Best Works of Art of All Time – Ranked, Part 2

This is Part 2 of a meta-list of the most highly-regarded paintings, sculptures and various other works of visual art. To go back to Part 1, go HERE. To go ahead to Part 3, 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 the original source lists. Part 3 includes all the works on three of the original source lists.

Notes:

  • 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 5 Lists

293. Venus of Brassempouy

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 24,000-22,000 BCE
Period/Style: Upper Paleolithic; Gravettian culture; France
Medium: Figurine sculpted from mammoth ivory
Dimensions:1.44 in. tall, 0.87 in. deep and 0.75 in. wide
Current Location: Musée d’Archéologie Nationale, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France
Venus_de_Brassempouy
The Venus of Brassempouy is a partial figurine carved from mammoth ivory that was discovered in a cave near French village of Brassempouy in 1894, along with a number of other fragments of statuettes.  The figurine consists of a head and neck and contains one of the very earliest representations of a human face, although the face lacks a mouth. The pattern of carvings on the top, side and back of the head appears to represent hair or a decorated hood. The figurine is considered a Venus figurine, despite the absence of evidence about the body characteristics.  

294. Tuc d’Audoubert Bison

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 15,000-10,000 BCE
Period/Style: Upper Paleolithic; Magdalenian culture; France
Medium: A pair of bison sculpted from unfired clay
Dimensions: Each figure is 18 in. tall by 24 in. long
Current location: Tuc d’Audoubert Cave, near Ariège, France 
tuc d'audoubert bisonIn the farthest reaches of Le Tuc d’Audoubert cave, near Ariège in the French Pyrénées, two clay sculptures of bison – a bull and a cow – lean against a rock.  The figures, which, in the words of Neil Collins, have an “immense naturalistic beauty”, are sculpted in profile and the two figures are supported by a rock. The clay was not fired and has cracked over the millennia. The artist had to bring the clay into the cave and used his or her hands and a sharp tool called a burin to mold the figures and etch details. The artist’s fingerprints are still visible in the surface of the clay. Some experts have ascribed spiritual significance to the figures, and the piece has also been called Altar of Bull and Cow Bison. At least one scholar has suggested that the artist intended to depict a bison mating ritual – the cow appears to be raising her tail (which has broken off) in anticipation of mating.  The location of the sculptures in a relatively inaccessible portion of the cave far from the inhabited portions implies that the space had some symbolic meaning. In addition to the clay bison, the cave contains many wall paintings, including paintings of bison. 

295. Great Sphinx of Giza

Artist: Unknown
Date: Most scholars date the statue to the reign of King Khafre (c. 2558-2532 BCE) although some believe it was made by Khafre’s father Khufu (2589–2566 BC) or Khafre’s brother Djedefre (2566-2558 BCE).
Period/Style: Ancient Egypt; Old Kingdom
Medium: Monumental sculpture made from nummulitic limestone.
Dimensions: 240 ft long from paw to tail; 66.31 ft high from the base to the top of the head; and 62 ft wide at its rear haunches
Current location: Giza, Egypt
sphinx sidesphinx frontA sphinx is a mythical creature with the body of a lion and the head of a man that was part of Ancient Egyptian religious iconography; the sphinx was later integrated into other mythological systems, including that of Ancient Greece. Some Ancient Egyptian sphinxes, including the Great Sphinx of Giza, wear the pharaoh’s headdress; they are often depicted in a recumbent, or sitting position. Most experts believe the Great Sphinx was built during the reign of Old Kingdom Pharaoh Khafre – who also built one of the great pyramids of Giza – and that the face of the Sphinx is a stylized portrait of Khafre. The location of the statue – part of Khafre’s burial complex – is evidence that it was intended as a protector of the king’s burial site. The statue was carved from a single immense block of limestone; experts estimate that 100 workers using stone hammers and copper chisels could have completed the project in about three years. Pigment found on the limestone support the theory that the statue was originally painted. Over the centuries, the Sphinx has been subject to erosion, decay, and vandalism. Restoration projects – some of them quite controversial date back many centuries. Restoration included digging the body out of the sand that buried the Sphinx up to its neck. The figure’s nose is missing, and its ceremonial false beard has fallen off (fragments are visible in the British Museum). Random Trivia: A widely-reported theory that shooting by Napoleon’s occupying troops in 1798-1801 is responsible for the damage to the Sphinx’s face (including the loss of its nose) is almost certain false.  There is significant evidence that the damage preceded Napoleon’s presence.  See, for example, Frederick Louis Norden’s sketch of a noseless, half-buried Sphinx – made in 1737, published in 1755 – in image below.

296. Ram in a Thicket 

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 2600-2400 BCE
Period/Style: Sumerian; Iraq
Medium: Each statuette originally had a wooden core (now rotted) which was adorned with gold leaf, silver leaf, seashell, copper, and lapis lazuli. Each figure stands on a small pedestal decorated by a mosaic made from shell, red limestone and lapis lazuli.
Dimensions: Each statuette is 16.5 inches tall.
Current location: One of the figures is in the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia; the other is in the British Museum in London.
ram 2  ram-thicket
In 1928-1929, while excavating a grave in the Royal Cemetery of Ur, the ancient capital of Sumer in modern-day Iraq, archaeologist Leonard Woolley discovered a pair of statuettes made of a variety of materials. Although the figures were damaged and their wooden cores had rotted, he was able to preserve them sufficiently for restoration. While the animals depicted appear to be goats, the sculptures reminded Woolley of the story in the Book on Genesis in which Abraham, prevented by an angel from killing his son Isaac, sees a ram caught in a thicket to sacrifice instead, and he named each statuette Ram in a Thicket.  Each goat is covered with gold leaf over a wooden core.  Their ears are made of copper and their horns and the fleece on their shoulders is made of lapis lazuli. The fleece on their bodies is made of shell.  Their genitals are gold and their bellies are silver.  The tree and flowers are covered in gold leaf.  The artist used bitumen to glue the parts to each other.  Each goat stands on a small pedestal decorated by a mosaic made from shell, red limestone and lapis lazuli. Silver chains that originally attached the goats to the trees have completely decayed.  Art historians believe that the two figures may have faced each other and that the tubes rising from their shoulders supported a bowl or other object.

297. Standard of Ur

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 2600-2400 BCE
Period/Style: Sumerian, Iraq
Medium: Wooden box covered with mosaics made from shell, limestone and lapis lazuli
Dimensions: 19.5 in. long by 8.5 in. deep at the base
Current location: British Museum, London, England, UK
Standard of ur war

When a member of Leonard Woolley’s archaeological team found a badly fragmented and decayed wooden box covered with mosaics in the grave of Ur-Pabilsag, a Sumerian king, Woolley quickly acted to preserve the crumbling artifact by placing wax on the soil after removing each piece of the box. The result of this painstaking process was a nearly complete impression of the mosaics, which then was used to reconstruct the artifact.  Woolley identified the box as a standard, a type of flag, but later researchers reject that theory, although there is no consensus about the purpose of the object.  One theory is that it was the sound box for a musical instrument. The width of the box narrows from bottom to top, creating a trapezoid. Both long sides contain three levels of mosaics made from shell, limestone and lapis lazuli, using bitumen as glue. One side contains the story of a war victory (see top image above); the other is a banquet or feast (see second image above). The depiction of chariot movement on the bottom row of the war mosaic is particularly inventive. The end panels show imaginary animals. In both large mosaics, the king is depicted in the top row; he is larger than anyone else and he breaks through the frame, demonstrating his power. Note that the chariots have solid wheels – spoked wheels had not yet arrived in Sumer – and the animals pulling the chariots are donkeys or onagers, since domesticated horses had not yet reached Mesopotamia.

298. Stele of Hammurabi

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 1792-1750 BCE
Period/Style: Old Babylonian Empire; Iraq
Medium: Diorite stele containing inscribed text and carved relief sculpture
Dimensions: 7.3 ft. tall
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris

The Stele of Hammurabi is a large stone slab, shaped like a giant index finger, that contains the law code of Hammurabi, a king who ruled over what is called the Old Babylonian Empire in the 18th Century BCE. The top of the stele includes a relief sculpture of Hammurabi (shown standing) receiving the code from Shamash, the ancient Mesopotamian sun god and god of justice, morality, and truth (see detail in image above). The scene shows Hammurabi’s power by depicting the king as equal in size to the god and communicating with him without an intermediary. The stele was discovered in 1901 in the ruins of Susa, in modern Iran, where it had been taken as loot from Mesopotamia. The law code, which is based on the principle of retribution (“an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth”), is written in the Akkadian language using cuneiform script and contains 282 laws.

 

299. Frescoes, Akrotiri, Thera

Artists: Unknown
Date: Dating the frescoes is controversial due to expert disagreement about the date of the cataclysmic volcanic eruption that destroyed much of Thera. Most sources date them to the period of 1700-1500 BCE.
Period/Style: Bronze Age; Minoan culture; Greece
Medium: Frescoes painted on residential walls
Dimensions: Numerous floor-to-ceiling paintings on residential walls
Current location: Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Crete and National Archaeological Museum, Athens
akrotiri fresco 2
 
Akrotiri was a city on the island of Thera (now the Greek island of Santorini) that arose during the late Neolithic and flourished during the Bronze Age. Thera is considered to be part of the Crete-based Minoan culture that dominated the Aegean between 2000 and 1600 BCE, although the specific political relationship between Crete and Thera is unknown. Civilization on the island of Thera came to an abrupt halt in about 1600 BCE following a catastrophic earthquake, volcanic eruption and tsunami that destroyed much of the island of Thera and covered Akrotiri in a deep layer of volcanic ash. Although some evidence of the ruins was uncovered as early as the late 19th Century, it was not until the 1967 excavations of Spyros Marinatos that the world discovered the true extent of the five-acre settlement and the excellent state of its preservation. Numerous buildings have been excavated, and many of the buildings had well-preserved wall paintings with both abstract designs and representations of humans, animals, plants and buildings. Many of the paintings appear to depict religious rituals, while some represent scenes from everyday life. These latter paintings have provided archaeologists with a wealth of information about how the residents of Akrotiri lived. One of the rooms contains a frieze of a sea voyage (sometimes called the Flotilla fresco), including a detailed portrait of a Minoan town, perhaps Akrotiri, that runs along all four walls (see a portion of the fresco in the image below). To paint on the stone walls of Akrotiri’s buildings, the artists first laid down a mud-straw mixture, then add a thin coat of lime plaster. Some of the painting was done on wet plaster (a fresco) and some was done after the fresco had dried (a secco). The many bright pigments were derived from minerals. Some of the geometric designs are so exact that scholars have speculated that the artists used a mechanical device. Some of the frescoes show the influence of the art of Ancient Egypt (particularly the stances of the figures). In fact, the Egyptian papyrus and antelope pictured on two of the frescoes are not found on Thera or any nearby islands, indicating they could have been copied from Egyptian artworks. Visitors to Akrotiri will not see the original wall paintings, which have been brought to museums in Heraklion and Athens, Greece, for protection, but an exhibit of a preserved house at the site has reproductions of the frescoes on its walls. The images above show:
(1) the Spring fresco, which covered three walls; it may be the first example of a landscape painting, showing a rocky landscape with blooming lilies and flying swallows (top image);  
(2) the Boxing Boys fresco, nearly six feet tall, shows two boys engaged in an athletic competition; their shaved heads and stray locks indicate their youth, and their tanned skin tone indicates that they are male (females were represented with pale white skin) (above left); and
(3) the Boy Carrying Fish fresco is one of a pair of figures who may be bringing the fish as a ritual religious offering (above right).

200. Snake Goddess

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 1650-1600 BCE
Period/Style: Bronze Age; Minoan culture; Crete
Medium: Ceramic (faience) statuette
Dimensions: 13.5 inches tall
Current location: Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Crete  
minoan snake goddess
Archaeologists working in the ruins of the Minoan palace at Knossos in 1903 discovered several figurines made out of a glazed ceramic known as faience. Three of the statuettes have been described as snake goddesses, including the one shown above, which depicts a female with exposed breasts holding a snake in each hand. Snakes may have been household protectors or symbols of reincarnation (based on the shedding of their skins) and this may be a snake goddess or snake-God priestess. The idea of snake goddess or snake-wrangling figure, which is not common in Minoan culture, may indicate thei influence of religious beliefs from Syria or some other outside source. Some experts believe the exposed-breasts and ornate dress depict actual contemporary Minoan fashion, or perhaps indicate that the figure is in mourning. The significance of the feline head ornament is not known; it may be a later addition.  Random Trivia:  The drama and sensuality of the figure, which was widely publicized after its discovery, led to the creation of a number of fake snake goddesses, some of which found their way into museum collections.

201. The Vaphio Cups

Artist: Unknown
Date: The date of the cups is uncertain. While pottery found at the same site has been dated to c. 1500-1400 BCE, some experts believe that the gold cups may be as much as a century older (c. 1600-1500 BCE).
Period/Style: Bronze Age; Minoan or Mycenaean culture
Medium: Each cup is made from two sheets of gold; the outer sheet is decorated with relief sculptures.
Dimensions: Each cup is 3.5 inches tall.
Current location: National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece
Vaphio-Cups
Archaeologists excavating a beehive-style grave (known as a tholos) at Vaphio in what is now Laconia, Greece discovered among the items deposited with the body two cups made of gold, now known as the Vaphio Cups. Each cup consists of two plates of gold: a smooth inner plate and an outer plate worked into low reliefs using a metalworking technique known as repoussé. The reliefs show two different methods for catching bulls. One cup shows the use of a cow to lure a bull; when the bull tries to mate with the cow, a man ropes its leg. The second cup shows bulls stampeded into a net; one is caught, while another escapes. (See drawing below showing the scenes if they were laid flat.) In the view of art historian Frederick Hartt, the Vaphio Cups are “among the masterpieces of ancient art” with “reliefs of extraordinary vivacity and power” which make the cups “pulsate with the movement of the powerful bodies and flying hooves.” Experts are not sure if the cups were made by the mainland Mycenaean culture or are from the more artistically-advanced Minoan culture on Crete. Some have suggested, based on stylistic differences, that the two cups were made by separate artists. At least one scholar believes one cup is Mycenaean and the other is Minoan.
vaphio cups 2

302. The Toreador Fresco (Bull Leaping Fresco)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 1500-1450 BCE
Period/Style: Minoan; Crete, Greece
Medium: Fresco painted on raised stucco wall
Dimensions: 30.8 inches tall by 41.1 inches wide
Current location: Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Crete, Greece
toreador fresco
Archaeologists excavating the ruins of the Minoan palace of Knossos found in the rubble fragments of a large fresco of a running bull and three human figures: a woman grabbing the bull by the horns, a man balancing upside down on the bull’s back; and a second woman behind the bull. Experts disagree about the meaning of the scene: Does it represent a sporting activity? Is it a religious ritual? The consensus is that the actions of the figures would not have been physically possible but that the fresco is meant to refer to some activity involving humans jumping onto or over bulls. (Trying to grab a chafing bull by the horns would most likely lead to a goring. Even if someone managed to get a grip on the horns, the bull would toss his head sideways, not straight back.) Because the scene was made by painting on raised areas of stucco, it has qualities of both a bas relief and a fresco. Random Trivia: The bulls involved in the Minoans’ games/rituals were not today’s domestic stock but the much larger wild aurochs, the species that was eventually domesticated. An auroch bull stood six feet tall at the shoulder, significantly larger than today’s bulls.

303. Nebamun Hunting Fowl in the Marshes (Fowling in the Marshes)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 1390-1350 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Egyptian: 18th Dynasty of the New Kingdom (Classical style)
Medium: Paint on dry plaster wall (a secco)
Dimensions: 2.7 ft. tall by 3.2 ft. wide (removed from a tomb wall)
Current location: British Museum, London, England, UK
nebamun
In 1821, Greek grave-robber Giovanni d’Athanasi discovered in Thebes, Egypt the tomb of Nebamun, a minor official who lived in the late 18th Dynasty of the New Kingdom, about 1350 BCE.  According to an inscription on the wall, Nebamun was “a scribe who counts the grain in the granary of divine offerings.” The walls of his tomb-chapel contained exquisitely painted scenes, meant to represent the happiness of the afterlife. Using a crowbar, d’Athanasi removed several of the scenes from the walls and sold them to a collector, who brought them to the British Museum.  Because d’Athanasi was unhappy with his fee, he never told anyone where the grave was located and took the secret to his grave. One of the most remarkable scenes, painted a secco with paint on dry plaster, shows Nebamun on a boat in the marshes, hunting birds. His wife and daughter are present. The gilded-eyed cat may represent the sun god. A caption in hieroglyphics states that Nebamun is enjoying himself and seeing beauty. The hunting scene is not meant to be realistic or historical – Nebamun’s wife is dressed for a party, and their daughter would not normally join a hunting expedition. Instead, the painting shows an idealized family outing in the afterlife.  A matching scene with Nebamun catching fish has disappeared.  Among the other painted scenes in the same tomb (also at the British Museum) is known as Pond in a Garden, or Nebamun’s Garden (see image below).

