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