by 11.7 ft. wide.
Current location: Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, Japan
This recognized masterwork of “less is more” ink painting is perhaps the first work in Japanese history consisting only of trees, with no other elements. Hasegawa Tohaku, who initiated the style of painting bearing his name, painted two six-panel folding screens containing ink drawings of pine trees. The Tokyo National Museum’s curator writes: “With his forceful brush, the artist created a sense of stepping back from the painting as one moves towards it. His rough brushwork produced a scene of pine trees emerging dimly in the distance. The placement of four pine trees is delicately calculated to produce the effect of a refreshing breeze flowing through a grove. The pines standing tall on the screen appear as if extending out of the painting. Those directly in front of the painting will feel as if being pulled into this pine forest.”  

587. 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.

588. The Incredulity of St. Thomas

Artist: Caravaggio
Date: There are two versions (known by the names Potsdam and Trieste). Both were created in c. 1601-1602.
Period/Style: Baroque; Italy
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: The Potsdam version measures 3.5 ft. tall by 4.75 ft. wide; the Trieste version measures 3.8 ft. tall by 5.1 ft. wide.
Current location: There are two versions. The Potsdam version, also known as the secular version, is now at Palais at Sanssouci, Potsdam, Germany. The Trieste version, also known as the ecclesiastical version, is in a private collection. 

The smaller, secular version (Potsdam) is shown above.  The larger, ecclesiastical version (Trieste) is below. One of the most significant differences between the two versions is the exposure of Jesus’s right thigh in the secular version.

589. 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.

590. 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.

591. Laocoön

Artist: El Greco
Date: The painting was begun in 1610 and completed in 1614.
Period/Style: Mannerism; Spain; mythological
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.7 ft. tall by 6.3 ft. wide
Current location: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C..
El_Greco-Laocoon According to Greek mythology, the Trojan priest Laocoön saw through the ruse of the Trojan horse and tried to warn his countrymen. When the pro-Greek gods found out, they sent sea serpents to kill the priest and his sons so the Trojan horse plan could succeed. A Hellenist marble sculpture of the event had been unearthed in Rome in 1506 – El Greco had probably seen it. In addition, according to legend, the Trojans founded the city of Toledo, Spain, El Greco’s home town. In the only mythological subject he is known to have painted, El Greco pictures Laocoön in his final struggle with the snake; he has fallen to the ground and only has enough energy to send a leg toward his remaining son in a desperate attempt to help, while another son lies dead next to him. The living son wrestles another serpent while pointing, either deliberately or by accident, to the Trojan horse on its way to the city, which is not Troy, but Toledo. This change of venue has led some to speculate that El Greco meant some allegorical meaning, perhaps a comment on the Spanish Inquisition that was then wreaking havoc on the population. Another mystery is the identity of the witnesses on the right side of the canvas, consisting of three heads but only two complete bodies, they may be the gods who sent the sea serpents. El Greco’s Mannerism is evident in the elongated, contorted yellow and green figures, the dark, emotionally-charged rocks and landscape below and gray, swirling clouds above. 

592. Aurora

Artist: Guido Reni
Date: 1614
Period/Style: Baroque; Italy; mythological
Medium: Fresco painted on a residential ceiling
Dimensions: The fresco is 9.2 ft. tall and 23 ft. wide.
Current location: The work is painted on the ceiling of the casino (garden house) of the Palazzo Pallavicini-Rospigliosi in Rome, Italy.

The casino and the paintings were commissioned by the Cardinal Scipione Borghese. The goddess of Dawn, Aurora, is shown flying over a dark landscape, leading Apollo in his chariot, and surrounded by a chain of female “hours”, who are bringing light to the world (see detail of Apollo in image below).

593. Waves at Matsushima

Artist: Tawaraya Sōtatsu
Date: c. 1624-1644
Period/Style: Kan’ei era; Edo Period; Japan
Medium: Paintings on a pair of folding screens made with ink, color, gold, and silver on paper 
Dimensions: Each screen is 5.4 ft. tall by 12.1 ft. wide
Current location: Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

594. Henri IV Receives the Portrait of Marie de’ Medici

Artist: Peter Paul Rubens
Date: Commissioned in 1622 and completed in 1625
Period/Style: Baroque; Flanders (now Belgium)/France; allegorical
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 12.9 ft. tall by 9.7 ft. wide
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

After a tempestuous life in and out of power, Marie de’ Medici commissioned Peter Paul Rubens in 1622 to create a series of 24 paintings illustrating her life.  The former queen consort, and, after Henri IV’s assassination in 1610, regent of the Kingdom of France, had returned to Paris after a period of exile in 1620 and she wanted the paintings to decorate a gallery in her new Parisian home, the Luxembourg Palace. The depiction of Henry IV receiving a portrait of his future wife, with all its allegorical trappings, was the sixth work in the series. It is known in English by several titles, including: Henri IV Receives (or Receiving) the Portrait of Marie de’ Medici; The Presentation of Marie de’ Medici’s Portrait to Henry VI; and The Presentation of the Portrait of Marie de’ Medici. In the words of Dr. Esperança Camara, of Khan Academy, the painting “is an idealized portrayal of the conclusion in April of 1600 of marriage negotiations that were two years in the making. The painting presents Henry’s bethrothal to Marie de Medici as a union ordained by the gods, counseled by France, and inspired by Marie’s beauty and virtues.” 

595. 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.”

596. 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.

597. 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. 

598. Landscape with the Marriage of Isaac and Rebecca

Artist: Claude Lorrain
Date: 1648
Period/Style: Baroque/Neoclassical; France; religious/landscape
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.9. ft. tall by 6.6 ft. wide
Current location: National Gallery, London, England, UK

Claude Lorrain was a French painter who specialized in landscape paintings that referenced Biblical, historical, and mythological subjects. His human figures are typically dwarfed by the much larger landscape elements of the paintings. Here the subject is the story of Isaac and Rebecca (also spelled Rebekah) in the Book of Genesis. This work was produced at about the same time as a work based on another Biblical story, Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba. Fifteen years later, Claude returned to the theme (including the element of two figures dancing) in a a pen, ink and wash drawing known as Landscape with a Dance (1663), which is in the Royal Collection, UK (see image below).  Random Trivia: Claude Lorrain’s paintings exerted a powerful influence over British landscape artist J.M.W. Turner, who is said to have burst into tears upon first seeing Claude’s Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba.

599. Landscape with the Ashes of Phocion (The Widow of Phocion Collects His Ashes)

Artist: Nicolas Poussin
Date: 1648
Period/Style: Baroque/Neoclassical; France/Italy; historical/landscape
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.8 ft. tall by 5.8 ft. wide
Current location:  Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, England, UK
The_ashes_of_phocion_collected_by_his_widow_1648 Nicolas Poussin devoted two classical landscapes to the story of Phocion, an Athenian general who sought to restrain the excesses of his people, but in so doing incurred the wrath of a powerful few, who charged him falsely with treason and executed him. The Athenian leaders refused to allow Phocion to be buried in Athens, so they brought his body to nearby Megara and burned it there. The first painting, Landscape with the Funeral of Phocion (1648), shows two slaves carrying the body of Phocion out of an imaginary Athens, an ignominious end to an honorable man who has already been forgotten by the Athenian people, who go about their business at various occupations. In the second painting, Landscape with the Ashes of Phocion (see image above), Poussin depicts the widow of the executed Classical Athenian statesman, cloaked in shadows and kneeling down, collecting her husband’s ashes while her maidservant keeps watch. A man appears to spy on them, while a storm gathers. Poussin shows a landscape dominated by a great central hill with a temple, surrounded by trees on both sides. The entire composition is rational and restrained, a counterweight to the dramatics of the Baroque.

600. The Holy Family on the Steps

Artist: Nicolas Poussin
Date: 1648
Period/Style: Baroque/Neoclassical; France; religious
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.4 ft. tall by 3.5 ft. wide
Current location: Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH

601. 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.

602. The Goldfinch

Artist: Carel Fabritius
Date: 1654
Period/Style: Baroque; Dutch Golden Age; Netherlands; trompe-l’oeil 
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 13.2 in. high by 9 in. wide
Current location: Mauritshuis, The Hague, The Netherlands

The Goldfinch may have been in Fabritius’s studio in Delft on October 12, 1854, when the Delft gunpowder magazine exploded, killing Fabritius and 100 other people and destroying a quarter of the city. The painting was lost for two centuries before being rediscovered in 1859 in the collection of former Dutch army officer and collector Chevalier Joseph-Guillaume-Jean Camberlyn in Brussels. The painting is the subject of Donna Tartt’s 2013 novel The Goldfinch, and a 2019 film adaptation.

603. 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).

604. 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.) 

605. Woman Holding a Balance

Artist: Johannes Vermeer
Date: The National Gallery of Art and other sources give a date of c. 1664, although some sources give a date of c. 1662-1663.
Period/Style: Baroque; Dutch Golden Age; Netherlands; genre painting
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 16.7 in. tall by 15 in. wide
Current location: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

606. 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.

607. Triumph of the Name of Jesus

Artist: Giovanni Battista Gaulli (also known as Baciccio or Baciccia)
Date: Various dates have been given. Some sources say the work was begun in 1661 and completed in 1679; others give the date of completion as 1683.  The church was consecrated in 1684.  Also, a preparatory sketch for the project has been dated to 1676-1679.
Period/Style: Baroque; Italy; religious
Medium: Fresco painted on the ceiling of a church
Current location: Nave ceiling, Church of the Gesù, Rome, Italy

The subject of the fresco is derived from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Philippians, which states “Therefore God highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow of those in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth.”  (Some of St. Paul’s words are written on a painted ribbon above the central fresco.) Although Giovanni Battista Gaulli painted the fresco, much of the credit for the work goes to Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who recommended Gaulli for the commission and suggested some of the designs. In particular, the blending of painting, sculpture, and architectural elements was inspired in part by Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Theresa, completed in 1653. The stucco reliefs were executed by Ercole Antonio Raggi and Leonardo Reti, and were based on Gaulli’s drawings. A preparatory oil sketch dating to 1676-1679 is in the collection of the Princeton University Art Museum (see image below).

608. The Apotheosis of St. Ignatius

Artist: Andrea Pozzo
Date: The work was begun in 1685 and completed in 1694.
Period/Style: Baroque, Rome, Italy; religious
Medium: Fresco painted on the walls and ceiling of a church
Dimensions: Nearly 66 ft. across
Current location: Church of St. Ignatius, Rome, Italy
The Apotheosis of St. Ignatius is a fresco painted on the ceiling and walls of the Church of Sant’Ignazio, one of the major Jesuit churches in Rome, by Andrea Pozzo. Pozzo, who wrote a book on perspective, was an expert in using the technique to create realistic illusions, particularly on ceilings, a specialty known as quadratura. For the Jesuits, he painted an allegorical depiction of the order’s founder, St. Ignatius Loyola, being received in heaven by Jesus (see detail in first image below). Although painting on a flat ceiling, Pozzo creates the illusion of an ever expanding space above the viewer, first by extending the real architecture of the church, then by painting dozens of foreshortened characters who float or fly or reach out into what appears to be actual space. The program includes references to the Jesuits’ missionary work with allegorical figures of Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas. Avenging angels thrust javelins to remind the viewer of the Jesuits’ other mission: combating heretics and other non-believers. Random Trivia: The builders of the Church of Sant’Ignazio planned to cap the church with a dome, but ran out of money before it could be built. As a sort of audition for the St. Ignatius frescoes commission, Pozzo in 1685 painted the illusion of a dome as seen from below on an enormous canvas and had it stretched over part of the ceiling, where it remains today (see second image below).

609. 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.”

610. Morning Coffee (Breakfast)

Artist: François Boucher
Date: 1739
Period/Style: Rococo; France; genre painting
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.7 ft. tall by 2 ft. wide
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

611. The Basin of San Marco on Ascension Day 

Artist: Canaletto
Date: 1740
Period/Style: Venice; Italy; landscape/vedute
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4 ft. tall by 6 ft. wide
Current location: National Gallery, London, England, UK

612. 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
 Marly_horse_Louvre_MR1803 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 (4th Century CE) 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.