304. Charioteer of Delphi (Heniokhos)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 478 or 474 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Greece; Early Classical “Severe” style
Medium: Bronze sculpture
Dimensions: 5.9 feet tall
Current location: Archaeological Museum of Delphi, Greece
charioteer
One of the rare extant bronze sculptures from the Classical Period of Greek art, the Charioteer of Delphi was originally part of a multi-piece sculptural group including horses and other figures, fragments of which remain (see the Delphi museum exhibit with fragments and imagined reconstruction in image below left).  The relatively calm stance of the Charioteer indicate that the race is over; the sculpture may depict the group during a victory lap. The group is donated to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi by Polyzalus of Gela, Sicily to thank the gods for the victory of his chariot in the Pythian Games of either 478 or 474 BCE.  Because the statue was buried after a rockslide in the 4th Century BCE, the bronze was not melted down for reuse.  The statue of the young man (his side curls indicate young age) is remarkably intact and includes the inlaid glass/onyx eyes and silver eyelashes, as well as portions of the reins. The statue, which was sculpted in the Severe style of early classical Greek art, shows important developments in naturalistic depiction of human figures. The statue is more naturalistic than the sculpted figures of the Archaic period, but the pose is still very rigid when compared with works of the High Classical period of a few decades later. The Charioteer wears a xystis, a garment normally worn during chariot races; the high belt and straps prevent the garment from filling with wind during the race and billowing up to obscure the driver’s face. The very realistic bare feet face forward but the rest of the figure angles toward the right.  The teenaged charioteer’s expression shows modesty in victory and control over his emotions (see detail in image below), consistent with the Severe style conventions that emphasize self-control over expressive emotion.  
 

305. Antkythera Ephebe (Youth of Antikythera)

Artist: The identity of the sculptor is unknown, although some art historians believe the statue may be the work of Euphranor of Corinth, a well-known and respected 4th Century BCE Greek painter and sculptor.
Date: c. 340-330 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Greece; late Classical-early Hellenistic periods
Medium: Bronze statue
Dimensions: 6.4 feet tall
Current location: National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece
antikythera ephebe
Because bronze is useful in making weapons, most Greek bronze statues were melted down and “repurposed” long ago. Most of those that survived but were exposed to the elements have also been destroyed. It is only the rare discovery of a buried or shipwrecked sculpture that has allowed us to see the truly great art of Greek bronze statuary. One of the first such fortuitous discoveries (for us, not for those on the ship) was that of a shipwreck off the coast of Greece near Antikythera that yielded a number of treasures, including a bronze statue of a young man in contrapposto pose who was once holding a spherical object in his right hand. The statue was in pieces that were poorly reconstructed in 1901 and 1902 but then disassembled and redone in the late 1940s and 1950s to the great satisfaction of art historians. The sculpture was created around the end of the Classical period or the beginning of the Hellenistic period of Greek art (see detail in image below). Debate rages about the identity of the figure, but no theory fits all the facts. A significant faction believes the figure is Paris, shown as he gives Aphrodite the Apple of Discord with his right hand and a bow in his left. (If correct, this may be the statue by Euphranor that is described by Pliny.) Naysayers point out that typical Paris iconography shows him wearing a cloak and a Phrygian cap. Another faction holds that the statue shows Perseus holding the head of Medusa by her hair in his right hand and the sickle he cut it off with in his left. The problem: Perseus is missing his typical chlamys cloak, winged sandals and the magical helmet that made him invisible. A third, less numerous group of scholars says that the figure is Heracles, young and beardless, holding the Hesperidean apple. Random Trivia: Historians of science and technology recognize the Antikythera shipwreck as the source of the famous Antikythera Mechanism, a complex gear-operated calendar and astronomical device.

306. Apollo Belvedere (Pythian Apollo)

Artist: Leochares created the original bronze; an unknown artist created the marble copy.
Date: 350-320 BCE (Ancient Greek bronze original); 120-140 CE (Ancient Roman marble copy)
Period/Style: Ancient Greece: Late Classical Period
Medium: The original was a bronze sculpture; the copy is carved marble.
Dimensions: 7.3 ft. tall
Current location: The original bronze is lost. The marble copy is at the Vatican Museums, Vatican City.
Apollo_Belvedere
The original Greek bronze statue of Apollo by Leochares is lost, but a Roman marble copy known as Apollo Belvedere (because it is located in the Belvedere Court designed by Renaissance architect Bramante) is in the Vatican Museums. Certain elements – such as the Roman-style footware – lead scholars to call this a re-creation rather than a faithful copy of the original Ancient Greek sculpture. The statue shows the god Apollo just after shooting an arrow (the bow is missing), possibly killing the Python, the serpent of Delphi (a snake is carved on the tree trunk). The god expresses no emotion in his face, a sign of his stoicism. Scholars have praised the unusual contrapposto pose, in which Apollo is depicted both facing front and in profile, and the way in which the hanging cloak sets off the god’s physique. The statue’s missing right arm and left hand were replaced in the 16th Century by Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli, a pupil of Michelangelo’s. The statue was Initially revered as emblematic of the Classical style, and made famous in the 1530s by prints from and engraving by Marcantonio Raimondi. A number of artists looked to the statue for inspiration, including Antonio Canova, whose Perseus Triumphant (1801), also in the Vatican Museums, copies much from the Apollo Belvedere (see image below). Eighteeenth Century art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann called the Apollo Belvedere “the most sublime of all the statues of antiquity.” But beginning in the Romantic era and continuing through the 20th Century, the statue’s reputation has declined as more and more critics have found it to be cold and academic. According to Kenneth Clark, “in no other famous work of art are idea and execution more distressingly divorced.’”

307. Frescoes, Villa of Agrippa Postumus

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 11-1 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Rome; Third Pompeian Style
Medium: Frescoes painted on residential walls
Dimensions: The frescoes decorate the walls of a large residence
Current location: National Archaeological Museum, Naples, Italy and Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

The wealthy citizens of Ancient Rome built villas along the coast of the Bay of Naples, some of which were preserved by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE. Among the most magnificent was the villa of Agrippa, the friend and son-in-law of Emperor Augustus, in the town of Boscotrecase. In 11 BCE, Agrippa died and left the villa to his infant son Agrippa Postumus, although the household was run by Julia, Agrippa’s widow. Around this time, Julia had the villa extensively renovated, which included painting numerous frescoes on the walls of the bedrooms, or cubicula. The frescoes, which were likely painted by Roman artists, are among the finest examples of the Third Pompeian Style, which flourished during the reign of Augustus and emphasized decorative whimsy and elegant weightlessness over realism and the illusion of depth and substance. Several of the frescoes show landscapes with what appear to be religious shrines or aediculae (see images above and below left).  Other frescoes contain identifiable mythological elements, such as the one depicting the cyclops Polyphemus and Galatea in a landscape (see image below right).
 

308. Toranas (Gateways), Great Stupa of Sanchi

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 100-1 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient India; Buddhist era; Satavahana Dynasty
Medium: Carved stone gateways
Dimensions: Each torana is 36 feet tall and 19.7 feet wide.
Current location: Madhya Pradesh, India
eastern gateway

The Great Stupa of Sanchi is an ancient Buddhist site in Madhya Pradesh, India, the oldest portions of which were built under Ashoka the Great in the 3rd Century BCE. The four toranas (gateways) were probably added in the 1st Century BCE during the Satavahana dynasty, although some scholars believe they are much earlier and date to 180-160 BCE. The toranas are made of stone but the techniques used by the carvers are similar to those used when carving wood. The carvings in the toranas tell stories from the life of the Buddha, as well as scenes from everyday life. The Buddha is represented by symbols – his horse, his footprints, or a canopy under a tree – but is never shown as a human figure, as it was believed that no mortal body could contain the Buddha. The images show:
(1) the eastern torana, with the stupa in the background (second image above)
(2) the top portion of the rear of the northern torana (top)
(3) detail from one of the eastern torana pillars showing the temple for the Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya (below left); and 
(4) an elephant capital from the eastern torana (below right)
 

309. Relief Sculptures, Great Stupa of Amaravati

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 100 BCE-250 CE
Period/Style: Ancient India; Buddhist era; Satavahana Dynasty
Medium:
Dimensions:
Current location: Relief sculptures from the Great Stupa are located in various collections, including the Government Museum in Chennai, India and the British Museum in London.

Legend has it that the Buddha himself preached at the future site of the Amaravati Stupa in Andhra Pradesh, India in 500 BCE, but historical records only begin in the 2nd Century BCE, when Dharanikota, near Amaravati, became the capital city of Satavahana Empire, which reigned over a large portion of central India from 230 BCE to 220 CE. Work reportedly began on the stupa (a hemispherical building used to house relics and as a focus of meditation) during the reign of Mauryan King Ashoka the Great in the 3rd Century BCE, but the building was not complete until c. 200 CE. When complete, the Great Stupa was estimated to be 88.6 ft. tall and 160 ft. in diameter. The structure of the Stupa was adorned with both freestanding statues of the Buddha and relief sculptures carved into limestone slabs that depict stories from the life of the Buddha and the Jakata stories. The Amaravati sculptural style is considered unique, in part because trade with Ancient Rome gives some of the work a Greco-Roman influence.  Art historians identify four separate phases of sculpture at the site: (I) 200-100 BCE; (II) 100 CE; (III) 150 CE and (IV) 200-250 CE. When Hinduism became the dominant religion in central India, the Great Stupa suffered neglect, so that when British explorers visited it in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, it had been reduced to a pile of rubble. Some of the stone had been reused in local buildings; others had been burned for lime. Many of the sculptures found their way into museums in India (especially the Government Museum in Chennai) and elsewhere, particularly the British Museum, which has about 120 Amaravati pieces in its collection. The image show:
(1) A relief (from c. 200-250 CE) that was located on the drum of the stupa shows a traditional Buddhist stupa, with lions at the gateway, dharmachaka (spoked wheel) capitals on the pillars and various figures worshipping (see image above); and
(2) a relief (from c. 100-150 CE) from a pillar in the railing that surrounded the stupa, depicting the story of Queen Maya’s dream (see image below). Both reliefs shown are in the British Museum.

310. Arch of Titus

Artist: The architect and sculptor(s) are unknown, but some have speculated based on elements of style that the architect was Rabirius, a favorite of Emperor Domitian.
Date: 82 CE
Period/Style: Ancient Rome; Imperial Era
Medium: Stone triumphal arch with relief sculptures
Dimensions: 50 feet high, 44 feet wide and 15.5 feet deep
Current location: Roman Forum, Rome, Italy

The Arch of Titus is a triumphal arch on the Via Sacra in Rome that was built by Emperor Domitian to honor the military victories of his deceased older brother Titus, particularly the suppression of the Great Revolt by the Jewish people, culminating in Roman victory by Titus and his father Vespasian at the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE. A relief in the left or south interior passageway of the arch depicts Roman soldiers returning with the Spoils of Jerusalem, including a large menorah (see detail in first image below). The north inner panel depicts Titus as triumphator attended by both mortal and divine entities. A helmeted Amazonian, Valour, leads the four horsed chariot carrying Titus. Winged Victory crowns him with a laurel wreath. The panel is notable in Roman art is one of the first examples of divinities and humans inhabiting the same space. At the center of the coffered ceiling of the archway is a relief of the apotheosis of Titus. The Arch of Titus has been much altered over the centuries. During the Middle Ages, it was incorporated into a defensive wall, which destroyed some of the relief sculptures on the exterior. Restoration efforts in the 19th Century further altered the arch’s appearance. The Arch of Titus was the model for many other arches around the world, including the Arc d’Triomphe in Paris and the arch in Washington Square Park in New York City. Random Trivia: The menorah depicted in the Spoils of Jerusalem relief inside the Arch of Titus was used as the model for the emblem for the state of Israel.
arch of titus spoils of jerusalem

311. Relief Sculptures, Vishnu Temple (Dashavatara Temple; Gupta Temple)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 500 CE
Period/Style: Ancient India; Hindu period; Gupta era
Medium: Relief sculptures carved in stone on the exterior of a temple
Dimensions: Many hundreds of square feet of reliefs. Some panels measure 2 feet by 2.5 feet.
Current location: The temple is located in Deogarh, Madhya Pradesh, India. Some of the sculptures are in various museums including the National Museum in Delhi, India. 


One of the first stone temples of Hinduism, the Vishnu Temple was built about 500 CE, during the Gupta Empire. Statues and relief sculptures all feature the god Vishnu or stories related to his life. The images show:
(1) Relief sculptures on the southern temple wall, in which Vishnu reclines on the many-headed serpent Shesha (Ananta). At Vishnu’s feet are his consort Lakshmi and her attendants. Below them are Madhu and Kaitabha, two demons, whose attack is about to be thwarted by Vishnu’s four personified weapons (top image above).
(2) Reliefs from over the temple doorway, in which Vishnu is sitting on the serpent’s coils with its many hoods overhead, with Lakshmi at Vishnu’s feet and flanked by two of his incarnations (see second image above).
(3) Relief with the elephant god Ganesha (see image below left).
(4) Relief from he northern temple wall, showing the story of Vishnu saving Gajendra the elephant from a crocodile (see image below right).

 

312. Gero Crucifix (Gero Cross)

Artist: Unknown
Date: 960-976 CE 
Period/Style: Medieval; Ottonian (with Byzantine elements); Germany
Medium: Carved oak wood, painted and gilded
Dimensions: 6.1 feet from head to feet, and 5.4 feet from arm to arm
Current location: Cologne Cathedral, Cologne, Germany
gero crucifix
Located in a chapel in Cologne Cathedral in Cologne, Germany, the Gero Crucifix is one of the first depictions of the dead Jesus on the cross and is the oldest life-sized crucifix known in northern Europe. The wooden sculpture has been painted and gilded more than once over the centuries, most recently in 1904. The figure of Jesus – depicted in the Christus patiens (suffering Christ) motif – shows a mixture of Carolingian/Ottonian and Byzantine elements. Art historian Frederick Hartt points out the sculpture’s “intense emotion” and “emphasis on physical torment” and notes that ‘[t]his kind of expressiveness … achieves its end by showing the most repulsive physical conditions” (see detail in image below). The distracting starburst backdrop was added in 1683.

313. Relief Sculptures, South Portal, St. Pierre (Moissac Abbey)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 1115-1130
Period/Style: Medieval; Romanesque; France
Medium: Relief sculptures carved in stone on the exterior of a church
Dimensions: The statue of the prophet (Jeremiah or Isaiah) on the right side of the trumeau is 5.8 feet tall.
Current location: Moissac, France

moissac tympanum
The South Portal of the church of St. Pierre in Moissac, France – one of the pilgrimage churches along the way to Santiago de Compostela in Spain – is a remarkable example of Romanesque sculpture. (See entire portal in top image.) The carvings show an energy and agitation that is characteristic of the Romanesque. Also evident is the sculptor’s familiarity with the Hiberno-Saxon style of early illuminated manuscripts. The highlight of the doorway is the tympanum above the doors, which depicts the vision of St. John from the Apocalypse, in which Christ sits on a throne, surrounded by 24 elders and the four evangelists (depicted in their symbolic forms: Matthew as a man with wings; Mark as a lion; Luke as an ox and John as an eagle (see detail in second image above). Below the tympanum, on the lintel, are rosette designs – perhaps representing the fires of hell – flanked on either side by strange beasts. The trumeau (the pillar in the center of the doorway, shows interlaced lion figures on the front (see detail below left), which remind us of the animal interlace from the Book of Kells and other ancient manuscripts, and sculptures of prophets on either side.  The figure on the right side (either Jeremiah or Isaiah) is remarkable for its twisting pose (see detail below right). In the words of art historian Frederick Hartt, it is “one of the strangest figures in the whole of Western art. … whose painfully slender legs are crossed as if in a ritual dance, which lifts the folds of his tunic and his cloak in complex linear patterns. … For all the fervor of his inspiration, [he] seems trapped in the mechanism of this fanstastic portal.”  Random Trivia: The splayed enframement above the Moissac tympanum, divided by colonnettes and decorated with floral patterns, was new to Romanesque church portals.  The architectural feature would be adopted and expanded upon in the Gothic style to follow in the portals of Chartres, Reims, Amiens and other cathedrals.
 

314. Fonte Gaia Fountain

Artist: Jacopo della Quercia (born Jacopo di Pietro d’Agnolo di Guarnieri)
Date: 1414-1419
Period/Style: Late Gothic; Siena, Italy
Medium: Fountain with marble frame and numerous marble statues
Dimensions: The statues are life size.
Current location: The fountain (with 19th Century replacement statues) is located in the Piazza del Campo in Siena. The weather-damaged original statues are on display nearby at Santa Maria della Scalla
fonte gaia 2
 The Fonte Gaia (Fountain of Joy) is a large fountain in the Piazza del Campo, the main square in the center of Siena. An older fountain was built on the site in 1342-1346, but the rectangular white marble frame with its many sculptures was added in 1414-1419 by noted Sienese sculptor Jacopo della Quercia. The central bas relief figure is the Madonna and Child, surrounded by allegorical figures of the Virtues. The sculptures on the sides show stories from the Book of Genesis: Creation of Adam and the Flight from the Garden of Eden. The figures also refer to Siena’s legendary connections with Ancient Rome. Freestanding statues of the birth mother (Rhea Silvia) and adoptive mother (Acca Larentia) of Romulus and Remus, both pictured with the twin boys, stood atop the end columns. Two wolves, representing the she-wolf that raised Romulus and Remus, serve as water spouts. The style is considered Late Gothic, although there are some elements (such as attempts at perspective) that presage the Renaissance style that was blooming in nearby Florence. The original sculptures suffered significant damage from the elements and were removed to a museum in Santa Maria della Scalla nearby and replaced by copies made by Tito Sarrocchi between 1858 and 1866. For some reason (excessive modesty?), the reconstruction omitted the two freestanding nude figures.  The images show:
(1) a view of the present-day Fonte Gaia, with Sarrocchi’s copies (top):
(2) the original Madonna and Child (above left); 
(3) Rhea Silvia, with her sons Romulus and Remus (above right);
(4) an angel with a portion of the marble frame from the original Fonte Gaia (below left); and
(5) the original allegorical figure of Wisdom (below right).

