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.


  • 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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 
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
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
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
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
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.
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

The Tomb of the Leopards is an Etruscan burial chamber located in the Necropolis of Monterozzi in Tarquinia, Italy. The main wall depicts a banquet scene with three well-dressed dining couples and two nude servants (see image above). One man holds up an egg, a symbol of life after death. The presence of trees indicates that the banquet is taking place outdoors. Above the banquet are the two leopards that give the tomb its name. The left wall shows dancing musicians (see image below), while the right wall shows a formal procession. The musician fresco shows (from left to right): a man carrying a drinking vessel known as a cantharos; a man playing an aulos (double flute); and an man with a testudo (lyre). The overall sense is one of joy and revelry, not grief and morning. Art historians believe the banquet scene was painted by someone familiar with Classical Greek art and shows a more advanced style, while the the side walls were painted in the older Archaic style (presumably by a different artist).
tomb of the leopards 2

398. Athena Parthenos

Artist: Phidias
Date: c. 447-440 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Greece; High Classical period
Medium: The core of the statue was made of wood, which was covered by bronze plates, which were covered by removable gold plates. Athena’s face and arms were made of ivory. The term chryselephantine is used to describe gold and ivory sculptures such as the Athena Parthenos.
Dimensions: The statue was estimated to be 37.7 feet tall. The pedestal base measured 13.1 feet by 26.2 feet
Current location: The original statue was destroyed.
Varvakeion Athena 3rd century CE National Archaeological Museum, Athens  
The Athena Parthenos is now-lost colossal statue of the goddess Athena made by Phidias for the Parthenon in Athens, where it remained until it was removed by the Romans in the 5th Century CE, never to be seen again. The statue, which stood 38 ft. tall, is considered the greatest achievement of Phidias, the most acclaimed sculptor of Ancient Greece. The statue showed Athena standing, wearing a helmet (which may or may not have depicted a Medusa) and resting her left hand on her upright shield.  In her right hand she held a winged Nike – there is a dispute about whether there was a support for her hand. She wore a peplos garment, which was tied by two snakes. She may or may not have had a spear. The original statue had a wooden core, which was covered by bronze plates, which were covered by removable gold plates, while Athena’s face and arms were made of ivory. Of the many copies that have been made, one of the most faithful is considered to be the much smaller Varvakeion Athena (3.4 ft. tall), which dates to 200-250 CE and is in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens (see image above left).  At the same museum is an older unfinished copy (16 inches tall) known as the Lenormant Athena, from the 1st Century CE (see image above right), which provides details about the reliefs on Athena’s shield (an Amazonomachy) and the base (the birth of Pandora). The fate of the original statue is a source of controversy.  Records indicate Lachares removed the gold from the statue in 296 BCE to use to pay his troops.  A fire in 165 BCE may have destroyed the statue, although there are references to Christians removing the statue (or, more likely, a later replica made after the fire) from the Parthenon in the 5th Century CE and bringing it to Constantinople, where it was probably destroyed during the sack of the city by the Crusaders in 1204. Random Trivia: In 1990, American artist Alan LeQuire completed a 41-foot-tall Athena for the replica of the Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee (see image below). The statue was adorned with gold leaf in 2002 by master gilder Lou Reed.

399. Three Goddesses (Parthenon, East Pediment)

Artist: Phidias oversaw the sculptural program at the Parthenon, but the specific sculptors who worked on these pediment figures are unknown.
Date: c. 438-432 BCE
Period/Style: Ancient Greece; High Classical period
Medium: Pediment sculptures carved from pentelic marble
Dimensions: 4.6 feet tall by 7.6 feet wide
Current location: British Museum, London

The Three Goddesses is a sculptural group that was originally located on the right side of the east pediment of the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. The central scene depicted in the east pediment is the birth of Athena, who emerged from the head of her father Zeus as a full-grown warrior. (See reconstructed east pediment in first image below, from Acropolis Museum in Athens.) The reconstruction of the Parthenon’s east pediment sculptures is based on the 1674 drawings of French artist Jacques Carrey, who visited the site 13 years before the Venetian bombardment of the Parthenon in 1687. (The drawings are now in the Biblioteque Nationale in Paris. See second image below.) Unfortunately, the central figures of the east pediment had already been destroyed by 1674, so the reconstruction contains a significant amount of speculation. The three females on the right, who are spectators at the miraculous birth, have been tentatively identified as (from left): 1. Hestia or Leto; 2. Dione, Themis or Artemis; and 3. Aphrodite, reclining). Random Trivia: The horses depicted on either end of the pediment rising up over the horizon symbolize the coming of dawn, the time when Athena was said to have been born.

400. Amazon Frieze (Amazonomachy), Mausoleum of Halicarnassus

Artists: Leochares, Bryaxis, Scopas of Paros, & Timotheus
Date: c. 357-350 BCE
Medium: Relief sculptures on the exterior walls of a tomb
Dimensions: A frieze with reliefs covered all four walls of the mausoleum, but the exact dimensions of the building are disputed.  According to one estimate, the frieze would have been 1,340 feet long. The slabs in the British Museum are 2.9 feet tall.
Current location: British Museum, London, England, UK
Amazon_Frieze 1
Amazonomachy_Halicarnassus_BM_1015One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus (in what is now western Turkey) was built to house the tombs of Persian satraps (or governors) Mausolus and his wife-sister Artemisia. According to Pliny the Elder, Artemisia brought in Greek architects to design the structure and four Greek late Classical period sculptors – Leochares, Bryaxis, Scopas of Paros and Timotheus – to carve statues and relief sculptures. The Mausoleum was completed in about 350 BCE, and may have survived into the early Middle Ages, but a series of earthquakes beginning in the 13th Century completely destroyed it. In 1402, the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem used the ruins as a quarry for building the Castle of St. Peter in Bodrum. The relief program included three friezes: (1) the Centauromachy, in which the Lapiths battle with the Centaurs at the wedding feast of Pirithous; (2) the Amazonomachy, which shows the journey of Herakles and Theseus to Themiskyra, where they battle with the Amazons, a race of warrior women; and (3) chariot races. The frieze which would have been painted. There are holes in the stone for attaching metal accessories such as reins and weapons. The Amazon frieze, which is the best preserved of the three, is regarded for its action sequences, with many flying draperies (see images above). 

401. Stag Hunt Mosaic

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

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

402. The Barberini Faun (Drunken Satyr)

Artist: Unknown
Date: The statue is either a Hellenstic Greek original from c. 220 BCE or a later Roman copy.
Period/Style: Ancient Greece; Hellenistic period (or later Roman copy)
Medium: Statue carved from marble
Dimensions: 6.3 feet tall
Current location: Glyptothek, Munich, Germany
barberini faun
Faun was the Roman term for a satyr, a supernatural creature – part human, part beast – that lived a life of revelry and debauchery at the drunken orgies of Dionysus. The faun here (we know he is not human by his tail – see detail in image below left) is not peacefully asleep but drunkenly passed out (see image below right with detail of face). Either a Hellenistic Greek original or a later Roman copy, the Barberini Faun is a marble sculpture standing 6.3 feet tall that was found in pieces in the moat of what had been Hadrian’s Mausoleum (now Castel Sant’Angelo) in Rome in the 1620s. According to the historian Procopius, the Roman defenders had thrown down the statues from Hadrian’s Mausoleum onto the invading Goths during the siege of Rome in 537 CE; art historians have speculated that the Barberini Faun (also known as the Drunken Satyr) was one of the statues so used. The sexually provocative pose – which leads the viewer’s eyes directly to the faun’s private parts – was controversial, but did not prevent the statue from being highly regarded, even in the 17th Century. The much-restored sculpture (a replacement left arm was installed and then removed, for example) is now in the Glyptothek in Munich, Germany.   
Barberini_Faun_tail_  barberini faun 2

403. Flying Horse of Gansu

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

404. Moche Ear Ornaments

Artists: Unknown
Date: c. 100-800 CE
Period/Style: Moche culture; Peru
Medium: Ear ornaments made of wood and gold and adorned with mosaics and decoration made from turquoise, sodalite, shell and other materials 
Dimensions: Each ear ornament is 3-5 inches wide
Current locations: Various collections

