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 30 lists of “Best Works of Art” from websites and books and combined them into one list. This list contains the paintings and sculptures (and several pieces of decorative art) on three or more of the original source lists, organized by rank, that is, with the artworks that were on the most lists at the top. Part 1 begins with the artwork that was on the most lists (26) and ends with the artworks that were on 6 lists. Part 2 includes the works of art on 4 or 5 the original source lists. Part 3 includes all the works on 3 of the original source lists.

Notes:

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

On 5 Lists

222. Venus of Brassempouy

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

223. 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. 

224. Mohenjo-Daro Seals

Artists: Unknown
Date: c. 2600-1900 BCE
Period/Style: Bronze Age; Indus Valley Civilization
Medium: Carved squares, mostly made of baked steatite
Dimensions: The seals range in size from 0.75 to 1.75 in. square.
Current locations: Various collections, including the National Museum, New Delhi, India


A highly urbanized culture known variously as the Indus Valley, Harappa or Indus-Sarasvati civilization flourished in what is now India and Pakistan from 2600-1900 BCE. In 1922, Indian archaeologist Rakhaldas Bandyopadhyay discovered the ruins of the city of Mohenjo-Daro, a major Indus Valley civilization urban center, in what is now Pakistan. Excavation of these ruins uncovered thousands of small square seals containing carvings of pictographic scripts and bas relief carvings, usually of animals, occasionally humans or animal-human composites (see top image). There are at least 400 different signs on the seals, but scholars have so far been unable to decipher the script. Some seals have a loop on the reverse side, allowing users to carry the seals around their necks. Scholars believe that the seals were used to make impressions in wax to identify one’s possessions or were used in commercial transactions. The Pashupati Seal (see second image above) depicts a man or god surrounded by animals. Some believe the seal is one of the earliest depictions of the Hindu god Shiva, or is a proto-Shiva precursor. 

225. 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.

226. 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.

227. 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).

228. 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.

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

230. Mask of Agamemnon

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 1550-1500 BCE
Period/Style: Bronze Age; Mycenaen culture; Greece 
Medium: The mask consists of a thick sheet of gold that was heated and then hammered against a piece of wood, then carved with a sharp tool.
Dimensions: 12 inches tall
Current location: National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece
MaskOfAgamemnonGerman-American businessman and self-taught archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann became famous in 1873 for finding the ruins of a city in Turkey that he claimed was Troy, the scene of the Trojan War and Homer’s Iliad. On his next expedition, he went to the ruins of Mycenae, where, according to Ancient Greek historian Pausanias, the remains of Agamemnon, the Greek leader against the Trojans, were buried. In 1876, Schliemann discovered two large graves at Mycenae containing the remains of a number of individuals, as well as weapons and other artifacts. Five of the bodies had sculpted gold funeral masks covering their faces. Holes in the ears probably held twine to attach the mask to the head. One of these masks was more elaborately carved than the others. Schliemann decided that this more sophisticated mask, with the beard and handlebar mustache, was the face of Agamemnon himself. Unfortunately for Schliemann, the date of the graves is about 300 years prior to the probable date of the Trojan War. (Nevertheless, the object is traditionally referred to as the Mask of Agamemnon.) In recent years, some scholars have questioned the authenticity of the mask, based on Schliemann’s prior unethical behavior (for example, the ‘Troy’ he found was probably not the real Troy) and significant differences between the mask and other Mycenaen funeral masks and sculpture. Others have defended the mask as a genuine example of Mycenean art. 

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

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

232. Charioteer of Delphi (Heniokhos)

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

233. Doryphorus (The Spear Bearer)

Artist: Polykleitos created the original Ancient Greek bronze (now lost); the identities of the artists who made the Ancient Roman marble copies are unknown.
Date: The lost Greek original is dated to c. 450-440 BCE.  The Roman marble copy in Naples dates to 120-50 BCE.
Period/Style: Ancient Greece; High Classical style
Medium: The original statue was sculpted from bronze; the copies are marble.
Dimensions: The Naples statue is 6.9 ft. tall.
Current locations: The most highly-regarded marble copy is in the Museo Archaeologico Nazionale in Naples, Italy.

In the mid-5th Century BCE, Greek sculptor Polykleitos created a bronze statue of an athletic young man carrying a spear (The Spear Bearer, or Doryphoros) which exemplifies his theory of the canon, in which each part of the human body is proportional to every other part. The figure stands in an anatomically realistic contrapposto stance, with the body in motion and all the weight on the front (right) foot. (The spear would have been in the figure’s left hand and resting on his left shoulder.) Art historian Frederick Hartt analyzes Polykleitos’s achievement as follows: “Regardless of the fact that the figure is at rest – as never before – the dynamism of the pose transforms it into an easy walk and is expressed in the musculature by means of the differentiation of flexed and relaxed shapes, producing a rich interplay of changing curves through the powerful masses of torso and limbs.” The original bronze has long been lost but it is known by the many marble copies, including a number from Ancient Rome. The copy in the Archaeological Museum in Naples is considered the best-preserved marble copy from the Roman era. It may have been found in Pompeii or Herculaneum, although there is some dispute about this. Other Ancient Roman copies include a full-size marble in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in Minnesota (see image below left) and a fragmentary torso in black basalt at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence (see image below right).  Random Trivia: The weight of the marble requires a carved tree trunk support at the base and a connecting rod at the wrist, neither of which would have been necessary in the much lighter bronze original.  
 

234. Apollo Belvedere (Pythian Apollo)

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

235. The Battle of Issus (Alexander Mosaic)

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 100 BCE
Period/Style: Hellenistic Greek
Medium: Floor mosaic made from tesserae (small square pieces) made from colored marble
Dimensions: 8.9 ft by 16.8 ft,
Current location: Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples, Italy
battle of issus mosaic
Visitors stepping into the entrance hall of the House of the Faun in Pompeii between 100 BCE and 79 CE (when the city was buried in volcanic ash) would have seen an enormous floor mosaic showing the victory of Alexander the Great over Darius III, King of Persia, in 333 BCE at the Battle of Issus. Certain elements of the style of the mosaic have convinced experts that it is a copy of a 3rd Century BCE Hellenist painting, possibly by Philoxenos or Helen of Egypt. Because almost no Ancient Greek paintings have survived, the mosaic is an important source of information about that lost art. A stoic, determined Alexander (at left – see detail in image below) has speared Darius’s bodyguard (at center), causing Darius (at right) to turn back with a look of distress and compassion. Both the original painter and the mosaicist copier have managed to show how the figures occupy and move in space (including foreshorten, represent in detail the effects of light on people, horses, and weapons, and evoke realistic emotions through facial expressions and bodily gestures. The damaged mosaic was discovered in Pompeii in 1831. Random Trivia: Roman mosaics of this period are known for their bright colors, but because mosaics are not painted, but are composed of tiny square tesserae of colored stone (in this case, marble), the palette of the artist was dependent on what colored stones naturally exist.  Later mosaicists adopted the practice of using colored glass tesserae, which vastly expanded their palette.

236. 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).
 

237. Augustus of Prima Porta

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 20 BCE; or 14-37 CE
Period/Style: Roman Empire; elements of Hellenistic Greek style
Medium: Marble sculpture
Dimensions: 6.7 ft. tall
Current location: Vatican Museums, Vatican City 
Augustus of Prima Porta 1st Century
In 1863, a 6.7 ft tall marble statue of Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar was discovered in the ruins of the house of his wife Livia, near the main gate (Prima Porta) of ancient Rome. The anonymous sculptor was much influenced by the Doryphoros of Classical Greek artist Polykleitos. Augustus raises his arm in what is known as an oratorical gesture; his features are idealized in the Hellenistic style The date of the statue is much debated. Some believe it is a contemporary marble copy of a bronze original that was made during Augustus’s lifetime, c. 20 BCE. But certain features point to a later origin, during the reign of Emperor Tiberius (14-37 CE), Livia’s son by a prior husband. For example, Augustus is shown with some divine attributes, including bare feet, although he was not considered divine until after his death. Also, the scene on his breastplate depicts the return to the Roman Legionary eagles (aquilae) by Mark Antony and Crassus (see detail below left), an event in which both Augustus (then Octavian) and Tiberius played roles, thus perhaps signaling that Tiberius had commissioned the work to emphasize his connection with Augustus. Like most Greek and Roman marble sculptures, the original would have been brightly painted (see image below right for a painted reconstruction prepared for the 2014 Tarraco Viva Festival in Tarragona, Spain). Random Trivia: The figure hanging onto Augustus’s toga is Cupid, who is riding on a dolphin (Venus’s patron animal), a reference to the claim that Julius Caesar (and Octavian, his nephew) were descended from Venus. 
prima_porta_breastplate 

238. Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius

Artist: Unknown
Date: c. 173-176 CE
Period/Style: Ancient Rome; Imperial Era; royal portraiture; equestrian statue
Medium: Gilded bronze equestrian statue
Dimensions: 13.9 feet tall
Current location: Capitoline Museums, Rome, Italy

Once Christianity became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire, pagan symbols were subject to dismantling (in the case of architecture) or melting down (in the case of bronze statues) to be reused in the service of new, Christian monuments and statues. Fortunately some ancient masterpieces survived.  The Pantheon was converted to a Christian Church, saving that paragon from destruction. The bronze statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius on horseback probably avoided being melted down because early Christians mistakenly believed it depicted Constantine, the first Christian Emperor. Scholars disagree about the date of the , which was originally fully gilded (see detail in image below, showing some remaining gilding) and placed in a public space. The emperor and the horse are not sculpted to the same scale, leading to the impression that either Marcus Aurelius is a giant or his horse is a miniature. Some believe the Emperor’s gesture is one of clemency and that the original monument included a kneeling defeated enemy, a reference to a Marcus Aurelius’s defeat of the Germans and Sarmatians for which he received a triumphant parade in 176 CE. Supporting this interpretation is the horse, which is depicted with Sarmatian blankets instead of a Roman saddle. But the lack of armor or weapons sends a message of peace, not war, which is consistent with this philosopher-emperor’s view of himself. The statue has been placed at various locations in Rome and was installed in the center of Michelangelo’s Piazza di Campidiglio in the mid-16th Century (against Michelangelo’s wishes). It remained there until 1981, when it was moved into the Capitoline Museums to protect it from the elements and replaced by a replica. 

239. The Bury Bible

Artist: Master Hugo
Date: c. 1135
Period/Style: Romanesque; Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, England
Medium: Illustrated manuscript
Dimension: 20 in. tall by 14 in. wide
Current location: Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, England, UK
Bury bible 3
Master Hugo was a 12th Century lay English artist and may be the first professional artist in English history. He spent most of his career at the Benedictine Abbey of Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk County, England, where he illuminated the first (and possibly the second) volume of the Bury Bible in the Romanesque style. Only the first volume of the Bible, containing the Old Testament through the Book of Job, survives. The Bury Bible had a powerful influence on English art. Scholars see the color patterns, Byzantine draperies and the haunted eyes and expressive gestures of some of the figures as evidence of a new style drawing from the art of southern Italy, Cyprus, Byzantium and possibly Palestine. The image above shows a page with two scenes of the life of Moses. The image below shows is the frontispiece for the Bible with the opening initial. The entire Bible may be viewed HERERandom Trivia: The Bury Bible, like many Christian paintings and sculptures, depicts Moses with horns. The basis for this imagery is a verse in the Hebrew Book of Exodus stating that after coming down from Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments, Moses had “keren”, which in Hebrew means either “radiating light” or “growing horns.” When Jerome translated the Hebrew to Latin in the early 5th Century, he referred to horns, although most Biblical scholars now believe that the intention of the original Hebrew was that Moses was radiating light from his face.
bury bible 5

240. Madonna Enthroned (Ognissanti Madonna) 

Artist: Giotto
Date: c. 1306-1310
Period/Style: Medieval; Gothic/Byzantine with Proto-Renaissance elements; Florence, Italy
Medium: Tempera paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 10.7 ft. tall by 6.7 ft. wide,
Current location: Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy
Giotto, Ognisanti Maesta
Visitors to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence can stand in one spot and view Cimabue’s Santa Trinita Maestà (1280-1290) on the right, Duccio di Buoninsegna’s Madonna Rucellai (c. 1285) on the left, and Giotto’s Ognissanti Madonna in the center. When the large altarpieces are placed together in this fashion, the contrast between Giotto and the two other artists is staggering. While all three paintings follow many of the traditions of the Byzantine/Gothic style, such as the gold background, and the standard iconography of Mary in Majesty with the child Jesus, a comparison of the Mary figures quickly distinguishes Giotto’s work from that of Cimabue or Duccio. His Mary is solid, substantial and of our world – real flesh and blood (note the way Mary’s breasts and knees press against her drapery), unlike the waiflike two-dimensional Marys of the other paintings, who seem more of the heavenly sphere than the earthly. Also somewhat new are the expressions of the figures, who seem more lifelike and emotional than the more staid, even generic figures of other Byzantine and Gothic art.  The Ognissanti Madonna is so named because it was originally painted for the altar of the Ognissanti (All Saints) church in Florence. 

241. The Wilton Diptych

Artist: The artist is unknown. Art historians have suggested an English, French, Italian or Bohemian painter; particularly someone who specialized in illuminated manuscripts.
Date: c. 1395-1399
Period/Style: Medieval period; International Gothic Style; England (?)
Medium: Egg tempera paints and gold leaf on Baltic oak wood panels
Dimensions: Each side of the diptych is 20.9 in. tall and 14.6 in. wide
Current location: National Gallery, London, England, UK
Wilton_diptychThe International Gothic-style Wilton Diptych (named for Wilton House, where it was kept for many years) was most likely painted for English king Richard II, who reigned from 1377 to 1399. The interior left panel (shown above) shows a kneeling King Richard, in a vermilion and gold cloak adorned with his two emblems: the white stag and sprigs of rosemary. Standing next to him are two English kings who became saints (Edmund the Martyr and Edward the Confessor) and John the Baptist, Richard’s patron saint. (The presence of the three kings on the left worshiping Christ may allude to the three magi, whose visit to the baby Jesus was celebrated on January 6, Richard’s birthday.) Following Richard’s gaze, we look to the right panel, where Mary holds Jesus, and 11 angels surround them in a flowery meadow. Jesus appears to give a blessing, either to Richard directly or to the pennant with the flag of St. George (England’s patron saint) and a tiny globe with a castle on an island in a silver seal. The symbolism appears to indicate God’s blessing of Richard’s kingship. All the angels wear Richard’s white stag emblem, as if they are part of his entourage. The unusual number of the angels – 11 – may refer to Richard’s age when he ascended to the throne. The extensive use of expensive pigments such as lapis lazuli for the blue pigment of the garments in the right panel and vermilion on the left for Richard’s robe shows that no expense was spared to make this small object with both religious and political overtones. The much-damaged outer panels show a white stag with a crown around its neck and a chain on one side, and coats of arms of Richard (including those of Edward the Confessor), on the other (see image below). The existence of the Wilton Diptych is considered remarkable given that few religious images survived a campaign of iconoclasm by the Puritans in the 17th Century.

242. 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).

 

243. The Annunciation

Artist: Fra Angelico (born Guido di Pietro; also known as Fra Giovanni da Fiesole)
Date: c. 1441-1446
Period/Style: Early Renaissance; Florence, Italy
Medium: Fresco painted on a convent wall
Dimensions: 7.5 ft. tall by 10.5 ft. wide
Current location: Convent of San Marco (San Marco Museum), Florence, Italy 
annunciationIn 1439, Dominican friar and artist Fra Angelico transferred to the priory of San Marco in Florence, which was sponsored by the Medici family. It was at San Marco that Fra Angelico painted some of his most important works, many of them frescoes painted on the walls for the benefit of the other monks. Standing at the bottom of the staircase to the second floor, a monk looking up would have seen a large fresco of the Annunciation, the story from the Gospel of Luke in which an angel visits Mary to inform her that, although she is a virgin, she will bear a child who will be the Son of God. The fresco’s unusual perspective lines are based on a viewer looking up from the bottom of the stairs. The work is remarkable for its spare quality – it is free of the clutter of objects and symbols common in other Annunciations, maybe because the monks already knew the story and did not need guidance. The left side of the painting is almost two-dimensional in its flatness. Even Angel Gabriel and the Madonna are less substantial than some figures from earlier Renaissance works. It is as if Fra Angelico is aware of the new styles but is not quite ready to adopt them fully (although the architecture of the space where Mary and the Angel meet owes a debt to Brunelleschi). The lighting is also odd, with a strong light source at the upper left, but few shadows. Still, the moment at the center contains much for the monks to contemplate, including the way the angel and Madonna lean in toward each other, their mirrored hand gestures, the expressions in their eyes, and even the rainbow of color in the angel’s wings.

244. 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.

245. St. James Led to His Execution (St. James Led to Martyrdom)

Artist: Andrea Mantegna
Date: Estimates range from c. 1453-1457, but most sources believe the work was painted in 1455.
Period/Style: Early Renaissance; Padua, Italy; religious
Medium: Fresco painted on church wall
Dimensions: 14 ft. tall by 11 ft. wide
Current location: The fresco was painted on the wall of the Ovetari Chapel of the Eremitani Church, Padua, Italy but it was destroyed by Allied bombing during World War II.