 

315. Santa Lucia de’ Magnoli Altarpiece (St. Lucy Altarpiece)

Artist: Domenico Veneziano
Date: c. 1445-1447
Period/Style: Early Renaissance; Italy
Medium: Tempera paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 2.7 ft high by 2.8 ft wide
Current location: The center panel is in the Ufffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy. The predella scenes are distributed as follows: St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata and St. John the Baptist in the Desert are at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.; The Annunciation, and A Miracle of St. Zenobius, are at the Fitzwilliam Museum (University of Cambridge), Cambridge, UK; and The Martyrdom of St. Lucy is at the Staatliche Museen in Berlin.
veneziano st lucy
Domenico Veneziano’s St. Lucy Altarpiece is considered by some to be the first true sacra conversazione, in which Mary, Jesus and selected saints share a single space and relate as equals outside the context of any particular Biblical narrative. The altarpiece is missing the predella, which consisted of five scenes from the lives of the depicted saints; it was removed and the panels are now located in four different museums. (Shown below are St. John the Baptist in the Desert, at left, and The Annunciation, at right.) The altarpiece was commissioned for the Santa Lucia dei Magnoli Church in Florence, a Franciscan church dedicated to St. Lucy. Not surprisingly, then, Sts. Francis and Lucy are among those depicted (from left): St. Francis, St. John the Baptist (Florence’s patron saint), Mary and Jesus, St. Zenobius (Florence’s first bishop), and St. Lucy. Painted using the rules of single-point linear perspective, the altarpiece is one of the first to abandon the elaborate frames and gilded backgrounds of earlier examples (although the painted architecture recalls those earlier frames).
 

316. The Last Supper

Artist: Andrea del Castagno (also known as Andrea di Bartolo di Bargilla)
Date: c. 1445-1450
Period/Style: Early Renaissance; Florence, Italy; religious
Medium: Fresco painted on a convent wall
Dimensions: 14.9 feet tall by 32 feet wide
Current location: Museo di Cenacolo di Sant’Apollonia, Florence
Andrea_del_Castagno last supper
Andrea del Castagno’s Last Supper was painted on the wall of the dining room of Sant’Apollonia convent in Florence, Italy, home to a community of Benedictine nuns. Scholars have noted that the detail and naturalism of Castagno’s style are advances over work by earlier painters (see detail showing St. Peter, Judas, Jesus, and a sleeping St. John in image below). Castagno marshalls color (including the faux marble walls), gesture and posture (note the contrast/echo established by Judas’s erect posture and St. John’s sleeping horizontal form, for example) to create a sense of balance. He also uses perspective and detail to create the illusion of true architecture, with a niche in the wall, side walls, and a roof above. Due to the secrecy and isolation associated with the Benedictine order, the modern art world was unaware of the existence of the fresco until 1866, when the convent was closed by an anticlerical Florentine government. As with many depictions of Jesus’ last meal with his Apostles (although not Leonardo da Vinci’s famous and more emotionally-charged 1498 version), Judas sits on the opposite side of the table. Some critics believe that Leonardo’s more emotional version was meant to deliberately contrast with the stillness of depictions of the event by Castagno and others.

317. Portrait of a Lady

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

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

318. St. Wolfgang Altarpiece

Artist: Michael Pacher
Date: The altarpiece was commissioned in 1471 and completed in 1481. (One source says the sculpted center panel was completed in 1479.)
Period/Style: Northern Gothic; Northern Renaissance; Austria; religious
Medium: Polyptych with both sculpted scenes carved from pine and linden wood, which have been painted and gilded, as well as tempera painted wood panels
Dimensions: The altarpiece is nearly 40 feet tall and more than 21 feet wide.
Current location: St. Wolfgang Church, Abersee, Austria


Born and raised in the Tyrol section of Austria, painter and sculptor Michael Pacher took a trip to Padua, Italy at some point prior to 1471 that forever changed his style. From studying the frescoes of Andrea Mantegna, Pacher learned the rules of perspective, foreshortening and other Renaissance techniques and went on to fuse these principles with Northern Gothic realism to achieve a sublime hybrid style. In 1471, he received a commission from Abbott Benedict of the Mondsee Monastery to create an altarpiece for the monastery’s St. Wolfgang Church in Abersee. A decade later, Pacher delivered and personally installed the massive altarpiece. The altarpiece has two sets of moving hinges, permitting three separate views. Monday through Saturday, both sets of doors are closed and viewers see four painted scenes from the life of St. Wolfgang, flanked by carved figures of St. George and St. Florian, in armor. On Sundays, the first set of doors is opened to see eight painted scenes from the life of Christ, including the Death and Resurrection of Lazarus (see image below). On holy days, both sets of doors are opened to see a central sculpted scene of the Coronation of the Virgin, presented within a Gothic architectural space (see detail in second image above), flanked by four painted scenes: the Nativity, the Circumcision, the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, and the Death of the Virgin. The predella underneath is closed except on holy days. When closed, the predella shows paintings of four Fathers of the Church: Pope Gregory the Great, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine and St. Jerome. When the predella is open, the viewer sees a central panel with a carved scene of the Adoration of the Magi, flanked by two painted panels: the Visitation and the Flight from Egypt. Towering over all these sculptures and paintings is a carved Crucifixion scene, with Jesus, his mother and various saints and angels, that is visible at all times.

319. Adam and Eve (The Fall of Man) 

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

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

320. The Damned Cast into Hell, from The Last Judgment

Artist: Luca Signorelli
Date: c. 1499-1505
Period/Style: Renaissance; Italy
Medium: Fresco painted on chapel interior walls
Dimensions: 23 feet wide
Current location: Orvieto Cathedral, Orvieto, Italy
signorelli damned
Instead of presenting the Last Judgment in one combined scene (see Giotto, Michelangelo and others), Italian painter Luca Signorelli expanded the story to fill an entire chapel in the Orvieto Cathedral, with six different scenes, each dedicated to one aspect of the drama, including The Elect Called to Heaven, the Resurrection, the Deeds of the Antichrist and the Apocalypse, The Damned Cast into Hell and The Damned Carried Across the River to the Underworld. The most powerful portion of the fresco program is The Damned Cast into Hell. Three archangels (Michael, Gabriel and Raphael) in full armor watch (see detail in first image below) as bizarrely-pigmented ghouls and demons carry the damned to hell, where they are tortured and abused. Building on the work of Michelangelo, Signorelli used the opportunity of the wide space to experiment with showing the nude, often quite muscular human bodies in a multiplicity of positions and the human face in a panoply of expressions (see detail in images below left and right). Random Trivia: Signorelli painted himself into Hell – he is the bluish single-horned demon near the very center of the composition (see image below right).

 

321. The Three Philosophers

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

322. Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror 

Artist: Parmigianino 
Date: c. 1524
Period/Style: Late Renaissance/Mannerism; Italy; self-portrait
Medium: Oil paints on convex wood panel
Dimensions: 9.6 inches in diameter
Current location: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria

Parmigianino’s Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror operates on a number of levels. It is, first of all, a virtuoso performance that demonstrates the 21-year-old painter’s talent, and he hoped it would earn him commissions. Parmigianino looked into a convex mirror, which distorts reflections so that objects change size and sharp edges become curved, and painted exactly what he saw. To increase the effect, he had a woodworker create a concave wooden platform on which to paint. Not coincidentally, his hand – the painter’s most important tool – is exaggerated by the mirror into monumentality. On a deeper level, however, the painting raises issues about the act of seeing. Parmigianino has created a painting that appears to be a mirror – complete with round frame – and asks us to look at it, as if we are looking into a mirror, but instead of our own reflection, we see his. The painting matches the Mannerist philosophy nicely, for Mannerists welcome distortion, even celebrate it. Random Trivia: In 1975, John Ashbery published an award-winning book of poetry titled Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror – the title poem reflects on the meaning of Parmigianino’s painting:

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

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

323. The Assumption of the Virgin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Artist: Hans Holbein the Younger
Date: 1536-1537 (original mural); 1537-1547 (best copies)
Period/Style: Northern Renaissance; England; royal portrait
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: The Rome copy is 2.9 ft. tall by 2.4 ft. wide. The Liverpool copy is 7.8 ft. tall by 4.4 ft. wide. The Madrid study is 11 in. tall by 7.8 in. wide.  The copy of the mural is 2.9 ft. tall by 3.25 ft. wide.
Current location: The original was destroyed by fire. The 17th Century copy of the mural is in the Royal Collection, England, UK. The preparatory drawing is in the National Portrait Gallery in London. A preparatory study is in the Museo Thuyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid. Excellent copies are in the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica in Rome (three-quarter length, possibly by Holbein) and the Walker Gallery of Art in Liverpool (full length). Other copies are in various collections.


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

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

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

328. Landscape with the Fall of Icarus

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

329. The Tower of Babel

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

330. Feast in the House of Levi

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

331. Conversion of St. Paul on the Way to Damascus 

Artist: Caravaggio
Date: 1600-1601
Period/Style: Baroque; Italy; religious
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 7.6 ft. tall by 5.75 ft. wide
Current location: Cerasi Chapel, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome, Italy

When Tiberio Cerasi, treasurer-general for Pope Clement VIII sought artists to decorate his chapel in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome, he selected two of the best painters working at the time: Annibale Caracci and Caravaggio, who had made a name for himself with the first two St. Matthew paintings in the Contarelli Chapel. Caravaggio painted two canvases for the Cerasi Chapel in 1600-1601, The Crucifixion of St. Peter and The Conversion of St. Paul on the Way to Damascus. The Conversion that hangs in the Cerasi Chapel (see image above) is Caravaggio’s second attempt at the subject. The first, more conventional rendering, with an angel, was rejected by the executor of Cerasi’s estate (Cerasi died in 1601), although some experts suspect that the executor rejected the painting so he could keep it for himself (see image below). The second version has a simpler composition than the first but is also highly theatrical. We see no angel, only a heavenly light illuminating the horse’s flank. Having heard the voice of Jesus, Paul lies on the ground in state of religious ecstasy, his hands raised in prayer and awe. The groom seems unaware of what has happened and is more concerned about the horse than the fallen rider. Caravaggio effectively uses the technique of tenebrism – the horse, groom and Paul are spotlit against a black, featureless background. The contrary diagonals of the horse and Paul create a sense of tension, as does the horse’s raised leg. Some scholars have criticized the composition for showing “too many legs”, but others find that the fence of horse and human legs heightens the sense that the foreshortened body of Paul is being pushed backwards, towards the picture plane and into the viewer’s space. In this and other paintings from the period, Caravaggio is in some ways inventing the Baroque style, the philosophical underpinnings of which can be traced to the Council of Trent (1545-1563), in which the Counter-Reformation Catholic Church endorsed visceral religious art that spoke to the illiterate populace by appealing to the senses, not the intellect.

332. Supper at Emmaus

Artist: Caravaggio
Date: 1601
Period/Style: Baroque; Italy; religious
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.7 ft. tall by 6.4 ft. wide
Current location: National Gallery, London, England, UK 
Caravaggio-Supper_in_Emmaus 3The Baroque style is best understood in the context of the Counter-Reformation, the Catholic Church’s response to the Protestant Revolution that began in the 16th Century. The Council of Trent in the 1540s decreed that the Church should use art as a tool to keep Catholics in the church and to bring Protestants (who mostly eschewed religious imagery) back to the fold. The art should be dramatic, vivid, personal, and not overly complicated. Caravaggio, who was one of the inventors of the Baroque style, produced a textbook example of Counter-Reformation art in his Supper at Emmaus. The painting depicts a story from the Gospel of Luke in which two of Christ’s disciples meet him on the road after he rose from the dead but do not recognize him until, at lunch, he blesses the bread. Caravaggio paints the precise moment of recognition. The figures are real people with all their flaws. Caravaggio is less concerned with depth and perspective than with bringing the scene forward to connect with the viewer. In gestures of astonishment and disbelief, the disciples reach their arms toward the plane of the painting, as if trying to draw us in. The basket of fruit leans over the table edge so precariously, we worry it will fall on our floor, not theirs. In contrast to all the activity in the foreground, the back of the room is essentially featureless, though claustrophobically close. Caravaggio directs the production as if it were in a theater, with the dramatic lighting of a stage show.

333. The Flight into Egypt

Artist: Adam Elsheimer
Date: 1609
Period/Style: Baroque; Germany/Italy; religious landscape
Medium: Oil paints on a sheet of copper
Dimensions: 12.2 inches tall by 16 inches wide
Current location: Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Germany
Elsheimer-Flight into egyptAdam Elsheimer, a German Baroque painter working in Italy, painted small landscapes designed for the cabinet, a private room in a spacious home. In The Flight into Egypt, which may have been Elsheimer’s last painting, the artist depicts a familiar story from Matthew’s Gospel in an unfamiliar way. According to the Gospel, it was nighttime when Joseph and Mary fled with Jesus into Egypt to escape Herod’s slaughter of the firstborn, but most previous artists depicted the flight into Egypt as a daytime event. Elsheimer was among the first to meet the challenge of telling the story in a realistic nocturnal setting. The work contrasts the few, limited light sources (the moon, Joseph’s torch and the shepherds’ fire) with the vast darkness of forest and sky. (See detail with shepherds in image below.) The overall effect is of the holy family seeking the small pools of light (hope and warmth) amid the unknown mystery and fearful power of the darkness. Elsheimer was an amateur astronomer and may have had access to a telescope (a device that was invented in The Netherlands in 1608), which may explain the accuracy of his depictions of the Milky Way, Ursa Major (the Big Dipper), other stars and the moon, all of which are consistent with the sky in Rome during June 1609.

334. Aurora

Artist: Guercino (born Giovanni Francesco Barbieri)
Date: 1621-1623
Period/Style: Baroque, Rome; mythological
Medium: Fresco painted on residential ceiling
Dimensions: The fresco covers the entire ceiling of a large room
Current location: Villa Ludovisi, Rome, Italy
aurora guercino

In about 1620, the wealthy and powerful Ludovisi family commissioned the Italian painter known as Il Guercino (the squinter, born Giovanni Francesco Barbieri) to paint a series of frescoes in the Casino dell’Aurora of their country home, the Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi. Guercino devoted the ceiling to a dramatic, yet classically balanced depiction of Aurora, the goddess of dawn, riding her horse-drawn chariot across the sky (see top image above and detail in second image above). Art historian Frederick Hartt praises “[t]he opulence and grace of his style, the rich soft coloring, and the strong light-and-dark contrasts” as “more naturalistic” than many of his contemporaries. Guercino’s choice of subject was a brazen case of one-upsmanship, as his rival Guido Reni had painted an identically-themed fresco on the ceiling of a wealthy patron’s home just a few years earlier (see Reni’s ceiling, with painted frame, in image below). The consensus of art historians is that Guercino’s Aurora is more alive and dynamic – a more fully-realized work of art – than Reni’s. Random Trivia; Guercino’s painted architecture creates the illusion that the ceiling is much higher than the actual 16 feet, except for one corner (see lower right quadrant in top image) where Guercino deliberately ruins the illusion in what Hartt calls an “alarmingly effective” “prank.”

335. David

Artist: Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Date: 1623-1624
Period/Style: Baroque; Rome; religious
Medium: Sculpture carved from marble
Dimensions: 5.7 ft. tall
Current location: Galleria Borghese, Rome, Italy

the David is one of several Bernini statues commissioned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese to decorate his home, the Palazzo Borghese. (Other highlights include Apollo and Daphne and The Rape of Persephone.) When compared with other famous Davids by Donatello, Verrocchio and Michelangelo, Bernini’s is the most active, the least static, the most expressive and the least symmetrical, all in keeping with the Baroque philosophy that art, especially religious art, should produce a simple but powerful emotional reaction in the viewer. Instead of representing David standing calmly after killing Goliath, Bernini shows him in motion, in the very act of throwing the stone at the giant (see detail in images below). In the words of Beth Harris and Stephen Zucker, “When looking at Bernini’s David, we immediately start to feel what David is feeling. This empathy is very important to Baroque art.”
 

336. The Martyrdom of St. Serapion

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

337. The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus (The Abduction of the Daughters of Leucippus)

Artist: Peter Paul Rubens
Date: 1617-1618
Period/Style: Baroque; Flanders (now Belgium); mythology
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 7.3 ft. tall by 6.8 ft. wide
Current location: Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Germany
Rubens_-_The_Rape_of_the_Daughters_of_LeucippusPeter Paul Rubens’ artistic style blended the Classical harmonies of the High Renaissance, the control of color of Titian and other Venetians, and the drama and vigorous activity of the Baroque. The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus, a large mythological painting, combines these stylistic threads brilliantly. The painting shows twin brothers Castor (left) and Pollux abducting Phoebe and Hilaeira, the daughters of King Leucippus of Aros, whom they will force to marry them. Thematically, the work is controversial because of an apparent ambivalence on the part of the subjects: Castor and Pollux seem less than enthusiastic about the abduction; and in some ways, the women seem a bit too enthusiastic, not fully objecting. Against the background of a calm sunny landscape, there is intense drama among the men, women and horses, who twist and bend in unlikely ways, but the composition, which runs along two crossing diagonal lines to form an X, is almost classical in its unity. The spatial gap between the two women’s bodies is a source of dramatic tension, as the eye wishes to see one massive swath of pink, and there are several visual rhymes. Rubens’ treatment of light and color – particularly the flesh tones of the nudes (in contrast to the tan bodies of the brothers) – is masterful. The term “Rubenesque” arose from the ample women figures in paintings like this one.