613. 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).

614. A Lion Attacking a Horse (A Horse Attacked by a Lion) (series)

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 (image above), 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 (below 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 (below right), with an unusual octagonal shape.

615. Abraham and the Three Angels

Artist: Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
Date: c. 1770
Period/Style: Rococo; Italy; religious
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 6.5 ft. tall by 4.9 ft. wide
Current location: Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain
The Book of Genesis tells us that the childless couple consisting of 99-year-old Abraham and his 90-year-old wife Sarah had pitched their tent in a grove of trees in Mamre, when three pilgrims arrived. Abraham and Sarah welcomed the three men, washed their feet and prepared a meal for them. The pilgrims then revealed that they were angels sent from God to announce that Sarah would give birth to a child, Isaac, who would father the Israelite nation. Venetian Rococo master Giovanni Battista Tiepolo painted the story at least twice, once as a fresco for the Episcopal Palace at Udine, in 1726 and again, for an unidentified church more than 40 years later near the end of his life. The later painting, known as Abraham and the Three Angels, depicts the dramatic moment in the grove when the angels reveal their true purpose (see image above). Abraham falls to his knees and clasps his hands in prayer, while the central angel, whose chest is lit with an almost-heavenly light, points to the side, possibly to Sarah, as he announces the startling news of her impending childbirth. We see a pilgrim’s gourd and red staff in the lower right to remind us that these angels arrived as pilgrims, and the shared food in a basket at lower left, to remind us that Abraham and Sarah welcomed them. The composition is full of dynamic movement along contrasting diagonals. The forward motion of the central angel, with one foot moved forward onto a lower elevation, sets up a tension with the angel’s pointing arm, and Abraham’s own diagonal. The vibrant color scheme (particularly the red, gold and blue of the three foreground figures) gives the scene an emotional intensity, especially set against the dark background. A comparison with Tiepolo’s much earlier version, a fresco from 1726 in the Patriarchal Palace in Undine, Italy known as The Three Angels Appearing to Abraham, is instructive (see image below). While the earlier painting is more brightly lit with beautiful colors, and all the elements are clearly distinguished, it has a static quality. The angels stand high above Abraham in their heavenly sphere, with no acknowledgement that just moments before, they were pilgrims in need of washing and eating. The later painting, by contrast, shows us that these angels were just breaking bread with Abraham in the guise of common pilgrims. Instead of lifting them far above Abraham to emphasize their heavenly natures, Tiepolo has the figures overlap – Abraham’s head, though bowed, is still far about the lowest foot of the center angel – and the angels, though standing above Abraham, are still within the same space as their former host. Tiepolo’s second painting on the theme is also darker than the first, with dramatic chiaroscuro effects and swirling draperies, echoed by the clouds in the background.  

616. Thomas William Coke 

Artist: Pompeo Batoni
Date: 1773-1774
Period/Style: Neoclassicism; Italy; portrait
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 8.1 ft. tall by 5.6 ft. wide
Current location: Holkham Hall, Norfolk, England, UK

Pompeo Batoni was a talented painter living in Rome who became the portraitist for British subjects making the Grand Tour of Europe who needed a unique artistic souvenir to bring back. Batoni placed his aristocrats in unmistakably Classical surroundings, with Greco-Roman architecture, marble ruins, marble sculpture, and sometimes even the Colisseum in the distance, but he also made sure to display the symbols of his sitters’ wealth and status. In Batoni’s hands, the formula produced over 200 portraits of Britain’s elite, no two alike. Batoni’s portraits drew from the French Rococo and the classicism of Bologna, but by the early 1770s, Batoni had begun to look back at English portraiture of the 17th Century, specifically that of Anthony van Dyck. The Portrait of Thomas William Coke, later 1st Earl of Leicester, made while Coke was on his Grand Tour, shows Batoni’s indebtedness to van Dyck (first image). There are clear parallels between Batoni’s Coke and van Dyck portraits such as Robert Rich, 2nd Earl of Warwick (1632-1642) (second image).  Even the brown and white spaniel gazing up at the subject has a van Dyck precedent. Surrounded by classical indicia, the future Earl of Leicester wears a costume from a masquerade ball: a white and silver silk suit, the pink cloak lined with ermine, a lace collar trimmed with a pink bow and a hat with ostrich feathers, which intrigues the canine. The result is a memento much more satisfying than a postcard. The Portrait of Thomas William Coke is now in the Collection of Viscount Coke, in Holkham Hall, Norfolk, England. Although Holkham Hall is still the residence of the Coke family, it is open to visitors.

617. 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.

618. Poem of the Pillow

Artist: Kitagawa Utamaro
Date: 1788
Period/Style: Temmei Era; Edo Period; Japan; ukiyo-e
Medium: Book of prints made from woodblocks
Dimensions: Each printed image is 10 in. tall by 14.5 in. wide
Current location: The British Museum, London, England, UK has a set of the prints.

The Poem of the Pillow was a printed book of color woodblock prints made by Japanese artist Kitagawa Utamaro for the publisher Tsutaya Jusaburo. It was the first of many such collaborations. The style of the paintings is Ukiyo-e (pictures of the floating world), in this case, an erotically-charged story with explicit content known euphemistically as Shunga or “spring pictures.” Utamaro, who was familiar with the brothels and courtesans of Edo (now Tokyo), avoids the cliches of the erotica common at the time. He presents the scenes from a low angle, and places his very large figures so that they seem to expand beyond the picture frame. The image above shows an angry woman holding a letter she found in her lover’s pocket. It is now at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The image below, called Lovers in an Upstairs Room, shows two lovers engaged in sexual intercourse that is cleverly concealed from the viewer. Several of the prints are much more sexually explicit.

619. Statue of George Washington

Artist: Jean-Antoine Houdon
Date: The work was commissioned by the Virginia General Assembly in 1784. Houdon began work in 1785 and completed the statue in 1791 or 1791, although he signed it “1788.” The statue was delivered to the Virginia State Capitol in 1796.
Period/Style: Neoclassical; France/US; portrait statue
Medium: Marble sculpture
Dimensions: The statue is 6.2 ft. tall.
Current location: Virginia State Capitol, Richmond, VA

When the Virginia State Assembly wanted a statue of Revolutionary War general for the rotunda of their new state capitol building, they asked Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin to make a recommendation. The two Founding Fathers suggested French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon to create the life-sized portrait statue. (Houdon had previously sculpted busts of both Jefferson and Franklin when they were stationed in France.) Houdon traveled to the U.S. in October 1785 and stayed at Mount Vernon, Washington’s Virginia plantation, where he and his assistants measured Washington’s body and made a life mask of his face. In about 1786, Houdon made a preparatory plaster bust of Washington, which is now in the National Gallery of Art, in Washington, D.C. (see image below). By the time the statue was installed in the rotunda, Washington had served as president of the Constitutional Convention and was elected twice as the first U.S. President.

620. Napoleon Crossing the Alps

Artist: Jacques-Louis David
Date: Versions 1 and 2: 1801; Version 3: 1802; Version 4: 1803; Version 5: c. 1805
Period/Style: Neoclassical; France; military portrait
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: Version 1: 8.6 ft. tall by 7.2 ft. wide; Version 2: 8.5 ft. tall by 7.4 ft. wide; Version 3: 8.9 ft. tall by 7.7 ft. wide; Version 4: 9 ft. tall by 7.6 ft. wide
Current locations: Version 1: Chateau de Malmaison, Rueil-Malmaison, France. Version 2: Charlottenburg Palace, Berlin. Versions 3 and 5: Palace of Versailles, Versailles, France. Version 4: Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, Austria. 

The original portrait was commissioned by the King of Spain, Charles IV, for the Royal Palace in Madrid.  The painting commemorates Napoleon’s victory over the Austrians in May 1800 at the Battle of Marengo, after a trek across the Alps into Italy. Napoleon refused to sit for David, who based his subject’s likeness on an earlier portrait. David had one of his sons dress up in the uniform Napoleon wore at Marengo and perch atop a ladder to make the portrait. When Napoleon learned of Charles IV’s request, he ordered David to create three more versions for various palaces in France. The second version, which was produced for the Château de Saint-Cloud and is now in Berlin, is the only one to show Napoleon on a dark horse (see image below left). David painted a fifth version that was still in his studio when he died. Random Trivia: On the rocks below Napoleon and his Arabian stallion, David painted three etched names: Napoleon, Hannibal, and Carolus Magnus (Charlemagne), thus linking the French First Consul with past military leaders who had crossed the Alps (see image below right). 

621. The Hülsenbeck Children

Artist: Philipp Otto Runge
Date: 1805-1806
Period/Style: Romanticism; Germany
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.3 ft. tall by 4.7 ft. wide
Current location: Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany
runge hulsenbeck
Philipp Otto Runge was one of the foremost proponents of Romanticism in German painting and many of his landscapes and other works include a strong spiritual element. The Hülsenbeck Children, on the other hand, has no such agenda. A portrait of the three children of Runge’s brother’s business partner, the painting explores the nature of childhood in a way that was new and modern. Each child is depicted realistically with a separate personality. The baby grabs hold of a sunflower leaf and stares blankly forward as if to say, “Who, me?” The extroverted older brother performs for the artist – waving his toy whip in the air like a flag – while also attending to his chore of pulling the youngest in his wagon. The oldest child and only girl takes on a parental role, assisting her younger brother with the wagon while also trying to get the attention of the baby, perhaps to scold him for manhandling the garden foliage. As for the sunflowers, art historians have pointed out that the three flowers in the upper left match the three children in their heights, the thickness of their stems and the ways they are facing. Such a correlation between humans and the natural world was a key element of the Romantic program. Critics have noted that Runge pays careful attention to the effects of outdoor light, down to the reflection of sun off the ground and onto the baby’s toes. In order to place the viewer in the childrens’ world, Runge has reduced the fence to child-size so we are viewing the children at their own level. As the fence takes a 90-degree turn at the far right, Runge has an opportunity to engage in significant foreshortening to maintain perspective and create the illusion of a large space behind the children in the foreground. To add to the realistic setting, Runge includes a detailed portrait of a nearby town.  

622. Pauline Bonaparte as Venus Victrix (Paolina Borghese as Venus Victorious)

Artist: Antonio Canova
Date: Begun in 1805; completed in 1808
Period/Style: Neoclassical; Italy
Medium: Marble sculpture
Dimensions: 3 ft. tall by 6.3 feet long
Current location: Galleria Borghese, Rome

The Museo Canova in the artist’s birthplace of Possagno, Italy has the original plaster cast used as a basis for the final marble sculpture. 

623. The Tetschen Altar (The Cross in the Mountains)

Artist: Caspar David Friedrich (painting) and Gottlieb Christian Kühn (frame)
Date: 1808
Period/Style: Romanticism; Germany
Medium: Oil paints on canvas, with artist-designed frame
Dimensions: 3.7 ft. tall by 3.6. ft. wide 
Current location: Gemäldegalerie, Dresden, Germany
Caspar_David_Friedrich_Tetschen Altar
The Cross in the Mountains (also known as the Tetschen Altar) is a watershed in the history of landscape painting. At the age of 34, German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich dared to raise the art of the landscape to the level of religious and historical paintings by portraying Jesus’s Crucifixion – a central event in the Christian religion – as an almost insignificant element in a dramatic natural landscape.  We view Jesus on the cross obliquely from behind, as rays of light flood the sky. The result is to elevate nature itself to an object of religious worship. When Friedrich displayed the work in his studio on Christmas Day, 1808, the overall reaction from those outside Friedrich’s circle of friends was strongly negative, with some accusing the artist of profanity. Friedrich’s friends defended him, and the artist himself published a short defense, in which he explicated the painting’s religious symbols: “Jesus is turned toward the sinking sun, a symbol of the eternal life-giving father. … The cross stands built upon a rock … firm like our faith in Jesus. The fir trees stand enduring through all ages like the hopes of man in Jesus.” (Quoted in Linda Siegel, Caspar David Friedrich and the Age of German Romanticism, Branden Press, Boston, 1978.) Friedrich not only painted the canvas, using oil paints for perhaps the first time, but also designed the frame, with a Gothic arch showing the eye of God and the wheat and vine of the Eucharist (see image below). German sculptor Gottlieb Christian Kühn executed Friedrich’s frame design. The original purchaser of the work was Count von thun-Hohenstein, who displayed it in his Tetschen, Bohemia castle, thus giving rise to the common name for the piece. 