In the mid-15th Century, Andrea Mantegna painted six frescoes showing scenes from the life of St. James on a wall of the Ovetari Chapel of the Eremitani Church in Padua, Italy, the most highly-regarded of which was St. James Led to His Execution. In the fresco, Mantegna – who loved to give himself perspectival problems to solve – deliberately ignored the strict rules of one-point linear perspective in having no single point where all lines meet. He presented what has been called a “worm’s eye view” – looking up at the figures from below – while also preserving the sight lines from the chapel so that viewers would not be disoriented. Art historian Frederick Hartt calls the lost fresco “a triumph of Renaissance spatial construction and Renaissance Classicism.”  He points out, the strict laws of perspective would require the vertical lines of the architecture to converge as we look up, which would have destroyed the overall effect of the six frescoes on the wall. This and the other five frescoes are only known from black and white photographs, however, because on March 11, 1944, during World War II, Allied bombs hit the church, leaving only fragments of Mantegna’s artwork. A preparatory study for the fresco by Mantegna (c. 1455) in the collection of the British Museum (see image below).

246. Altarpiece of the Church Fathers

Artist: Michael Pacher
Date: Some date the work, c. 1477-1480; others say it was made c. 1483-1484.
Period/Style: Northern Gothic; Northern Renaissance; Austria/Italy; religious
Medium: Triptych created with oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: The center panel measures nearly 7 ft. tall and 6.5 ft. wide; each side panel measures 7 ft. tall by 3 ft. wide.
Current location: Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Germany 
Michael_Pacher_-_Altarpiece_of_the_Church_Fathers 2
Austrian artist Michael Pacher created the Altarpiece of the Church Fathers, a triptych, for the Augustinian monks of the Neustift Monastery near Brixen in northern Italy. When closed, the outer painted panels show St. Augustine liberating a prisoner (see image below right) and St. Sigisbert having a vision (see image below right), but the true masterpieces are the interior panels from which the piece draws its name (see image above). Pacher has set up four fathers of the Early Christian church in separate rooms, with projecting canopies and foreshortened floor tiles, creating a trompe-l’oeil effect of true depth. Each church father is accompanied by a dove (the Holy Spirit) and a memento of one of his legends. From the far left: (1) St. Jerome, who was said to have taken a thorn from a lion’s paw, pets a lion; (2) St. Augustine sits with the boy from a story in which Augustine saw the boy on the beach trying to transfer the ocean into a small pool using only a clam shell; the boy told Augustine that it was as likely that he would move the ocean as it was that Augustine would understand the mystery of the Holy Trinity with his rational mind; (3) Pope Gregory I, who was so impressed by a story of Roman Emperor Trajan’s kindness that he prayed for Trajan to be released from purgatory to be baptized, here gets his opportunity as Trajan rises from the flames; and finally, (4) St. Ambrose, shown with a rocking baby who refers either to a story from St. Ambrose’s infancy, when a swarm of bees landed on his face, leaving a drop of honey, thus ensuring his sweet tongue for oratory, or to the child who told Ambrose that he must be made a bishop. Throughout the piece, Pacher’s painting shows many sculptural elements (Pacher was also a sculptor) and combines elements of both Northern Gothic and Northern Renaissance styles. 
Church_Fathers_-_St_Augustine_Liberating_a_Prisoner  Church_Fathers_-_Vision_of_St_Sigisbert 

247. St. John Altarpiece (Triptych of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist)

Artist: Hans Memling
Date: The work was commissioned c. 1474 and completed in 1479
Period/Style: Early Netherlandish; Northern Renaissance; Flanders (now Belgium); religious
Medium: Triptych painted with oil paints on oak panels
Dimensions: The center panel measures 5.7 ft. tall by 5.7 ft. wide; each wing is 5.8 ft. tall by 2.6 ft. wide.
Current location: Memling Museum, St. John’s Hospital, Bruges, Belgium
memling st john
 German-born Flemish painter Hans Memling created the St. John Altarpiece for the chapel of St. John’s Hospital in Bruges; it is dedicated to the patron saints of the hospital, St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist. The center panel takes the form of a sacra conversatione with saints gathered around the Virgin Mary and Jesus. John the Baptist stands at left, while events from his life shown in the outdoor space behind him; John the Evangelist stands on the right. St. Catherine sits at the left, while St. Barbara sits on the right. Mary sits on a throne with an intricately-rendered Oriental carpet (known as a Memling carpet) beneath her, reaching almost to the picture plane, while above two blue angels hold her crown (see detail above left). The infant Jesus puts a ring on St. Catherine’s finger, symbolizing her spiritual commitment to God, a standard trope known as the Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine. Scholars have noted that the composition of two standing and two sitting saints around the Virgin was very unusual. Also unusual was the breaking up of the architecture to allow almost continuous views of the background landscape, which allowed Memling to paint scenes from the saints’ lives there. (Even the carvings at the top of each capital represent aspects of the saints’ lives.) The left wing shows the beheading of John the Baptist: the executioner, his back to us, places the head on Salome’s platter, while the headless body lies on the ground. The right wing (see detail above right) shows John the Evangelist writing the Apocalypse on the island of Patmos, with the key events of the Book of Revelation depicted. This may be the first time that the entire Apocalypse story was presented in a single painting. Two concentric rainbows show God enthroned, with four beasts and 24 elders, while the Lamb of God breaks the seven seals on God’s lap. Elsewhere, Memling shows a giant angel emerging from the water, while a seven-headed dragon in seen in the background. When the doors of the triptych are closed, it reveals portraits of the four donors (two priests and two nuns) kneeling before their patron saints (see image below).

248. St. Francis in Ecstasy (St. Francis in the Desert)

Artist: Giovanni Bellini
Date: c. 1480
Period/Style: Early Renaissance; Venetian School; Venice, Italy; religious
Medium: Oil paints on poplar wood panels
Dimensions: 4.1 ft. tall by 4.7 ft. wide
Current location: The Frick Collection, New York, NY
By choosing to use oil paints – which were very new to Italy – to paint a portrait of St. Francis, Giovanni Bellini proved to his fellow Italian painters that the new medium could render light and the effects of light in ways that could not have been achieved with tempera. In St. Francis in Ecstasy, Bellini uses natural lighting effects to create the sense of a heavenly visitation upon the founder of the Franciscans. Some believe the painting is meant to tell the story of St. Francis receiving the stigmata, or wounds of Christ, in his side and on his hands and feet, while on a solitary retreat near Mt. La Verna in the Apennines in 1224 and point to the marks on his hands and one foot. Others some argue that St. Francis, who is shown with his mouth open, is singing the Canticle of the Sun, a song he composed, in response to the presence of God. They note that in typical representations of saints receiving the stigmata, we usually see an angel shooting dart-like rays of light. The work is unusual in other ways: consistent with the Renaissance’s celebration of the natural world, St. Francis is almost dwarfed by the vast landscape around him such that if he were removed, the painting could stand on its own. Bellini has taken care to depict many of the plants and animals that share the world with St. Francis (see details in images below left and right). In addition, many of the objects in the painting double as references to Christian stories or teachings. To choose just a few examples related to Moses, the dry tree at left may represent the burning bush that spoke to Moses; the water issuing from the rocks at right may remind us of Moses striking the rocks at Horeb to start water flowing; and St. Francis’ bare feet and nearby sandals recall God’s words to Moses to take off his sandals on holy ground. Followers of St. Francis would have made many other connections.
st-francis-animals  st francis rabbit

249. 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.