338. Mosaics, Imam Mosque (formerly Shah Mosque) (Masjed-e Imam)

Artists: Shayk Bahai was the architect, but the identifies of the mosaic artists are unknown
Date: Work began 1611; completed 1629
Period/Style: Islamic: Safavid Dynasty; Persian; Isfahan, Persia (now Iran); religious
Medium: Tile mosaics decorating interior and exterior walls
Dimensions: 475,000 mosaic tiles were used to decorate the mosque, which measures 330 ft. by 430 ft., with a central courtyard measuring 230 ft. square. The dome is 174 ft. tall. The entrance is 89 ft. tall and has two minarets each 138 ft. tall. There are four iwans (rectangular halls walled on three sides), the largest of which is 108 ft. tall.
shah mosque 2

The Shah Mosque (known since the 1979 revolution as Imam Mosque) is located in Naghsh-i Jahan Square in Isfahan, Iran. It was built between 1611 and 1629 under Persian leader Shah Abbas I, of the Safavid Dynasty, and was designed by architect Shaykh Bahai. Both the building and the 475,000 mosaic tiles that decorate it combine Islamic (mostly Arab) traditions with local Persian styles. For example, unlike monochrome domes found in other traditions, Persian domes such as the Shah Mosque’s are covered with colorful tiles, both outside (see image below left) and in (see second image above), where there is a sunburst pattern. Shah Abbas wanted the mosque to be completed in his lifetime (it was not to be) so he asked the builders to invent new, faster techniques, such as the haft rangi (seven-color) style of making tile mosaics, in which instead of firing small individual tiles of a single color, each large tile (17-20 in. square) incorporates multiple colors. (The seven colors are: dark blue, light blue, white, black, yellow, green and bisquit.) The resulting tiles are quicker to make and allow for more colorful designs. They shimmer in direct sunlight, although they are less vivid in shadowy rooms than earlier Safavid and Timurid mosaics. Among the most elaborate mosaics are those on and inside the four iwans or large formal entrance halls. The entrance iwan, or gateway, includes two minarets and a recessed half-moon with stalactite tilework (see image below right). Around the rim of the iwan, royal calligrapher Reza Abbasi, using white script on dark blue, inscribed verses praising Muhammad and his cousin and son-in-law Ali, as well as the date of the groundbreaking. Although the dominant color of the interior mosaics is blue, some of the halls include a brighter arrangement of yellows and greens (see top image). As with almost all Islamic religious art, there are no depictions of humans or animals; aside from the inscriptions, the designs in the Imam Mosque are generally abstract.
dome of shah mosque  

339. The Surrender of Breda (Las Lanzas)

Artist: Diego Velázquez 
Date: 1634
Period/Style: Baroque; Spain; historical
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 10.1 ft. tall by 12 ft. wide
Current location: Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain
Velazquez-Surrender of Breda
On its face, The Surrender of Breda celebrates the winning of a battle in a losing war; but hidden beneath the surface meaning is an attempt to rehabilitate a man’s reputation. The story begins on a long sea voyage in 1629. Italian-born military hero Ambrogio Spinola, who fought for Spain in the war of Dutch Independence (also known as the Eighty Years’ War) was returning to his home in Genoa. At the suggestion of Peter Paul Rubens, Spanish king Philip IV sent his 30-year-old court painter Diego Velázquez to accompany Spinola, giving the artist an opportunity to obtain an artistic education in Italy. Only four years earlier, Spinola had won his most illustrious victory. In 1624, Spinola lay siege to the heavily fortified Dutch city of Breda. After 11 months, Justin of Nassau surrendered to Spinola, giving Spain a significant victory. Spinola was praised not only for his military skill but also the reasonableness of the terms of surrender. But Spain’s prospects in the war turned soon after the victory at Breda, and Spinola was blamed by some at court for the change in fortunes. At the time he and Velázquez sailed to Italy, Spinola’s legacy as a hero was in jeopardy. He died a year after the voyage at the siege of Casale. Four years later, when Philip IV commissioned Velázquez and others to create 12 paintings showing Spanish military victories to decorate the royal reception room in his new Buen Retiro Palace on the outskirts of Madrid, Velázquez saw his opportunity to rehabilitate the reputation of the man he had known and admired. The Surrender of Breda shows Spinola (drawn from memory) accepting surrender from Justin of Nassau. Justin hands Spinola the key to the city, which forms the center point or ‘key’ to the composition. Both the historical record and the personal recollections of Velázquez support the painting’s depiction of Spinola as showing restraint, respect and dignity in victory. Ironically, the Dutch permanently recaptured Breda soon after Velázquez painted his canvas and the Dutch ultimately obtained their independence from Spain.

340. Malle Babbe

Artist: Frans Hals
Date: c. 1633-1635
Period/Style: Baroque; Dutch Golden Age; The Netherlands; genre painting
Medium: Oils on canvas
Dimensions: 2.5 ft. tall by 2.1 ft. wide 
Current location: Gemäldegalerie, Staatliches Museen, Berlin

For many years, viewers of Frans Hals portrait of Malle Babbe (“loony Babs”) thought this was a tronie of a woman dressed as a witch, interpreting the owl on her shoulder as a symbol of witchcraft and black magic, and the work acquired the nickname Witch of Haarlem. But modern researchers have learned that Malle Babbe was a real person and so now classify this is a genre painting – a slice of life portrait of a mentally ill woman drinking and laughing, probably at a tavern. Instead of black magic, the bird probably refers to the Dutch saying “drunk as an owl.” Hals may have met his subject at the asylum for the mentally ill just outside the walls of Haarlem, where his own son had been confined. The quick, almost manic brush strokes give us a sense of a fleeting moment frozen in time. The unsentimental representation of Malle Babbe – isolated in the frame so that we don’t know if she is laughing at someone else’s joke or her own – provides a glimpse into the sometimes uncomfortable reality of interacting with the mentally ill in our communities. The painting was much admired by contemporaries, and many 17th Century copies were made. The version of Malle Babbe in the Metropolitian Museum of Art in New York, which takes a somewhat less frenetic approach, is attributed to a “close follower” of Hals (see image below).  

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

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

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

342. Consequences of War (Horrors of War)

Artist: Peter Paul Rubens
Date: c. 1637
Period/Style: Baroque; Flanders (now Belgium); allegory/mythology
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 6.75 ft. tall by 11.3 ft. wide
Current location: Palazzo Pitti, Florence, Italy
Rubens-Horrors of WarFlemish Baroque master Peter Paul Rubens was an accomplished diplomat as well as an artist, so it is no surprise that his allegorical painting Consequences of War contains rich political insights. Commissioned by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Ferdinand II de’ Medici, Consequences of War is a commentary on the Thirty Years War then raging in Europe, told using mythological imagery. Rubens places a blood-red Mars (his sword already bloody) at the center of the composition. The Fury Alecto leads Mars into battle, while his lover Venus tries ineffectually to hold them back. A woman in black, symbolizing Europe, grieves at the destruction. Behind them, the doors to the temple of Janus are open, as they were only in times of war. Elsewhere, a trampled book, a broken lute, a fallen architect and scattered arrows stand for war’s devastating impacts on learning, building, art, harmony, and peace. By placing two children beside Venus and a mother and child at lower right, Rubens reminds us of the traumatic effects of war on the young. Stylistically, the painting exhibits Rubens’ trademark synthesis of Venetian use of color, Michelangelo’s treatment of the human figure, the compositions of Annibale Carraci and other Italians, with his own Flemish roots. The Rubenesque nude Venus, symbol of love, forms a diagonal slash of light in an otherwise dark, forbidding canvas.

343. Portrait of Pope Innocent X

Artist: Diego Velázquez
Date: 1650
Period/Style: Baroque; Spain; portrait
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.75 ft. tall by 3.9 ft. wide
Current location: Galleria Doria Pamphili, Rome, Italy
diego-velazquez-pope-innocent-
Considered by some art historians to be the greatest portrait ever made, the Portrait of Pope Innocent X by Diego Velázquez excels both in its representation of color and in its plumbing the depths of human character. Velázquez, who was court painter for King Philip of Spain, made his second visit to Italy in 1649-1651. During an audience with Pope Innocent X, Velázquez offered to paint the pontiff’s portrait. According to one account, the pope hesitated before accepting the offer, as he was not sure of the painter’s talent. A shrewd and politically savvy politician, the pope (who was born Giovanni Battista Pamphilj) eventually agreed to sit for the Spanish artist. The result was a masterpiece. The artist renders faithfully the grandeur of the Pope’s garments and symbols of office; his treatment of the reds, from the garments, the chair and the walls to the red tints in the subject’s ruddy skin, is considered unequalled. In realizing the Pope’s face, Velázquez goes beyond outer appearances to reveal a fierce determination (some have called it ruthlessness) just beneath the surface. Legend has it that Innocent X, upon first seeing the portrait, said “Troppo vero!” (“Too much truth!”) Nevertheless, the Pope hung the painting in his chambers, and it is now in his family museum, the Doria Pamphilj Gallery in Rome, where it is paired with a marble bust of the Pope by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (see image below left). Random Trivia: Twentieth Century Irish-British artist Francis Bacon used the Portrait of Pope Innocent X as the starting point for a number of truly unsettling paintings known as the Screaming Popes (see Bacon’s 1953 Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X below right).
 

344. The Jewish Cemetery 

Artist: Jacob van Ruisdael (born Jacob Isaackszoon van Ruisdael)
Date: First version (Detroit): c. 1654-1655; second version (Dresden): c. 1655-1660
Period/Style: Baroque; Dutch Golden Age; The Netherlands; landscape
Medium: Both versions were made with oils on canvas
Dimensions: First version (Detroit): 4.7 ft. tall by 6.2 ft. wide. Second version (Dresden): 2.7 ft. tall by 3.1 ft. wide.
Current locations: First version: Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan. Second version: Gemäldegalerie, Dresden, Germany. 
jewish cemetery
The painting of landscapes reached a peak in the Dutch Golden Age. With the Protestant Revolution eliminating most of the need for church art and political upheavals leading to a reduction in aristocratic commissions, many Dutch artists began to focus on paintings that bourgeois individuals and families could hang in their homes and workplaces: portraits, genre paintings (scenes from everyday life) and landscapes. Unlike French and Italian landscapes, which almost always included a religious or mythological scene, Dutch landscapes and seascapes purported to show life in the present day. This is not to say that these landscape paintings were accurate depictions of Dutch scenery. The artists generally manipulated the elements of the scene to form a pleasing combination – adding, subtracting and moving things about to create a harmonious composition. Jacob van Ruisdael was among the very best landscape painters of the Dutch Golden Age. A physician as well as an artist, van Ruisdael was especially praised by contemporaries for his treatment of clouds (clouds were important because the sky generally took up a large portion of many landscape paintings). Van Ruisdael’s most highly-praised works are two somewhat atypical paintings of a Portuguese-Jewish Cemetery at Ouderkerk near Amsterdam. While most Dutch landscapes contained little in the way of moralizing or narrative, the two versions of The Jewish Cemetery belong to an allegorical genre known as vanitas, in which the artist reminds the viewer that this life and its pleasures are fleeting and death awaits us all. Van Ruisdael goes further, however, and provides hints (the rainbow, a patch of blue sky, the illuminated grave) that there is hope for salvation in the afterlife. The earlier, larger and better preserved of the two is in the Detroit Institute of Arts (see image above). The second, somewhat different version, which is smaller, later and has darkened somewhat over time, is in Dresden, Germany (see image below). While the three central graves were present, as a contemporary sketch proves, the rest of the scene in both versions of The Jewish Cemetery is pieced together from disparate elements. The actual cemetery occupied level ground; the hill, the rushing stream and the dead beech never existed, at least not here. Van Ruisdael borrowed the ruins behind the graves from nearby Egmond: an ancient abbey church for the Detroit version and a ruined castle for the painting in Dresden. For van Ruisdael, the emotional impact of the paintings was more important than whether the landscape depicted had an exact counterpart in nature. He painted imagined scenes that triggered powerful emotions, prefiguring the Romantics. Van Ruisdael had a difficult time finding buyers for his emotional landscapes, which followed a Germanic tradition that was not afraid to explore desolation and other dark themes. Unfortunately, the fashion at the time was for lighter fare, in the Italian style and it was not until long after his death that the art world fully appreciated van Ruisdael’s mastery of the landscape genre.

345. The Stonemason’s Yard (Venice: Campo Santa Vidal and Santa Maria Della Carita)

Artist: Canaletto (born Giovanni Antonio Canal)
Date: c. 1725-1730
Period/Style: Venetian Landscape; Venice, Italy
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4 ft. tall by 5.3 ft. wide
Current location: National Gallery, London, England, UK
canaletto stonemason
It was de rigeur for well-heeled young men of the aristocracy to go on a Grand Tour of Europe around the time they turned 21. Venice was a mandatory stop on the Grand Tour, and the best souvenir one could send home from a visit there was a vedute – a type of painted postcard with a view of the city. Canaletto made his name painting highly detailed and accurate landscape views of Venice and its environs for Grand Tourists, paintings that found their way to upper class homes all over Europe. The comparison with postcards is somewhat demeaning to the artist: Canaletto’s skill at rendering Venice’s unique light and water, his accurate rendering of architecture, and his attentiveness to the working lives of everyday Venetians elevate these vedute (and those of Francesco Guardi, who worked later in the century) to the realm of high art. The Stonemason’s Yard, an early work considered one of Canaletto’s best, is somewhat atypical in that it reveals a side of the city that many tourists would not have seen. For that reason, scholars believe it was probably made for a Venetian patron. In the foreground is Campo Santa Vidal, a small square in front of the Santa Vidal Church (which is unseen, behind the viewer). Masons are using the Campo to store (and work on) the stones they are using to repair the Santa Vidal. Behind the Campo is the Grand Canal, with its gondolas, running parallel to the picture plane. Across the canal is the medieval church of Santa Maria della Carità, with its campanile (belltower), which collapsed in the 1740s, and, to the viewer’s right, the Scuola Grande della Carità (now the Gallerie dell’Accademia). Modest residential apartments, with their flared chimney pots and open windows, frame the Campo in the foreground. Throughout the painting, Venetians old and young go about the activities of daily living. The painting’s warm tonality may result in part from the reddish brown background layer that Canaletto painted over. The strong diagonals of sun and shadow as storm clouds disperse overhead help to define the space and articulate the lines of the architecture.

346. A Rake’s Progress

Artist: William Hogarth
Date: c. 1732-1733
Period/Style: Rococo; England
Medium: series of eight oil paintings and paper prints made from engravings 
Dimensions: Each painting is 2 ft. tall by 2.4 ft. wide. The prints are 12.5 in. tall by 15.2 in. wide.
Current location: The paintings are in Sir John Soane’s Museum, London, England, UK. The prints are in various collections.


In 1732-1733, William Hogarth painted eight scenes from the life of the fictional Thomas Rakewell, heir to a rich merchant, a moral tale of about irresponsibility and living in excess done in the rococo style. In 1735, Hogarth had the paintings engraved, with some alterations, and then published as prints. The eight chapters of the Rake’s decline and fall are as follows: (1) The Heir: Tom’s father is dead and Tom has his fortune; he buys new clothes and rejects his pregnant fiancée, Sarah; (2) The Levee: Tom is attended by various hangers-on offering their services, including music, fencing, quarterstaff and dancing teachers (see painting in top image above); (3) The Orgy: Tom’s watch is stolen at a drunken orgy at the Rose Tavern, a famous brothel; (4) The Arrest: Sarah intervenes to prevent bailiffs from arresting Tom for debts as he takes a sedan chair to a party, has his cane stolen and has oil poured on his head; (5) The Marriage: Tom marries a rich old maid to get out of debt, while Sarah arrives too late (see painting in second image above); (6) The Gaming House: Tom looks to heaven to help after gambling away his new wife’s money, while a fire breaks out; (7) The Prison: Tom is now in debtors’ prison, where Sarah and his wife lament his state, and there are signs that he is losing his sanity; (8) The Madhouse: Insane and violent, Tom ends up in Bedlam (Bethlehem Hospital) mental asylum, where Sarah, still ignored, continues to comfort him (see print in image below. 

347. Monument to Peter the Great (The Bronze Horseman)

Artist: Étienne-Maurice Falconet
Date: The work was begun in 1770 and completed in 1782.
Period/Style: Baroque; Rococo; Neoclassical; France; equestrian portrait
Medium: Bronze sculpture on pedestal of red granite
Dimensions: The equestrian statue is 20 ft. tall; the pedestal is 25 ft. tall.
Current location: Senate Square, St. Petersburg, Russia
The_Bronze_Horseman_(St._Petersburg,_Russia)
When Russian Empress Catherine the Great commissioned a statue of Tsar Peter the Great (Peter I) for the center of St. Petersburg (the city bearing his name), her intentions were complex. Catherine was a German princess who married Peter I’s grandson, then overthrew him in a coup and seized the throne herself. The statue was designed to help her gain legitimacy for her rule by identifying herself with one of the great Russian leaders of the past, known for his Western reforms. She brought in French sculptor Étienne-Maurice Falconet, who had never sculpted a horse before, to make a larger-than-life bronze equestrian statue of Peter. Falconet designed a dramatic piece of contrasting elements, with a calm, classically-robed Peter pointing to the West with equanimity, while his horse, filled with raw naturalism, rears up explosively at the edge of a cliff and tramples a serpent symbolizing Peter’s enemies. The Tsar’s face was sculpted by Falconet’s 18-year-old assistant Marie-Anne Collot, using Peter’s death mask and portraits (see detail in image below). The right hand was modeled on a Roman-era bronze. Casting the immense bronze sculpture required technical innovations by Falconet and his chief caster Emelyan Khailov. It was also dangerous; at one point, the mold broke, releasing molten bronze and starting several fires. A proper pedestal to serve as a stage for the action was a crucial part of the design, and Falconet looked long and hard before he found the perfect boulder: a 1653-ton block of red granite nicknamed Thunder Stone. Hundreds of workers dug the stone out of the ground and then waited until winter to drag it nearly four miles over the frozen ground to the Gulf of Finland, where a ship waited to take it to St. Petersburg. During transport, masons and sculptors were carving the block to Falconet’s specifications, reducing the final pedestal to a trim 1378 tons. A grand unveiling took place in August 1782 (but without Falconet – due to a quarrel with Catherine the Great, he had left for Paris in 1778), revealing a monument that reached 45 feet into the air, with the engraving, “Catherine the Second to Peter the First, 1782” in both Russian and Latin. Fifty years later, Alexander Pushkin wrote a poem in which the horse and rider come alive, called The Bronze Horseman, and thus coined a new name for the monument. A myth also arose that St. Petersburg (also known as Leningrad) would never fall to an enemy as long as the Bronze Horseman still stood. During the Siege of Leningrad in World War II, the monument was covered with sandbags and a wooden shelter, and survived the bombing unharmed.

348. Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss (Psyche Awakened by Eros; Psyche and Cupid)

Artist: Antonio Canova
Date: Commissioned in 1787; completed in 1793.
Period/Style: Neoclassicism; Italy
Medium: Marble sculpture
Dimensions: 5.1 ft. tall by 5.5 ft. wide
Current location: The original marble version is at the Musée du Louvre, Paris. A slightly different full-size marble version from 1796 is at the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has a full-size plaster model prepared for the St. Petersburg version.

According to a story in Apuleius’ 2nd Century novel The Golden Ass, after Cupid fell in love with Psyche, Cupid’s mother Venus tried to end the romance by giving Psyche an impossible task: to go to the Underworld and bring back a jar with part of Proserpina’s beauty, with instructions never to open the jar. Psyche could not resist the temptation, of course; when she opened the jar, she found that it contained, not beauty, but a sleeping spell that put Psyche into a coma-like state of unconsciousness. Eros (Cupid) flew down to find the sleeping beauty and used one of his arrows to awaken her, after which she reached up to kiss him. It is this moment that Italian Neoclassical sculptor Antonio Canova captures in his marble sculpture Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss. Art historians believe that the pose in Canova’s sculpture was inspired by an Ancient Roman fresco from the recently excavated city of Herculaneum, showing a faun and a bacchante (or a maenad and a satyr) (see second image below). The composition consists of two intersecting diagonals, and includes details such as Cupid’s quiver, the arrow he used to prick Psyche, and the jar she carried (see first image below). Canova’s treatment of the marble to render the different textures of skin, draperies and rock has won him significant praise from art historians, who have also noted the way the artist has combined classical elements with Baroque drama and sensuality. There is no single viewpoint that allows one to take in all aspects of the sculpture – a fact that some have criticized, but which holds true for some of the great sculptures since the late Renaissance, such as Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabine Women. In fact, when the work was installed at the Louvre in Paris, Canova had it equipped with a handle so it could be rotated. Canova made a second version of the grouping in 1796 that is now in the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.

349. The Charging Chasseur 

Artist: Théodore Géricault
Date: c. 1812
Period/Style: Romanticism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 11.4 ft. tall by 8.7 ft. wide 
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris
Gericault charging chasseur
Unlike Jacques-Louis David’s Neoclassical Napoleon on a rearing horse crossing the Alps, Théodore Gericault’s Charging Chasseur – which bears a superficial resemblance to the earlier work – is neither heroic nor noble.  Gericault, in his first publicly-exhibited work, presents us not with the glory of war but its horror.  The luxuriously appointed officer of Napoleon’s Horse Guards – complete with leopard skin saddle blanket – seems less than completely sure of himself as he turns to look behind him (perhaps to rally his troops).  Sword pointed downward instead of held high, he seems to be just barely holding himself together in the midst of carnage and anarchy on the battlefield (which Gericault renders more frightening by blurring the background with smoke and mist). The true nature of the situation is expressed by the horse, whose fear is palpable as he rears away from an unseen opponent to the right of the frame. This is Romanticism, which arose as a counterpoint to the Neoclassicism of David in the early 19th Century. 

350. Saturn Devouring His Son

Artist: Francisco Goya
Date: c. 1819-1823
Period/Style: Romanticism; Spain; mythology
Medium: Oil paints on a wall of the artist’s house, later transferred to canvas after the artist’s death
Dimensions: 4.7 ft. tall by 2.6 ft. wide
Current location: Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain
Goya Saturn Devouring His Son
In 1819, at the age of 73, Francisco Goya, now completely deaf, moved into a new home. Over the next four years, he created a series of paintings on the walls of the house that due to their dark palette and disturbing subject matter have become known as the Black Paintings. In the 1870s, the paintings were transferred to canvas and put on display in the Museo del Prado, but Goya’s personal visions (or nightmares) were never intended to be seen by the public. On the wall of his dining room, Goya painted a gory mural of Saturn Devouring His Son, the most famous of the Black Paintings. (The work was untitled and unexplained – it received its title from a friend of Goya’s after the artist’s death.) Most scholars believe the painting refers to the Greek myth in which Cronos, one of the Titans (known to the Romans as Saturn), ate each of his first five newborn sons in order to defeat a prophecy that one of them would overthrow him. (His wife gave birth to the sixth son, Zeus/Jupiter, on a secluded island to save him from his brothers’ fate and that son did overthrow his father.) Goya had made a chalk drawing of the same subject in 1796-1797 (see image below left) that referred back to Peter Paul Rubens’ 1636 treatment of the myth, also called Saturn Devouring His Son (see image below right). Goya’s Black Painting of Saturn shows what one art historian called a “cannibalistic ferocity” that is not present in these earlier works: Saturn emerges from the blackness, kneels with hands greedily clutching a headless figure, his eyes bulging, hair askew, and mouth wide open ready to chomp down on an arm. Many have speculated about why Goya returned to this theme late in his life. Some believe it refers to the many children he and his wife lost – only one son survived beyond childhood. Others find political meaning: Saturn as the Spanish government that devours its own children. At least one scholar does not believe the painting depicts the Saturn myth at all, because (1) it lacks Saturn’s iconographical attributes; (2) the figure being eaten is clearly not an infant; and (3) the figure being eaten appears to be female, not male.
goya saturn sketch   Rubens saturn devouring

351. Disasters of War

Artist: Francisco Goya
Date: Goya produced the prints between 1810 and 1820
Period/Style: Romanticism; Spain
Medium: Goya used the techniques of etching, drypoint and aquatint on copper plates, which he then used to make paper prints.
Dimensions: Each print measures 9.9 in. tall by 13.5 in. wide
Current locations: Various collections
Goya Disasters of War-_No._03_-_Lo_mismo  Disasters of War, No. 18 (of 82):
Disasters of War No._59_-_De_qué_sirve_una_taza-  Disasters of War No._62_-_Las_camas_de_la_muerte
Disasters of War No._71_-_Contra_el_bien_general  Disasters of War-_No._80_-_Si_resucitará-
Spanish artist Francisco Goya made a series of over 80 prints between 1810 and 1820 that he called  Fatal Consequences of Spain’s Bloody War with Bonaparte, and Other Emphatic Caprices but which are now generally referred to as The Disasters of War.  The world only learned of these powerful works of art in 1863, long after Goya’s death, because the prints contain such incendiary, unmediated and politically sensitive material that Goya never dared to publish them.  In fact, at the same time that Goya was making The Disasters of War, he continued to paint portraits of Spanish and French rulers and generals in his role as court painter to the Spanish crown.  The underlying events that form the background for the prints were the Dos de Mayo uprising of 1808, the Peninsular War of 1808-1814, and the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in 1814. To make the prints, Goya used several different intaglio printmaking techniques, including etching, aquatint, engraving and drypoint, on copper plates. Scholars divide the prints into three thematic groups: Nos. 1-47 focus on the Peninsular war and its impact on soldiers and civilians; Nos. 48-64 address the 1811-1812 famine in Madrid, during the French occupation; and Nos. 65-82 criticize in allegorical fashion the Bourbon restoration, which, with the support of the Catholic Church, rejected Spain’s liberal 1812 constitution and other reforms. The six images above are taken from all three groups: (1) No. 3: Lo mismo (The same) shows an ax-wielding civilian about to cut off a soldier’s head (top row, left);
(2) No. 18: Enterrar y callar (Bury them and keep quiet) shows an anguished couple amid a landscape strewn with dead bodies (top row, right);
(3) No. 59: De qué sirve una taza? (What good is a cup?) shows a woman offering a cup to one of two starving women (middle row, left);
(4) No. 62: Las camas de la muerte (The beds of death) depicts a shrouded woman walking past bodies awaiting burial (middle row, right);
(5) No. 71: Contra el bien general (Against the common good) shows a winged devil sitting on a rock writing a book (bottow row, left); and
(6) No. 80: Si resucitará? (Will she live again?) shows an allegorical figure symbolizing Truth lying unconscious before a mob of hooded monks while a masked figure beats the ground with a weapon (bottom row, right).  
Goya produced two albums of proofs but only one was complete.  He gave it to his friend Juan Agustín Ceán Bermúdez, and it is now in the British Museum in London.  The copper plates for the images, which passed from Goya to his son Javier, are now in the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid.  The first edition of 80 prints was published in 1863, of which 500 impressions were made.  Further editions of varying quality were made in 1892 (100 impressions); 1903 (100 impressions), 1906 (275 impressions), and 1937. Approximately 1000 prints have been made from each of the 80+ copper plates. 

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

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

353. The Fighting Temeraire

Artist: J.M.W. Turner
Date: 1839
Period/Style: Romanticism; England; seascape
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3 ft. tall by 4 ft. wide
Current location: National Gallery, London, England, UK
Turner_-_The_'Fighting_Temeraire'
In 1838, John Mallord Willliam Turner was 64 years old and had been exhibiting his paintings at the Royal Academy for 50 years. He had been a patriotic 30-year-old when Admiral Nelson won the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, with the help of a ship called the Temeraire, later called The Fighting Temeraire. Imagine Turner’s feelings when he learned that the Royal Navy had sold the Temeraire for scrap and was having it towed on its last voyage from one shipyard to another. The result of this event (which Turner may or may not have witnessed) is a painting Turner titled, The ‘Fighting Temeraire’ Tugged to Her Last Berth to Be Broken Up, 1838, but which is usually referred to as The Fighting Temeraire. On the left side, Turner portrays the towing of the ship as a symbol of what one critic called the “demise of heroic strength.” He shows the sailing ship in ghostly white being tugged (the first known use of this word in a maritime sense) by an ugly, smoke-belching steam-powered vessel. (Or, in another interpretation, is Turner telling us that times have changed, and welcomes progress, symbolized by the steamboat.) Turner frames the Temeraire and several other sailing vessels in a triangle of blue. Balancing the ships on the right is a glorious sunset, symbolically echoing the sunset of the Temeraire’s career, and era of the great sailing ships of the British Navy. While Turner paints the ships meticulously, he uses thick, easy brushstrokes for the sunset in both the sky above and river below, where the dark red of the sun’s rays echoes the tugboat’s smoke. The Fighting Temeraire, was a favorite of Turner’s; her referred to the painting as “my darling” and never sold it. In his will, he gave the painting to his country; it is now in the National Gallery in London.  Random Trivia: In 2005, BBC Radio 4 listeners voted The Fighting Temeraire their favorite painting of all time.  

354. The Stone Breakers 

Artist: Gustave Courbet
Date: 1849
Period/Style: Realism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 5.4 ft tall by 8.4 ft wide
Current location: The painting was destroyed in 1945 in an Allied bombing raid.
Courbet stonebreakers
Formerly in the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden, Courbet’s The Stone Breakers was destroyed during an Allied bombing raid in 1945. The scene is one of two impoverished peasants breaking rocks along the side of a road; Courbet is recreating an actual scene he observed, which he described in a letter as “the most complete expression of poverty.” Courbet does not idealize, glorify or sentimentalize the two men – one old and one young – but presents their dirty, torn clothes and leathery skin as he saw them, with a roughness in the painting style that was unusual at the time. Instead of spending more time and energy on faces and hands, as was the custom, Courbet applies the same level of attention to every aspect of the painting.  Beth Harris and Stephen Zucker comment: “This is not meant to be heroic: it is meant to be an accurate account of the abuse and deprivation that was a common feature of mid-century French rural life.”

355. Cotopaxi

Artist: Frederic Edwin Church
Date: 1862
Period/Style: Hudson River School; Luminism; US
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4 ft. tall by 7 ft. wide
Current location: Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan, US 
Cotopaxi
American landscape painter Frederic Edwin Church studied under Thomas Cole of the Hudson River School, but unlike other members of the school, Church wandered far from home to find subjects, from Arctic icebergs to ruins in Syria, and volcanoes in South America. Cotopaxi is a volcano in Ecuador that was particularly active during the mid-19th Century. In 1855 and 1857, Church painted the mountain as a sleeping giant, with a snowy peak. (His 1855 painting of the peak is in the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas – see image below). His 1862 version lets out all the stops, showing the volcano as it erupts, sending a plume of black smoke and ash to dim the setting sun. Critics have pointed out contrasting elements coexisting in the painting’s world: hot and cold, calm and turbulent, light and dark. Despite Cotopaxi’s fury, the sunshine continues to illuminate the relatively peaceful scene in the foreground. Some have ascribed religious meaning to the work: despite the attempts of the forces of evil to conquer the world, God’s light will continue to shine, providing a beacon of hope in the darkness. Given that Church painted Cotopaxi in 1861-1862, the painting may also refer to the cataclysm of the American Civil War that was erupting back home.

356. L’Apparition (The Apparition)

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

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

357. Paris Street, Rainy Day 

Artist: Gustave Caillebotte
Date: 1877
Period/Style: Realism; Impressionism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 6.9 ft. tall by 9 ft. wide
Current location: Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois
Caillebotte Paris_Street;_Rainy_Day
What would the Impressionists have done without Gustave Caillebotte? Caillebotte was an independently wealthy French artist and collector who provided significant financial support for the French Impressionist artists. He personally bought over 60 of their paintings, funded their exhibitions, and sometimes even paid their rent. But he was also a gifted painting in his own right. Although many scholars group Caillebotte with the Impressionists because of his interests in the effects of light and in painting everyday life, he differed from them in both technique and tone. First, Caillebotte eschewed the characteristic loose brush strokes of the Impressionist style; he tended to paint much more in the Realist style. Second, in contrast to the boisterous partiers of Renoir or the serene landscapes of Monet, Caillebotte’s works often have an unsettling quality. He was not afraid to explore the darker side of human nature. While some see Caillebotte’s most famous work – Paris Street, Rainy Day – as a delightful depiction of a scene of Parisian life, others believe it has a darker side. Since the 1850s, Emperor Napoleon III and his administrator Baron Haussmann had been remaking Paris, tearing down ancient structures and putting up large, geometrical buildings, set along wide, spacious boulevards such as the Carrefour de Moscou (now the Place de Dublin) shown in Paris Street, Rainy Day. Although the painting has the feeling of a snapshot (and in fact does owe a great deal to the new art of photography), Caillebotte deliberately arranged the figures (and their umbrellas) to create an effect of loneliness and alienation. The modernization of Paris, Caillebotte is saying, has a dehumanizing effect on the population. Caillebotte used a large canvas to make his statement. To emphasize the lack of unity, he employed two-point perspective, with two separate vanishing points. He also played with realism by making the boulevard seem broader (and thus more alienating) than it really was. When Caillebotte died in 1894 at age 45, he donated his collection of Impressionist paintings to the French government but Paris Street, Rainy Day remained in the Caillebotte family until 1955. The Art Institute of Chicago acquired the painting in 1964.

358. Portrait of Madame X

Artist: John Singer Sargent
Date: 1884
Period/Style: Realism; Edwardian; US/France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 7.7 ft. tall by 3.6 ft. wide
Current location: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Sargent Madame_X_1884
It is difficult to imagine today, but in 1884, the painting of a strap on a dress scandalized Paris, tarnishing the reputation of an American socialite, and caused painter John Singer Sargent to relocate to London. The strap in question belonged to Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, the beautiful young American in Paris who was married to French banker Pierre Gautreau. Provocative, outgoing and reputed to have “modern” ideas about sexuality, Mme. Gautreau was targeted by a number of up-and-coming painters as the portrait that would make their reputation. It was John Singer Sargent, another expatriate American, who had acquired a good name as a portraitist, who scored the coup. Mme. Gautreau agreed to allow Sargent to paint her portrait, but the process was a difficult one. She refused to have the work done in Paris, and required Sargent to wait until the family moved to their summer place in Brittany. Once there, Mme. Gautreau proved an extremely difficult sitter: she disinclined to stay still long enough to be painted, needed frequent breaks and complained of how boring the process was. After some preliminary studies, Sargent was able to produce what he believed was his best work: a dramatic standing pose showing Mme. Gautreau, her skin porcelain-white, in profile in a stunning black dress, one strap dangling provocatively from her shoulder. Sargent presented the painting at the 1884 Paris Salon, but instead of glory, he received humiliation: the critics savaged the picture, which was considered overly erotic and lacking in decorum. The painting was interpreted as a shameful representation of Mme. Gautreau’s “loose” morals and sexual promiscuity. Mme. Gautreau’s mother told a friend that her daughter could no longer show her face in Paris society. In an attempt to respond to his critics, Sargent repainted the strap in its usual position, but it was no use – the damage was done. Soon thereafter, he moved to London. It was not until many years later that the painting’s excellence – particularly its rendering of the skin tone, the dress and the handling of color – was recognized. It is now considered by some to be Sargent’s best work. The initial reception of the piece still stinging, when the Metropolitan Museum of Art purchased the portrait many years later, Sargent insisted that they not identify the subject, leading to the painting’s enigmatic title, Portrait of Madame X.  The images below show: 
(1) An unfinished 1884 study (now at the Tate in London) without the right shoulder strap (see image below left); 
(2) A watercolor of Mme. Gautreau that Sargent painted in 1882-1883 (now at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston), titled Madame Gautreau Drinking a Toast (below middle); and
(3) An 1883-1883 Sargent drawing of Mme Gautreau with the same dress sitting on a couch, which is in the Harvard Art Museums in Cambridge, Massachusetts (below right).