The Moche civilization thrived in the Andean mountains of present-day Peru from 100-800 CE. Wearing ear ornaments – referred to as ear spools, earflares, or earplugs – was a way for the rich and powerful to distinguish themselves. Wealthy or high ranking individuals could afford elaborately decorated ornaments made of gold and decorated with mosaics using precious stones. A long tube, often of wood, would be inserted into the ear to anchor the ornaments, which could be quite large. The images show:
(1) Single ear ornament (4.75 inches) from the Lord of Sipan’s grave showing a warrior or god and two attendants, made of gold and turquoise and dated to c. 300 CE, now at the Bruning Archaeological Museum in Lambayeque, Peru (top image above);
(2) A pair of ear ornaments (each 3 inches wide) dated to 100-800 CE, with a geometrical pattern of iquanas, made of gold with turquoise and malachite shells; at the Museo Larco in Lima, Peru (second image above);
(3) A pair of gold and turquoise earrings with the image of a deer, dated to 100-800 CE, at the Larco Museum in Lima (see image below left); and
(4) A pair of ear ornaments (each 3.7 inches wide) dated to 400-700 CE, showing winged runners with bird heads, now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (see image below right).

moche ear ornament 

405. Obelisk of Axum (Axum Stele)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 300-400 CE
Period/Style: Kingdom of Axum, Ethiopia
Medium: Obelisk carved from phonolite stone
Dimensions: 79 ft. tall; 176 tons
Current location: Axum, Ethiopia

The Kingdom of Axum (also spelled Aksum) thrived in what is now Ethiopia between the 2nd Century BCE and the 10th Century CE. Obelisks or stelae found throughout the Axum territories are believed to have been markers for underground burial chambers. Most stelae are small, but those for kings and nobles were immense and were decorated with carvings of false doors and windows and other architectural features. The Axum Obelisk (also known as the Axum Stele) has two false doors at the base and numerous false windows as well as a semicircular crown that was once enclosed by metal frames. At some point in the past, the stele collapsed and broke into five pieces. In 1935, when Italy invaded Ethiopia, the Italians brought the stele back to Italy as war booty and erected it in Rome. There it remained until 2005, when, after many political discussions and practical difficulties, Italy began returning the stele to Ethiopia. It was finally restored and erected at its original location in 2008. Random Trivia: There are several other very large stela at the same site. One, known as the Great Stele, measuring 108 ft. tall, apparently collapsed as it was being erected, and still lies broken on the ground. The largest stele that has never broken is King Ezana’s Stela, at 70 ft. tall (see image below). In 1980, the site of the stelae was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

406. Portrait of the Four Tetrarchs

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

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

407. Relief Sculptures and Murals, Tikal

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

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

408. Constantine the Great (Colossus of Constantine)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 330 CE
Period/Style: Ancient Rome; late Imperial style; Italy
Medium: The statue’s head, arms and legs were made of marble and probably painted. The torso was composed of a brick core and wood frame that was probably covered by gilded bronze.
Dimensions: The fully-assembled statue was 40 feet tall.  The marble head is 8.2 feet tall. 
Current location: Capitoline Museums, Rome

In 312 CE, Constantine defeated his rival Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge to become sole ruler of the Roman empire. To cement his success, Constantine took control of the Basilica that Maxentius had been building in the Roman Forum and had a gigantic statue of himself placed in the apse. Fragments of the marble portions of the statue including the head (see top image above), feet (see second image above ) and hands (see image below left) are now located in the courtyard of the Palazzo dei Conservatori, part of the Capitoline Museums in Rome. The style of the sculpture combines idealized hieratic elements (particularly on the head) with hyperrealistic details, such as the calluses on the feet. The image below right shows a reconstruction of what the statue may have looked like, located in the Basilica Nova by the University of Virginia. Random Trivia: Archaeologists have discovered two slightly different right hands, which may be the result of a reworking of the statue about 325 CE. Experts theorize the that original hand held a scepter, while the substitute hand, carved after Constantine’s conversion to Christianity had become less controversial, may have held a Christian symbol.  

409. Book of Durrow

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

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

410. Aachen Gospels (Treasury Gospels)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 800-820 CE
Period/Style: Medieval period; Carolingian style; Germany
Medium: Illustrated manuscript; paint on parchment
Dimensions: 11.9 inches tall by 9.2 inches wide
Current location: Treasury, Aachen Cathedral, Aachen, Germany

The Aachen Gospels is an illuminated manuscript in the Carolingian style from 800-820 CE. Scholars believe it was made by a member of the Ada School, which produced at least nine other illuminated manuscripts, including the late 8th Century Vienna Coronation Gospels. The gospels are part of the treasury of the Aachen Cathedral in Aachen, Germany and are sometimes known as the Treasury Gospels. The book consists of 280 parchment leaves, which contain the texts of the four Gospels as well as supplementary material. The writing is Carolingian minuscule and there is significant architectural decoration, with some Classical elements. From an artistic point of view, the Aachen Gospels are known primarily for a full-page miniature – the only one in the book – of the four Evangelists. The portrayal is considered unusual for placing the four saints in a single landscape with hills, a horizon, trees and a pink sky. In a Classical reference, they are wearing togas as each engages in a different activity (Matthew writing; Mark dipping his pen in ink; Luke reading; and John thinking). The artist has organized the landscape so that each evangelist has his own space and appears to be working alone, but the overall composition creates the sense that the four gospel writers are engaged in a single project, serving a single purpose.

411. The Paris Psalter

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 950-960 CE
Period/Style: Medieval; Byzantine; Macedonian Renaissance; Turkey 
Medium: Illustrated manuscript; 
Current location: Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris
paris psalter 1
The Paris Psalter is a large, well-preserved Byzantine-era illuminated manuscript containing the Biblical text of the Psalms. Produced in Constantinople in the early 10th Century CE, the large 449-page book contains numerous painted miniatures, including 14 full-page illustrations, seven of which tell the life of King David. The artist refers consciously to much older Classical forms and iconography, consistent with what is referred to as the Macedonian Renaissance. Of particular note are the personified virtues and muses who sit with David as he composes the Psalms on his lyre, which appear to be based on Greco-Roman wall paintings (see image above). This conscious imitation of centuries-old styles may indicate a desire to connect the current period with a mythical past Golden Age. The imitation is so convincing that art historians originally dated the psalter to the 6th Century CE. Other full-page illustrations from the psalter include: the Healing of Hezekiah (see image below left) and the Reproach of Nathan and the Penance of King David (see image below right). 

412. Gospel Book of Otto III

Artist: Workshop of Liuthar
Date: c. 997-1000 CE
Period/Style: Medieval; Ottonian (with Byzantine elements); Germany
Medium: Illustrated manuscript; paints and ink on parchment
Dimensions: Each page measures 13.1 in tall by 9.5 in wide.
Current location: Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich, Germany
otto iii
In about the year 1000, artists at the Benedictine monastery on the island of Reichenau in Germany’s Lake Constance created a number of remarkable illuminated manuscripts, including the Gospel Book of Otto III. Art historians identify this and other works as products of workers supervised by a scribe named Liuthar. Numerous Byzantine elements in the illustrations indicate a conscious attempt to hearken back to a mythical Golden Age. Comporisons of the evangelist portraits indicates that the artists at Reichenau used works from the era of Charlemagne – 200 years earlier, and closer to the Classical past – as models for their work. Near the beginning of the manuscript, a double page shows Holy Roman Emperor Otto III enthroned, holding an orb and scepter (see image above) on the right side and a procession of tributaries bringing gifts on the left. Other full-page illustrations show the Evangelists and scenes from the life of Jesus. The image below left shows the page for Luke the Evangelist.  According to Dr. Andreas Petzold, “The style … looks back to late antique illusionism … but has an extraordinary flatness to it as if the scene has been pressed between two panes of glass.”  Random Trivia: The cover of the Gospel Book of Otto III is elaborately decorated with jewels and, at the center, a Byzantine ivory inlay showing the Dormition of the Virgin (see image below right).  Although other illuminated religious works from the Middle Ages originally had jeweled covers, few have remained intact due to their value as loot. 