624. 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.

625. Wanderer above the Sea of Fog

Artist: Caspar David Friedrich
Date: c. 1817-1818
Period/Style: Romanticism; Germany
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.1 ft. tall by 2.4 ft. wide
Current location: Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany

626. 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).

627. Orphan Girl at the Cemetery

Artist: Eugène Delacroix
Date: 1823-1824
Period/Style: Romanticism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.2 ft. tall by 1.75 ft. wide
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
Delacroix_-orphan girl
French artist Eugène Delacroix believed that color was the most essential element of the art of painting, taking precedence over line, perspective, proportion or chiaroscuro. In a painting entitled Orphan Girl at the Cemetery (also known as Young Orphan Girl in the Cemetery and Girl Seated in a Cemetery), Delacroix selected a palette of cold, muted colors that match perfectly the mood of loneliness and isolation conveyed in this composition. A girl, her eyes welling with tears, looks up and to her left.  We do not see what, if anything, she is looking at – maybe she is appealing to heaven. We see no one else. The title indicates she has lost both parents but we don’t know when or why – we don’t known if she is at the cemetery for the funeral of a parent or to visit a grave. Every detail emphasizes the painting’s emotional content: the girl is sharply defined against a somewhat blurred background of cemetery markers and distant trees. The background is much darker on the right (where the girl is facing) than the left. Her apparently lifeless hand lies inert on her thigh; even the way her garment pulls off her shoulder signals distress. In spite of Delacroix’s emphasis on color, his expertise in modeling technique is evident in the girl’s neck and the folds of her clothes. Some experts believe the painting was a preparatory work for Delacroix’s Massacre at Chios, from 1824, where a similar figure appears at the far left of the painting (see image below). Orphan Girl at the Cemetery is now at the Louvre in Paris, where Massacre at Chios can also be found. 

628. Scene from “The Last of the Mohicans,” Cora Kneeling at the Feet of Tamenund

Artist: Thomas Cole
Date: 1827
Period/Style: Hudson River School; Romanticism; U.S.; landscape
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.1 ft. tall by 2.9 ft. wide
Current location: Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT

Cole is considered the founder of the Hudson River School of American landscape artists. He painted four works based on James Fenimore Cooper’s 1826 novel The Last of the Mohicans: (1) Scene from “The Last of the Mohicans,” Cora Kneeling at the Feet of Tamenund (1827) (shown above); (2) Landscape Scene from “The Last of the Mohicans” (1827), at the Fenimore Art Museum, in Cooperstown, New York; (3) Landscape Scene from “The Last of the Mohicans,” The Death of Cora (1827), at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA; and (4) Landscape with Figures: A Scene from “The Last of the Mohicans” (1826), at the Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago, Illinois (see image below). 

629. The Apotheosis of Homer

Artist: Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres 
Date: 1827
Period/Style: Neoclassicism; France  
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 12.7 ft. tall by 16.8 ft. wide
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

Ingres’ large canvas depicts Homer (with allegorical figures representing the Iliad and Odyssey at his feet) being crowned by Victory, while nearly 40 real and mythological artists, writers, composers, and leaders from throughout European history pay homage. Those portrayed in the symmetrical composition include: Orpheus, Alexander the Great, Sappho, Herodotus, Dante, William Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Nicolas Poussin, Mozart, Molière, and Luís Vaz de Camões.

630. Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows

Artist: John Constable
Date: 1831
Period/Style: Romanticism; England, UK; landscape
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 5 ft. tall by 6.3 ft. wide
Current location: Tate Britain, London, England, UK
A meteorologist may scoff at John Constable’s rainbow as being scientifically impossible in the weather conditions depicted in Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows, but the painter sought to depict, not a literal, but an allegorical truth. For the rainbow ends precisely at the home of Archdeacon John Fisher, who (with his uncle, Bishop John Fisher) provided a retreat and respite for Constable while he was grieving the the loss of his wife, who died in 1828 at the age of 41. At center foreground, a sheep dog stares at the scene, guiding our eyes to a hopeful future, perhaps. Constable spent much time at the homes of the Fishers and painted the landscape around Salisbury Cathedral in a number of landscape works. Here, we see the tail end of a storm and a farmer with a cart pulled by horses through a stream. The frenzied treatment of the foreground, with thick layers of paint, was disturbing to some contemporaries, who thought it excessive. The rainbow also bothered some people as unnecessarily dramatic or theatrical. Constable, on the other hand, thought that someday this might considered his greatest achievement. 

631. 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 ft. wide
Current location: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
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.”

632. 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. 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.

633. A Burial at Ornans

Artist: Gustave Courbet
Date: 1849-1850
Period/Style: Realism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 10.3 ft. tall by 21.6 ft. wide
Current location: Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France

A Burial at Ornans represents a challenge to the norms of French painting in the mid-19th Century.  Using the grand scale normally reserved for paintings with historical, mythological, or religious subjects, Courbet presents an unpretentious country funeral in his home town of Ornans. The message is clear: the lives and deaths of the common people are just as important as those of heroes and saints, and the artists of the world should celebrate them in the same way. 

634. The Sower

Artist: Jean-François Millet
Date: 1850
Period/Style: Realism; Barbizon School; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.3 ft. tall by 2.7 ft. wide
Current location: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

635. Self-Portrait

Artist: Ren Xiong
Date: Sources date the work as early as 1850 and as late as 1857, the year of Ren’s death.
Period/Style: Shanghai School; Qing Dynasty; China
Medium: Ink and color on hanging paper scroll
Dimensions: 5.8 ft. tall by 2.6 ft. wide
Current location: Palace Museum, Beijing, China
In the late 19th Century, a group of Chinese painters based mostly in Shanghai rejected the traditional Literati painting style, with its emphasis on symbolism, in favor of a style that emphasized visual content, exaggerated forms and bright colors. One of the proponents of this new Shanghai School was Ren Xiong, from Xiaoshan, who was known for his bold and innovative style. In Ren Xiong’s defiant Self-Portrait, he combines two very different styles – his face and upper body are rendered naturalistically, while his clothing is painted in a more traditional, linear style. Scholars have suggested that the contrasting styles symbolize the tension within the Chinese painting community between an attachment to traditional forms and a desire to represent reality in a more natural or realistic way. In the written inscription at the left of the painting, Ren describes his feelings of frustration and disillusionment.  

636. The Awakening Conscience

Artist: William Holman Hunt
Date: 1853 (retouched in 1856, 1864, and 1886)
Period/Style: Pre-Raphaelite; England, UK
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.5 ft. tall by 1.8 ft. wide
Current location: Tate Britain, London, England, UK

A mistress, or “kept woman” is toyed with by her lover in a gaudily-furnished apartment whether their trysts occur. The awakening of her conscience – the realization that this is a tawdry, shameful life – was initially represented by Hunt, a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, by a look of pain and horror.  But the man who commissioned the painting, Manchester industrialist Thomas Fairbairn, grew more and more disturbed by the woman’s expression, so much so that he asked Hunt to repaint her face. Hunt did so, retouching the canvas several times during his life, eventually providing his subject with the more enigmatic expression we see today. Hunt himself believed that the change had “materially bettered” the artwork. (Hunt’s notes about the alterations are scrawled in the upper corners.)

637. The Meeting, or Bonjour, Monsieur Courbet!

Artist: Gustave Courbet
Date: 1854 
Period/Style: Realism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.25 ft. tall by 4.9 ft. wide 
Current location: Musée Fabre in Montpellier, France.
Gustave_Courbet - Bonjour
The Meeting (La rencontre) shows French painter Gustave Courbet (at right), with Alfred Bruyas (back left), his patron, and Bruyas’s servant Calas on the road to Montpellier.  Bruyas and Calas have come by carriage (seen in the background, at right), while Courbet has been walking, with stick and painting equipment in a backpack. At the first exhibit of the painting, one critic mockingly dubbed it, “Bonjour, Monsieur Courbet!” and the subtitle stuck. The composition is based on the iconography of the Wandering Jew legend, particularly the image in which the burghers of the town speak to the Wandering Jew. The relationship between artist and patron is articulated in the stances and poses of the three subjects. Note that Courbet is the only one who casts a shadow as the patron and his servant stand in the shade of a tree. 

638. The Turkish Bath

Artist: Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres
Date: Ingres began work on the painting in 1852 and completed the first version of it in 1859. In 1862, he modified the painting significantly.
Period/Style: Romanticism/Neoclassicism; France 
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.6 ft. in diameter
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

Late in his life, French painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres painted a roomful of nudes, presumably a harem, beside a pool.  Ingres had already paid tribute to the public’s fascination with all things “Oriental,” most famously in The Grand Odalisque (1814). Racist notions about the Near East permitted artists to paint odalisques and women in harems with an eroticism not permitted for European subjects. Ingres did not paint the work from models but borrowed from his sketches and completed portraits, most conspicuously The Valpinçon Bather (1808), who appears front and center playing the mandolin. Three years after completing the painting, Ingres reworked it considerably, changing it from a rectangle into the tondo in the Louvre today. At the time, Ingres, proud of his ability to paint such a sexy picture late in his life, painted an inscription “at age 82” on the canvas. Fortunately for art history, photographer Charles Marville made a daguerreotype of the original in 1859, allowing scholars to compare the two versions (see image below).

639. 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 images 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

640. Beata Beatrix

Artist: Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Date: Several sources date the painting to 1870, but the Tate lists it as c. 1864-1870.
Period/Style: Pre-Raphaelite; England, UK
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.8 ft. tall by 2.1 ft. wide
Current location: Tate Britain, London, England, UK

In the 14th Century, Dante told the story of his unrequited love and subsequent mourning for Beatrice Portinari in the poem Vita Nuova. In 1845, Dante Gabriel Rossetti began translating the work from Italian into English.  He published his translation as part of his book The Early Italian Poets in 1861.  In 1862, Rossetti’s wife Elizabeth Siddal died suddenly, and this Dante, too, began to mourn. In 1864, he began a painting of a kneeling Beatrice experiencing what Rossetti described as a “sudden spiritual transfiguration” just before her death; a dove brings a flower to her. In the background, a shadowy Dante looks toward an allegorical figure of Love; a sundial points to nine o’clock, the time of Beatrice’s death. Rossetti later made another version of Beata Beatrix, commissioned by William Graham, in 1871-1872, this time with a frame that includes another painting, a predella, showing Dante and Beatrice meeting in Paradise (see image below). The later work is at the Art Institute of Chicago.

641. Woman with a Pearl

Artist: Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot
Date: c. 1868-1870
Period/Style: Realism; Barbizon School; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.3 ft. tall by 1.8 ft. wide
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

French painter Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot was working in his studio near the end of his long career as a artist and leader of the Barbizon School (a realist reaction to Romanticism), when he decided to have his model, Berthe Goldschmidt, try on a peasant dress he had brought back from a trip to Italy. In the session, Goldschmidt also wore a veil with a small leaf over the top of her forehead. When Corot gave the painting a title, he named it The Woman with the Pearl, or Woman with a Pearl, even though Corot painted no pearls on his model. Was this an homage to Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, in which a model also dressed in a foreign costume? No one seems to know. Also, did Corot intend the model’s pose to resemble that of the Mona Lisa? Once again, the jury is out. Critics seem to agree, however, that Corot’s portrait manages to capture the individual while at the same time depicting a type. Artist and art critic John Goodrich described The Woman with the Pearl as “graceful gravity … where purpose and personality are one.”  