   Madame X sketch

359. Bathers at Asnières

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

360. King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid

Artist: Edward Burne-Jones
Date: 1884
Period/Style: Pre-Raphaelite; UK
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 9.6 ft tall by 4.4 ft wide
Current location: Tate Britain, London, England, UK

According to a legend relayed in an Elizabethan ballad and reworked by Alfred, Lord Tennyson in the 19th Century, African King Cophetua had no interest in marrying until he met a beautiful beggar maid named Penelephon, whom he brought out of poverty to make his queen. Burne-Jones uses a vertical composition to show the beggar-now-queen placed above her king, although the look in her eyes does not appear to show happiness at her new-found elevation of rank. Burne-Jones made several preparatory works in which he experimented with the placement of the figures (as in the image below left, an 1883 gouache sketch owned by Andrew Lloyd Webber) and the lighting (see  image below right, a full-size cartoon from 1884 using colored chalks, at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham, UK). 
  

361. The Potato Eaters

Artist: Vincent Van Gogh
Date: 1885
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; The Hague School; The Netherlands
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.7 ft. tall by 3.7 ft. wide
Current location: Vincent Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
van gogh potato eaters
For those used to seeing Vincent Van Gogh’s brightly-colored landscapes from the last years of his life after he moved to France, the dark interior of The Potato Eaters, his first major work, may come as a shock. Van Gogh wanted to show the dignity and hard life of the peasants without sentimentalizing them, so for his portrait of a peasant family eating dinner, he deliberately chose unattractive models. He also chose to show his family of peasants – three women, one man, and a girl, standing as was customary- eating a dish of potatoes and drinking coffee at dim table. A gas lamp provides weak illumination for this almost sacramental scene. The predominantly brown tone arises from Van Gogh’s desire to create what he described as “something like the color of a really dusty potato, unpeeled of course.” At this early stage in his career, Van Gogh had not been exposed to Impressionism; he was much influenced by the artistic movement known as the Hague School, especially the work of Jozef Israëls, whose 1882 painting Peasant Family at the Table, with its dark tones and similar subject, may have been a model for Van Gogh’s Potato Eaters (see image below left). Van Gogh deliberately chose the challenging setting and multi-figure composition to establish his name as a painter, but unfortunately, the result was criticized for its limited tonal range and a number of anatomical errors. The year after painting The Potato Eaters, Van Gogh left The Netherlands and moved in with his brother Theo in Paris. There he discovered the work of the Impressionists – and bright colors; he would never go back to these dark tones. Random Trivia: Van Gogh was an avid collector of prints and believed that the emotional impact of such smaller works could be great, while large canvases could leave the viewer cold. Before completing the oil painting, Van Gogh created an engraved version of The Potato Eaters, one of his few experiments with the medium (see image below right).
  

362. Vision after the Sermon

Artist: Paul Gauguin
Date: 1888
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.4 ft tall by 3.0 ft wide
Current location: National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, UK
gauguin vision after the sermon
Gauguin’s painting shows Breton women after church services witnessing a vision of Jacob wrestling with the angel, a story from the Bible that symbolizes human struggles with faith. Gauguin rejects many traditions here: he draws a dark line around large flat patches of color to delineate form, instead of using tonal shading. He breaks the rules of perspective, which would have made the foreground women smaller. The tree trunk and branches organizes the composition, with the vision on one side and the congregation on the other, but his decision to make the Biblical story so small relative to the entire canvas perplexed contemporary viewers. Art historians have recognized the influence of Japanese prints in Gauguin’s painting, including Hokusai’s Sumo Wrestlers (1790-1793) (see image below left) and Hiroshige’s Plum Park in Kameido (1857), which was copied by Van Gogh in 1887, see image below right.
   

363. Wheat Field with Crows

Artist: Vincent Van Gogh
Date: July 1890
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; The Netherlands/France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 1.6 ft. tall by 3.4 ft. wide
Current location: Vincent Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands 
van gogh wheatfield with crowsDuring the final months of his life, Vincent Van Gogh entered into a period of unusually high artistic productivity, sometimes finishing a canvas every day. He had moved to Auvers-sur-Oise in May 1890 and was working closely with Dr. Paul Gachet. Using unconventionally-shaped double square canvases, Van Gogh painted Auvers and its environs, including the wheat fields outside the town. He painted Wheat Field with Crows in July 1890, the last month of his life. We see turbulent fields of wheat under an equally turbulent sky. Dozens of crows fly above the wheat, although it’s unclear where they are going, if anywhere. There are three separate paths – the two in the foreground seem to come from nowhere and lead nowhere; the central path enters the wheatfield but it is not clear where or whether it will end. Most scholars now reject the theory that Wheat Field with Crows was Van Gogh’s final painting. Nevertheless, Van Gogh’s suicide has led some to interpret the turbulent sky as Van Gogh’s mental state; the dead-end roads as the end of his life; and the crows as death and/or resurrection. A letter Van Gogh wrote at the time mentions two paintings – one of which might have been Wheat Field with Crows – that he describes paradoxically as embodying “sadness and extreme loneliness” yet also showing the “health and restorative forces of the countryside.” On the afternoon of July 27, 1890, while out painting in the countryside, Van Gogh shot himself in the chest. He was able to walk back to the lodging house where he was staying in town and died there 30 hours later, in the early morning hours of July 29th, his brother Theo by his side. According to Theo, his last words were, “The sadness will last forever.”

364. Rouen Cathedral (series)

Artist: Claude Monet
Date: 1892-1894
Period/Style: Impressionism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: The canvases are approximately 3.3-3.5 feet tall by 2-2.5 ft. wide
Current location: Various collections
 
 
Claude Monet’s lifelong mission as a painter was to represent not merely the way that objects and people look but the way that light itself looks when it illuminates those objects and people. In his maturity, he experimented with capturing the essence of light by painting the same or similar subjects multiple times: poplars, haystacks, water lilies and, between 1892 and 1894, the Gothic Cathedral at Rouen. He painted over 30 canvases using oil paints showing the facade of the cathedral at different  times of day, in different kinds of weather and different times of year. Monet often worked on multiple canvases at one time, switching from one to the next as the light changed. He liked to exhibit all the paintings in a series at one time in one place. The images above show:
(1) Rouen Cathedral, Full Sunlight, 3.5 ft. tall by 2.4 ft. wide; Musee d’Orsay, Paris,
(2) Rouen Cathedral, West Façade, Sunlight, 3.3 ft tall by 2.1 ft wide; N
ational Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. 
(3) Rouen Cathedral, Façade and Tour d’Albane, Morning Effect, 3.5 ft. tall by 2.4 ft wide; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; 
(4) Rouen Cathedral, Façade, Evening Harmony in Brown, 3.3 ft. tall by 2.1 ft wide; Pola Museum of Art, Hakone, Japan.

365. Boy Kneeling at the Spring (The Kneeling Youth) and The Fountain of Kneeling Youth

Artist: George Minne
Date: 1898
Period/Style: Symbolism; Belgium
Medium: Statues and statuettes made from bronze, marble, or plaster
Dimensions: Most of the individual figures are approximately 30-31 inches tall. A smaller version at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is just under 19 inches tall. The figures in the full-sized Fountain of Kneeling Youth are life size; there are also smaller versions.
Current locations: Versions of the single Kneeling Youth sculpture are located in various collections, including: Musee d’Orsay, Paris (bronze); Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, The Netherlands (bronze); Neue Galerie in New York (marble), Museum of Modern Art, New York (plaster); National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia (plaster), and Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent, Belgium (plaster). Full-size versions of The Fountain of Kneeling Youth are located at the Folkwang Museum, Hage, Germany (marble); the Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent (bronze) and in a public garden in Brussels, Belgium (bronze).
george-minne youth kneeling
Belgian Symbolist sculptor George Minne made numerous bronze and plaster statuettes of a boy or youth kneeling, known as Kneeling Youth or, sometimes, Boy Kneeling before a Fountain. Minne also made a group of five identical kneeling figures to be placed around actual fountains, called The Fountain of Kneeling Youth (sometimes nicknamed The Narcissus Fountain, although there is no evidence Minne intended to represent the mythical Narcissus). In the individual piece, a young nude man kneels, his head bent forward as if weighed down by some emotional burden, his arms wrapped around himself. The pose is self-contained and introspective and owes much to the tradition of medieval and Gothic religious carvings, with their elongated torsos and limbs and representation of states of spiritual contemplation and suffering. But Minne’s style, which abstracts the figures and nearly reduces them to a series of lines, also anticipates the Expressionists of the next century, who sought to express not the superficial realism of the body, but its emotional reality. According to the curators of the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent, the kneeling figures represent “the externalization of a complex emotional condition, in which self-protection, internalization and narcissism blend together.” These qualities are emphasized in The Fountain of Kneeling Youth by having the figures facing away from the viewer and toward the center of the fountain. They are not there for us, but are wrapped up in their own sorrow and, perhaps, self-healing. Random Trivia: The locals in Brussels, where a cast of The Fountain of Kneeling Youth is located in the garden behind the Parliament building, have a somewhat different perspective: their nickname for the statue is “the five pissers.”

366. The Windows (Simultaneous Windows) (series)

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

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

367. The Uncertainty of the Poet

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

368. The Rock Drill

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

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

369. Fountain

Artist: Marcel Duchamp
Date: The original was created in 1917 for the or an exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in New York, but was subsequently lost.  Duchamp created several replicas.
Period/Style: Dada, Readymades; France/US
Medium: Readymade urinal with signature “R. Mutt”
Dimensions: Standard-sized urinal
Current locations: Duchamp-authorized replicas can be found in various collections, including: Philadelphia Museum of Art (1950); Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris (artist’s proof), and Tate, London, England, UK (1964). 

One of the most audacious acts in the history of art was the decision of Dadaist and provocateur Marcel Duchamp to purchase a urinal from a plumbing supply store, turn it sideways, sign it “R. Mutt” and submit it to an art exhibition in New York in April 1917 with the ironic title Fountain.  In doing so, Duchamp questioned nearly every assumption about what art is and should be: the item was manufactured, not sculpted, painted or even assembled by the artist; the item had no apparent aesthetic value, and it implied that art was something one should urinate in (or on).  Duchamp’s Fountain (and earlier readymades such as Bicycle Wheel (1913) and Bottle Rack (1914)) was not so much a manifesto declaring a new type of art as it was a thumbing of the nose at the pretentiousness and exclusivity of the art world.   It was also very funny.  In the years since Fountain, critics and artists have explored, in both theory and practice, a series of provocative questions raised by Duchamp’s work.  Why do we value authorship so much in looking at works of art?  What constitutes authorship – does the artist need to physically create the artwork or can the artist’s choices (such as selecting a pre-made item and designating it as a work of art) be sufficient? Who establishes the criteria for what art is good and what art is bad?  If aesthetics are merely subjective, then why do we pay attention to what critics and curators tell us about art?  Do we have a too-narrow view of what is worth looking at?  Does art need to be beautiful?  Can artworks that require no technical skill have artistic value?  Can the idea behind an artwork be as important, or more important, than the resulting work of art?  Does art need to serve a particular purpose?  The photo above of the original piece by Alfred Stieglitz was taken at 291 Studio, New York in 1917 before it was lost.  Random Trivia: Among the artists who have paid tribute to Duchamp is Sherrie Levine, whose oeuvre explore the nature of authorship by replicating, recreating or, in some cases, photographing the works of other artists and presenting them as her own. See her bronze Fountain (Buddha) (1996) below.

370. Early Sunday Morning

Artist: Edward Hopper
Date: 1930
Period/Style: American Scene Painting; American Social Realism; US
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.9 ft. high by 5 ft. wide
Current location: Whitney Museum of American Art, NY
hopper early sunday
American painter Edward Hopper once told the story of a late-night discussion with college friends about what a room would look like when no one was looking at it. Hopper’s 1930 painting Early Sunday Morning may be an answer to that question – it is a view without a viewer. The viewpoint is that of someone standing directly across the street from the row of storefronts. The time is early morning (not necessarily Sunday – Hopper blamed someone else for the title) and the rising sun casts long shadows. While the scene was inspired by Seventh Avenue in New York City’s Greenwich Village neighborhood, Hopper has eliminated or blurred identifying details so this could be an urban streetscape almost anywhere (as long as the neighborhood is apparently devoid of living things). In an early version of the painting, a tenant stood in one of the second floor windows, but Hopper painted over the figure, leaving us with the unsettling sense that people live behind those shades and curtains but they are missing from the painting’s world. There are other unsettling signs. A tall object outside the frame to the right casts a very long shadow that slices down the middle of the sidewalk. The dark rectangle in the upper right corner may be a skyscraper menacing the neighborhood. Even the many horizontal lines and forms that appear to extend past the right and left edges of the canvas (storefronts, sidewalk, curb, street) bring on a feeling of desolation that even the warm light of early morning on red stone cannot dispel.

371. Ad Parnassum

Artist: Paul Klee
Date: 1932
Period/Style: Divisionism; Switzerland/Germany
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.2 ft. tall by 4.2 ft. wide 
Current location: Kunstmuseum, Bern, Switzerland
Klee; Ad Parnassum, 1932
Swiss German artist Paul Klee created Ad Parnassum using a complicated four-step technique: (1) paint large blocks on untreated canvas; (2) paint small blocks in white on large blocks; (3) paint over small white blocks using color; (4) add dark lines and orange circle (see entire work in image above and detail of technique in image below).  Termed divisionism after Seurat, Klee’s technique arose in part from his belief that all natural processes involved the permutation and movement of fundamental units of construction. Other elements of Klee’s multifaceted aesthetics include his ideas about color and his exploration of the connections between painting and music. One of Klee’s largest paintings, Ad Parnassum was the final entry in a series of ‘magic square’ paintings, in which Klee applied his theories about color, music and fundamental units of construction. Scholars have suggested that the work supports multiple interpretations, even across such fundamental boundaries as whether the painting is representational or abstract art.  According to one theory, Ad Parnassum (translated as ‘toward Parnassus’) represents a gate that leads to the triangle-shaped mountain Parnassus where, in Greek mythology, the god Apollo lived with the nine Muses, the goddesses of the arts (and knowledge). The notion of direction is represented by four arrow-like black outlines, each pointing to one of the four compass directions. Another representationalist theory equates the triangle shape with the Great Pyramids, which Klee saw during a trip to Egypt in 1928, and the blocks of paint with the building blocks used to make the pyramids.  The triangle could also represent a mountain near Klee’s home.  Another theory focuses on Klee’s fascination with polyphonic music and its relationship to visual art. The phrase ‘gradus ad Parnassum’ has been commonly used for centuries to describe any process of learning that requires gradual steps, and is also the title of a 1725 work on musical counterpoint by Johann Fux that Klee may have seen.  Under this theory, the elements of the painting constitute separate, simultaneous themes, similar to the themes in polyphonic musical work; the arrows could indicate crescendo and diminuendo effects. 

372. Nude in the Bath (series)

Artist: Pierre Bonnard
Dates: Bonnard’s first painting on the subject was created in 1925, but his most highly acclaimed entries in the series were painted between 1936 and 1946.
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; Nabis; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: The paintings range in size from 3 ft. tall by 4.8 ft. wide to 4 ft. tall by 4.9 ft. wide.
Current locations: Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris, France (Nude in the Bath, 1936); Carnegie Institute Museum, Pittsburgh, PA (Nude in the Bath and Small Dog, 1941-1946). Several paintings in the series are located in private collections.

In the late 19th Century, French painter Pierre Bonnard and like-minded artists formed a Post-Impressionist group called the Nabis (named after the Hebrew word for prophets), whose members idolized Gauguin and Cézanne and believed, like the symbolists, that art should represent not the world as we see it with our eyes, but as we imagine it, with a central focus on the expressive power of color. Bonnard’s subject matter was bourgeois domestic life: the garden, the parlor, and especially the bathroom. Many of these scenes of intimate home life (nearly 400 works of art, according to some sources) feature Marthe de Méligny, Bonnard’s partner from the 1890s until her death in 1942. De Méligny (whose real name was Maria Boursin) was a lower class woman of whom Bonnard’s haute bourgeoisie family disapproved, which may explain why they didn’t marry until 1925, and then kept it a secret from many. De Méligny had been prescribed hydrotherapy (frequent bathing) for a number of ailments she suffered from, and beginning in 1925, Bonnard’s paintings began to feature her in the bathroom, either before, during or after a bath. He painted a series of several works (some sources say four, others more) between 1935 and the mid-1940s, which focus almost exclusively on Marthe’s nude body in the tub. The works feature a daring and opulent use of color, particularly in the rendering of the tile work, which appear to transform the bathroom into a Byzantine church, its walls covered with colorful mosaics. In this interpretation, the paintings are a homage to Marthe, who rests like a queen in a multi-colored temple. Other commentators have noted that the resemblance of the tub to a sarcophagus, and Bonnard’s rendering of the flesh tones as approximating a rotting corpse. Bonnard painted the scenes from memory (which may explain why the final canvas in the series was completed after Marthe’s death and why Marthe remains eternally young in all the bathtub portraits); he would make some sketches but then allowed his imagination to produce the final work. (In fact, there is some evidence that the bathroom tiles were all white and the colors are a product of Bonnard’s artistic imagination, which saw the room not as it was but as it should be.) The bathtub paintings Bonnard made in the 1930s and 1940s, which all have similar titles, are considered some of his greatest achievements. The images show:
(1) Nude in the Bathtub (1935), in a private collection (see image above);
(2) Nude in the Bath (1936), in the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in Paris (see image below left); and
(3) Nude in the Bath and Small Dog (1941-1946), in the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (see image below right).
 bonnard bathtub 1 Bonnard bathtub 3

373. Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War)

Artist: Salvador Dali
Date: 1936
Period/Style: Surrealism; Spain/France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.3 ft. square
Current location: Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania
Dali soft-construction-with-boiled-beans
Did Spanish Surrealist Salvador Dali have the ability to see the future?  Most scholars agree that Dali created preparatory sketches for Soft Construction with Boiled Beans in 1934 and completed it in early 1936, about six months before Generalissimo Francisco Franco began the Fascist uprising that sparked the Spanish Civil War.  Yet most scholars also agree that the painting’s depiction of two halves of a gruesome man-monster battling each other (Dali himself described it as “a vast human body breaking out into monstrous excrescences of arms and legs tearing at one another in a delirium of auto strangulation”) refers directly to Spain’s political schism.  Even Dali agreed, as shown by his decision to retitle the work Premonition of Civil War.  Perhaps the political turmoil preceding the war, as it rumbled through the collective unconscious and onto Dali’s sketch pad, made the gigantic creature(s) inevitable.  As usual, Dali takes bizarre, unlikely and grisly distortions of everyday objects and figures and paints them in a hyperrealistic style, perhaps to make sure that we believe in their reality despite the urging of our rational minds to disregard them. The parallelogram-forming monsters exist in the arid landscape of Dali’s Spanish homeland.  A normal-sized man peers over a giant hand. Boiled beans are scattered about, perhaps a reference to the Catalonian custom of offering beans to the gods. An inexplicable box or chest of drawers provides support for the arm/leg/torso of the lower giant. Note that, assuming Dali was intending to make a political statement, he did not take sides (unlike Picasso in Guernica, which came down squarely on the side of the Republicans).  In fact, not long after the Spanish Civil War began, Dali’s right wing politics led the Surrealists to eject him from their group, prompting Dali’s declaration, “I am Surrealism!”  