413. Reclining Buddha, Gal Vihara

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

414. Verdun Altar (Klosterneuburg Altarpiece)

Artist: Nicholas of Verdun
Date: 1181
Period/Style: Medieval; Romanesque; Mosan style; France/Austria
Medium: Triptych altarpiece made with copper, adorned with panels decorated using the champlevé enamel technique
Dimensions: Each panel is 8 inches tall and 6.5 inches wide.
Current location: Klosterneuberg, Austria

French goldsmith and enamelllist Nicholas of Verdun was a master of Romanesque art and the major exponent of Mosan Art, a regional subgenre of Romanesque from the Meuse valley in what is now Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. Later in his career, Nicholas began to incorporate aspects of Classical art into his work, with more realistic representations of the figures and their expressions, aiding the transition from Romanesque to Gothic style. Nicholas of Verdun is perhaps best known for the Verdun Altar, in the Chapel of St. Leopold, in the Klosterneuburg Monastery in Austria. The altar consists of 45 (some sources say 51) decorative copper panels with Biblical scenes from the Old and New Testaments, which Nicholas made in 1181 using the champlevé enamel technique. in which compartments hollowed out of a metal base are filled with colored vitreous enamel. There is some confusion about when the panels were arranged and assembled into a winged three-part altarpiece seen in the image above. While some believe that Nicholas of Verdun organized the Biblical scenes into a triptych, other authorities claim this did not occur until 1331. If this is true, it is not clear how the panels were displayed in the intervening two centuries. Shown below are:
(1) Jonah and the Whale (below left)
(2) Samson and the Lion (below right)
(3) The Crucifixion (bottom image below).

415. Face Towers, Bayon Temple

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

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

416. Bare Willows and Distant Mountains

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

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

417. Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains

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

418. The Rongxi Studio

Artist: Ni Zan
Date: 1372
Period/Style: Yuan Dynasty; China; landscape
Medium: Ink on paper scroll
Dimensions: 3.1 feet tall by 1.4 feet wide
Current location: National Palace Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
Along with Huang Gongwang, Ni Zan was one of the Four Great Masters of the Yuan and a proponent of literati painting. He painted The Rongxi Studio, a paper handscroll measuring in 1372 at the age of 71. The name of the piece comes from the name of the residence of Zhong-ren, a physician who received the painting as a gift from Ni Zan’s friend Bo-xuan in 1374 and asked Ni Zan to inscribe it. Like all of Ni Zan’s later landscapes, The Rongxi Studio, in which a sparse landscape is viewed from above, with trees in the foreground, defies many traditional concepts of Chinese landscape painting. The monochrome landscape is nearly barren, with little human presence but a lonely hut (see detail in image below). Large areas of the paper are untouched. Yet, in the literati tradition, the landscape conveys personal emotions – perhaps loneliness, or a sense of peace and quiet. According to the curator of the National Palace Museum, Ni uses the “one river, two banks” compositional principle to organize his landscape. Experts have noted Ni Zan’s dry, refined brushwork and his careful build up of tonal variations in the trees. They have observed that Ni appears to have used an upright brush more than a slanted one, and that in modeling rocks, he used broken hemp-fiber strokes more often than washes. 

419. External Panels, Dijon Altarpiece (Crucifixion Altarpiece)

Artist: Melchior Broederlam
Date: 1394-1399
Period/Style: Early Netherlandish; 
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: Each panel is 5.5 feet tall by 4.1 feet wide
Current location: Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dijon
Although only two panels can definitively be attributed to Flemish painter Melchior Broederlam, his place is art history is significant.  Broederlam is one of the earliest artists working in the Early Netherlandish style and one of the first painters to use oil paints, which permitted a wider tonal range and depiction of fine details than tempera.  Broederlam spent time in Italy, where he was influenced by Trecento artistic styles in his sense of space and modelling. (Trecento painters included Duccio, Giotto, Simone Martini and Ambrogio Lorenzetti.) He was court painter to Louis de Mâle, Duke of Brabant from 1381 to 1384 and then, upon Louis’s death, to Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, The two panels shown above are the wings of an altarpiece with sculptures by Jacques de Baerze that was designed for the charterhouse of Champmol (the same location as Claus Sluter’s Well of Moses). In addition to painting the scenes on the wings, Broederlam painted and gilded the carved figures inside the altarpice.  The panel scenes show scenes from the life of Mary and Jesus: the Annuciation and the Visitation on the left, and the Presentation in the Temple and the Flight into Egypt on the right.  The architectural elements, which attempt to show some sense of perspective, recall those of Lorenzetti, while the rocky landscapes are reminiscent of Duccio.  The drapery style was influenced by Sluter’s sculptures. The combination of both Romanesque and Gothic architectures may be a deliberate way to evoke the transition from the Old Testatment to the New.

420. Madonna of the Rose Bower

Artist: Stefan Lochner
Date: c. 1440-1442, although some art historians date the painting to c. 1448 based on its similarities with Lochner’s Dombild Altarpiece from that year.
Period/Style: International Gothic/Northern Renaissance; Germany
Medium: Oil paints on oak wood panels
Dimensions: Each panel is 1.6 ft tall by 1.3 ft wide
Current location: Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne, Germany

Also known as Virgin of the Rose Bower. the painting presents Mary in her role as Queen of Heaven, surrounded by symbols of purity, such as the enclosed garden. The presence of God the Father and the Holy Spirit at top center also make this a representation of the Holy Trinity. German artist Stefan Lochner brings together aspects of the dominant International Gothic (line, color) mixed with the influence of the newer Northern Renaissance style (realism, iconography).

421. Portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino, Federico da Montefeltro and Battista Sforza 

Artist: Piero della Francesca
Date: c. 1465-1472
Period/Style: Early Renaissance; Italy
Medium: Diptych with oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 19 inches tall by 26 inches wide
Current location: Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy

Piero della Francesca’s diptych entitled Portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino, Federico da Montefeltro and Battista Sforza, may be a memorial tribute for the Duchess, who died in 1472 from complications after childbirth, in which case Piero may have used her death mask to create the image.  (Other experts believe the painting may date to shortly after the couple’s marriage in 1465.) Over a plain black dress, the Duchess wears intricately decorated garments on her arms and neck, as well as an elaborate headpiece. Her hairline is shaved to create a great expanse of forehead, as was the fashion. The choice to pose in profile hearkens back to Roman coins or portrait medals and heraldic medallions, adding a formality to the depictions, but also placing the Duke and his lost partner in eternal conversation. The Duke was always painted on his left side, as he had lost his right eye and the bridge of his nose in a jousting tournament accident. The composition shows the two leaders towering over vast landscapes, which we view from an aerial perspective, a clear message about the power exerted by the two subjects over their territory. On the reverse of the portraits, Piero painted the subjects being carried in triumphal chariots with allegorical figures representing the Virtues, with Latin inscriptions below (see image below). The Duke is carried on a chariot led by white horses with Justice, Wisdom, Valor and Moderation, while the Duchess is joined by Faith, Hope and Charity on a chariot led by unicorns, a symbol of chastity.

422. St. Jerome in His Study

Artist: Antonello da Messina
Date: c. 1474-1475
Period/Style: Early Renaissance; Italy
Medium: Oil paints on limewood panels
Dimensions: 18 inches tall by 14.3 inches wide
Current location: National Gallery, London, UK

423. The Hunt in the Forest (The Hunt)

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

424. St. Mary’s Altarpiece (Altarpiece of Veit Stoss)

Artist: Veit Stoss
Date: Work on the altarpiece began in 1477; the work was completed and the altarpiece was consecrated in 1489.
Period/Style: Northern Gothic; Northern Renaissance; Kraków, Poland; religious
Medium: Triptych altarpiece made with oak and larch wood; high relief and low relief sculptures carved from linden wood and painted
Dimensions: 42 ft. tall by 36 ft. wide (with all doors open). Some of the sculpted figures are nearly 9 ft. tall.
Current location: St. Mary’s Basilica, Kraków, Poland

At 42 feet tall and 36 feet wide, the altarpiece in St. Mary’s Basilica in Kraków, Poland made by German sculptor Veit Stoss is the largest Gothic altarpiece known. The center of the altarpiece depicts the death of the Virgin Mary (surrounded by the 12 apostles) below, and the Assumption of Mary above (see detail in second image above) in high relief. The interior of the wings show six scenes of the Joys of Mary in low relief (see top image above). On top of the structure is the Coronation of Mary in heaven, with Sts. Stanislaus and Adalbert (see first image below). When closed, the altarpiece shows 12 low relief scenes of the life of Jesus and the life of Mary (see second image below). The predella shows the Tree of Jesse. All the sculpted scenes are painted. The style is primarily Gothic, but Stoss, a transitional figure, had begun to adopt some of the naturalism associated with the Renaissance. Each figure is individualized and the carving and painting together allow the depiction of strong emotions. Random Trivia: During World War II, members of the church’s congregation tried to hide the altarpiece from the Germans by dismantling it and distributing the sections in boxes, but soldiers discovered the valuable artwork, confiscated it, and brought it to the basement of Nuremberg Castle in Germany, where it survived Allied bombing raids. In 1946, Germany returned the altarpiece and Poland conducted a 10-year restoration. The altarpiece was replaced in St. Mary’s in 1957, where it remains.