250. San Giobbe Altarpiece (Enthroned Madonna of San Giobbe)

Artist: Giovanni Bellini
Date: Most art historians date the work to 1487, but some claim a date in the early 1470s.
Period/Style: Early Renaissance; Venetian School; Venice, Italy; religious (sacra converzatione)
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels   
Dimensions: 15.4 ft. tall by 8.5 ft. wide
Current location: Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice, Italy

To satisfy his commission for an altarpiece for the San Giobbe (St. Job) Church in Venice, Venetian Renaissance painter Giovanni Bellini painted a sacra converzatione of Mary and Jesus surrounded by an informal grouping of saints (left: St. Francis, John the Baptist, Job; right: St. Sebastian, St. Louis, St. Dominic). The work was almost immediately recognized as a masterpiece. Bellini creates an illusion of depth in the space and gives substantiality to the figures. To enhance the realism – the illusion that there is an actual niche in the wall – he painted the columns to match the real columns in the church, and chose a light source that appears to be coming from the actual windows of the church. Art historians marvel at Bellini’s ability to paint reflected light and to show modeling and shadows so they give form and substance to the figures and architecture. Although all the saints with their colorful garments occupy the lower half of the painting, the stunning gold half dome above them creates a sense of balance and draws the eye up to see how it catches the light. On a human level, St. Francis (with the stigmata wounds) gestures for us to join the conversation, as does the Madonna. Even the musical angels are positioned so they form a triangle pointing up at Jesus and Mary (see detail below left). Random Trivia: Bellini painted another portrait of St. Job onto the church garment worn by St. Louis (see image below right).
san_giobbe_  bellini san giobbe detail

251. An Old Man and His Grandson

Artist: Domenico Ghirlandaio
Date: 1490
Period/Style: High Renaissance; Florence, Italy; secular portrait
Medium: Tempera paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 2 ft. tall by 1.5 ft. wide
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
old man and grandson
Despite the title (which is not original), there is no direct evidence about the identity of the man and boy in the double portrait by Florentine artist Domenico Ghirlandaio known as An Old Man and His Grandson. Their clothes indicate that the man and boy come from the aristocracy, and the entire composition indicates that they have strong feelings of love for each other. Their eyes meet on a diagonal line, while the boy’s left hand reaches out to touch the old man in a moving gesture of affection. This connection between the two is reinforced by the red garments worn by both. The old man’s deformed nose is probably the result of rhinophyma, a non-fatal skin disease. Ghirlandaio made a drawing of the same man, possibly after his death.

252. Self-Portrait

Artist: Albrecht Dürer
Date: 1498
Period/Style: Northern Renaissance; Germany; self-portrait
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 20.5 inches tall by 16.1 inches wide
Current location: Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain
durer self portrait
German painter Albrecht Dürer painted his second of three adult self-portraits after he had returned from a visit to Italy, where he felt that artists were treated with more respect than in his native land. (During a return trip to Italy some years later, he wrote to a friend: “How I shall freeze after this sun! Here I am a gentleman, at home only a parasite.” In this self-portrait, at the age of 26, he presents himself in a haughty, self-confident pose, with the stylish clothing (Italian, of course, complete with silk gloves) of an effeminate dandy who might circulate among society’s elite. The artist – who by 1498 had already achieved financial success in his profession – presents himself to his home audience as a master artist worthy of their praise: here I am, take me seriously. The Alpine landscape outside the window has been analyzed in numerous ways: a reminiscence of Dürer‘s Italian travels, a reflection of his inner mental states, or a prediction of things to come. The self-portrait was popular with royalty: at various points, the work was owned by Charles I of England and Philip IV of Spain.

253. The Holy Blood Altarpiece (Altar of the Holy Blood)

Artist: Tilman Riemenschneider
Date: Completed c. 1505
Period/Style: Northern Gothic; Northern Renaissance; Germany; religious
Medium: Limewood altarpiece (with some glass) containing unpainted sculptures in high and low relief
Dimensions: 29.5 ft. tall
Current location: St. Jakob Church, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany


The Altar of the Holy Blood is a late Gothic masterpiece by German sculptor Tilman Riemenschneider. The altarpiece was built to house a supposed relic – a drop of Jesus’s blood – that was kept in a cross made of rock crystal. The triptych’s center panel depicts the Last Supper, which takes place in a real space with a table and glass windows at the rear (see detail in second image above). Breaking with Northern Gothic tradition, Riemenschneider did not have the figures painted; instead, he took on the challenge of carving in the details that paint would have provided, such as facial features. Riemenschneider also breaks with the traditional iconography by placing Judas (identifiable by the purse he carries, with the 30 silver pieces he received for betraying Jesus) in the center of the composition, facing Jesus. Riemenschneider captures the moment that Jesus gives Judas a piece of bread, a sign that he knows who will betray him. The wings are carved in low relief, with Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey on the left (see image below left) , and the agony in the garden of Gethsemane on the right (see image below right). Various other figures adorn the space above and below the central panels.
riemenschneider 2   

254. The Sistine Madonna

Artist: Raphael
Date: 1512-1514
Period/Style: High Renaissance; Italy; religious
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 8.7 ft. tall by 6.4 ft. wide
Current location: Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden, Germany

The curtains open on a heavenly scene: at the apex is the Madonna, her blue robe still swaying as if she has just arrived on the cloudy platform, and holding an older-than-usual Christ child resting comfortably in his mother’s arms. Below Mary are St. Sixtus, a former Pope, and St. Barbara.  Still further down are two cherubs resting on a balustrade, which also supports the papal crown. In the background, barely visible, are the white faces of cherubs innumerable. Raphael was commissioned by Pope Julius II to paint a Virgin, Child and Sts. Sixtus and Barbara as an altarpiece for Benedictine basilica of the Monastery of San Sisto in Piacenza. The work soon became known as the Sistine Madonna. In 1754, Polish King Augustus II bought the painting and moved it to Dresden. During World War II, the Sistine Madonna was saved from Allied firebombing. At the end of the war, the Soviets came into possession of the painting and brought it to Moscow, only to return it to Germany in 1955. Random Trivia: Since at least the beginning of the 20th Century, the two cherubs at the bottom of the Sistine Madonna have become cultural icons and have been used as decoration and on such items as t-shirts, postcards and wrapping paper (see image below). 

255. Melencolia I

Artist: Albrecht Dürer
Date: 1514
Period/Style: Northern Gothic; Northern Renaissance; Germany; allegory
Medium: Paper print from copper engraving
Dimensions: 9.5 inches tall by 7.3 inches wide
Current locations: Various collections

For so many centuries (and even today), only the richest people could dream of owning original art by well-known artists. Prints made from woodcuts and engravings (and later etchings) were relatively inexpensive artworks that middle class people could afford. Albrecht Dürer had proved in 1498 with his Apocalypse that there was a market for his prints. In 1513-1514, he created three copper engravings that have become known as the Master Engravings, including Melencolia I. The monochrome print announces its title by means of a bat-like creature carrying a banner in the background, where a beacon of light and a rainbow over the ocean appear to bring hope. In the foreground, however, melancholy rules. A winged figure sits dejected, head in hand, next to a putto in the same state. The winged figure holds a caliper and is surrounded by the unused tools of mathematics, geometry and carpentry. On the wall is a magic square that adds up to 34 in every direction and gives us the date of the print (see detail in image below). One scholar called the print a spiritual self-portrait of the artist. Medieval thought saw melancholia as the worst of the four humors, associated with black gall and often leading to insanity. Renaissance humanists, on the other hand, identified melancholy as the mood of the artistic genius. An influential treatise listed the creative imagination as the first and lowest of the three states of mind (beneath reason and spirit), which perhaps explains the “I” in the title. At least one art historian has noted the irony of Dürer identifying with a paralyzed and powerless artist when he was in fact at the peak of his artistic powers and productivity in 1514.
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256. Pesaro Madonna (Madonna di Ca’ Pesaro)

Artist: Titian 
Date: Begun in 1519 and completed in 1526
Period/Style: High Renaissance; Venetian School; Venice, Italy; religious
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 16 ft. tall by 8.8 ft. wide
Current location: Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari Church, Venice, Italy
titian pesaro
When Venetian painter Titian received a commission from Jacopo Pesaro, a bishop who served as the pope’s naval commander, to paint an altarpiece with the Madonna and Child for the family chapel, the artist knew exactly where the painting would be hung – on the left side of the church near the entrance – and so he made an historic decision. Because most viewers would approach the painting from the left, Titian decided to place Jesus and Mary in the upper right portion of the canvas, thus breaking hundreds of years of religious painting tradition in which the Madonna and Child were placed in the center. Consistent with the off-center composition, the perspectival vanishing point is far to the right. This off-center placement opened up numerous compositional possibilities for Titian and those who came after him, thereby changing the course of art history. The painting includes another break with tradition. Prior painters often relied on isosceles triangles (with two equal sides) in their compositions, but in the Pesaro Madonna, Titian created a series of scalene triangles (with three different sides), one beginning with Mary, another with St. Peter, who is below her on the staircase (see detail in image below). These triangles connect the kneeling donor with the Franciscan saints above him. Using the postures and gestures of the saints, and the placement of St. Peter’s keys and the banner held by the soldier (who holds captured foreign enemies – a reference to Pesaro’s 1502 victory over the Turks), Titian creates a series of diagonals that impart movement and energy. In particular, the contrasting positions of Mary and Jesus link the viewer to both the donor on the left (through St. Peter), and the donor’s family on the right (through St. Francis). In contrast with the energetic gesturing of the saints (and the angels above), the Pesaro family inhabit a more mundane world, pictured in profile (but for one curious child who stares directly at the viewer) and a little flat. Titian uses the rich, deep colors that characterize much of Venetian painting of this period.  Random Trivia: The large columns in the center of the painting are unprecedented, but x-ray analysis indicates that they were a later addition and Titian may not have painted them.