642. The Cradle

Artist: Berthe Morisot
Date: 1872
Period/Style: Impressionism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 1.8 ft. tall by 1.5 ft. wide
Current location: Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France

One of the leading Impressionists, French painter Berthe Morisot was descended from Rococo artist Jean-Honore Fragonard. She studied with Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot although, because she was a woman, she was not supposed to draw or paint nudes. In The Cradle, Morisot paints her sister Edma watching over Edma’s infant daughter Blanche. In addition to Morisot’s command of Impressionist brush techniques and vibrant colors, scholars have praised her composition. The mother’s left arm and the baby’s left arm are mirror images. Also, the mother’s gaze and her left arm connect with the baby’s eyes to create a diagonal connecting mother and child. The mother has pulled away the curtains so that she can see her baby clearly, but we cannot, which creates a sense of protective intimacy. The Cradle is the first of many works by Morisot concerning motherhood, a subset of her general interest in the activities of contemporary women. 

643. The Dance Class

Artist: Edgar Degas
Date: The Paris version was painted c. 1873-1876. The New York version is dated 1874.
Period/Style: Impressionism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: New York version: 2.7 ft. tall by 2.5 ft. wide. Paris version: 2.8 ft. tall by 2.5 ft. wide
Current location: New York version: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. Paris version:  Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France.

The paintings of French artist Edgar Degas often look like snapshots – as if he has captured a spontaneous moment in time – but in fact works such as the two paintings titled The Dance Class, both from 1874, were the result of careful planning and attention to the placement of figures. Both versions of The Dance Class feature Jules Perrot, a famous ballet master, teaching the class and the old Paris Opera (the Salle le Peletier), where the class is being taught. (The paintings have a nostalgic value, as the Salle le Peletier was destroyed by fire in 1873.) Both paintings break narrative and compositional rules by their asymmetry, by having large empty spaces in the lower right corners and by cutting off figures at the edge of the canvas. In the painting shown in the first image, Perrot watches a dancer perform an “attitude” as an examination. The other ballerinas (and their mothers) either wait to perform (in the background) or have already finished (in the foreground). A mirror reflects not only the dancers but also the window on the right side of the room and the cityscape outside. Degas portrays some of the waiting dancers as less than graceful. The ballerina closest to the foreground appears to be adjusting her tutu with the aid of the dancer behind her, and another dancer – only the top portion of her body rising from a sea of three heads – is biting her nails. As a tribute to Jean-Baptiste Faure, the opera singer who commissioned the work, Degas has included a poster on the wall for a production of Rossini’s Guillaume Tell in which Faure sang.  Degas exhibited the work at the 1876 Impressionism exhibition. Degas painted two versions of The Dance Class. The New York version is shown above. The Paris version (see image below) shows all of the dancers waiting – although one appears to be next. Perrot is closer to the center, and the dancers in the foreground have their backs to the viewer. Instead of a mirror, there is a grand doorway into another room. 
degas the dance class

644. The Golden Stairs

Artist: Edward Burne-Jones
Date: Begun in 1876; completed and first exhibited in 1880.
Period/Style: Pre-Raphaelite; Aestheticism; UK
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 8.8 ft. tall by 3.8 ft. wide
Current location: Tate Britain, London, England, UK 

Walter Pater, critic and godfather of the Aesthetic Movement, once stated that “All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music.” In The Golden Stairs, Pre-Raphaelite artist and Aesthetic Movement adherent Edward Burne-Jones may have created a work of art that, like much music, evokes a mood or emotional reaction without telling a story. Although the 18 nearly identical young women walking down the golden stairs are representational, their coloring (whites, golds and silvers) and patterning have an abstract quality. The bland beauty of the faces, their classical-ish gowns, and the muted palette create the impression that they or we (or both) are dreaming. Taking Pater’s statement to the next level, Burne-Jones makes sure that if The Golden Stairs is about anything, it is about music. Many of the women carry (but do not play) musical instruments, and the passage of their feet on the stairs forms a scale or set of keys that divides up space the way that musical notes divide up time. On such a dramatically vertical canvas (it is more than twice as high as it is wide), the narrative follows the spiral of the stairs and the women’s inexorable movement down and around until the it reaches the leader, who stops and looks back at the viewer before entering a doorway leading we know not where. 

645. Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen

Artist: Edgar Degas
Date: Begun in 1879; completed and first exhibited in 1881.
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; Pointillism/Divisionism; France
Medium: Sculpted figure with clothing. The original was made from pigmented beeswax, clay, metal armature, rope, paintbrushes, human hair, silk and linen ribbon, cotton faille bodice, cotton and silk tutu, linen slippers, on wooden base. There are 28 existing versions cast in bronze after Degas’ death with clothing added.
Dimensions: 3.2 ft. tall (without the base)
Current locations: Various collections, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA; and Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA.

Although Edgar Degas is known as a painter, he made many clay sculptures – often demonstrating human figures and horses in various poses – to aid in his painting (see examples in images below). After his death, bronze casts were made of many of the sculptures.  But the only sculpture Degas exhibited in his lifetime was Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen. At the time of its first exhibition, the public found the figure ugly, but they understood the social context. They also found the mixed media nature of the artwork – something usually only seen in folk art – startling and groundbreaking. Young dance students of the Paris Opera Ballet often came from impoverished, working class backgrounds (they were nicknamed “little ballet rats”), and many of them were forced to attach themselves to older, male patrons of the ballet to survive. It is unclear whether Degas himself was such a patron, and we don’t know the details of his relationship with the model for this sculpture, Marie van Goethem. (The version shown above is at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, MA.)

646. Proserpina

Artist: Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Date: Rossetti completed eight similar works, although not all still exist. Work on the first version began in 1871. Rossetti gave the date 1874 to the version now considered the seventh (now at the Tate), but some scholars believe he worked on it after that. The eighth and final version (now in Birmingham) was finished in 1882, the year of Rossetti’s death.
Period/Style: Pre-Raphaelite; England, UK; mythological
Medium: Oil paints on canvas. Rossetti also designed the frames.
Dimensions: Tate version:  3.9 ft. tall by 2 ft. wide; Birmingham version: 2.6 ft. tall by 1.3 ft. wide
Current locations: Tate Britain, London, England, UK (1874 version); Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham, England, UK (1882 version).

In 1871, nine years after the death of his wife, Dante Gabriel Rossetti was living with his friend, painter William Morris, and his wife Jane Morris (formerly Jane Burden). Rossetti had known Ms. Burden many years earlier when she was an embroiderer and artist’s model, and had been romantically involved with her. Sometime after his wife’s death, they rekindled their relationship, apparently with her husband’s knowledge, if not consent. From 1871 until sometime before Rossetti’s death in 1882, Jane Morris became his model and muse. Rossetti may have chosen the myth of Proserpine, about a woman kept captive in an unhappy marriage by the Prince of Hades, to represent the love triangle among him, Jane and William Morris. The painting represents Proserpine at the moment after she takes a bite from a pomegranate, thus breaking the promise that she would not “taste the fruits of Hades” and damning herself to captivity in the underworld.  There were originally eight versions of the painting, although some have been damaged or destroyed.  The version in the Tate (dated by Rossetti 1874 but probably finished later) was created for shipowner Frederick Richards Leyland after an earlier version was damaged in transit (see image above). Leyland commissioned 18 paintings from Rossetti; he and Rossetti considered Proserpine and two other paintings, Mnemosyne (1881) and The Blessed Damozel (1878), as forming a triptych. All three featured Jane Morris as the model. The 1882 Birmingham version is shown below. Random Trivia: Rossetti, who was also an accomplished poet, included a sonnet to Proserpine in the upper right hand of each painting.

647. 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.

648. Landscape at the Bois d’Amour at Pont-Aven (The Talisman)

Artist: Paul Serusier
Date: 1888
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; Les Nabis; Cloisonnism; France; landscape
Medium: Oil paints on the wooden back of a cigar box
Dimensions: 8.5 in. tall by 10.6 in. wide
Current location: Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France

In 1888, French painter Paul Serusier made a pilgrimage to see Paul Gauguin, the Symbolist Post-Impressionist painter who urged artists to paint what they felt, not only what they saw. Serusier painted a nearly abstract landscape on the back of a cigar box while Gauguin guided him, and the result was the first painting of a new artistic movement. Although Serusier titled the painting
Landscape at the Bois d’Amour at Pont-Aven, his comrades in the movement he started – known as Les Nabis, after the Hebrew word for prophets – labeled the painting The Talisman and treated it as a touchstone for their new aesthetic practice. Two years later, Maurice Denis wrote an essay that established the philosophical underpinnings of Les Nabis’ approach to making art, with this bold opening line: “Remember that a picture, before being a battle horse, a female nude or some sort of anecdote, is essentially a flat surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order.”  By focusing more on flat patches of single colors and well-defined forms (often outlined in black, in a style known as cloisonnism), and less on modeling and single-point perspective, the Nabis were taking another step towards the dismantling of the Renaissance ideals that had controlled painting since the Fifteenth Century.  The next steps in the same direction would be taken by the Fauves.

649. The Circus

Artist: Georges Seurat
Date: 1890-1891
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; Pointillism/Divisionism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 6. 1 ft. tall by 4.9 ft. wide
Current location: Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France 

The late 19th Century saw the arrival of a new art form – the poster – and painters began to draw inspiration from these vividly colored advertisements for nightclubs, festivals and circuses. The premier French poster artist was Jules Cheret (see Cheret poster below). Post-Impressionist painter Georges Seurat drew from the posters of Cheret and others in creating The Circus. The canvas is divided into two worlds: (1) the circus artistes with its curves, spirals, and dynamic tension, and (2) the audience, with its rigid geometry and motionless figures. On  the side of the circus performers, we see a red-headed clown in the foreground, the ringmaster to the right, a tumbling acrobat, and the featured attraction, a young woman standing on a galloping horse (probably a reference to Mazeppa’s Ride, a popular circus attraction at the time). Like all of Seurat’s work, The Circus is a symbiosis between artistic creation and scientific analysis. According to chromoluminarianism, bright luminous colors evoke positive feelings. The dominant colors in The Circus are red, yellow and orange. According to divisionism (or pointillism, Seurat’s particular version of divisionism), a painter can obtain brighter hues of non-primary colors by placing dots of the two primary colors next to each other, instead of mixing them (for example, a red dot placed next to a yellow dot will create a brighter hue of orange than mixing red and yellow together). Seurat painted a dark border directly onto the canvas and then added a flat frame in same shade of blue – some experts believe the frame is an integral part of the work. Seurat became ill before he could finish The Circus, but it was exhibited at the 7th Salon des Independents in its unfinished state. Seurat died shortly after the Salon opened. After Seurat’s death, he was accused of plagiarizing one or more circus posters for the figures and composition. 

650. Ia Orana Maria

Artist: Paul Gauguin
Date: 1891
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; Symbolism; France/French Polynesia
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.7 ft. tall by 2.9 ft. wide
Current location: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY

In 1891, Paul Gauguin made his first trip to Tahiti, where he stayed until 1893. His first paintings there included Ia Orana Maria, which sets the traditional Christian subject of the Madonna and Child in the new, exotic setting of French Polynesia. Later, he would focus more on Tahitian, rather than Christian subjects, although he was disappointed by the lack of indigenous cultural artifacts (many of which had been eradicated by Christian missionaries). To fill in the gap, Gauguin relied on a cache of photographs, among them photos of the relief sculptures of the temple of Borobudur in Indonesia, to supply him with gods, goddesses, and other features.  Scholars believe that some of the compositional elements of Ia Orana Maria (especially the postures of the two women in the center) were taken from one of Gauguin’s Borobudur photographs (see image below showing relief sculptures).

651. The Fox Hunt

Artist: Winslow Homer
Date: 1893
Period/Style: Realism; Naturalism; U.S.
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.2 ft. tall by 5.7 ft. wide
Current location:
Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 
homer fox hunt
A fox moving through deep snow stops and looks up, while crows gather menacingly. A few red berries cling to a branch, while the sea is visible not far off. Winslow Homer painted the scene during a Maine winter, using a dead fox (or fox pelt) as his model. Commentators have noted the “survival of the fittest” theme, but whether the hungry fox will survive is a question Homer does not answer. 

652. 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.