425. The Temptation of St. Anthony

Artist: Hieronymus Bosch
Date: c. 1500-1501
Period/Style: Early Netherlandish; Northern Renaissance; Netherlands; religious
Medium: Triptych altarpiece made with oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: Measures 4.3 ft. tall by 7.5 ft. wide when open, with the center panel 4.3 ft. tall by 3.9 ft. wide and the wings 4.3 ft. tall by 1.7 ft. wide
Current location: Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga in Lisbon, Portugal
bosch st anthony triptych bosch temptation
The torments suffered by early Christian ascetic Anthony Abbott (the future St. Anthony the Great, not to be confused with St. Anthony of Padua, the finder of lost things) during his time in the Egyptian desert in the late 3rd and early 4th centuries CE were prime source material for painters of religious subjects, but none more than Flemish proto-surrealist Hieronymus Bosch, whose fertile mind teemed with nightmarish imagery.  Bosch created a triptych altarpiece of the subject of Temptation of St. Anthony (see top image above). Among the dozens of profane scenes and depraved characters in the center panel, including a Black Mass, a kneeling St. Anthony directs the viewer’s attention to a darkened doorway where Jesus stands, pointing at his own Crucifixion (see second image above). The left panel shows, among other things, an incident in which demons, after physically assaulting St. Anthony, toss him into the air, after which he falls to the ground. St. Anthony is later seen in the foreground, nearly unconscious, being supported across a bridge by two men, one of whom may be a Bosch self-portrait (see image below left). In the middle distance, a procession of impious characters, including a demon dressed as a bishop, marches toward a grotto created by a human’s backside. The right wing shows the contemplation of St. Anthony, who ignores the many temptations before him, including a woman offering herself to him and a table with food and drink. Overhead, figures ride flying fish on the way to a Witches’ Sabbath. When the wings are closed, the exterior panels show two scenes painted in the monochrome tones of grisaille (see image below right). On the left is the Arrest of Christ, with Christ Bearing the Cross on the right. Both scenes from the life of Jesus parallel the sufferings of St. Anthony inside.
Bosch temptation detail left Bosch_001_exterior

426. Portrait of the Doge Leonardo Loredan

Artist: Giovanni Bellini
Date: c. 1501-1502
Period/Style: High Renaissance; Venetian School; Venice, Italy
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 2 ft. tall by 1.5 ft. wide
Current location: National Gallery, London, England, UK

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

427. The Virgin and Child with St. Anne

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
Date: c. 1503-1513
Period/Style: High Renaissance; Italy
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 5.5 feet tall by 3.7 feet wide
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

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

428. San Zaccaria Altarpiece

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

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

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

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

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

430. The Pastoral Concert

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

431. Sleeping Venus

Artist: Giorgione (Giorgio Barbarelli da Castelfranco) and Titian (Tiziano Vecelli)
Date: c. 1510
Period/Style: High Renaissance; Venetian School; Venice, Italy
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.6 ft. tall by 5.75 ft. wide
Current location: Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden, Germany
Giorgione_-_Sleeping_Venus Sleeping Venus (also known as the Dresden Venus) is the first known reclining nude in Western painting. The eroticism of the nudity and evocative pose is countered somewhat by the figure’s closed eyes, which indicate that she is unaware of being observed. Although such eroticism was frowned upon by some, the painting started a trend of reclining nudes in art history. (See, e.g., Titian’s Venus of Urbino; Goya’s The Naked Maja, and Manet’s Olympia.) Note how the curves of the landscape echo the curves of the goddess’s body, so much so that she almost becomes part of nature. Without any attributes, how do we know this is Venus, and not a mortal woman? The original composition included the goddess’s son Cupid but he was painted over in the mid-19th Century. There is a dispute over how much work Giorgione did; scholars agree that after Giorgione’s death in 1510, Titian completed the painting, but they disagree about how much of the finished product is Titian’s. Almost all agree that he painted the background landscape and sky; others assert that he also painted some of all of the figure. 

432. Moses, Tomb of Pope Julius II

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

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

433. Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione

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

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

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

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

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

435. The Transfiguration

Artist: Raphael
Date: Raphael received the commission in 1516 and completed the painting shortly before his death in April 1520.
Period/Style: High Renaissance; Rome, Italy; religious
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 13.25. ft. tall and 9.1 ft. wide
Current location: Vatican Museums, Vatican City

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

436. The Triumph of Death

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

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

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

438. The Elevation of the Cross 

Artist: Peter Paul Rubens
Date: c. 1610-1611
Period/Style: Baroque; Flanders (now Belgium); religious
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: The center panel measures 15.2 ft. tall by 11.2 ft. wide
Current location: Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp, Belgium
elevation of the cross
The Elevation of the Cross (also called The Raising of the Cross) is a triptych altarpiece painted by Peter Paul Rubens for the Church of St. Walburga in Antwerp. When the church was destroyed, the altarpiece was moved to the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp, where Rubens’ Descent from the Cross is also located. The dynamic composition organizes the figures in each panel along a diagonal, creating a sense of movement, while the sky and landscape elements unite the three panels into a single artistic whole. The center panel shows the raising of Jesus on the cross; the left shows St. John and Mary along with a group of weeping women; the right panel shows Roman soldiers and the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus, one of whom is nailed to a cross lying on the ground – an excellent example of foreshortening. The figures raising the cross in the foreground of the center panel seem to burst through the plane of the canvas into the viewer’s space. When the wings are closed, the panels on the exterior show four saints associated with the church of St. Walburga: Saints Amandus and Walburga on the left and Saints Catherine of Alexandria and Eligius on the right (see  images below).

439. Descent from the Cross

Artist: Peter Paul Rubens
Date: c. 1612-1614
Period/Style: Baroque; Flanders (now Belgium); religious
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: The center panel measures 13.8 ft. tall by 10.8 ft. wide
Current location: Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp, Belgium
descent from the cross
The late 16th and early 17th centuries were a time of tumult, war, revolution and religious conflict in Flanders, including the Flemish city of Antwerp. The mostly Catholic city was taken over by Calvinists in the 1577, which resulted in a purge of religious art in 1581. The Catholics regained the upper hand in 1585 when the Spanish drove out the Calvinists during the Eighty Years’ War (also known as the Dutch War of Independence). A treaty signed at Antwerp in 1609 established a truce that would last for 12 years, during which it was safe again for art in the churches. In 1611, the Confraternity of Arquebusiers (a shooting club) commissioned Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens to paint an altarpiece for their chapel in the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp. Rubens had recently returned from eight years in Italy, and he had absorbed lessons from both the Baroque style of Caravaggio and his followers, as well as artists of the Venetian School. The resulting altarpiece is a masterful blend of Flemish tradition and Italian innovation. The Descent from the Cross is the center panel of a triptych (see image above), which also shows the Visitation of Mary with Elizabeth on the left, the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple on the right (see full altarpiece in image below). We see ladders on each side of the cross, and at the top, two unidentified workers taking down the pale corpse of Jesus, while holding the shroud they will use to wrap the body (one of the men holds the shroud in his teeth). A little lower, we see Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea preparing to accept the body. The four men form a square. Still lower, St. John assists on the right and the three Marys (the Madonna, Mary Magdalene and Mary Cleopas) stand or kneel on the left. The Madonna reaches out to her son, while Jesus’ lifeless, punctured foot rests poignantly on Mary Magdalene’s shoulder. At the right a brass or copper bowl holds the crown of thorns and the nails, which sit in a pool of congealed blood. Diagonal lines establish a sense of movement, while the pale whiteness of Christ’s dead body contrasts with the blue of Mary’s gown and St. John’s red robe. But for this group of nine figures, the landscape is deserted. A sliver of sunlight emerging from the dark clouds provides illumination.