257. 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.”
  

258. The Fall of the Giants

Artist: Giulio Romano (born Giulio Pippi)
Date: 1530-1532 or 1532-1534
Period/Style: Late Renaissance; Mannerism; Mantua, Italy; mythological
Medium: Frescoes on walls and ceiling of a residential palazzo
Dimensions: The frescoes cover all four walls and the ceiling of the Sala dei Giganti in the Palazzo del Te.
Current location: Sala dei Giganti, Palazzo del Te, Mantua, Italy
The immense Fall of the Giants fresco in Mantua, Italy is a high point of early Mannerism. The Mannerists were not interested in the serene, restrained and balanced compositions of High Renaissance masters such as Raphael. They believed in grand gestures, in creating works of art that showcased the skill of the artist and if that led to excess or lack of realism, then so be it. Mannerism has a “rebelling against our teachers” flavor generally so it should come as no surprise that the artist who painted the Fall of the Giants, Giulio Romano, was a student of Raphael himself. The fresco takes up two walls (see top image) and the ceiling (see second image above) of a room in the Palazzo del Te, the home of Ludovico Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua. It relates the story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses in which giants attempt to overthrow the gods on Mt. Olympus by piling up mountains to reach them. In response, Jupiter sends down a hail of thunderbolts, throwing the rebellion into chaos. Romano’s captures the action at the moment when the rebellion begins to collapse. Romano’s use of fictive architecture and illusory effects make it seem that the entire fresco is collapsing in on the viewer. This effect is enhanced by a gradual downslope in the floor as one approaches the walls, which depict the jumbled scene of desperate giants scrambling to stay alive amid the tumbling boulders dislodged by the gods’ thunderbolts (see detail in image below).

259. 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?” 

260. 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. 

261. 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. 
 

262. 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
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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).
 

263. 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
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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.) 
 

264. Frescoes, Farnese Gallery (The Loves of the Gods)

Artist: Annibale Carracci (with assistance from members of his studio, including Agostino Carracci, Giovanni Lanfranco, Francesco Albani, Domenichino, and Sisto Badalocchio)
Date: Begun in 1597; completed in 1608 
Period/Style: Late Renaissance/Mannerism; Baroque; Italy
Medium: Frescoes painted on residential ceiling
Dimensions: The frescoes cover the entire vaulted ceiling of a large room.
Current location:  Palazzo Farnese, Rome


In the last years of the 16th Century, Annibale Carracci and members of his studio began to paint an ambitious program of frescoes on the walls and ceiling of the Farnese Gallery, a large barrel-vaulted room in the Palazzo Farnese (now the French Embassy) in Rome (see top image above). Carracci used a technique called quadrature, which combines integrates the frescoes with the actual architecture of the space and enhances the effects by adding painting architecture, sculpture and even picture frames. The themes of most of the frescoes are mythological in origin; the centerpiece (on the ceiling) depicts The Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne (see second image above), in which a procession of animals, putti and various mythological creatures accompany the loving couple. The image below shows Diana and Endymion, with framing figures that show Carracci’s expertise at painting faux marble sculpture in grisaille. The frescoes were very influential in their move away from Mannerism to the Baroque style, and even anticipate the Classical revival of the 18th Century.

265. 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.

266. The Laughing Cavalier

Artist: Frans Hals
Date: 1624
Period/Style: Baroque; Dutch Golden Age; The Netherlands; portrait
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.7 ft. tall by 2.2. ft. wide
Current location: The Wallace Collection, London, England, UK

We know very little about the subject of The Laughing Cavalier, the famous portrait by Dutch Golden Age painter Frans Hals, except that he was 26 when Hals painted him in 1624. There is no evidence that he was a cavalier, and he is definitely not laughing. The current title arose in the late 19th Century during an exhibition in London and has stuck. Hals animates the portrait by having the subject turn and smile while looking straight at the viewer, and by choosing a low angle. The angle also emphasizes the subject’s elaborate outfit, and gives the viewer a close-up look at the cupids and other love symbols on his sleeves. A close look at the painting shows that, foreshadowing the Impressionists, Hals often used quick, broad brushstrokes, sketching out details in a way that creates an illusion of realism at a distance. Hals’ visible brushstrokes were both innovative and controversial; while a few criticized his work as unfinished, his technique brought a new sense of immediacy to the art of portraiture. Hals’ innovations proved highly influential on his fellow Dutch Golden Age artists. Random Trivia: The logo for McEwan’s, a Scottish-based brewer, is loosely based on The Laughing Cavalier, with the addition of an actual smile and a frosty mug of ale (see image below).

267. Apollo and Daphne

Artist: Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Date: Work begun in 1622; completed in 1625
Period/Style: Baroque; Italy; mythology
Medium: Marble sculpture
Dimensions: 8 ft. tall
Current location: Galleria Borghese; Rome, Italy
 
In his Metamorphoses, Ovid relates a tale in which Cupid punishes the god Apollo for a slight by making him fall in love with Daphne, a beautiful river nymph, while at the same time shooting Daphne with an arrow that makes her incapable of falling in love. Apollo chases Daphne relentlessly until she is exhausted and Apollo finally catches up to her. A distressed Daphne then prays to her father, the river god Peneus, to either take away her beauty or transform her body. As Apollo reaches out to touch Daphne, she begins to be transformed into a laurel tree. When Apollo finally places his hand on her, he only touches tree bark, although he can feel her heart beating underneath. It was this moment that Bernini captured in his 8-ft.-tall marble sculpture Apollo and Daphne, which was commissioned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese. In order to justify the presence of a pagan myth in a Catholic cardinal’s home, Borghese had a moral lesson engraved on the original base of the statue: “Those who love to pursue fleeting forms of pleasure, in the end find only leaves and bitter berries in their hands.”  A more applicable lesson may be that within a sculpture of cold stone we may find a beating heart that is the true representation of real life. The statue is Bernini’s most admired, although some scholars believe that a member of Bernini’s workshop, Giuliano Finelli, sculpted some of the details of Daphne’s metamorphosis. 

268. 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.

269. Allegory of Divine Providence and Barberini Power (The Triumph of Divine Providence) 

Artist: Pietro da Cortona
Date: Begun in 1633; completed in 1639
Period/Style: Baroque; Rome, Italy; mythology/allegory;  “di sotto in sù”
Medium: Fresco painted on palazzo ceiling
Dimensions: 4,300 square feet
Current location: Palazzo Barberini (Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica), Rome, Italy
cortona barberini ceiling
Italian artist Pietro da Cortona painted the massive fresco titled The Triumph of Divine Providence (also known as Allegory of Divine Providence and Barberini Power) on the ceiling of the grand salon in the Palazzo Barberini, home of Rome’s powerful Barberini family, between 1633 and 1639. The fresco was intended to celebrate the family’s power and good fortune, particularly the election of Maffeo Barberini to pope (as Urban VIII) in 1623. In true Baroque fashion, the work as a whole is filled with a swirling, ecstatic energy. Allegorical figures abound in the crowded composition: scholars have identified Truth, Beauty, Peace, Chronos (Time, eating his children), the Three Fates, Immortality (carrying a crown of stars), Hercules, Vulcan, Minerva and St. Peter, to name a few. (See detail in image below left Divine Providence, Immortality, Time and the Three Fates.) The mythological content is so complex that visitors to the Palazzo receive a detailed guidebook to help them decipher the many symbols, including those specifically referring to the Barberinis: the family’s coat of arms and squadrons of giant bees, the family mascot (see detail in image below right). Cortona also added plenty of trompe-l’oeil effects, including the apparent crumbling of the marble frame due to the weight of Providence, in one case, and Vulcan at his forge, in another. Some art historians have suggested that the fresco was intended to dispel any notion that Maffeo Barberini’s election to the papacy was rigged, a powerful rumor at the time. Instead, the fresco shows that Pope Urban VIII is in his place because of Divine Providence. The fresco may also have been intended to demonstrate the supremacy of Catholicism over its rival religions, although the reliance on figures from classical mythology may have undermined that message somewhat.
 cortona barberini bees

270. 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
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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).
 

271. 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.