374. The Old King

Artist: Georges Rouault
Date: Georges Rouault began painting The Old King in 1916, but didn’t finish until 20 years later, in 1936.
Period/Style: Expressionism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.5 ft. tall by 1.8 ft. wide
Current location: Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
rouault-old-king
Considered a masterpiece of Georges Rouault’s Expressionist style, The Old King, which shows an unidentified ancient monarch in profile, hearkens back to the stone reliefs of Assyria and Egypt, and portraits on Greek and Roman coins. The portrait expresses the burden but also the majesty and mystery of kingship in those times. Rouault introduces more modern themes by placing springs of white flowers in the king’s hand, instead of a scepter or crown. According to one scholar, “the white flowers, —by embodying the fragility of life, the inevitability of death, and the inexorable cycles of birth and decay—, confront the king with the limits of his power. Thus, a symbol that speaks of spring, innocence, and renewal gives a dark and bitter twist to the meaning of the traditional royal icon.” As a young man, Rouault had served as apprentice to a stained glass maker, and that training is reflected in his style: large patches of glowing primary colors surrounded by thick black outlines.

375. One: Number 31, 1950

Artist: Jackson Pollock
Date: 1950
Period/Style: Abstract Expressionism; Action Painting; US
Medium: Oil paints and enamels on untreated canvas
Dimensions: 8.8 ft. tall by 17.4 ft. wide
Current location: Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
pollock one number 31
Some people want to believe that Jackson Pollock was an idiot savant or a pure automatic artist, whose works are the result of unconscious chance processes, like a natural landscape, not made by human hands. But the evidence proves otherwise. Although chance plays a role in every drip painting, including One: Number 31, 1950, Pollock controlled the timing and extent of any random factors, and he made many important conscious choices throughout the process. A slow movement created a thick line; a quick flick of the wrist, a thin one. Pollock also chose how big to make the canvas; which colors to use; when to use glossy paint, when to use matte; when to allow paint to puddle; when to prop up the painting to allow puddles to drip down; whether to paint wet on wet, or wait for the paint to dry before making another pass over the canvas. In One: Number 31, 1950 (one of Pollock’s largest canvases), “calligraphic looping cords of color animate and energize every inch of the composition, which seems to expand visually despite its enormous size,” one critic noted, adding that, “The density of interlacing liquid threads of paint is balanced and offset by puddles of muted colors and by allover spattering.” Unlike some of Pollock’s drip paintings, One: Number 31, 1950 has a well-defined border – another conscious choice.

376. Woman I

Artist: Willem de Kooning
Date: Begun in 1950; completed in 1952.
Period/Style: Abstract Expressionism; New York
Medium: Oil and metallic paints on canvas
Dimensions: 6.3 ft. tall by 4.8 ft. wide
Current location: Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
dekooning woman 1
From the time that Dutch-born American artist Willem de Kooning began his series of Woman paintings in the early 1950s, they have ignited controversy.  The Abstract Expressionist was accused of being a misogynist and of committing violence against women with his paintbrush. The first entry in the series, Woman I, took de Kooning nearly two years to finish. He made numerous preliminary studies and repainted his canvas several times.  According to de Kooning, his inspirations were female icons through the history of art, from the faceless Venus figurines of prehistory, with their enormous breasts, thighs and buttocks, to fleshy nudes of the Renaissance and Baroque masters, and finally, sex symbols like Marilyn Monroe and other curvaceous 20th Century pin-ups. “The Women had to do with the female painted through all the ages, all those idols,” de Kooning once said.  Focusing on this subject allowed him to “eliminate[ ] composition, arrangement, relationships, light – because the woman was the thing I wanted to get hold of.”  Others who have analyzed de Kooning’s Women believe his art explores his complex feelings about women, including feelings of rage.  Using aggressive brushwork and an intense palette, de Kooning’s Woman I is hefty, wild-eyed, menacing and ferocious, but she is also a flattened two-dimensional figure, an imaginary monster of the Id, and a fertility goddess. Instead of creating a three-dimensional space for a monumental figure, the artist forces the woman’s massive head, arms, legs, and breasts into the shallow space of the flat canvas. Paradoxically, one critic noted, the figure is “exaggeratedly, absurdly physical and at the same time not there at all.”  As for technique, de Kooning puts the oil paint through its paces: depending on his needs at the time, his treatment is either thick or thin, rough or slick, opaque or translucent. He puts an arc of fluid paint here and coarse bursts of color there.  Thick smears alternate with spots where the paint merely stains the canvas. Like fellow Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock, de Kooning sometimes allows pooled wet paint to drip down, adding an element of chance.  Woman I is a mid-20th Century American masterpiece. 

377. Number 11, 1952 “Blue Poles”

Artist: Jackson Pollock
Date: 1952
Period/Style: Abstract Expressionism; Action Painting; New York
Medium: Enamel and aluminum paint and embedded glass on canvas
Dimensions: 6.9 ft. tall by 16 ft. wide
Current location: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
pollock_blue_poles
By 1952, American Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock had been creating so-called ‘drip paintings’ (also known as action paintings) for five years, and he was about to change direction again.  The drip painting that began life as Number 11, 1952 and is now generally known as Blue Poles (a name either given or approved by Pollock),  marks a departure from earlier drip paintings in at least two ways.  First, the color palette is strikingly bold compared with the prior work: orange and ivory splashes create a festive mood, which the blue of the ‘poles’ complements.  It is the poles themselves that signal the most significant break with the past.  These eight long straight bars, possibly made by dipping a length of wood in blue paint, impose a form and structure on the art work.  Angled and of differing lengths, the poles compartmentalize and tame the chaotic rhythms of the swirling, dripping color around and, because they were painted last, below them.  It is as if Pollock felt it was time to exert more control over the unbridled emotional upheavals of the drip technique.  Like so many great works of art, Blue Poles is no stranger to controversy.  According to the New York Times, fellow artists Tony Smith and Barnett Newman may have collaborated with Pollock on Blue Poles, although others (including Newman himself and Pollock’s widow, painter Lee Krasner) swore that, no matter what may have happened in the early stages, the final painting is Pollock’s alone.  Another controversy arose when the government of Australia paid a record price for Blue Poles in 1973, to the confusion of the many citizens who were unaware of Pollock’s importance to modern art or who did not believe that Pollock’s work had such value.  The controversy gave some public figures an opportunity to use the public’s lack of information about the painting and Abstract Expressionism as a way to score political points, but the painting came to Australia nevertheless, and is now located at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.  

378. Mountains and Sea

Artist: Helen Frankenthaler
Date: 1952
Period/Style: Abstract Expressionism; US
Medium: Oil paints and charcoal on canvas
Dimensions: 7.25 ft. tall by 9.7 ft. wide
Current location: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Abstract Expressionist painter Helen Frankenthaler’s first major work, Mountains and Sea may be seen as a landscape painting that becomes abstract or an abstract painting that hints at a landscape.  Reportedly painted after a visit to Cape Breton in Nova Scotia, Mountains and Sea appears to show a landscape at the right – with solid forms and a blue sea, with a horizon line – but as we move to the left, any representational quality dissipates and we find ourselves among various shapes (some quite biomorphic), patches of color, and lines drawn with charcoal. Some elements of the work appear to be the product of chance, a la Pollock, whom Frankenthaler admired, such as splashes of paint. “A really good picture looks as if it’s happened at once,” Frankenthaler once said. “It’s an immediate image.” In order to eliminate any illusion of three dimensionality, Frankenthaler used a technique called “soak stain”, in which she poured paint heavily thinned with turpentine onto an untreated canvas, allowing it to soak into the canvas fibers, thus eliminating any sense that the painting rests on top of the canvas. 

379. Study After Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X

Artist: Francis Bacon
Date: 1953
Period/Style: Expressionism; Ireland/UK
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 5 ft. tall by 3.9 ft. wide
Current location: Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, Iowa
bacon study after velazquez's portrait
In Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, Irish-born British artist Francis Bacon transformed a 17th Century character study (see image below left) into a deeply disturbing modern image. Instead of gazing at the viewer with a complex look of calm self-confidence with a touch of viciousness, the pontiff now wears the face of a horrified character from the Odessa Steps sequence of Sergei Eisenstein’s classic silent film Battleship Potemkin. (Bacon had a photo of the screaming woman pinned on the wall of his studio, like a chloroformed beetle – see image below right). The color scheme has gone from regal and ostentatious to garish, and there are various lines and shapes whose meaning is not immediately obvious. The Screaming Pope (as this and the 40+ similarly-themed paintings are sometimes called) appears to be trapped inside some kind of box or cage (it vaguely resembles a boxing ring, or, as some have thought, the electric chair), although it is not clear whether the yellow ‘ropes’ are inside or outside the Pope’s white satin gown. Below, strips of blue and tan of indeterminate nature emanate from the Pope or his robe. From above, strips of some ghastly translucent curtain hang down in front of the Pope’s face (or do they rise up?), placing the agonized Pope behind a barrier and beyond our help – we can only watch through the translucent blinds as he suffers through an eternal moment of searing pain. And yet we continue to watch. Although Bacon is not referred to as a post-modernist, what he is doing here fits squarely within the post-modern sensibility (though perhaps without the crucial element of irony). He takes an iconic work of art and modifies it to create something entirely new and completely unlike the original, yet completely derivative, commenting on it (this is a “study”, after all), and at the same time commenting in a larger way on how artists use the art that came before them – to imitate, pay homage, parody, critique, transform, even destroy. Some art historians have suggested a political interpretation for the image: They propose that Innocent X is actually a stand-in for 20th Century Pope Pius XII, who looked the other way as Hitler ravaged Europe and slaughtered the Jews, and is now getting his comeuppance, courtesy of Bacon. Strangely, even though Bacon’s studio walls were covered with copies of Velázquez’s papal portrait, when the artist visited Rome in the 1950s and finally had an opportunity to see the original Portrait of Pope Innocent X in the Galleria Doria Pamphilij, he very publicly declined.
diego-velazquez-pope-innocent- Still-from-Battleship-Pot-001

380. Flag

Artist: Jasper Johns
Date: 1954-1955
Period/Style: Neo-Dada (precursor to Pop Art); New York, US
Medium: Encaustic and oil paints and newspaper on fabric mounted on three panels of plywood
Dimensions: 3.5 ft. tall by 5 ft. wide 
Current location: Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
johns flag
As one exasperated critic asked when American Abstract Expressionist Jasper Johns first exhibited Flag, “Is this a flag or a painting?” The answer, of course, is “Yes.” Americans and many others recognize the object immediately.  But then there is the second glance, the stepping closer and examining the object, the materials and the methods, and in some ways it is not what it seems.  Flag is constructed, not sewn.  It is an object, with solidity and thickness, not a piece of fabric.  Its surface contains visible lumps, smears and drips of encaustic, a type of paint made from pigment and molten wax.  Beneath the paint, we see strips of newspaper, and although it is difficult to decipher any of the words and pictures, there is enough to tie the construction of this art to a specific time – the early 1950s – which we know from history was the McCarthy era, when loyalty to the flag was an issue that could cost someone dearly.  According to Johns, Flag began with a dream.  But Johns also made a conscious decision to paint common, easily recognizable objects and symbols, things, he once said, “the mind already knows.”  This choice to make art about what is common and familiar to us became a key element of Pop Art.  For the artist, not having to start with a new design freed up the artist to focus on the process of making the art.  In this sense, Johns was an action painter – he thought process was integral to meaning.  

381. Bed

Artist: Robert Rauschenberg
Date: 1955
Period/Style: Neo-Dada, US
Medium: Wood frame covered with sheets, pillow, quilt, paints and pencil
Dimensions: 6.25 ft. tall, 2.6 ft. wide and 8 in. deep
Current location: Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
Rauschenberg-Bed-
American artist Robert Rauschenberg was interested in the space between life and art.  His combines took everyday objects (like the wood frame, sheets, pillow and quilt of Bed), assembled them and applied ‘art’ to them.  In the case of Bed, Rauschenberg scribbled with a pencil and splattered dripping paint a la Jackson Pollock. Then he hung the resulting construction on the wall.  So Rauschenberg made his bed, but he made sure that neither he nor anyone else could lie in it.  This, then, was the space between life and art: a bed that looked like a work of art; a work of art that looked like a bed hanging on a wall.  Art historians see Bed and other works by Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns as the beginnings of the post-modern irony of Pop Art, or at least an ironic commentary on the dominant style of the day, Abstract Expressionism.  Each Abstract Expressionist had a unique individual style; Rauschenberg doesn’t care about uniqueness – he is happy to imitate Pollock.  The Abstract Expressionists believed that they could imbue the artwork with the essence of their souls, the interior of their dream lives. Bed mocks such pretensions: “Here is where I dream,” Rauschenberg sneers, “Try and titrate the essence of my soul from this.”

382. A Bigger Splash

Artist: David Hockney
Date: 1967
Period/Style: Pop Art; UK
Medium: Acrylic Liquitex paints on white cotton duck canvas
Dimensions: 7.9 ft. tall by 8 ft. wide
Current location: Tate Modern, London, England, UK
hockney bigger splash
British painter David Hockney spent a lot of time in California during the 1960s and during that time he became fascinated with the ubiquitous phenomenon of the backyard swimming pool.  He painted several small works on the subject in 1964 and 1966.  Then, in 1967, inspired by a photo in a book about pools, Hockney began painting a large white duck canvas with acrylic paints, which he had recently discovered. He created a border for the painting by placing masking tape along the edges.  Then, using a paint roller, he painted the large blue sky, blue water, and patio, then brushes to paint details like the trees, shrubs and chair.  The modern single-story house came from a notebook of architectural sketches Hockney had made. He arranged the composition so that the border between the patio and the pool (which is left unpainted) divides the painting in half.  The house and the edge of the pool all line up with the horizontal lines at the top and bottom margins of the canvas.  The yellow diving board jutting out from the corner on a diagonal sends motion and energy to the central splash, and beyond it to the empty director’s chair.  Presumably, the person who was sitting the chair is the same as the person who has just dived into the water.  Hockney said that his primary goal was capturing and freezing the splash, which was normally a split-second phenomenon.  He joked in an interview about taking two weeks to paint a splash that takes two seconds. The absence of any visible human life, yet the knowledge that there is someone underneath the water, creates a tension, as does the contrast between the calm sunny day and the violence of the splash.  Random Trivia: Why A Bigger Splash?  Because the painting is larger than two previous splash paintings made in 1966.

383. Untitled (installation of 100 mill-aluminum boxes)

Artist: Donald Judd
Date: The first of the 100 boxes was installed in 1982; the final box was installed in 1986.
Period/Style: Minimalism; US
Medium: 100 boxes made from mill-aluminum
Dimensions: Each box is 3.4 ft. tall by 6 ft. wide by 4.2 ft. deep
Current location: Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas
donald juddJudd-100-untitled-works-in-mill-aluminum-detail-1982–86-aluminum.-2009 Photo-Douglas-Tuck
Although he rejected the label, American artist Donald Judd was one of the leading practitioners of Minimalism, an artistic style that sought to present “pre-determined, repetitive, unvaried, ‘cool’ objects that generally sought to be nothing other than what they were: pure forms.” To Judd and other minimalists, their works allow viewers to focus without distraction on “the main aspects of visual art: … material, space, and color.” When Judd purchased a decommissioned Army base in Marfa, Texas, he chose two former artillery sheds to house a massive art installation that is the culmination of his artistic philosophy and his greatest achievement. He modified the sheds to house the installation and designed the installation to fit the sheds. First, he replaced the garage doors with continuous walls of square windows (divided into quarters) that extend from floor to ceiling and bathe the rooms with sunlight. He also added a galvanized iron vaulted roof on top of the original flat roof. Inside the buildings, Judd installed 100 mill aluminum boxes (48 in one building, 52 in the other). The boxes were constructed by the Lippincott Company of Connecticut and installed between 1982 and 1986. While the exterior dimensions of the 100 boxes are identical, each box is unique: some are whole, some are transected, some have recesses or partitions. Without actually representing or symbolizing anything in particular, the boxes have lessons to give about space and time and how we perceive them. According to Jim Lewis in a 2007 essay, “What [Judd] was after, and what he achieved, was … a specific engagement of the senses, called forth by that metal with that surface, arranged in those forms, in that building, awash in that light, in that landscape.” After spending a month at Marfa, Lewis also recognized that, sitting three-in-a-row in rooms with glass walls, the reflective metal boxes take on the role of “sundials, calendars, clocks: They measure time as elegantly as they apportion space.” Note:  The second image above is a 2009 photograph by Douglas Tuck.