440. The Water Seller of Seville

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

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

441. The Rape of Proserpina (The Abduction of Proserpina)

Artist: Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Date: 1621-1622
Period/Style: Baroque; Italy; mythological
Medium: Marble sculpture
Dimensions: 7.4 ft. tall
Current location: Galleria Borghese, Rome

442. Disembarkation of Marie de Medici at Marseilles 

Artist: Peter Paul Rubens
Date: 1653-1654
Period/Style: Baroque; Flanders; history/portrait
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 12.9 ft. tall by 9.7 ft. wide
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris

In 1621, Marie de’ Medici, member of the powerful Florentine Medici family, widow of King Henry IV of France, and just recently regent for her son King Francis VII, asked court painter Peter Paul Rubens to prepare a series of 24 paintings for the marriage of her daughter Henrietta Maria in 1624. At a time when her power was waning, Marie wanted the paintings to tell the story of her life in a way that would cement her legacy for all time as the most powerful woman of her time. The most well-regarded of the paintings shows Marie arriving in Marseilles from Florence after her marriage to Henry IV of France. As she walks down the gangplank, the queen is greeted by an allegory: France in the person of a helmeted man with a blue cloak embossed with the fleur-de-lis, while Fame, floating overhead, announces the event with two trumpets. Stealing the show from Marie, however, are the sea gods and goddesses depicted in the lower third of the painting who have come to watch the festivities. Rubens devotes so much attention to Poseidon, Triton and three fleshy ‘Rubenesque’ Nereids that we can’t take our eyes of them, thus inadvertently taking the spotlight off the queen.  The painting is now in the Louvre in Paris, along with the 23 other commissioned paintings from the series. 

443. The Triumph of Bacchus (Los Borrachos)

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

444. The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp

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

445. The Garden of Love

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

446. The Arcadian Shepherds (Et in Arcadia Ego) 

Artist: Nicolas Poussin
Date: 1638-1639
Period/Style: Baroque; Neoclassical; France; mythological/allegory
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.8 ft. tall by 3.9 ft. wide
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris 
In his Eclogues (c. 38 BCE), Virgil imagined that Arcadia (actually a nondescript area of Greece) was a bucolic paradise. Italian artist Guercino used that myth to create a memento mori, Et in Arcadia Ego (1618-1622), which emphasized that mortality is a fact of life even in a so-called earthly paradise (see image below left). French artist Nicolas Poussin, who spent most of his career in Italy, saw Guercino’s painting and tried his own Baroque variation on the theme in 1627 (see image below right).  A decade or so later, pursuant to a commission by Giulio Rospigliosi (who would later become Pope Clement IX), Poussin returned to the subject and created the painting for which he is best known, which is more Neoclassical than Baroque in style. Three Arcadian shepherds, accompanied by a statuesque woman in classical robes (a metaphor for wisdom, perhaps) gather at a tomb. The Latin phrase can be translated two ways: “Even I was in Arcadia”, meaning the person who died is reminding us that he lived in bliss until mortality caught up with him, or “Even in Arcadia, I am there”, which means Death itself is the speaker. The shepherds are shown in various states of becoming aware of the meaning of the phrase; the female figure appears most confident in grasping the truth of mortality. The shepherd’s tracing of his shadow has been interpreted two ways: he is either acknowledging that he too, like his shadow falling on the tomb, is mortal, or Poussin is illustrating Pliny’s theory (from his Natural History, c. 79 CE) that painting was born when early man traced his shadow on the wall of a cave. 
Guercino Et-in-Arcadia-ego  Poussin et in arcadia ego 1627

447. Peasant Family in an Interior

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

448. The Club-Footed Boy

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

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

449. The Three Crosses

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

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

450. Aristotle with a Bust of Homer (Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer)

Artist: Rembrandt
Date: 1653-1654
Period/Style: Baroque; Dutch Golden Age; The Netherlands; history/portrait/allegory
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.7 ft. tall by 4.5 ft. wide
Current location: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Aristotle_with_a_Bust_of_HomerRembrandt was a master of tenebrism, a technique in which a powerful light illuminates the central subject, but all else is cast into shadow or darkness. Tenebrism is a fitting technique for the Baroque, with its emphasis on drama and theatricality: the painted light performs the same function as a spotlight in a theater. The imaginary portrait of the Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle with a bust of the even more ancient Greek poet Homer was purchased by Sicilian nobleman Don Antonio Ruffo, but art historians believe that Rembrandt chose the subject himself. He portrays Aristotle as a wealthy 17th Century gentleman. He wears an expensive gold chain with a medallion depicting the face of a man, perhaps Aristotle’s most famous student, Alexander the Great. The ancient custom giving of such chains as rewards by royalty had recently been revived in Europe. Aristotle’s hand touches the bust, but his eyes are focused somewhere in the distance. Scholars have proposed that Homer represents the integrity and wisdom gained through poetry and literature, with little or no material gain, and fame only long after death. Aristotle, on the other hand, represents the compromises made by the intellectual in search of wealth and fame in his own lifetime. We see the wistful contemplation, perhaps regret, by a wealthy man of the path of artistic integrity not chosen. Random Trivia: See image below for New Yorker magazine cartoonist Michael Crawford’s contemporary take on Rembrandt’s masterpiece.

451. Jacob Blessing the Children of Joseph

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

452. A Dutch Courtyard

Artist: Pieter de Hooch
Date: c. 1658-1660
Period/Style: Baroque; Dutch Golden Age/Delft School; The Netherlands
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.3 ft. high by 1.9 ft. wide
Current location: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Pieter de Hooch was a contemporary of Jan Vermeer and both were residents of Delft for a period in the 1650s, when de Hooch painted A Dutch Courtyard, one of many scenes of everyday life that usually involved men (often soldiers) and women (often servants) drinking, paying cards, performing domestic chores and engaging in romantic dalliances. Scholars praise de Hooch’s use of clear perspective, the clarity of his light and his creation of harmonious compositions through “the geometry of architectural elements.” His dedication to composition and perspective outweighed his interest in documenting reality, so that many of his scenes, including A Dutch Courtyard, from 1658-1660, may not correspond to actual locations. While the courtyard itself may be a composite, de Hooch has faithfully rendered the tower of Nieuwe Kerk, Delft’s Gothic landmark. The elements of A Dutch Courtyard, also known as Two Soldiers and a Woman Drinking in a Courtyard, are typical. Two soldiers sit at a courtyard table, apparently drinking and smoking, while a woman and girl seem to be serving them. The girl is bringing a brazier of hot coals, presumably to light the soldiers’ long-stemmed clay pipes, but instead of serving, the woman standing at the table appears to be drinking, while the men look on. Art historians have identified the vessel the woman holds to her mouth as a ‘pass glass’ used in drinking games. Concentric circles were drawn on the glass, and the person playing the game had to drink exactly to the next circle. So it may be that the soldiers have asked their server to join in their game. One of the soldiers holds a tankard that was probably used to fill the glass. It may be that de Hooch is giving us a glimpse of an aspect of life in a classified society, where sometimes members of the soldier caste invited a member of the servant class to interact on the level of equals. The overall tone is of quiet amusement as de Hooch soothes the entire scene with a calm, even light.