272. Pierrot, formerly known as Gilles

Artist: Jean-Antoine Watteau
Date: 1718-1719
Period/Style: Late Baroque; Rococo; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 6.1 ft. tall by 4.9 ft. wide
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
watteau pierrot
Both Pierrot and Gilles were stock comedic characters of French pantomime and Commedia dell’Arte, with similar costumes and roles, so it is perhaps no surprise that art historians have had trouble deciding the identity of the main figure in Jean-Antoine Watteau’s painting of a character in a white costume. The painting was generally known as Gilles until the 20th Century, when a critical mass of scholars decided that Watteau had painted Pierrot, leading to the Louvre’s awkward title, Pierrot, formerly known as Gilles. The Pierrot character was a buffoon (but often treated sympathetically) who was introduced to French audiences by a traveling Italian acting troupe in the late 17th Century. In the traditional story, Pierrot loves Columbine, who breaks his heart when she leaves him for Harlequin. Watteau, whose work as assistant to painter Claude Gillot, who often worked on painting theater sets, often featured theater characters or theater-goers in his work. Here, Pierrot stands alone on what seems like a stage, his expression a mix of sadness, humiliation and confusion. Is he worrying about Columbine’s faithfulness, or has she already left him? Or, as some have proposed, is the actor playing the part of Pierrot embarrassed to be standing in costume before the artist? Others have even wondered if Pierrot is a Watteau self-portrait (see 1721 portrait of Watteau by Rosalba Carriera below). Behind Pierrot, other stock Commedia dell’Arte characters that would have been recognizable to Watteau’s audience – the Doctor on his donkey, the lovers Leander and Isabella, and the Captain – ignore the sad clown, possibly a self-portrait. Some have speculated that the large canvas was intended as a theatrical sign for a performance at a café or fairground.

273. 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. 

274. Mr. and Mrs. Andrews

Artist: Thomas Gainsborough
Date: 1748-1750
Period/Style: Romanticism; Great Britain; portrait/landscape
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.3 ft. tall by 3.9 ft. wide
Current location: National Gallery, London
andrews
At the time of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953, the French hosted an art exhibition in Paris to celebrate and asked the royal family to send some paintings to represent British art. Thomas Gainsborough’s Mr. and Mrs. Andrews – with its depiction of genteel respectability in the agrarian countryside – was chosen as one of only four paintings sent. Members of the landed gentry, Robert Andrews, aged 22, married Frances Carter, age 16, in November 1748. As part of Frances’ dowry, she brought to the marriage a portion of her father’s estate near the town of Sudbury, and when they had their portrait taken a year or two later, they made sure that the extensive property was included. Mr. Andrews’s rifle and dog imply that his crops and livestock are so well managed, he has plenty of time for a relaxing hunting break. By devoting so much of the canvas to the well-groomed estate, Gainsborough drew upon the trend of less formal ‘conversation piece’ portraits, in which a group of subjects engages in an activity instead of sitting in a formal pose. This portrait is a hybrid, since Mr. and Mrs. Andrews do pose for the artist, although in a less formal setting. (The married couple probably posed in a studio with their fine bench and dog and were placed in the landscape through the magic of painting.) Gainsborough grew up in the same neighborhood as Robert and Frances, but somewhat further down the social ladder, which may explain the disdainful expression on Mrs. Andrews’s face. What is not explained is the patch of bare canvas on Mrs. Andrews’s lap. Gainsborough apparently intended to show her holding something – freshly-killed game, a baby, a dog, flowers – but for some reason delivered the painting to the family unfinished (see detail in image below). (One source theorizes that the painting was delivered unfinished because Gainsborough had a falling out with the couple.) The unusually shaped portrait (most were vertical, not horizontal) stayed in the Andrews family’s private collection until 1960. The work came to the attention of the public in 1927 when it was exhibited in Ipswich and caused a sensation with its charm and freshness.

275. Le Carceri d’Invenzione (Imaginary Prisons) 

Artist: Giovanni Battista Piranesi
Date: 1750 (1st Edition); 1761(2nd Edition)
Period/Style: Neoclassical; Italy
Medium: Paper prints made from etchings
Dimensions: Each print measures 2.1 ft. tall by 1.6 ft. wide
Current location: Various collections

A Venetian who spent most of his career in Rome, Giovanni Battista Piranesi was fascinated with architecture, especially Ancient Roman architecture, and the vast majority of his artistic output consists of highly-detailed etchings (made into prints) of Roman buildings, monuments and ruins. These etchings combine a Neoclassical dedication to realism with a sense of play and even some social commentary. But Piranesi’s most well-known works do not reproduce any existing Roman architecture. The bizarre and complicated spaces of the 16 prints in Le Carceri d’Invenzione are all the products of Piranesi’s imagination, filtered through his formidable knowledge of architecture and engineering. No 18th Century Italian prison ever looked like these mysterious and foreboding chambers of horror. The architecture is fanciful and sometimes defies the laws of physics (which has led to comparisons with M.C. Escher). Elaborate machinery and instruments of torture dwarf the few tiny figures in these images, leading some to find a critique of the Italian justice system (or that of Ancient Rome?). Piranesi published 14 of the prints in 1750; 11 years later, he released a new version, with the etchings much reworked and two additional scenes. The 1761 version is more complicated, more detailed and more sinister than the originals.  The images shown are Title Page (1st edition) (above) and Lion Bas Reliefs (2nd edition) (below).

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

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

277. La Maja Vestida y La Maja Desnuda (The Clothed Maja and the Naked Maja) 

Artist: Francisco Goya 
Date: Most art historians say the Naked Maja was painted first, c. 1797-1800, with the Clothed Maja following c. 1800-1805, but some say it was the reverse order.
Period/Style: Romanticism; Spain; portraits
Medium: Both works were made with oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: Each canvas is 3.2 ft. tall by 6.2 ft. wide.
Current location: The paintings are presented side by side at the Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain
goya the clothed maja
naked majaA pair of masterpieces or a misogynist parlor trick? According to one account, Francisco Goya, official painter for the Spanish royal court, created The Clothed Maja and The Naked Maja (also called The Nude Maja) for Spanish Prime Minister Manuel de Godoy, who placed them is a special room where he kept all his nude paintings. According to a visitor, de Godoy rigged the paintings with a pulley system so that one first saw the Clothed Maja and then, with a flick of a switch, the Naked Maja appeared in its place, creating the illusion that the woman’s clothing had been removed by some kind of magic. Some years later, when the Spanish Inquisition learned about the paintings, they hauled both the painter and the prime minister before the inquisitors to answer for their alleged depravity. Goya’s answers are not recorded, but the painting was subsequently sequestered for years. While nude women had been a commonplace of painting and sculpture for centuries, until Goya’s Naked Maja, most artists who wanted to be taken seriously provided a non-erotic explanation for the nudity. The nudity was consistent with the figure’s mythological nature or with the religious of historical subject being depicted; if not, then the subject’s nudity was excusable because she was sleeping, trying to hide or otherwise unaware that she was being observed. Goya’s Naked Maja was suspect because he made no such excuses for the nudity of the woman subject. First, she is a very human model, someone a contemporary viewer might have passed on the street, who is not presented to us as a character from myth or history. The Clothed Maja proves the point. (The terms maja and majo refers to certain members of the lower classes at the time who enjoyed dressing in elaborate outfits that were exaggerated versions of traditional Spanish peasant clothing.) Second, the subject is very much aware of the artist’s (and therefore, the viewer’s) gaze, and boldly gazes back, perhaps even inviting an erotic encounter. Like real women, she has pubic hair, which Goya presents for perhaps the first time in the history of art. Scholars have long debated the identity of the model. Some believe it was the Duchess of Alba, a Spanish aristocrat who featured in a number of Goya’s paintings and who was also linked romantically with Goya. Others believe that Manuel de Godoy’s mistress Pepita Tudó was the model. In either case, according to legend, the model asked Goya to alter her face so she would not be recognized, so we may never know the maja’s name. Random Trivia: The two paintings are exhibited side-by-side at the Prado. See Elliott Erwitt’s photograph Prado Museum, Madrid (1955) below.

278. 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

279. Rain, Steam and Speed: The Great Western Railway

Artist: J.M.W. Turner
Date: 1844
Period/Style: Romanticism; UK; landscape
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3 ft. tall by 4 ft. wide
Current location: National Gallery, London, England, UK
Turner_-_Rain,_Steam_and_SpeedThe Romantics were known for their worship of nature and spirit; they were generally skeptical of technology and what others called ‘progress.’ So when English painter Joseph Mallord William Turner debuted Rain, Steam and Speed: The Great Western Railway in 1844, he raised a few eyebrows. Many interpreted the work as a tribute to the power and energy of the new railway technology. Others, spotting a hare running for its life on the bridge (impossible to see in most reprints), see a more critical (or perhaps equivocal) message about the impacts of the railway on traditional ways of life. (Turner had previously used the imagery of a hare being chased in at least two prior works, Battle Abbey; the Spot Where Harold Fell (1810s) and Apollo and Daphne (1837). he portraBy engulfing the scene in rain and smoke, Turner creates a hazy, abstract quality at first glance. Upon closer inspection, many details emerge: the hare, the passengers (some wearing top hats) sitting in the open passenger cars of the train, the railroad bridge (identified as the Isambard Brunel-designed Maidenhead Railway Bridge on the Thames), the Thames itself, a fishing boat, a second bridge for carriages, a farmer ploughing his field and locals lining the river bank to cheer the still-novel locomotive. Random Trivia: See below for a photo of the Argus. a Great Westerm Railway locomotive built in 1842.