653. Madonna

Artist: Edvard Munch
Date: There are several versions. The original (Version 1) was completed in 1894. A second (Version 2) dates to 1894-1895, and a third (Version 3) is dated 1895.  Lithographic prints of the painting date to 1895-1902.
Period/Style: Expressionism; Symbolism; Norway
Medium: Oil paints on canvas; lithographic prints
Dimensions: Version 1: 2.9 ft. tall by 2.2 ft. wide; Versions 2 and 3: 2.9 ft. tall by 2.3 ft. wide; Lithographs: 1.9 ft. tall by 1.4 ft. tall
Current location: Version 1: Munch Museum, Oslo, Norway. Version 2: National Gallery of Norway, Oslo, Norway. Version 3: Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany. Lithographs: Various collections 

In The Madonna, Edvard Munch links the conception of a child through sexual relations to Christian iconography of the Virgin Mary. The red halo indicates passion, and the undulating lines form an aura around the woman in the midst of sexual ecstasy, as she conceives a member of the next generation. Munch made numerous versions of The Madonna, also called Loving Woman, which represents, in his words, “The pause during which the entire world halts its orbit.”  The version shown is in the collection of the Munch Museum in Oslo and is dated 1894. Random Trivia: Munch’s frame for the original oil painting was decorated with swimming sperm and a fetus, which can still be seen in some lithographic prints (see image below).

654. Still Life with Apples and Oranges

Artist: Paul Cézanne
Date: c. 1899
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; France; still life 
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.4 ft. tall by 3 ft. wide
Current location: Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France
Cezanne_Apples_and_OrangesPaul Cézanne’s Still Life with Apples and Oranges (also known simply as Apples and Oranges) is considered one of his greatest achievements in the genre. The painting exhibits his mastery of light, color, and composition. The objects – fruit, bowl, plate, pitcher, white tablecloth and printed cloths – are arranged in a deliberately unnatural way in the artist’s studio. No home decorator would have splayed these objects on the table this way; the goal is not to represent a scene in a fashionable home but to create art from everyday objects. The arrangement of shapes and colors creates a sense of order amid chaos. A lone apple sits at the center of the canvas. The fruit, while apparently haphazardly organized, forms a rough triangle, with an orange in the bowl at the apex, while other triangles occur throughout the work. The Still Life has aspects of both Cézanne earlier (more traditional) and later (more experimental) styles. On the one hand, the artist is clearly committed to representing three-dimensionality, showing the fruit receding into the background and modeling the white cloth to show its folds and how it hangs over the table edge. On the other hand, Cézanne has abandoned many of the anchors that keep us grounded in realism: he does not show us a floor or any walls, and the table itself is so covered with cloth that it is not clear where it is located or which direction it is facing. 

655. Judith and the Head of Holofernes (Judith I)

Artist: Gustav Klimt
Date: 1901
Period/Style: Symbolism; Art Nouveau; Austria 
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.7 ft. tall by 1.4 ft. wide
Current location: Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, Austria

In the Biblical story of Judith and Holofernes, the Jewish heroine, knowing the enemy general desires her, puts herself in danger long enough to get him drunk and then decapitate him. Artists through the centuries have depicted Judith’s strength and determination in a series of works of art, either showing her with the head of Holofernes or (beginning with Caravaggio) in the act of cutting off his head. Klimt’s rendition focuses instead on the seduction instead of the decapitation: Judith as femme fatale, dangerously erotic, leading men to their death. His model is Adele Bloch-Bauer, who features in several other Klimt works, including two portraits. Judith’s head is set against a golden Art Nouveau landscape, and her head is separated from her partially-clothed body by a wide gem-studded collar of a type that was fashionable in Vienna at the time. Her facial expression – parted lips, half-closed eyes – appears to be seducing the viewer in the same way she seduced Holofernes, whose severed head, in almost an afterthought, is cut off by the frame. Random Trivia: Because Klimt’s depiction of Judith was so unlike earlier portrayals, some assumed the subject of the painting was Salome with the head of John the Baptist. To correct this misconception, Klimt had his brother Georg build a frame for the canvas with the words “Judith und Holofernes” pounded into the metal. 

656. The Beethoven Frieze

Artist: Gustav Klimt
Date: 1902
Period/Style: Symbolism; Art Nouveau; Austria 
Medium: Charcoal, graphite, black, red and colored chalk, pastel, casein colors, gold, silver, gilt stucco, applications (mother-of-pearl buttons, brass uniform buttons, mirror fragments, ground glass, brass curtain rings, upholstering nails, semi-precious stones) on mortar render over reed matting
Dimensions: 6.6 ft. tall by 111 ft. long
Current location: Secession Building, Vienna, Austria

Austrian artist Gustav Klimt painted the Beethoven Frieze on the walls of Vienna’s Secession Building, an exhibition hall dedicated to the Vienna Secession, a group of artists that left the Association of Austrian Artists in 1897. The frieze, was painted for the 14th Vienna Secessionist exhibition in 1902 celebrating composer Ludwig van Beethoven.  The allegorical program of the frieze is based on Richard Wagner’s interpretation of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, with the following characters/episodes, beginning from left: (1) Two floating genii embody man’s Yearning for Happiness (see first image above).  (2) A couple and child representing the Suffering of Weak Mankind plead with the Knight in Shining Armor (the External Driving Force) to take up the fight for Happiness (see second image above). Supporting the Knight are two women representing Compassion and Ambition. (3) In the search for Happiness, humanity confronts the Hostile Forces, represented by the monster Typhoeus with his daughters the three Gorgons (Sickness, Madness and Death) on his left, and on his right women representing Lasciviousness/Unchastity, Wantonness/Voluptuousness and Intemperance/Excess.  On their right, isolated, is Gnawing Sorrow (see third image above).  (4) Having flown past the Hostile Forces, the Yearning for Happiness genii find Poetry, playing her lyre (see fourth image above; (5) Finally, the genii reach the heavenly land of the Arts (represented by a narrow band of women with billowing hair), the Chorus of Paradise (singing the Ode to Joy), and finally The Embrace, or Kiss for the Whole World (see fifth image above). Scholars have noted that in making the Beethoven Frieze, Klimt has drawn from sources as varied as ancient Greek, Byzantine and Medieval art, Japanese prints and contemporaries such as Ferdinand Hodler and Edvard Munch. Originally intended only for the 1902 exhibition, the frieze was purchased by a collector in 1903 and removed from the Secession Building’s walls. In 1973, the Austrian Government bought the Beethoven Frieze and installed it in a specially-designed room in the basement of the Secession Building, where the public has been able to view the frieze since 1986 (see image below).  
Visitors look at Gustav Klimt's Beethoven Frieze at the Secession museum in Vienna

657. Luxe, Calme et Volupté

Artist: Henri Matisse
Date: 1904
Period/Style: Neo-Impressionism; Divisionism; Fauvism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.2 ft. tall by 3.9. ft. wide
Current location: Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France
An early work by Matisse, Luxe, Calme et Volupté (luxury, peace and pleasure) shows the artist’s adoption of the divisionist technique advocated by Georges Seurat and Paul Signac, but with simplified forms, a sense of artificiality, and less realistic colors. Some have dubbed this painting the first Fauvist work of art, although Matisse would soon abandon divisionism and other Neo-Impressionist elements. The title comes from Charles Baudelaire’s poem, Invitation to a Voyage: “There, all is order and beauty/Luxury, peace, and pleasure.”  

658. Portrait of Henri Matisse

Artist: André Derain
Date: 1905
Period/Style: Fauvism; France; portrait
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 1.5 ft. tall by 1.1 ft. wide
Current location: Tate Collection, London, England, UK

659. Charing Cross Bridge

Artist: André Derain
Date: 1906
Period/Style: Fauvism; France; landscape
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.6 ft. tall by 3.3 ft. wide
Current location: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

660. The Peasants’ War 

Artist: Käthe Kollwitz
Date: Kollwitz began the series in 1903 and completed all seven prints by 1908.
Period/Style: Expressionism; Germany
Medium: Paper prints created using line etching, drypoint, aquatint, 
Dimensions: Each paper print is 1 ft. tall by 1.4 ft. wide, although some of the prints are in landscape mode (1.4 ft. tall by 1 ft. wide).
Current location: Various collections
For leftists in early 20th Century Germany, the Peasants’ War of 1524-1525 was a touchstone – a symbol of the revolutionary spirit and discontent simmering beneath the surface of conventional German society. German artist Käthe Kollwitz, who in 1898 completed a cycle of prints inspired by another popular uprising, the Weavers’ Revolt of 1844, then turned her attention to the Peasants’ War. Over a period of six years (1903-1908) she produced a cycle of seven prints known collectively as The Peasants’ War: (1) The Plowmen (1906); (2) Raped (1907-1908); (3) Sharpening the Scythe (1905); (4) Arming in a Vault (1906); (5) Charge (also known as Outbreak) (1906) (see image above); (6) Battlefield (1907); and (7) The Prisoners (1908) (see image below). As with her earlier series, Kollwitz does not focus on historical accuracy but instead places the events in a timeless present to emphasize the universality of the situations. The poor and oppressed everywhere need to rise up against their oppressors, her prints suggest, to escape slavery and degradation, even at the cost of their lives. While rooted in carefully observed details, the emotional impact of the work transcends any particular time or place.

661. Houses at L’Estaque

Artist: Georges Braque
Date: 1908
Period/Style: Cubism; France; landscape
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.4 ft. tall by 1.9 ft. wide
Current location: Kunstmuseum, Bern, Switzerland

Cubist or proto-Cubist? In this and several other paintings made in 1908 in Cezanne’s hometown of L’Estaque, Braque takes Cezanne’s lessons about planes of color one more step towards abstraction.  This is the painting that led Henri Matisse to describe it as “little cubes”, a phrase picked up by an art critic that became the name of a revolution in art. There is another, smaller version with a simpler composition at the Lille Métropole Museum of Modern, Contemporary and Outsider Art, in Lille, France.

662. 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.”  

663. 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. 

664. 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.”

655. States of Mind I: The Farewells

Artist: Umberto Boccioni
Date: 1911
Period/Style: Futurism; Italy
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.3 ft. tall by 3.1 ft. wide
Current location: Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY

Italian Futurist artist Umberto Boccioni created a three-painting series called States of Mind that tells a story about travelers at a train station in the semi-abstract style that Futurists developed after deciding that Cubism lacked a sense of motion and activity, or a recognition of the technological nature of modern society. The first painting in the series, States of Mind I: The Farewells, shows us the swirling activity of a train station in Cubist-like segments, with the number on the train fixed near the center (see image above). The other canvases in the series show Futurist versions of States of Mind II: Those Who Go and States of Mind III: Those Who Stay (see images below). The three paintings are displayed side by side in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

656. The Wedding

Artist: Fernand Léger
Date: The date for the painting is variously given as 1910, 1911, and 1912.  The Musée National d’Art Moderne gives the date as 1911-1912. 
Period/Style: Cubism, France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 8.4 ft. tall by 6.7 wide
Current location: Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou. Paris, France

The Wedding is a large-scale Cubist painting by French artist Fernand Léger.  We see a large white central wave that may represent the bride in her wedding dress, flanked on both sides by processions of overlapping guests – a high density of small fragments of faces, limbs, clothing – and snatches of landscape features such as trees and houses in the background.  These representational elements mix (and contrast) with large plane surfaces, modular plastic swatches and, in contrast to Cubist godfathers Braque and Picasso, blocks of pure color.

657. Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash 

Artist: Giacomo Balla
Date: 1912
Period/Style: Futurism; Italy
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.9 ft. tall by 3.6 ft. wide
Current location: Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY

Like Marcel Duchamp, Giacomo Balla and his fellow Futurists were intrigued by the chronophotographic experiments of Étienne-Jules Marey (see horse in motion below, from 1886).  Unlike the other Futurists, Balla was more interested in depicting motion than in the power of machines and technology.

658. 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.” 

559. Guitar

Artist: Pablo Picasso
Date: 1912
Period/Style: Modernism; Synthetic Cubism; Spain/France
Medium: Sculpture made from paperboard, paper, thread, string, twine, and coated wire
Dimensions: 2.1 ft. tall by 1.1 ft. wide by 0.6 ft. deep
Current location: Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY

Pablo Picasso was not trained as a sculptor, and his three-dimensional artworks have an unfinished quality that is certainly quite deliberate. As an important feature of flamenco and other Spanish musical forms, it is fitting that Spanish-born Picasso should select the guitar for one of his first sculptures. The most striking feature of his Guitar is the way that Picasso takes a negative (the sound hole of the guitar) and converts it to a positive by constructing a tubular sound hole and projecting it forward.  Two years later, Picasso replicated Guitar, this time with sheet metal and wire instead of cardboard and string, which is also in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York (see image below).