384. Puppy

Artist: Jeff Koons
Date: 1992
Period/Style: Neo-Pop Art; US
Medium: The original 1992 version was made with wood and steel frame (with geotextile fabric) in the shape of a puppy supporting flowering plants growing in soil. The Bilbao version has a steel frame with an irrigation system.
Dimensions: The Bilbao version is 43 ft. tall by 27.1 ft. wide by 29.8 ft. deep. There are approximately 70,000 plants growing in 25 tons of soil.
Current locations: Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain. Another version was made for Brant Foundation Art Study Center in Connecticut, but it is not clear whether it still exists.
koons-puppy-germany
puppy BilbaoJeff Koons is an American artist whose work includes aspects of Pop Art, Minimalism and Dada. He is known for creating artworks using the visual language of advertising and the entertainment industry, and likes to play with the boundaries of high and low culture, ‘turning kitsch into art’ as one critic put it. When Koons was excluded from the 1992 Documenta 9 exhibition in Kassel, Germany, he entered an exhibition in Arolsen, 40 miles from Kassel, and stole the show with Puppy, a topiary sculpture of a West Highland terrier measuring over 40 ft. tall, with a frame of wood and stainless steel, on which approximately 20,000 flowering plants grew (see first image above). Some saw it as a “monument to the sentimental”, while Koons himself described the piece with a straight face as “a modern-day Sacred Heart of Jesus.” Koons rebuilt the sculpture in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, Australia in 1995 with a stainless steel frame and 70,000 plants. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation purchased Puppy in 1997 and installed it in front of Guggenheim Bilbao, where it remains (see second image above). The 70,000 flowering plants, including marigold, begonias, impatiens, chrysanthemums, lobelias and numerous varieties of petunias, grow in 25 tons of soil, watered by an internal irrigation system. As one critic pointed out, Puppy can be read as an analogy for certain aspects of our culture, which seem out of control but are actually carefully constructed and highly contained. Peter Brant commissioned a duplicate of Puppy for the Brant Foundation Art Study Center in Connecticut. In 2000, a version of Puppy was displayed for a brief period in front of Rockefeller Center in New York. Random Trivia: Basque separatists tried to blow up Puppy in 1997 just prior to its dedication at Guggenheim Bilbao, but were foiled by police, one of whom (a Basque officer) was killed.

On 4 Lists

385. Cave Paintings, Pech-Merle

Artist: Unknown
Date: The cave art was created in three different periods: Gravettian (25,000-20,000 BCE); Solutrean (20,000-15,000 BCE); and Magdalenian (15,000-10,000 BCE)
Period/Style: Paleolithic; Gravettian, Soultrean and Magdalenian cultures
Medium: Paintings and drawings on cave walls
Dimensions: Each painting of a spotted horse is just over 5 feet wide.
Current location: Caberets, France
Pech-Merle 1
The Pech-Merle cave in southern France runs for 1.2 miles and contains cave art from three different periods: Gravettian (25,000-20,000 BCE); Solutrean (20,000-15,000 BCE); and Magdalenian  (15,000-10,000 BCE). The wall paintings include animals, human figures, hand stencils and many unexplained abstract markings. The highlight of the Gravettian period is a red and black painting of two spotted horses (see image above). Solutrean period art includes the Wounded Man, who has been punctured by numerous arrows or spears (a victim of war or punishment?) (see image below left) and the Black Frieze, a wall with many monochrome drawings of animals (see image below right). Random Trivia: For many years, experts believed that the spots on the horses painted in Pech-Merle were symbolic, not realistic. But recently, scientists have discovered the gene for spotting in horses and now believe that spotted horses lived in Europe at the time that these paintings were made.
 

386. Fire-Flame Vessels (Flame-Style Vessels)

Artists: Unknown
Date: c. 3000-1500 BCE
Period/Style: Jomon culture; Japan
Medium: Ceramic vessels
Dimensions: 24 inches tall
Current location: Various collections

From about 12,000 BCE to 300 BCE, a hunter-gatherer culture known as the Jomon inhabited the islands of Japan. The Jomon people produced some of the world’s first pottery, much of it decorated with cord-marks from rope, which gives the Jomon their name (Jomon means ‘cord-markings’ in Japanese). By the time of the Middle Period (3000-1500 BCE), Jomon potters had begun crafting elaborate fire-flame vessels, so-called because of the tongues-of-fire decorations around the rims. Many of the pots have been found in the area that is now modern Niigata prefecture in central Honshu. Some of the pots have carbonized food remains, indicating that they were used in cooking food. The trumpet shape, with the rim flaring wider than the base, may have helped prevent the contents from boiling over when used on an open fire. The image above shows a flame-style vessel, dating to c. 2500 BCE and measuring 24 in. tall by 22 in. wide, in the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art. The vessel below left is in the British Museum. The vessel below right is in the Tokyo National Museum,Umataka Jomon Museum in Nagaoka, Japan.
 

387. Tell Asmar Hoard (Votive Statues)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 2900-2550 BCE
Period/Style: Sumerian; Iraq
Medium: Statuettes carved from gypsum, limestone and alabaster; adorned with seashells and stones
Dimensions: The statuettes range from 8 to 23 inches tall
Current location: Various collections, including the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad (7 statuettes), Oriental Institute, Chicago, Illinois; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
tell asmar hoardThe Tell Asmar Hoard is a group of 12 small statues discovered in 1933-34 in the ruins of an ancient Sumerian temple to Abu, a fertility deity, in what is now Iraq. According to one theory, the temple was closed to the public, but worshipers could bring statues representing themselves to bring prayers to the god. The statues range from 8 to 23 inches tall; 10 are male; and most are made of gypsum (with seashells and stones for the eyes).  Most of the statues have inscriptions with the name of the worshiper or the prayer request. The statues of the Tell Asmar are the most famous of the many hundreds of votive statues known from the same period. The image below shows Standing Male Worshipper, from Tell Asmar (11.6 inches tall), now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. I have been unable to identify the source of the photograph shown above.

388. Lyre with Bull’s Head

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 2550-2450 BCE
Period/Style: Sumerian; Early Dynastic III period; Iraq
Medium: The original lyre (which was not preserved) was made of wood. The bull’s head, face and horns are wrapped in gold foil; its hair, beard, and eyes are made of lapis lazuli. Below the head is a front panel made of shell inlay set into bitumen.
Dimensions: The bull’s head and panel beneath it measure 15.7 in. tall by 4.3 in. wide by 7.5 in. deep. 
Current location: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Leonard Woolley discovered three Sumerian lyres with ornamental facings – in this case, a bull’s head – among the bodies of ten women in the Royal cemetery at Ur in 1929. The bull’s eyes are wide open and his ears are alert, as if he is listening to the music from the lyre. The shape of the lyre (which has been reconstructed) is meant to resemble the bull’s body. The panel below the bull’s head depicts four scenes. The top and bottom scenes in the panel – showing a naked man wrestling two bearded bulls (obscured by the bull’s beard) and a scorpion-man attended by a goat with drinking cups – represent episodes from the Epic of Gilgamesh. The source of the other two scenes, which include animals acting as humans – eating, drinking and playing music- is unknown. The bull head – which is often associated with royalty in Sumerian iconography – may  represent the sun god Utu/Shamash, who was thought to be able to descend into the underworld.  

389. Harvester Vase

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 1550-1450 BCE
Period/Style: Minoan; Neopalatial style; Crete, Greece
Medium: Ritual vessel carved from black steatite containing carved relief sculptures
Dimensions: 18 in tall and 4.5 inches in diameter
Current location: Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Crete, Greece

The Harvester Vase is not a vase; it is a ritual vessel that was most likely used in Minoan religious ceremonies. Originally covered in gold leaf, the vessel it was found at the Agia Triada palace site on the island of Crete. The low relief sculpture depicts a procession of 27 men, most of whom appear to be young farm workers who carry harvesting tools. An older, robed man with long hair and a stick leads the parade (see image above). In the middle of the group behind him is a man shaking a sistrum (a musical instrument used in religious rituals), who is shouting or singing (see detail in image below).  He is followed by four men with open mouths wearing cloaks. The Harvester Vase is considered a masterpiece of the Neopalatial style. Dr. Senta German notes the “masculine, communal, and celebratory nature of the activity depicted.”

390. Lion Gate, Hattusa

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 1400-1300 BCE
Period/Style: HIttite Empire; Turkey
Medium: Carved stone sculptures
Dimensions: The lions appear to be life-size
Current location: Boğazkale, Turkey
Lion Gate Hattusa
When the Hittites made Hattusa their capital at some point after 1600 BCE, they built on the ruins of a settlement that had been occupied by another group, the Hattians, who called it Hattush, until it was destroyed about 1700 BCE. During the period of 1600-1400 BCE, the Hittite Empire grew through conquests to encompass much of what is now Turkey and the Middle East. At some point near the height of the empire (possibly during the reign of Suppiluliuma I, c. 1344–1322 BCE), the Hittites constructed a massive wall around their city, with several prominent gates. The Lion Gate is named for the two enormous carved stone lions that greet the visitor (see image above – the head of the lion on the left is a restoration). The eye sockets of the lions would have been filled with gemstones or other decorative materials. Some art historians have speculated that the lions, with open jaws and wide eyes, played a protective role and were meant to frighten away evil spirits.  Another gate is decorated with sphinxes (see image below, showing one original and one reconstructed sphinx). The style of the carvings has much in common with Mycenaean art of the same period in Greece. Hattusa thrived until shortly after 1200 BCE when it was destroyed by a conquering force (possibly the Assyrians) and eventually abandoned. Hattusa became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986.

391. Lion Gate, Mycenae

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 1300-1200 BCE
Period/Style: Mycenaean; Greece
Medium: Triangular sandstone block with a relief sculpture 
Dimensions: The lion/pillar sculpture is 3 feet tall
Current location: Archaeological Site of Mycenae, near Fichti, Greece
Wall and Lion Gate. Citadel of Mycenae
The Mycenaean civilization that dominated Greece, the Aegean and much of the eastern Mediterranean from 1600-1100 BCE takes its name from the walled citadel of Mycenae in Argolis in the Greek Peloponnese. Excavations have discovered tombs filled with costly treasures, indicating a wealthy ruling class. The Lion Gate at Mycenae is the only large extant monumental sculpture from the Mycenaean period (see image above and detail in image below). It may have been inspired by the earlier Lion Gate at Hattusa. The main (and for a time, the only) gate to the city of Mycenae, the gate features a triangular sandstone block with a relief sculpture depicting two lions facing a Minoan-style pillar. Some have speculated that the lions are protection the pillar, which may have had religious significance. The lions’ heads were carved separately (probably of different materials) and have been lost, so it is not clear if the lions are male or female. Architecturally, the carved block serves as a relief triangle that protects the huge lintel below by diverting some of the pressure from the blocks on either side. The Lion Gate was built in the 13th Century BCE, at the height of Mycenaean power and influence, but invasions beginning about 1200 BCE (scholars disagree about the invaders’ identities) led to a rapid decline followed by the Greek “dark ages” from about 1100-800 BCE. Random Trivia: The ruins of Mycenae (including the Lion Gate) have been known since antiquity; Greek traveler and geographer Pausanias wrote about them (and their purported link to the Trojan War) in the 2nd Century BCE. Ancient people believed that only a race of giant cyclops could lift the enormous stones to create the walls and Lion Gate, which led archaeologists to use the term “Cyclopean” to describe the architectural style. 
lion gate mycenae

392. New York Kouros (Metropolitan Kouros)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 600-580 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Greece; Early Archaic period
Medium: Marble statue
Dimensions: 6.3 feet tall
Current location:  Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
 
During the Archaic Period, beginning in the late 7th Century BCE, Greek sculpture took a giant leap forward with the creation of the first large, free-standing statues, the kouros (Greek for ‘male youth’). The earliest examples of these life-size (or larger) marble sculptures of nude boys or young men owed much to Egyptian art, including their striding stance, arms held straight at the sides and somewhat idealized bodies, some of which used the grid pattern of the Egyptians to maintain symmetry.  On the other hand, uniquely Greek features also appeared: the figures were usually nude and more attention was paid to realism, such as the way the figure’s weight was balanced on its feet. These statues were found in temples and sanctuaries and may have been offerings to the gods in the likenesses of actual individuals. The kouros in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (see images above), which has long beaded hair, marked the grave of a young Athenian aristocrat. It dates to the Early Archaic Period, when the Egyptian influence on Greek sculpture was still strong.

393. Peplos Kore

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 530 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Greece; Archaic period
Medium: Statue carved from white Parian marble
Dimensions: 3.8 ft. tall
Current location: Acropolis Museum, Athens, Greece 
peplos kore
The Peplos Kore (kore = girl, young woman; peplos = the woolen garment worn by the figure over her chiton) was probably a votive offering to one of the gods in the temples on the Acropolis in Athens, where it was found in the late 19th Century. The figure’s expression is known as the “Archaic smile” common to statues of this period, which may have been meant to suggest that the subject was alive and infused with a sense of well-being. Unlike statues depicting males, which are usually nude, the Peplos Kore and other statues of females from this period are shown wearing clothing. The left arm, which was a separate piece of stone, has been lost. There are holes on the head and shoulders, indicating the presence of additional ornamentation. Like most ancient statuary, the figure was originally painted in bright colors and adorned with jewelry. Traces of the paint remain on the marble, which has inspired some museums to experiment with casts of the original statue to recreate what it may have looked like. The re-creation shown below left, which restores the figure’s left arm and gives her a protective head covering called a meniskos, is from the Museum of Classical Archaeology at the University of Cambridge, England, UK. The painted version below right is from the Stiftung Archäologie in Munich, Germany. 
 peplos kore painted  peplos kore painted 2

394. Sarcophagus of the Spouses

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 530-500 BCE
Period/Style: Etruscan; Italy
Medium: Painted terracotta sarcophagus
Dimensions: 3.7 feet tall by 6.2 feet long
Current location: National Etruscan Museum (Villa Giulia), Rome
sarcophagus of the spouses italy
This terracotta sarcophagus featuring a married couple reclining at a banquet was discovered in the 19th Century at the necropolis of Cerveteri (known as Caere at the time). Unlike ancient Greeks and Romans, Etruscan men and women dined together – a custom the Greeks and Romans found scandalous. Art historian Frederick Hartt notes that the sarcophagus “seem[s] to show a very happy view of the future life”, consistent with the joyous scenes painted on the walls of Etruscan tombs of this period. The sculpture shows some classic Etruscan features (elongation, gesturing limbs, attention to the upper body) but also some Greek influence (almond eyes, Archaic smiles), possibly due to immigration by Ionian Greeks. Another similar sarcophagus from the same site is now in the Louvre in Paris (see image below).

395. Seated Figures, Nok Culture

Artists: Unknown
Date: c. 500 BCE-200 CE
Period/Style: Nok culture;
Medium: Statues made from baked clay (terracotta)
Dimensions: The statues range in size from 1 to 3 feet tall
Current location: Various collections
Terracotta Sculpture of a Seated Dignitary.  Nok_sculpture_Louvre
The Nok culture thrived in parts of what is now Nigeria between 500 BCE and 200 CE. Among the finest Nok artistic creations were many terracotta sculptures of seated Nok figures. The sculptures were made of baked clay and covered with a layer of slip for smoothness. They were hollow and coil built. Most of the faces have triangular pierced eyes with overlapping eyelids, but every head is unique. Many of the figures have elaborately detailed hairstyles and jewelry. A number of the figures depict seated dignitaries or leaders, which are identified by the stools raising them above the ground and their downward gaze. The examples shown are:
(1) Seated Dignitary, measuring 36.25 in. high, 11 in. wide, 14 in. deep, at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in Minnesota (top left);
(2) Seated Figure, measuring 14.75 in. tall, located in the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris (top right);
(3) Seated Figure, measuring 23.4 in. tall, 12 in. wide, 11 in. deep, formerly located in the Muzeion in Dallas, Texas, but now in a private collection (below left); and
(4) Seated Dignitary, measuring 2.1 ft. tall, formerly located in the Barakat Gallery, Beverly Hills, California; whereabouts unknown (below right). 
nok figure  nok seated figure

396. Fallen Warrior (Dying Warrior), Temple of Aphaia

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 490-480 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Greece; early Classical period
Medium: Marble sculpture from temple pediment
Dimensions: 5.8 feet long
Current location: Glyptothek, Munich, Germany

At least three temples were built on the hilltop site of the ruins of the Temple of Aphaia in Aegina, Greece, and votive figurines found at the site indicate it may have been a place of worship since the Bronze Age. The Dying Warrior is a early Classical-style marble sculpture that originally decorated the eastern pediment of the most recent temple, which was built in the early 5th Century BCE. The soldier was located on the far left side of a battle scene with Athena in the center (see imagined reconstruction of pediment in first image below). Contrast the more realistic depiction of the Dying Warrior with a wounded soldier statue from the older, Archaic-style western pediment, just a decade earlier (see second image below). The earlier statue’s pose is stiff and the smiling figure does not appear near death, but presents himself to the viewer in an artificial manner. The later, Classical sculpture’s pose and musculature reveal the actual motions of a real human body; the expression is stoic but showing pain at the moment of death, as he holds himself up with his shield. The Dying Warrior and other pediment statues from the Temple of Aphaia were removed from the site in the early 19th Century and are now in the Glyptothek in Munich, Germany. Random Trivia: Aphaia was a Greek goddess associated with fertility and agriculture; unlike most deities, who had multiple temples, she was worshiped at only one location: the temple at Aegina.

397. Wall Paintings, Tomb of the Leopards

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 480-450 BCE
Period/Style: Etruscan; Italy
Medium: Frescoes painted on tomb walls
Dimensions: The tomb interior measures 9.8 feet by 13.1 feet by 8.2 feet
Current location: Necropolis of Monterozzi, Tarquinia, Lazio, Italy