280. Fur Traders Descending the Missouri

Artist: George Caleb Bingham
Date: 1845
Period/Style: Hudson River School; Luminism; US
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.4 ft. tall by 3 ft. wide
Current location: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY 
fur traders
Missouri artist George Caleb Bingham, who was best known in his day as a painter of portraits, is now remembered for an atypical genre painting depicting a man, a boy and an animal in a canoe. Ever since he was a boy, Bingham had spent a great deal of time watching boats on the Missouri River. In 1845, when he came to New York City after a winter stay in central Missouri with a number of paintings and sketches to sell at the American Art Union, one of them was Fur Traders Descending the Missouri. The work depicts a French trader and his son in a dugout canoe containing a pile of furs, a dead duck and an animal on a leash. The older man wears a Phrygian liberty cap (popular during the time of the French Revolution) and glares at the viewer. His son, with the rifle that presumably shot the duck, is smiling. (Bingham called the painting French Trader and Half-Breed Son, but the American Art-Union thought some might be offended, and changed the titled.) The style is known as Luminism, an offshoot of the Hudson River School, and is characterized by attention to detail, focus on the effects of light, aerial perspective, a lack of visible brushstrokes, calm and tranquil scenes, and reflective water. Although the water must be moving, it gives no appearance of doing so – the river could just as easily be a sheet of ice. The entire scene appears still and placid and there is a mild, even light over everything. The dominant horizontals are broken here and there by a number of snags that are visible sticking out of the water and almost appear to be hemming the canoe in. As for the leashed animal, there is furious debate about its identity. Most lay viewers believe it is a cat, but most art historians have concluded that it is a bear cub. One website makes a strong case that it is a black fox, which had the most valuable fur of all (see photo of black fox below). Don’t be fooled into thinking that Bingham’s subject is historically accurate, however. The painting is nostalgic, not realistic; by 1845, the days of solo fur traders was over and large companies had taken over the trade. Bingham’s canvas returns the viewer to that rougher pioneer period and that more romantic lifestyle.
black fox

281. Ophelia

Artist: John Everett Millais
Date: 1851-1852
Period/Style: Pre-Raphaelite; UK
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.5 ft tall by 3.7 ft. wide
Current location: Tate Britain, London, England, UK 
Millais OpheliaIn Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia goes mad after Hamlet kills Ophelia’s father, Polonius. While she is gathering flowers by the river, a branch snaps and she falls into the water. Instead of trying to save herself, she sings “snatches of old tunes” while her dress fills with water and drags her under to her death. English Pre-Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais chose to paint Ophelia afloat in the river in the act of singing, hands aloft, “as if incapable of her own distress,” in Shakespeare’s words. To do so, he found a spot along the Hogsmill River in the County of Surrey that approximately matched the description in Hamlet. He then painted the landscape, up to 11 hours a day, six days a week, for five months in 1851. In the process, he confronted insects, wind, cold and even a farmer who said Millais was trespassing and called the police. The result was a brilliantly colorful and botanically accurate depiction of the riverbank. He then brought the picture to his studio, where his model (and future wife) 19-year-old Elizabeth Siddal, put on an elaborate silvered gown that Millais had bought and lay in a heated bathtub while Millias painted his Ophelia in the Hogsmill. The resulting work was not immediately accepted as a masterpiece, although it has since developed almost iconic status. Ophelia was made consistent with the principles of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, of which Millais was a founding member: it contains abundant detail, intense colors and a complex composition, and it acknowledges that mimesis, or imitation of nature, is central to art’s purpose. The Pre-Raphaelites despised the brown tones that prevailed in many Academic-style landscapes, and one of their most important technical innovations was to replace the dark background such as bitumen used by most artists with a white ground, or even a wet, white ground, to bring out a shimmering brilliance in their colors, as seen particularly in the greens of Ophelia.

282. Max Schmitt in a Single Scull (The Champion Single Sculls)

Artist: Thomas Eakins
Date: 1871
Period/Style: Realism; US
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.7 ft. tall by 3.8 ft. wide
Current location: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Thomas_Eakins_Max_Schmitt_in_a_Single_Scull 2
In 1870, American painter Thomas Eakins returned to Philadelphia after several years studying art in Paris, where realism was then the dominant style. An avid athlete, Eakins soon found himself caught up in the sport of rowing, as part of a sports club that sponsored regular competitions. One of the top solo rowers (or scullers) was Eakins’ boyhood friend, attorney Max Schmitt. Eakins also found artistic inspiration in the sport and began to make sketches and watercolors of scullers and other rowers on the Schuylkill River, working outdoors. After watching Schmitt win the October 1870 championship in the single sculls category, Eakins produced his first oil painting on the subject of rowing. The result is a premier example of an American version of French realism, with multiple perspective points and the use of aerial perspective in the far background. We see a calm, clear autumn day on the river, at a turn in the race course, with Schmitt resting and turning towards the viewer. A series of horizontals (the scull itself, the ripples in the water, the reflections, the two bridges in the background) guide our eyes through the composition. Near the center of the canvas, behind Schmitt, a second rower is straining in mid-stroke; closer inspection reveals that this is a self-portrait of the artist, who has signed the painting by writing his name on the stern of his scull (see detail in image below). Upon exhibition in 1871, the painting received few favorable reviews, some feeling that the sport of rowing was not a dignified subject for a work of art. Eakins eventually gave the painting to Schmitt as a gift. After Schmitt died, his widow sold the painting to Eakins’ widow, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art eventually purchased it in the 1930s, by which point the critical view of the work had improved significantly.
eakins max schmitt detail

283. The Isle of the Dead 

Artist: Arnold Böcklin
Date: The original version and the first variation were painted in 1880. Subsequent versions were painted in 1883, 1884 and 1886.
Period/Style: Symbolism; Switzerland
Medium: All but one of the artworks were made with oil paints on canvas. The 1880 version in the Metropolitan Museum of Art is made with oil paints on wood panels.
Dimensions: The first 1880 version is 3.6 ft. tall by 5.1 ft. wide; the second 1880 version is 2.4 ft. tall by 3.9 ft. wide. The 1883 and 1886 versions are 2.6 ft. tall by 4.9 ft. wide.
Current locations: Kunstmuseum Basel, Basel, Switzerland (original, 1880); Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1880); Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Germany (1883); Museum of Fine Arts, Leipzig, Germany (1886) 
Bocklin isle of the dead basel
Chances are, if you walked into a middle-class home in Germany in the first part of the 20th Century, you would see a print on the wall of a small boat heading to a strange island. The painting the print was based on was The Isle of the Dead by Swiss Symbolist Arnold Böcklin. Symbolism was a movement of poets, painters and other artists who rejected naturalism and realism in favor of spirituality, the imagination and dreams. In 1880, Böcklin created what he called a ‘dream image’ of a small boat approaching an island on which rocky cliffs and cypress trees surround a number of carved tombs. The painting has a mysterious, mystical quality but without any specific religious imagery. Böcklin did not title his works, but an art dealer, borrowing a phrase from one of Böcklin’s letters, gave the work the title Isle of the Dead. When Böcklin’s patron Marie Berner saw the first version of Isle of the Dead in his studio, she asked the artist to make a version for her, but she requested that he paint a female figure and a coffin in the boat (representing her and her recently deceased husband). Böcklin did so, and added these elements to the original version (see image above). The popularity of the image led him to make three more versions, with variations of time of day and the specific features of the island. Four of the five versions survive; an 1884 version, which hung in a Berlin bank, was destroyed during a World War II bomb attack. Shown below are:
(1) the second, somewhat smaller version, painted with oil on wood in 1880 for Marie Berna, now in Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (below left);
(2) the third version was painted in 1883, and is now in the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin (below right);
(3) the fifth version was painted in 1886 on commission from the Museum of Fine Arts in Leipzig, where it remains (see third image below). The most popular version is that of 1883; it takes place under lighter skies than the two 1880 versions. When this version came up for sale in 1933, a fan of Böcklin’s named Adolf Hitler purchased it; this version is now in the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin.

 

284. 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).
  