660. Self-Portrait as a Soldier 

Artist: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Date: 1915
Period/Style: Expressionism; Germany
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.3 ft. tall by 2 ft. wide
Current location: Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH
kirchner self portrait as a soldier
The trauma of World War I pervaded Europe. In order to avoid combat service, German Expressionist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner volunteered to serve as a driver for an artillery unit. He was declared unfit for service due to medical problems and was sent to a facility in Halle to recuperate. It was there, while meditating on the horrors of war and his own fears of mutilation, that he painted Self-Portrait as a Soldier. In the painting, Kirchner stands in his studio wearing the uniform of the Mansfelder Field Artillery Regiment No. 75, which was based in Halle. His eyes lack pupils and reflect the blue of the uniform. His right hand has been severed from his arm, leaving a bloody stump. A nude female model stands like a statue and an unfinished painting hangs on the wall. Kirchner’s left hand appears to be grasping or resting on a red and white object. The severed right hand is a metaphor for the effect of the war on Kirchner’s creativity and artistic imagination. Instead of standing confidently before his model smoking a pipe as in Self-Portrait with Model from 1907, the artist here is creatively and metaphorically emasculated, green-faced and smoking a cigarette, and seems to have no connection to the wood-like model. The style of the painting is similar to that of the Berlin street paintings – primitive and sculptural, with broken, angular lines and short crosshatched brushstrokes. 

661. Paul Guillaume – Novo Pilota

Artist: Amedeo Modigliani
Date: 1915
Period/Style: Expressionism; Italy/France
Medium: Oil paints on cardboard mounted on cradled plywood
Dimensions: 3.4 ft. tall by 2.5 ft. wide
Current location: Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris, France

In 1915, Italian-Jewish artist Amedeo Modigliani was living in Paris and trying to make a living as a painter. He was 30 years old and he had five years to live. At the same time, French art dealer Paul Guillaume was 23 and was already an established dealer of African art.  Beginning in 1914, Guillaume became the first dealer to purchase works by Modigliani; he would continue in that role until 1916.  Modigliani painted four portraits of his patron, including the 1915 portrait with the subtitle “Novo Pilota” or “New Helmsman.” The portrait, also known simply as Paul Guillaume or Portrait of Paul Guillaume, also includes Guillaume’s name, the inscription “Stella Maris” or “Star of the Sea”, a Star of David and a swastika, which would have been recognized as a Sanskrit symbol meaning ‘good omen.’ Modigliani sought to portray Guillaume as a heroic defender of contemporary art – a young, well-dressed man who is assured but casual, with a black suit, white shirt, deep blue time, hat, leather gloves and cigarette held carelessly, bringing a touch of the dandy to the likeness.  Modigliani painted another portrait of Guillaume the next year, which is in the Museo Novocento in Milan (see image below).

662. The Charge of the Lancers

Artist: Umberto Boccioni
Date: 1915
Period/Style: Futurism; Italy
Medium: Tempera and collage on cardboard
Dimensions: 19.7 in. tall by 12.5 in. wide
Current location: Private collection
The Futurists sought to wrench Italy from her languid nostalgia for its Classical and Renaissance past into the dynamic reality of the industrial present. When World War I broke out, Umberto Boccioni and other members of the Futurist movement in Italy put down their brushes and took up politics, as they argued in favor of Italy’s entry into the war against Austria. When Boccioni returned to the studio in the winter of 1914-1915, war was still on his mind and he produced his only war-themed work, The Charge of the Lancers. A collage with its roots in Synthetic Cubism, the work begins with actual newspaper headlines about La Guerra. The scene depicted is a cavalry charge against armed infantry soldiers. The diagonal composition shows a horse in the foreground, with numerous echoes of the form behind, creating what Ester Coen termed “a compact but indistinct swarm.” The lances of the horseman intersect with the bayonets of the soldiers, while other soldiers lying in trenches fire guns. As with many Cubist works, there are few bright colors. Instead, a repetition of metallic grays increases the sense of drama and tension, as the insistent rhythm and violent action of the cavalry leads to a decisive clash. Random Trivia: Ironically, a year after this painting of riders on horses, Boccioni was killed after being thrown by his horse and trampled.

663. Suicide

Artist: George Grosz
Date: 1916
Period/Style: Expressionism; Italy
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.2 ft. tall by 2.5 ft. wide
Current location: Tate Modern, London, England, UK

German Expressionist George Grosz was best known for his satirical studies of German society. Suicide was made in 1916 in Berlin, after Grosz had been discharged from the army for medical reasons. The experience of war had filled him with disgust for mankind. He said later that his work from this period “expressed my despair, hate and disillusionment.” In Suicide, we see a well-dressed man with a cane, having presumably committed suicide, lying in the street, his skull emerging from his face. On his left is a ghostly apparition, possibly his soul. On his right is a red dog. In death, the man with the cane seems to be reaching for the foot of a man running out of the frame on the right (possibly a criminal, based on the dropped gun). In the right top corner, a topless, one-armed prostitute – lit up by the streetlamp so that with the missing limb she appears to be a marble Venus – holds a flower and stares at another suicide victim hanging from a lamppost, while her client, a bloated businessman, waits in her room. Another red dog appears to follow the criminal over the red sidewalk. In the upper center, an out-of-perspective church points a steeple heavenward. The windows in a nearby building look like crosses. The nocturnal scene pulsates with dark and lighter reds and portrays a wartime Berlin with no moral compass and no hope. 

664. A Battery Shelled

Artist: Wyndham Lewis
Date: 1919
Period/Style: Vorticism; UK
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 6 ft. tall by 10.4 ft. wide
Current location: Imperial War Museum, London, England, UK

The painting was commissioned in 1918 by the British War Memorials Committee to be hung in a Hall of Remembrance. 

665. Cut with the Kitchen Knife Dada Through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch of Germany 

Artist: Hannah Höch
Date: 1919-1920
Period/Style: Dada; Germany
Medium: Photomontage; collage; mixed media
Dimensions: 3.7 ft. tall by 2.9 ft. wide
Current location: Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen, Berlin, Germany

Q. What do Kaiser Wilhelm II, Albert Einstein, Käthe Kollwitz, Karl Liebknecht, and Vladimir Lenin have in common? A. Their images all feature in Hannah Höch’s photomontage Cut with the Kitchen Knife Dada Through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch of Germany. Höch’s Dadaist artwork was exhibited at the First International Dada Fair in Berlin in 1920. The Berlin Dada contingent, which also included George Grosz, John Heartfield, and Raoul Hausmann, was explicitly political, unlike their apolitical comrades in Switzerland and New York. Signs at the Fair read “Dada is Political” and “Art is Dead/Long Live the Machine Art of Tatlin.” A model of a German officer with a pig’s head hung from the ceiling. Photomontage was a common artistic medium at the Fair.  In the catalogue for the show, Wielande Herzfelde wrote: “The only program the Dadaists recognize is the duty to make current events, current in both time and place, the content of their pictures.” The source for their new pictures (including Höch’s piece) was “the illustrated magazine and the lead stories of the press.”

666. The Skat Players (Card-Playing War Invalids)

Artist: Otto Dix
Date: 1920
Period/Style: Expressionism; New Objectivity; Germany
Medium: Oil paints on canvas with photomontage and collage
Dimensions: 3.6 ft. tall by 2.8 ft. wide
Current location: Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Germany
At the end of World War I, 1.5 million German veterans returned home with serious injuries, including 800,000 amputees. The sight of such misery was too much for many Germans, for whom it reminded them only of their ignominious defeat. German Expressionist Otto Dix, who had fought in the war, suffered injuries and was possibly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, chose instead to paint the effects of war on these men with an unblinking eye. His 1920 painting and collage The Skat Players (later renamed Card-Playing War Invalids) provides a horrifying and detailed view of injuries resulting from artillery fire. Three veterans play a popular card game at a cafe in what appears to be Dresden, judging from the newspapers. The veteran on the left has no arms, a disfigured face, one original leg, which he uses to hold the cards, and one wooden leg. His remaining hair is carefully arranged. A listening device sitting on the card table is attached to his right ear. The man in the center has a prosthetic jaw, a prosthetic eye, a listening device and a bandage on his head with a figure sketched on it. He has no arms and two wooden legs; he holds a card in his teeth. The man on the right has no legs, one original arm and one prosthetic arm, a prosthetic jaw and a patch that covers his missing nose. He is wearing a jacket with the Iron Cross of the German army that is made out of the thick woven paper used to make clothing at the end of the war, but the jacket is not long enough to cover his genitals, which are exposed on the chair. His jaw contains a photograph of Otto Dix with the inscription, “lower jaw prosthesis brand Dix” (see detail in image below). The wooden legs of the men are barely distinguishable from the legs of the card table. Consistent with the philosophy of the Neue Sachlichheit, or New Objectivity, a movement with which he aligned himself, Dix mixed his paint with the elements of collage: the newspapers, the playing cards, and the blue paper jacket on the right are all real physical objects attached to the canvas. The result is a painting that mixes us up with the physical content of the time. 

667. Carcass of Beef 

Artist: Chaïm Soutine
Date: c. 1925
Period/Style: Expressionism; Belarus/France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.3 ft. tall by 3.2 ft. wide
Current location: Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY

From the Albright-Knox museum curator: “While living in La Ruche, an artists’ residence in Paris, he made friends with the employees of slaughterhouses and often painted the cuts of meat he acquired from them. In 1925, when he moved to a larger studio, Soutine procured an entire steer carcass and hauled it back to the space. Over several weeks, he executed at least four similar canvases as well as sketches and smaller paintings; all the while the meat decomposed.” From Peter Schjeldahl in The New Yorker: “Painted in reds and blues as luminous as those of Gothic stained glass, it communes with Rembrandt’s seventeenth-century masterpiece The Slaughtered Ox, which Soutine contemplated often and intensely in the Louvre, and it crackles with formal improvisations (one swift white line rescues a large blue zone from incoherence) and wild emotion.” Below left: Rembrandt’s The Slaughtered Ox (1655). Below right: Soutine’s Carcass of Beef (1925) from the Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

668. Pillars of Society

Artist: George Grosz
Date: 1926
Period/Style: Expressionism; Dada; New Objectivity; Germany 
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 6.5 ft. tall by 3.5 ft. wide
Current location: Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Germany
German artist George Grosz was best known for skewering the powers-that-be in Weimar Germany, a task he accomplishes with gusto in The Pillars of Society from 1926. Grosz introduces four characters, each presented with his ‘attributes’: (1) at front right, an aristocrat/lawyer with an old-fashioned collar, monocle, dueling scar and a swastika on his tie holds a fencing foil in one hand and a beer in the other; a horse armed for battle – the valiant knight of fantasy – emerges from his earless head; (2) to the left and slightly farther back, clutching newspapers, is a journalist, probably publishing baron Alfred Hugenberg, with a chamber pot for a hat, holding a pencil and a bloodied branch of peace palm; (3) to the right middle is a politician, possibly German president Friedrich Ebert, holding a Weimar flag and a pamphlet reading “Socialism Is Working” or “Socialism Is Work”; the top of his head is removed to reveal a pile of steaming excrement; (4) in the rear is an alcoholic clergyman, who preaches peace with eyes closed, ignoring the atrocities of the army and armed militias and the chaos that can be seen through the windows. The painting, whose title is an ironic twist on the title of an Ibsen play, lays the blame for the disruptions of 1926 Germany at the feet of the ruling class, but it also predicts that, if the Nazis were to gain power, it will be because these components of society – the aristocracy, the press, the clergy and the political establishment – either abetted them, looked the other way, or were too stupid or incompetent to stop them.  Just seven years later, in 1933, Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party took control,  and Grosz’s work was condemned as ‘degenerate art.’  

669. The Forest (series)

Artist: Max Ernst
Date: Ernst painted the works in the series during the years 1927 and 1928.
Period/Style: Dada; Surrealism; Germany
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: See text.
Current locations: See text.