453. Cathedra Petri (Chair of St. Peter)

Artist: Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Date: There is some dispute about the dates of Bernini’s work. Some sources say it was executed between 1647-1653, but most say Bernini did the work between 1658 and 1666, and the latter date is most likely when the Chair of St. Peter was installed in its current location.  
Period/Style: Baroque; Rome; Italy
Medium: Wooden chair; gilded bronze throne and statues; alabaster and gilt stucco sunburst with glass window
Dimensions: The throne is 20 feet tall. The statues of the Doctors of the Church are 13-16 ft. tall.
Current location: St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City

The Chair of St. Peter (Latin: Cathedra Petri) is an immense work of sculpture/architecture by Gian Lorenzo Bernini that houses a sacred relic – a wooden chair that some believe was used by St. Peter, one of the Apostles of Jesus – inside St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. (The piece is located in the apse, behind Bernini’s Baldachino.) At the center of the enormous work is a gilt bronze throne that contains the ancient chair (see detail in second image above). The container appears to be floating up to heaven, and only seems to be held in place by the efforts of four Doctors of the Church – also rendered in bronze: St. Augustine and St. Ambrose, from the West, and St. John Chrysostom and St. Athanasius, from the East. Around the throne is a panoply of clouds and putti, with sun rays shooting down from heaven, all rendered in gilt stucco. Above the throne is an alabaster sunburst (placed in front of a window to allow light to stream through) with a dove (symbolizing the Holy Spirit) at its center (see detail in image at left below). There is much dispute over the provenance of the actual chair. Although there is documentary evidence from the 3rd Century CE of a chair that Roman Christians believed was used by St. Peter in the 1st Century CE, most experts believe that chair was looted during the sack of Rome in 410 CE. According to the Vatican’s literature, the chair in St. Peter’s Basilica was given to the Pope in the 9th Century CE by Charles the Bald. The front of the chair, which was last shown to the public in 1867, is decorated with 18 squares of ivory with carvings illustrating the 12 labors of Hercules and some astronomical or astrological images (see detail in image below right). Experts who have analyzed the wood say the oldest parts of the chair date to the 5th Century CE. 

454. Zen Garden, Ryoan-ji Temple

Artist: Unknown
Date: The current garden is dated to c. 1780-1789, but there have been earlier iterations going back to the 15th Century
Period/Style: Edo period; Kare-sansui; Japan; landscape design
Medium: White pebble, stones and moss
Dimensions: 78 ft. long by 30 ft. wide
Current location: Kyoto, Japan

The Ryoan-ji Temple (Temple of the Peaceful Dragon) in Kyoto, Japan, is home to what is probably the finest surviving example of kare-sansui, or dry landscape garden design (see first image). The minimalist garden consists of 15 large rocks in groups of five, three or two, some surrounded by green moss (see detail in image below), in a sea of smooth white pebbles that is raked every day by Buddhist monks into linear patterns. A low clay wall with a shingle roof surrounds the garden on three sides. On the fourth side is the veranda of the abbot’s residence, from which the garden is designed to be contemplated and meditated upon. The designers have constructed the garden so that someone sitting on the veranda cannot see every stone at once. Attempts to date the garden exactly have been unsuccessful. The temple was founded in 1450, destroyed between 1467 and 1477 and rebuilt in 1488, but even though tradition holds that the garden was established in the first half century of the temple’s existence, there is no hard evidence to support the theory. Another theory states that the garden was designed in the early 16th Century, but again there is no evidence. The first documentary evidence of a garden in the current location comes from 1680-1682, in an account that describes only nine stones instead of today’s 15. Then, after a fire in 1779 destroyed temple buildings, the rubble was dumped in the garden. The garden was rebuilt on top of the rubble in the late 1700s;  an engraving from a 1799 book by Akisato Rito shows the garden as it is today. The most cautious estimate, then, would place the construction of the garden in its current form in the 1780s or 1790s. 

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

Artist: There is considerable debate over the attribution. Scottish painter Henry Raeburn has traditionally been considered the artist, but recent scholarship points to French painter Henri-Pierre Danloux
Date: The National Galleries of Scotland give the date as c. 1795 but some sources date it to 1784.
Period/Style: Romanticism; Scotland (or France?)
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.5 ft. high by 2.1 ft. wide
Current location: National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, UK

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

456. Portrait of Mrs. Richard Brinsley Sheridan

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

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

457. Rue Transnonain, le 15 de Avril 1834

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

458. La Marseillaise (The Departure of the Volunteers of 1792)

Artist: François Rude
Date: 1833-1836
Period/Style: Neoclassical (with elements of Romanticism)
Medium: Limestone sculpture placed on exterior of triumphal arch
Dimensions: 41.9 feet tall
Current location: Arc de Triomphe, Paris
rude le marseillase
The Arc de Triomphe was originally ordered by Napoleon Bonaparte to celebrate his military victory at Austerlitz in 1806, but construction halted when the anti-Napoleonic Bourbons restored the monarchy in 1815 and it wasn’t actually completed until after the July Revolution of 1830, when Louis Philippe, Duke of Orléans replaced King Charles X, ending the Bourbon Restoration. (The Arc, which is based on the Arch of Titus in Rome, was designed by Neoclassical artist Jean Chalgrin.) Louis Philippe dedicated the Arc to all those who fought for France in the Revolutionary War and the Napoleonic Wars that followed. The four sculptures adorning the base of the Arc indicate a desire to appease several opposing political factions: (1) The Departure of the Volunteers of 1792 (commonly referred to as La Marseillaise) by François Rude, which celebrates the rising up of the French against the monarchy and foreign invaders during a crucial period of the French Revolution (see top below); (2) Jean-Pierre Cortot’s Triumph of 1810, showing a victorious Napoleon and celebrating the Treaty of Schönbrunn (see image below left); (3) Resistance, by Antoine Étex, which honors the French under Napoleon who fought and lost the War of the Sixth Coalition in 1814 (see image below right); and (4) Peace, also by Antoine Étex, which celebrates the end of Napoleon and the rise of the Bourbons through the Treaty of Paris in 1815.  Of the four sculptures, the most highly regarded is that of François Rude. A semicircle of French volunteer soldiers curves around from left to right, while the allegorical figure of Winged Victory stands above them. The sculpture is organized along two sets of symmetries – one dividing the fighters below from Victory above, and the other bisecting the group lengthwise, from Victory’s face down between the two soldiers in the center.  At the intersection of these axes is the focal point where the two soldiers look up and realize that Victory is on their side.
SONY DSC  Resistance Arc_de_Triomphe,_la_Résistance_de_1814,_Antoine_Etex

459. The Last of England

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

460. Work

Artist: Ford Madox Brown
Date: The work was begun in 1852 but was not completed until 1865
Period/Style: Pre-Raphaelite; UK
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.5 ft. tall by 6.5 ft. wide
Current location: Manchester Art Gallery,  Manchester, England, UK

Brown_WorkEnglish artist Ford Madox Brown’s Work is a manifesto in oil paint that seeks to revolutionize the way we see social strata. The central figures, standing in strong sunlight, are the laborers digging a drainage tunnel on London’s Hampstead Road. The second tier includes philosophers, including Carlyle (at right), and possibly unemployed laborers. Further down the ladder are a proselytizing woman and her society friend, and a flower seller and possible criminal. Victims of the system are symbolized by the orphan children in the foreground. In the far background, obscured by shade, are two aristocrats on horseback who are unable to pass. The painting was commissioned by Pre-Raphaelite collector Thomas Plint in 1852, but he died before Brown finished in 1865. Brown prepared an elaborate written guide to Work for its first exhibition. The style of Work is consistent with the Pre-Raphaelite program: Brown pays close attention to detail and uses clear light with no chiaroscuro. 