The Romantic landscape painters imagined an invisible realm at work in the natural world, while the Surrealists saw the forest as a metaphor for the imagination. German painter Max Ernst combined these seemingly contradictory attitudes about the forest with his childhood experience of the forest as the embodiment of both enchantment and terror in painting the Forest series (also known as the Forest and Sun series) in the late 1920s. The Forest paintings featured a wall of trees, a stylized solar disk (possibly in eclipse) and often one or more birds, which may represent Ernst himself, caught in the forbidding landscape. Probably the most highly-regarded of the series is Forest and Dove, from 1927, now located in the Tate Modern in London (see image above). The works evoke both elements of apparently incompatible dualities, for example, joy and sadness, freedom and captivity, or hope and unease. To create the unusual textures of his Forest paintings, Ernst employed a technique he invented called grattage, in which he scraped paint from prepared canvases over underlying materials such as wire mesh, chair caning, leaves, buttons and twine, thus revealing the imprints of the foreign objects and adding a random or automatic element to the creative process. The images above show five of the paintings in Ernst’s Forest series:
(1) Forest and Dove, 3.3 ft. tall by 2.7 ft. wide, from 1927, Tate Modern in London (image above);
(2) Forest and Sun, 2.2 ft. wide by 2.7 ft. wide, from 1927, Art Institute of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois (below, top row left);
(3) The Wood, 1.9 ft. tall by 2.7 ft. wide, from 1927, National Museum of Cardiff in Cardiff, Wales, UK (below, top row right);
(4) The Forest, 3.1 ft. tall by 4.2 ft. wide, from 1927-1928, Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, Italy (below, bottom row left); and
(5) Petrified Forest, 2.6 ft. tall by 3.3 ft. wide, from 1927, National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo (below, bottom row, right). 
ernst forest and sun $$$-ERNST A503 300dpi/A3-0
ernst forest ernst forest 2

670. 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.

671. Object 

Artist: Meret Oppenheim
Date: 1936
Period/Style: Surrealism; France
Medium: Fur-covered cup, saucer, and spoon
Dimensions: Cup: 4.4 in. diameter; saucer 9.4 in. in diameter; spoon 8 in. long
Current location: Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY

672. Weeping Woman

Artist: Pablo Picasso
Date: 1937
Period/Style: Cubism; Spain/France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2 ft. tall by 1.6 ft. wide
Current location: Tate Modern, London, England, UK.

Weeping Woman developed from the figure of the woman with the dead child in Picasso’s Guernica, which was completed in the same year (see detail of Guernica in image below), during the Spanish Civil War. 

673. Totes Meer (Dead Sea) 

Artist: Paul Nash
Date: Begun in 1940; completed in 1941.
Period/Style: Surrealism; UK; landscape
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.3 ft. tall by 5 ft. wide
Current location: Tate Collection, London, England, UK

Paul Nash, an official war artist for the British Air Ministry in the early years of World War II, came upon a huge dump filled with wrecked British and German aircraft at Cowley in Oxfordshire and took a number of photographs, which became the basis for this, his most highly-regarded work. Nash said later: “The thing (the salvage dump) looked to me, suddenly, like a great inundating sea. You might feel – under certain circumstances – a moonlight night, for instance, this is a vast tide moving across the fields, the breakers rearing up and crashing on the plain.” Ironically, Nash was soon fired from his job at the Air Ministry because some of his superiors did not like his artistic style. On the other hand, the painting was a success when it was displayed at the National Gallery in May 1941, and Kenneth Clark, chairman of the War Artists’ Advisory Committee, called it “the best war picture so far.”

674. Broadway Boogie Woogie

Artist: Piet Mondrian
Date: 1942-1943
Period/Style: Neo-Plasticism; The Netherlands/US
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.2 ft. square
Current location: Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
mondrian broadway-boogie-woogie
According to the self-imposed rules of Neo-Plasticism, Dutch artist Piet Mondrian, who arrived in New York from war-torn Europe in 1940, was limited to using straight horizontal and vertical lines and a palette of red, blue, yellow, white, black and gray.  In Broadway Boogie Woogie, a paean to his new home of New York and its jazz-inflected rhythms (and one of the artist’s last works), Mondrian replaced the black lines of earlier works with basic yellow, punctuated by small blocks of color that imitate Manhattan’s grid of streets and intersections with their insistent traffic, while also creating a pulsating visual rhythm.  As the Museum of Modern Art’s curator writes, “These atomized bands of stuttering chromatic pulses, interrupted by light gray, create paths across the canvas suggesting the city’s grid, the movement of traffic, and blinking electric lights, as well as the rhythms of jazz.” Mondrian does not simply feed us candy-like dots and lines of primary colors, however.  He offsets the color with carefully-interspersed neutral blocks of gray and white.  

675. Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion

Artist: Francis Bacon
Date: c. 1944
Period/Style: Expressionism; Ireland/UK
Medium: Triptych made with oil paints and pastels on Sundeala fiberboard
Dimensions: Each panel is 3.1 ft. tall by 2.4 ft. wide
Current location: Tate Collection, London, England, UK

Irish-born British artist Francis Bacon considered Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, made when the artist was 35 years old, to be his first mature work of art (see first image above). Throughout his life, he tried to suppress or destroy pieces he created prior to the date of this piece, which was made in 1944 during World War II. Bacon originally intended the figures in the panels of the triptych to be included either at the base of the cross in a painting of the Crucifixion or in the predella beneath a larger, separate Crucifixion panel for an altarpiece that Bacon never made. (One art historian has even suggested that Bacon intended the three figures to replace Christ and the two thieves on their three crosses, although this is a distinctly minority viewpoint.) Each panel of the triptych depicts a non-human creature painted in sickly shades of whitish-gray, with modeling to create the illusion of three dimensionality, standing or sitting on a household item, set against a garish orange background with some black lines barely indicating the floors and walls of rooms.  In the left panel, we see a creature with no limbs, a long neck, rounded shoulders and a thick head of hair, who sits on a table. The figure in the center panel stands on or near a pedestal; it has a a mouth full of teeth near the end of a long neck; a white cloth is wrapped around the part of its neck next to its mouth, which could be covering its eyes, in a possible reference to Matthias Grünewald’s 1503 The Mocking of Christ (see image below); a semicircular flap on its body could be a wing. The figure in the right panel also has a mouth near the end of a long neck-like appendage, which it has opened to let out a scream or yawn at an angle that would be impossible for a human; its mouth contains a row of teeth on the upper jaw only; an ear protrudes from behind its lower jaw. The figure in the right panel appears to have its front leg(s) standing on an irregularly-shaped patch of either shag carpet, porcupine fur, or grass meadow. As one critic succinctly summarized, “the subjects are anatomically and physically distorted, and the mood is violent, foreboding, and relentlessly physical.” Scholars have had difficulty linking the three figures in Three Studies to any Christian iconography and have had more luck with Bacon’s later statement that he based the figures on the Furies, ancient Greek deities who avenged crimes, particularly the killing of parents. Bacon’s source was the Oresteia Trilogy by Aeschylus, which tells of the killing of Agamemnon by his wife Clytemnestra and the killing of Clytemnestra by her son Orestes, who is then pursued by the Furies. Bacon was fond of quoting a line Aeschylus has one of the Furies speak: “The reek of human blood smiles out at me.” 

676. Sleeping Venus 

Artist: Paul Delvaux
Date: 1944
Period/Style: Surrealism; Belgium
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 5.7 ft. tall by 6.5 ft. wide
Current location: Tate Collection, London, England, UK

Delvaux painted this Sleeping Venus (his fourth painting on the subject) in Brussels while Germany was bombing the city during World War II.  Delvaux said later: “The psychology of that moment was very exceptional, full of drama and anguish. I wanted to express this anguish in the picture, contrasted with the calm of the Venus.”

677. 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. 

678. Woman and Bird in the Moonlight

Artist: Joan Miró
Date: 1949
Period/Style: Surrealism; Spain
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.7 ft. tall by 2.2 ft. wide
Current locations: Tate Collection, London, England, UK

679. Somerset Maugham

Artist: Graham Sutherland
Date: 1949
Period/Style: Neo-Romanticism; UK; portrait
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.5 ft. tall by 2.1 ft. wide
Current locations: Tate Collection, London, England, UK

680. 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).

681. Vir Heroicus Sublimis

Artist: Barnett Newman
Date: 1950-1951
Period/Style: Abstract Expressionism; US
Medium: Oil paints of canvas
Dimensions: 7.9 ft. tall by 17.7 ft. wide
Current location: Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
newman vir heroicus
In Barnett Newman’s 1948 essay “The Sublime is Now,” he asks the question, “If we are living in a time without a legend that can be called sublime, how can we be creating sublime art?” Vir Heroicus Sublimis (“Man, heroic and sublime”) can be interpreted as one answer to that question. Barnett’s massive canvas engulfs the viewer in an enormous field of saturated red that is punctuated by differently colored vertical lines that Newman referred to as “zips.” The two zips closest to the center of the painting create a perfect red square. Newman intended viewers of the painting to interact with it directly in a way that he analogized to “meeting another person.” (See viewer with Vir Heroicus Sublimis below left.) Art critics refer to Newman’s style as chromatic abstraction, a form of abstract expressionism, like the color field painting of Mark Rothko, “color is freed from objective context and becomes the subject in itself.” (National Gallery of Art, Themes in American Art: Abstraction. May 9, 2010.) (See Mark Rothko’s 1958 color field painting No. 16 (Red, Brown and Black) below right). 

682. The Destroyed City

Artist: Ossip Zadkine
Date: 1951-1953
Period/Style: Modernism; Cubism; Expressionism; Belarus/France
Medium: Bronze sculpture atop granite pedestal.
Dimensions: The statue is 19.7 ft. tall. The pedestal is 6.6 ft. tall.
Current location: Schiedamse Dijk, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
zadkine destroyed city
In 1946, Belarus-born French artist Ossip Zadkine made a terracotta sculpture about 2.3 ft. tall of a figure raising its hands in horror, which he exhibited in Prague in 1947 under the title First Sketch for a Monument to a Destroyed Town.  On the way back to France, he visited Dutch friends and toured the center of Rotterdam, which had been completely razed by German bombs in May 1940.  The terracotta having broken during the trip, Zadkine made a new version of the sculpture in plaster, about 4 ft. tall, which he exhibited in Brussels and Amsterdam in 1948.  In 1949-1950, after learning the Rotterdam was planning to erect a monument, he cast the maquette in bronze and retitled it Project for the Destroyed Town of Rotterdam and exhibited it in Paris and Rotterdam.  In Rotterdam, the sculpture was presented with dramatic lighting in front of a photo of the 1940 destruction and won many admirers.  Not surprisingly (although there was at least one powerful dissenter), when Rotterdam issued an official request for proposals, Zadkine won the commission for a monument to the destroyed city center, to be placed in a public location of the artist’s choosing.  He chose the Leuvehaven section, near Rotterdam’s port, where there were few high-rises and the statue could stand unobstructed against the sky.   Monument to the Destroyed City, generally known as The Destroyed City, was unveiled in May 1953 in Rotterdam.  In Zadkine’s words it is “[a] cry of horror against the inhuman brutality of this act of tyranny.”  Atop a stone pedestal designed by J.A.C. Tillema (the local official who had opposed Zadkine’s statue), a mutilated, agonized, semi-abstract bronze giant stares up in horror, stretching his arms to the sky.  His limbs bend in painful angles, suggesting his inner torment but also a dynamic sense of movement and weight, particularly as he leans against a supporting tree trunk.  A gaping hole has been torn into the center of his torso, where his heart would have been, a reminder that the bombing destroyed the heart of the city.
The Destroyed City.  zadkine destroyed city 2

683. Figure with Meat (Head Surrounded by Sides of Beef)

Artist: Francis Bacon
Date: 1954
Period/Style: Expressionism; Surrealism; Ireland/UK
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.2 ft. tall by 4 ft. wide
Current location: Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois
bacon-figure-with-meat Figure with Meat, also known as Head Surrounded by Sides of Beef is one of Francis Bacon’s many reworkings of Diego Velázquez’s 1650 Portrait of Pope Innocent X. The work substitutes hanging sides of beef for Velázquez’s royal red draperies and converts Velázquez’s calm, assured, even ruthless Pope into a screaming, terrorized torture victim with clutching, claw-like hands and corpse-gray skin.  (One critic is convinced that the figure has opened his mouth for food, not to scream.)  The meat motif has a long pedigree. Bacon would certainly have been familiar with Rembrandt’s Carcass of Beef (1657, see second image), as well as 20th Century artist Chaïm Soutine’s Rembrandt-inspired Carcass of Beef (1925) and related works. Is Bacon implying that the Pope deserves this treatment? Is this, as some scholars have suggested, a Crucifixion scene? Or are we wrong in assuming that Bacon’s screaming victim is the Pope? Maybe he is just another suffering human. Let us not forget Bacon’s cheery observation, “We are meat; we are potential carcasses.” Random Trivia I: In 1962, photographer John Deakin photographed Francis Bacon for Vogue magazine with angel wings of beef (see third image). Random Trivia II: In Tim Burton’s 1989 movie Batman, the  Joker (played by Jack Nicholson) takes over an art museum and destroys dozens of priceless masterpieces.  When he gets to Bacon’s Figure with Meat, he tells his henchman, “I kinda like this one, Bob.  Leave it.”
carcass-of-beef-rembrandt-1657  Deakin Francis Bacon Vogue, 1962

684. Target with Plaster Casts

Artist: Jasper Johns
Date: 1955
Period/Style: Neo-Dada, US
Medium: Encaustic and collage on canvas with objects
Dimensions: 4.2 ft. tall by 3.7 ft. wide
Current location:  Private Collection

685. Just What Is It that Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing?

Artist: Richard Hamilton
Date: 1956
Period/Style: Pop Art; UK
Medium: Photocollage
Dimensions: 10.2 in. tall by 9.8 in. wide
Current location: Kunsthalle Tübingen, Tübingen, Germany

Many people have the misconception that Pop Art began in the U.S. in the 1960s with artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, but members of the Independent Group in the UK (including Eduardo Paolozzi and Richard Hamilton) were experimenting with images from popular culture and the mass media in the 1940s and 1950s.  Hamilton’s 1956 photocollage Just What Is It that Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing? is considered by many the first work of Pop Art.

686. Anthropometries of the Blue Period

Artist: Yves Klein
Date: February and March, 1960
Period/Style: Minimalism; conceptual art; performance art; UK
Medium: Performance including artist, nude women, pigment, and paper.
Dimensions: Various. 
Current location: The performances took place in Paris.  Photographs of the performance and the paintings created are in various collections.

In 1960, French artist Yves Klein staged a number of performance pieces, each one titled Anthropometry of the Blue Period. In each piece, one or more nude women would cover the fronts of their bodies with blue pigment (an artist-designed color that Klein eventually trademarked as International Klein Blue) and imprint their bodies against paper to create blue images.  Klein would direct these “human paintbrushes” in the application of the paint to their bodies and the application of their bodies to the paper.  During the performance, musicians would play Klein’s Monotone Symphony, which consists of a single note played for 20 minutes, followed by 20 minutes of silence. The image above shows one of the paintings created at an Anthropometry of the Blue Period performance in 1960, which is now in the collection of the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou. Paris, France. The photographs below right and left were taken during the performances.  

687. Fall

Artist: Bridget Riley
Date: 1963
Period/Style: Op Art; UK
Medium: Polyvinyl acetate paint on hardboard
Dimensions: 4.6 ft. square
Current location: Tate Modern, London, England, UK
Fall 1963 by Bridget Riley born 1931
As British Op-Artist Bridget Riley tells it, her goal is straightforward: “I try to organize a field of visual energy which accumulates until it reaches maximum tension.”  In the early 1960s, Riley was experimenting with optical stability and instability by contrasting black and white.  In Fall, from 1963, Riley first created a single perpendicular line running the length of the canvas from top to bottom that curved, first in a slow, graceful arc, but then in higher frequency arcs as it approached the lowest point.  Then, she painted closely spaced repetitions of the line until they filled the entire canvas. “I wanted to put that curve under as much pressure as I could without losing its character,” Riley explained later.  The resulting painting has odd visual effects on those who view it – some see movement, some see color, others become seasick.  

688. War

Artist: Marc Chagall
Date: 1964-1966
Period/Style: Surrealism; Russia/France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 5.3 ft. tall by 7.6 ft. wide
Current location: Kunsthaus Zürich in Zürich, Switzerland
chagall war 2
Symbols abound in Marc Chagall’s War, but even without a decoder ring, the horror and human suffering are evident. In a small Russian village, buildings burn; some people die, while others flee. A small family (Joseph, Mary and Jesus?) ride a white horse, perhaps to safety. In the upper right corner, we see the Crucifixion, and a strange being who may be the Devil, relishing the destruction. Chagall, despite (or perhaps because of) his Jewish heritage, employs Christian iconography to tell the story. 

689. Hang Up

Artist: Eva Hesse
Date: 1966
Period/Style: Minimalism; Conceptual Art; U.S.
Medium: Acrylic on cloth over wood; acrylic on cord over steel tube
Dimensions: 6 ft. tall by 7 ft. wide by 6.5 ft. deep
Current location: Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois

From the Art Institute of Chicago curator: “It is an ironic sculpture about painting, privileging the medium’s marginal features: the frame and its hanging device, represented by the cord that protrudes awkwardly into the gallery. … Collapsing the space between the viewer and the artwork, Hang Up creates a sense of disorientation and toys with our ability to discern a clear demarcation between painting and sculpture.” 

690. Big Self-Portrait

Artist: Chuck Close
Date: 1967-1968
Medium: Acrylic paints on canvas
Dimensions: 8.95 ft. tall by 6.95 ft. wide
Current location: Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota

On April 17, 1970, an exhibition titled Three Young Americans opened at the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio. The exhibition was the first public viewing of Big Self-Portrait by American painter Chuck Close. The immense canvas features a painted enlargement of a close-up photo of the artist’s face. Close later said in an interview: “People think that if you have a photographic image, there is pretty much only one thing you can do with it, that because of its iconography, it is fixed … but changing the medium, the method of mark-making, and the scale transforms the experience of that image into something new.”

691. Untitled Film Stills (series)

Artist: Cindy Sherman
Date: 1977-1980
Period/Style: Contemporary art; art photography; US
Medium: 70 black and white photographs
Dimensions: Each print is 8.5 in. by 11 in.
Current location: Prints of the photos are located in various collections; they are also collected in a book.
From 1977 to 1980, artist Cindy Sherman created a series of still photos from films that never existed. The star of each of these nonexistent movies is the artist herself. Although Sherman did not always trip the camera’s shutter, she created the images: invented the characters, did their costumes and make-up, and selected the settings, lighting, and angle for the shot. The photos mimic the Hollywood movies and European art house films of the 1950s and 1960s. Because we don’t know what is happening outside the frame, or before or after this moment, we must invent scenarios, plots, and characterizations to fill in the gaps. Even the glossy 8.5 X 11 print form in which Sherman produced the series faithfully copies the stock publicity photos of the era. The characters are often stereotypes – the femme fatale, the damsel in distress, the brazen hussy – and they often look outside the frame to something or someone we can’t see. As Josephine Van De Walle points out, “All Sherman’s personas in Untitled Film Stills project the constructed idea of the women’s image, pointing out the arbitrariness of the female stereotypes.” Sherman highlights the sexist underpinnings of female roles in cinema and in real life, which are so often defined by their relationships to men, by removing men from the picture, literally. Thus, the woman becomes an independent agent and so perhaps reveals the lie underlying the stereotype. Sherman wrote, “I definitely felt that the characters are questioning something – perhaps being forced into a certain role. At the same time, those roles are in film: the women aren’t being lifelike, they’re acting. There are so many levels of artifice. I like that whole jumble of ambiguity.” Shown above is Untitled Film Still #21 (1978). Shown below are Untitled Film Still #13 (1978) and Untitled Film Still #16 (1978).

692. Tilted Arc

Artist: Richard Serra
Date: 1981
Period/Style: Minimalism; US
Medium: Cor-Ten steel sculpture
Dimensions: 12 ft. tall, 120 ft. long and 2.5 in. thick
Current location: The sculpture was removed in 1989. It is either in storage or destroyed.
tilted arc 3
According to Minimalist American sculptor Richard Serra, the large plaza in front of the Jacob Javits Federal Building in Manhattan served no useful purpose. It was merely a place to walk through to get to somewhere else. When the federal government solicited proposals for a public sculpture in the plaza, which was empty except for a fountain, Serra proposed a 12-ft. tall steel wall 120 ft. long and 2.5 in. thick, curved in an arc and titled toward the federal building, that would bisect the previously open plaza, blocking views and paths in both directions. The result would be a work of art that would change the entire character of the site, making the buildings part of the sculpture instead of the other way around. As time went on, the untreated steel would slowly oxidize (i.e., rust). The federal government selected Serra’s bold and confrontational design, called Tilted Arc, which was installed at the site in 1981. Almost immediately, the workers in the Javits Federal Building and other nearby offices began to protest. Tilted Arc wasn’t art, they said, it was an ugly rusting blight that inconvenienced workers, who had to walk around it to get across the plaza. After a series of hearings, at which artists and intellectuals praised the work and office workers castigated it, the General Services Administration decided to move Tilted Arc to another location. Serra sued the government, arguing that Tilted Arc was a site-specific artwork and to move it would be to destroy it. Serra ultimately failed to keep the government from removing Tilted Arc from the plaza – it was disassembled and transported to a warehouse in 1989 and, per Serra’s instructions, will not be erected again unless it is permitted to return to its original location.
tilted arc 2  tilted arc

693. The Matter of Time

Artist: Richard Serra
Date; The Matter of Time was assembled in 2005. Components were created over the period 1997-2005.
Period/Style: Minimalism; US
Medium: Cor-Ten steel sculptures
Dimensions: Many of the sculptures are approximately 14 feet tall.
Current location: Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain
serra matter of time 2 American artist Richard Serra practiced a form of abstract sculpture that did not require bases or pedestals. His pieces confronted the viewers in their own space, thus sparking a new relationship between sculptor and viewer: these were sculptures you could move around, sometimes move in and through. Beginning in the 1960s, Serra worked exclusively with large sheets of weathering steel, often spot-welded together, that took on the color of rust as they oxidized. For the opening of the Guggenheim Bilbao museum in 1997, he produced Snake, consisting of three 14-ft high curving sheets of steel that encouraged viewers to walk between them. For a subsequent commission by the same museum, Serra chose to build on Snake by installing the 1997 piece as the center of a string of eight steel sculptures taking on various forms. The entire multi-sculpture piece is called The Matter of Time and was unveiled in 2005. As with all Serra’s mature works, he organizes the steel plates to control the viewer’s movements through them and through the space around them. Some scholars see The Matter of Time as autobiographical, allowing the viewer to follow the evolution of Serra’s art from simple double ellipse to spiral, ending with sections of toruses and spheres, which create in some viewers a dizzying sensation. Art critic Robert Hughes, writing in The Guardian, sees more: “a marvellous complexity unfolds almost of its own inexorable will and nature from apparently simple premises which, once they are granted and enunciated, generate the form.” The Matter of Time consists of eight sculptures: 1. Torqued Spiral (Closed Open Closed Open Closed) (2003–04); 2. Torqued Ellipse (2003–04); 3. Double Torqued Ellipse (2003–04); 4. Snake (1994–97); 5. Torqued Spiral (Right Left) (2003–04); 6. Torqued Spiral (Open Left Closed Right) (2003–04); 7. Between the Torus and the Sphere (2003–05); and 8. Blind Spot Reversed (2003–05). The Matter of Time is now part of the Guggenheim Bilbao’s permanent exhibit in Bilbao, Spain.  Random Trivia: Curving the two-inch-thick sheets of steel along both the horizontal and vertical axes, as Serra required, is so difficult that only one steel mill in the world – the rolling mill in Siegen, Germany – could do the job.