461. Orpheus

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

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

462. Snap the Whip

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

463. Barge Haulers on the Volga

Artist: Ilya Repin
Date: Repin first exhibited the work in 1871 but he continued to work on it until 1873.
Period/Style: Realism; Russia
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.3 ft. tall by 9.2 ft. long
Current location: State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia
Repin_(1844-1930)_-_Volga_BoatmenA particularly difficult occupation in late 19th Century Russia was that of burlak. Burlaks were men and women – often low in social status and economically deprived – who were tied together and bound with leather harnesses to pull barges up rivers against the current. In Barge Haulers on the Volga, Russian realist painter Ilya Repin depicts 11 burlaks – all men – dragging a barge on the Volga River. Instead of idealizing the haulers or dramatizing their plight to create political propaganda, Repin individualizes his subjects (see detail in image below). Each of the 11 is unique in clothing, manner and attitude. In the center, a young man in lighter clothing strains against the leather harness and stands erect, while the other men lean forward, some almost on the point of collapse. At the rear, a man appears to wander off in the wrong direction. The leader (who, Repin tells us, was modeled on an actual burlak who was also a defrocked priest) stares at the viewer with a serenity that seems almost out of place amid such harsh physical activity. Novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky praised the work for its refusal to abandon realism for the sake of a political message: “Not a single one of them shouts from the painting to the viewer, ‘Look how unfortunate I am and how indebted you are to the people!’ … [I saw] barge haulers, real barge haulers, and nothing more.” Repin had just recently left the Academy and was now one of the Peredvizhniki, or Wanderers, a group of Russian painters who rejected the Academy’s conservative and idealizing philosophy and sought to capture Russian life, people and landscapes realistically and to bring the arts to the Russian people in the provinces. The difficulty of the work is palpable, but Repin manages to capture the dignity of the workers while at the same time implying that they are oppressed – the resemblance to a chain gang may not be coincidental. Repin also adds a note of irony, or perhaps hope: the distant smoke of a steamship tells us that this ancient method of dragging ships is either outdated (and thus even more unjust) or that it may soon become extinct. The painting, which was sent to international exhibitions throughout Europe, made Repin’s name as a master of Russian realism.

464. Three Women in Church

Artist: Wilhelm Leibl
Date: 1878-1882
Period/Style: Realism; Germany
Medium:  Oil paints on a mahogany panel
Dimensions: 3.7 ft. tall by 2.5 ft. wide
Current location: Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany
Wilhelm Leibl_3 women in church
Like his friend Gustave Courbet, German painter Wilhelm Leibl was committed to the philosophy of realism – of depicting people and places exactly as they are.  As a result, his highly accurate and detailed paintings of landscapes and peasant life have been compared to the work of Hans Holbein the Younger and other Northern Renaissance artists for their uncanny renderings of reality. In Three Women in Church (also known as Three Women in a Village Church), Leibl presents three women villagers who appear to represent three different generations, sitting in the same pew at church. Each woman wears a lovingly detailed Sunday outfit and each has an individual expression of piety. Scholars have noted that the perspective Leibl has chosen makes the figures’ hands look too large for their bodies. Like the Impressionists, Leibl painted with oil paints directly on the painting surface, with no preliminary drawing. 

465. The Card Players

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

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

466. The Models

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

467. The Lady of Shalott

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

468. Van Gogh’s Chair (Vincent’s Chair)

Artist: Vincent Van Gogh
Date: 1888
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; The Netherlands/France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3 ft. tall by 2.4 ft. wide
Current location: National Gallery, London, England, UK
Van Gogh chair
When Vincent Van Gogh was looking at old issues of The Graphic, an illustrated British magazine, he was struck by an 1870 illustration by Samuel Luke Fildes titled The Empty Chair. Charles Dickens had died that year and Fildes showed his study, desk and chair – the emptiness of which paying tribute to the absent author (see image below left). In November 1888, while pursuing his dream of a writers’ colony in Arles, France, Van Gogh decided to paint two of the chairs in his house – his and that of his housemate Paul Gauguin. The paintings were begun in late 1888 before the two argued and went their separate ways (following Van Gogh’s cutting off his ear), but were finished after the split. Van Gogh’s chair is rustic and simple; it sits in a sunny tile-floor kitchen where onions are sprouting, a pipe and tobacco rest on the yellow seat. Gauguin’s more comfortably bourgeois chair is shown at nighttime in dark greens and reds, with a candle burning and two novels on the seat (see image below right). The contrast between the chairs represents the contrast of personalities and sensibilities of the two men; perhaps it hints at the reason their artistic partnership dissolved.  Van Gogh’s painting of Paul Gauguin’s Armchair is in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. 
Samuel_Luke_Fildes_-_The_Empty_Chair_(The_Graphic,_1870) van gogh chair 2

469. The Child’s Bath

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

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

470. Mont Sainte-Victoire Seen from the Bibémus Quarry

Artist: Paul Cézanne
Date: 1897
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.1 ft. tall by 2.7 ft. wide
Current location: Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, Maryland
Cezanne - Mont_Sainte-Victoire_Seen_from_the_Bibemus_Quarry_1897
French painter Paul Cézanne was a pivotal figure in art history. Early in his career, while based in Paris, he embraced Impressionism. In the 1880s, however, he returned to his birthplace in the south of France and began his more experimental Post-Impressionist phase. He became fascinated with local peak Mont Sainte-Victoire as a subject; he painted the mountain and its surrounding landscape at least 60 times. In 1895, Cézanne discovered the abandoned Bibémus Quarry, known for its orange stone. The same year, he climbed Mont Sainte-Victoire for the first time. In 1897, Cézanne rented a stone cabin at the quarry and began painting from there. The quarry is the setting for his 1897 work, Mont Sainte-Victoire Seen from the Bibémus Quarry. Cézanne sought to render the shapes of objects so as to capture their true essence, without regard for what he saw as the superficial truth of realism. Consistent with this philosophy, Cézanne rejected traditional one-point perspective in favor of what scholars have called “primitive emotional perspective.” In Mont Sainte-Victoire Seen from the Bibémus Quarry, he creates the appearance of one plane with a vertical axis by using the same size brush strokes for the orange rocks in the foreground, the mountain in the background, and the trees throughout. To emphasize the importance of the mountain and the illusion that the entire landscape is close to the picture plane, Cézanne paints Mont Sainte-Victoire leaning forward (not back, as in photographs), outlines it in blue, and makes it twice as large as it actually appears from the quarry. Curiously, according to art lovers who have visited Bibémus Quarry, there is no spot where both the quarry rocks and Mont Sainte-Victoire are visible, raising the likelihood that Cézanne has created a composite of two separate views. For a fascinating experiment in recreating Cézanne process using photographs, see Phil Haber’s blog (link in the comments). (

471. Mont Sainte-Victoire (Mont Sainte-Victoire Seen from Les Lauves)

Artist: Paul Cézanne
Date: c. 1902-1906
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas and watercolors on paper
Dimensions: The paintings are 1.9-2.1 ft. tall by 2.4-2.7 ft. wide
Current location: Various collections
cezanne mont-sainte-victoire-seen-from-les-lauves-1

In 1901, French Post-Impressionist artist Paul Cézanne bought some land in Aix-en-Provence in the south of France, along the Chemin des Lauves road, in order to build a new studio.  Between 1902 and 1906, Cézanne, working en plein air, painted 11 oil paintings and 17 watercolors from this location, all featuring his beloved Mont Sainte-Victoire. Cézanne had long since rejected the traditional concepts of perspective and proportion.  He was now engaged in a direct dialogue with nature, painting the reality he perceived and felt, using color, not modeling or one-point perspective, to create a sense of monumentality and space. As one scholar noted, the juxtaposition of pigments makes the picture vibrate while simultaneously creating the illusion of weight.  While Cézanne seeks to render a sensation, his process is much slower and more consciously cerebral than that of the Impressionists.  Four of Cézanne’s last oil paintings of Mont Sainte-Victoire are shown:
(1) Landscape at Aix (Mont Sainte-Victoire Seen from Les Lauves) (1904-1906); 1.9 ft. tall by 2.7 ft. wide, at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Art in Moscow;
(2) Mont Sainte-Victoire Seen from Les Lauves (1902-1906): 2.1 ft. tall by 2.7 ft. wide, at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri;
(3) Mont Sainte-Victoire (1904-1906): 2.1 ft. tall by 2.7 ft. wide, at the Kunsthaus Zürich in Zürich, Switzerland; and
(4) Mont Sainte-Victoire Seen from Les Lauves (1904-1906): 1.9 ft. high by 2.4 ft. wide, at Kunstmuseum Basel in Basel, Switzerland.
 cezanne mont sainte victoire zurich  Cezanne Mont_Sainte-Victoire_Seen_from_Les_Lauves_(Basel)_1904-1906_

472. Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I

Artist: Gustav Klimt
Date: Klimt received the commission in 1903 and completed the painting in 1907.
Period/Style: Symbolism; Art Nouveau; Austria
Medium: Oil paints and silver and gold leaf on canvas
Dimensions: 4.5 ft. by 4.5 ft.
Current location: Neue Galerie, New York, NY 
adele block bauerNear the end of 1903, a group of Viennese artists took a trip to Ravenna, Italy, where they visited the church of San Vitale, famous for its Byzantine mosaics, including the gold-inlaid portrait of Empress Theodora. All the artists were stunned by the experience, particularly painter Gustav Klimt, who was then a well-respected portraitist of the wealthy bourgeoisie of Vienna. Klimt was a member of the Vienna Secession, a group of artists that rejected the conservative philosophy of the traditional art academies. Stylistically, he belongs to both Symbolism and Art Nouveau (also called Jugendstil), the latter of which looked to natural forms and structures for inspiration, but also treated design and decoration as seriously as human figures. Earlier that same year, Klimt had received a commission from Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, a wealthy Jewish industrialist and art collector, to paint a portrait of his wife Adele to give to Adele’s parents. Klimt was in the middle of his Golden Period, during which his works included elaborate, almost decorative expanses of gold leaf. He was acquainted with the Bloch-Bauers (a modern couple, they hyphenated their surnames when they married) and had already used Adele as a model for his 1901 painting Judith with the Head of Holofernes (see image below left). Some sources claim that Adele and Gustav were having an affair; others say the evidence is unclear. We do know that Adele Bloch-Bauer dedicated a room in her house to Klimt’s paintings and drawings, as well as a photograph of the artist himself. The resulting portrait is awash in gold, which covers most of the canvas. The subject’s head and arms are painted somewhat realistically with oil paints, but her dress, the chair, and the rest of the room melt into a dazzling sea of gold, festooned with myriad designs and shapes. Scholars have pointed out not only Byzantine influences (some have likened it to a religious icon), but also Egyptian (particularly the stylized eyes), Mycenean and Greek. There are also a number of designs based on A and B, the subject’s initials. Others note that many of the symbols have erotic connotations: eggs, triangles, open eyes, almond shapes. Klimt also painted a second portrait of the subject, Adele Bloch-Bauer II, in 1912, which lacks both the gold and the eroticism of the first. Adele, who had always been sickly, died in 1925 at the age of 43. In 1938, the Nazis annexed Austria and Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer fled to Switzerland, leaving behind all the Klimt paintings, which were confiscated by the government. After the war, Bloch-Bauer’s nieces and nephews fought the Austrian government in court, finally receiving custody of five Klimts, including the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, in 2005. This remarkable story was the basis for the 2007 documentary Stealing Klimt, and the 2015 feature film Woman in Gold. Cosmetics giant Ronald Lauder bought the portrait for a record $135 million in 2006 for his Neue Galerie in New York, where it remains. Random Trivia: Klimt painted a second portrait of the subject, Adele Bloch-Bauer II, in 1912 (see image below right).
  klimt adele II

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

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

474. The City Rises

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

475. Self-Portrait with a Model

Artist: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Date: 1910 
Period/Style: Die Brücke; Expressionism; Germany
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.9 ft. tall by 3.3 ft wide
Current location: Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany

A founding member of Die Brücke, German Expressionist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner professed to believe in a bohemian ethic of free love and casual nudity. In Self-Portrait with a Model, this egalitarian philosophy clashes with Kirchner’s perception of himself as an artist. The composition highlights the relationship between the artist and his model. Kirchner thrusts his boldly-colored figure into the foreground, pushing beyond the edges of the frame and completely dominating the canvas. With his loosely buttoned robe barely covering his naked maleness, he stands, smirking, smoking a pipe and holding his palette and phallic paintbrush. Cowering in the background is the female model, rendered as submissive and weak, who sits passively, one hand covering her genitals in the style of Venus Pudica, the other hiding behind the artist. Kirchner makes it clear that he, the artist, is in control.  While we perceive some sexual tension, the power imbalance undermines much of the erotic content.  

476. Tiger

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

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

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

478. The Elephant Celebes

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

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

479. The Twittering Machine

Artist: Paul Klee
Date: 1922
Period/Style: Iconoclasm; Germany/Switzerland
Medium: Oil transfer drawing, watercolor, and ink on paper with gouache and ink borders on cardboard
Dimensions: 2.1 ft. tall by 1.6 ft. wide
Current location: Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY

Paul Klee was associated with a number of different artistic movements during his career, including the Bauhaus, whose motto was “Art and Technology – A New Unity.” That motto may help viewers to make sense of Klee’s deliberately smudgy Twittering Machine, which looks so much like an illustration for a children’s book that it is common for parents to hang prints of it in their children’s bedrooms. But is it simply a whimsical machine with mechanical birds – a type of steampunk music box? Critics and scholars have attributed a myriad of meanings to the piece – not surprisingly, perhaps, as one thing critics seem to agree on is that Klee deliberately left his works open to multiple interpretations. Questions include: are these real live birds or some kind of animatronic robot birds? (Klee like to show living beings and mechanical analogs in his work – such as birds alongside airplanes.) If real, are they perched on the machine or tied to it involuntarily? Are the positions of their bodies meant to show a type of musical notation? (Klee was the son of a musicologist and grew up around music.) What will happen if someone turns the lever at far right? And what is the purpose of the large rectangular pit beneath the contraption? Is it, as some suppose, a pit that awaits the unwary? Klee’s Twittering Machine was on display in a Berlin museum in 1937 when the Nazis declared it ‘degenerate art’ and banned its display. Fortunately for art lovers, instead of destroying the work, the Nazis sold it to an art dealer to raise funds, and that dealer sold it to MOMA. Random Trivia: The musical aspects of Twittering Machine have inspired a number of composers to set the piece to music, including Gunther Schuller, the fourth movement of whose Seven Studies on Themes by Paul Klee, a 12-tone piece from 1959, is based on the painting.

480. The Harlequin’s Carnival

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

481. Several Circles

Artist: Wassily Kandinsky
Date: 1926
Period/Style: Expressionism; Abstraction; Russia/Germany
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.6 ft. tall by 4.6 ft. wide
Current location: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY, US
kandinsky several circles
Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky returned to Russia from Germany at the beginning of World War I and absorbed the influence of Suprematism and Constructivism, with their emphasis on geometric shapes, but he returned to Germany in 1921 after his belief that abstract forms had expressive content alienated him from his colleagues. At the Bauhaus, Kandinsky explored the relationship between shape and color, and in Composition VIII, he began working with the circle form.  Several Circles, from 1926, marked a turning point – according to Kandinsky, the circle is the primary form that “points most clearly to the fourth dimension.” The painting depicts approximately three dozen circles of differing sizes and colors, some overlapping others, some not touching anything else – all on a black background from which they seem to float out of the canvas. This floating effect, scholars point out, is not random – it is a  direct result of the choices that Kandinsky made about the colors, positions and sizes of the circles. Several Circles is considered an abstract painting, but the mind seeks to impose representation. For example, the largest circle, the only one with a rough, hazy edge, is also the brightest, although it is almost completely obscured by a purple circle (unless the purple circle is the largest, and the bright, hazy ring around it is a kind of halo or corona). It is easy to imagine that the large, bright circle represents the sun or another star being eclipsed by a large moon or planet.  (Others have imagined bubbles rising.) Having all the circles seeming to float against a black background brings to mind all the various types of astronomical bodies – stars, planets, moons, etc. And then again, maybe each circle is just a circle, or as Kandinsky described it, “a single tension that carries countless tensions within it.”  

482. Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden

Artist: Otto Dix
Date: 1926
Period/Style: Expressionism; New Objectivity; Germany; portrait
Medium: Oil paints and tempera on wood panels
Dimensions: 3.9 ft. tall by 2.9 ft. wide
Current location: Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris

Otto Dix was famous for making the subjects of his portraits less attractive, but by 1926, he was famous enough that people were willing to pay him to make them uglier.  Sylvia von Harden was a poet and film critic and a regular at the Romanisches Café in Berlin, a hangout for artists and bohemians.  According to von Harden, Dix walked up to her one day and blurted out, “I must paint you, I simply must!  You represent an entire epoch”, to which von Harden replied, “You want to paint my lacklustre eyes, my ornate ears, my long nose, my thin lips? You want to paint my short legs, my big feet – things that can only frighten people and delight no one?” With her trendy bob haircut, monocle, public smoking of Russian cigarettes and androg