285. Sunflowers 

Artist: Vincent Van Gogh
Dates: Van Gogh made four sunflower paintings in Arles in August 1888. In January 1889, he made three copies of two of the paintings.
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; The Netherlands/France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: The seven paintings vary in size. The largest (now destroyed) was 3.2 ft. tall by 2.3 ft. wide. The smallest is 2.4 ft. tall by 1.9 ft. wide.
Locations: (1) Private collection; (2) Destroyed in US air raid on Osaka, Japan on August 6, 1945; (3) Neue Pinakothek in Munich, Germany; (4) National Gallery in London. There is a copy of (3) in the Philadelphia Museum of Art and copies of (4) in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Sompo Japan Museum of Art in Tokyo.
 
“The sunflower is somewhat my own,” Vincent van Gogh once wrote to his brother Theo. Van Gogh painted numerous paintings of sunflowers in his short career. He portrayed sunflowers in all stages of growth, from full bloom to withered stalks. While in Paris in 1886-1888, he painted four paintings of sunflowers that have run to seed. In August 1888, in Arles, he painted four paintings of sunflowers in vases with different numbers of flowers and different color schemes, and then in January 1889 he painted three copies of two of the August 1888 paintings. Van Gogh’s arrival in France in 1886 and his exposure to the paintings of the Impressionists had broadened his palette from the dark tones of his earlier work to the much brighter and lighter shades of his last years. The invention of new synthetic yellow pigments allowed Van Gogh to paint a multitude of shades of yellow; he could now represent sunlight, sunflowers, and wheat fields with a vibrancy and shimmer that had not been seen before. August 1888’s quartet of sunflower paintings was created in anticipation of a visit from painter Paul Gauguin. Van Gogh dreamed of creating an artists’ colony, but his difficult personality meant that no one volunteered to join him when he left Paris for Arles. Gauguin agreed to stay with Van Gogh as a favor to Theo, who had helped sell Gauguin’s art. The four sunflower canvases from August 1888 are: (1) Still Life: Vase with Twelve Sunflowers (blue green background) (above left); (2) Still Life: Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers (yellow background) (above right); (3) Three Sunflowers in a Vase (turquoise background) (below left): and (4) Five Sunflowers in a Vase (royal blue background) (below right). Van Gogh signed (1) and (2) and hung them in the room where Gauguin was to stay. The visit was cut short when Van Gogh was hospitalized for cutting off almost all of his left ear after a quarrel with Gauguin. In analyzing Van Gogh’s sunflower paintings, art historians point to the influence of Japanese woodblock prints, which were an obsession with Van Gogh, as well as floral still life paintings from the Dutch Golden Age, which were often taken as memento mori – reminders of man’s mortality. Van Gogh’s powerful spiritual beliefs may be on display here: we see the sunflowers in various states of living and dying, with the seed heads containing the rebirth of the next generation, a symbol perhaps of resurrection.
 

286. Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889

Artist: James Ensor
Date: 1888
Period/Style: Symbolism; proto-Expressionism; Belgium
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 8.3 ft. tall by 14.1 ft. wide
Current location: Getty Center, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, California
ensor christ's entry
Although Belgian Symbolist  James Ensor was an atheist, he identified with Jesus as both an advocate for the poor and oppressed and as another humiliated visionary. In the controversial Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889, Ensor imagines a near future in which the coming of Jesus to Belgium becomes an excuse for a parade of horribles: a sea of gruesome masked faces representing the herdlike masses and their opportunist leaders almost completely obscures the figure of Jesus (an Ensor self-portrait) riding on a donkey (see detail in image below). Ensor’s parents owned a store that sold, among other things, Shrove Tuesday masks, which played an important role in his mature work – here it is difficult to distinguish the masks and the faces beneath them. Leading the parade is atheist social reformer Emile Littré, dressed as a bishop, with a drum major’s baton. Also visible are Belgian politicians, Ensor’s friends and family, and historical figures, including the Marquise de Sade at lower right. Slogans on banners and posters praise Jesus but also cynically promote political agendas and commercial products (including a brand of mustard!). The message is the second coming of Jesus would become a tawdry spectacle manipulated by those in power for their own purposes. Ensor’s style is often deliberately crude, especially in the foreground figures. Ensor opposed the latest trend of pointillism and chose instead to use palette knives, spatulas and both ends of his brush to slap on large patches of color. The heads of the crowd, which become smaller and smaller as they fade into the background, mock the tiny dots of Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grand Jatte, which had recently visited Belgium. Disgusted with traditional art societies, Ensor had joined the more radical Les XX, but that group had fallen under the spell of French Impressionism and Post-Impressionism and rejected Ensor’s masterpiece. Instead, Ensor hung the enormous canvas (measuring) in his studio. Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889 was not displayed publicly until 1929, when it was recognized as a precursor of Expressionism. 
ensor christ's entry detail

287. Self-Portrait

Artist: Vincent Van Gogh
Date: September 1889
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; The Netherlands/France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.1 ft. tall by 1.8 ft. wide
Current location: Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France

In December 1888, while living in Arles, France with fellow painter Paul Gauguin, Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh was experiencing a mental breakdown; after an argument with Gauguin, Van Gogh cut off almost all of his left ear. After several hospital stays to recover from the ear injury (and the massive loss of blood), he committed himself to a mental asylum in Saint-Rémy in May 1889. He began painting again in September 1889, but remained at the asylum (with a number of visits to Arles) until discharged in May 1890. On July 29, 1890, he committed suicide. During the last 10 years of his life, Van Gogh created at least 43 self-portraits. A form of visual diary, the paintings record the changes in Van Gogh’s painting style as well as his physical and mental decline. Scholars have noted the critical self-analysis and questioning of identity that Van Gogh undertakes in these highly revealing portraits. Van Gogh’s letters indicate that he was consciously seeking to capture something in these painted works that could not be captured by photography, then a relatively new technology. He looked to the brutal honesty of his fellow countryman Rembrandt’s self-portraits as a model. Van Gogh painted the September 1889 Self-Portrait nine months after he cut off his ear and four months after he arrived at the asylum. Unlike Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear and Pipe (see image below left) and Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear (see image below right) from January 1889, which draw attention to the self-mutilation, here he paints himself from the left, hiding the injury. He wears a suit, not his usual working pea jacket. There is an anxious inward stare in his eyes; as one art historian put it, he has the look of “a man trying to hold himself together.” The dominant green and turquoise blue, normally calming colors, conflict jarringly with the blazing orange of his beard and hair, whose undulations are amplified by the churning energy of the swirls of the background, which are reminiscent of the turbulent sky in The Starry Night.
 

288. 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.”

289. At the Moulin Rouge

Artist: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Date: 1892-1895
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4 ft. tall by 4.6 ft. wide
Current location: Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois 
Toulouse-Lautrec At_the_moulin_rouge_
Born into an aristocratic family, but disabled by childhood injuries to his legs, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec found solace in his art and the company of the entertainers and others who frequented the clubs in the somewhat seedy Paris neighborhood of Montmartre. Toulouse-Lautrec was a regular at several night clubs and cabarets in Montmartre, including the Moulin Rouge, a cabaret that opened in 1889. At the Moulin Rouge introduces us to the club’s demimonde of singers, dancers, artists and hangers-on, but does so with a caution: the viewer is barred from entry by the balustrade that cuts off the left lower corner of the painting, yet also leads the eye into the center of activity. We are outsiders looking in, hoping to become one of the chosen few. The technique is familiar from Japanese ukiyo-e woodcut prints, which were highly praised and imitated by Parisian artists at that time. On the other side of this barrier, we see on the right English dancer May Milton, her half-face (another ukiyo-e motif – the human figure cut in half by the border of the picture) lit an eerie green from below by the new electric lights. The face is so startling in its ugliness that after Toulouse-Lautrec’s death, an art dealer cut off that section of the painting, believing that it would be more likely to sell without the green-faced monster. Fortunately, the separate pieces were rejoined, allowing us a full sense of the artist’s vision of the nightclub’s ambiance. In the center, a group of artists and entertainers – including the orange-haired dancer Jane Avril, with her back to us, and several other identified Moulin Rouge habitués – converse together at a table well stocked with drinks. In the right background, the cabaret’s star dancer, La Goulue (Louise Weber), fixes her hair in a mirror. In the center background, we see a self-portrait of the artist, accompanied by his very tall cousin Gabriel Tapié de Céléyran. Toulouse-Lautrec was not only a customer of the Moulin Rouge and other Montmartre nightclubs, he also sketched there, bringing the sketches back to his studio to create the finished products. Sometimes those creations were oil paintings, such as At the Moulin Rouge, but he also created a number of highly regarded advertising posters for several of the venues (including the Moulin Rouge), many of them featuring the same characters (Jane Avril, La Goulue, etc.), but in a more abstract style (see his 1891 poster for the Moulin Rouge featuring La Goulue in image below). 
toulouse lautrec moulin rouge poster

290. 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.”

291. Le Bonheur de Vivre (Joy of Life)

Artist: Henri Matisse
Date: 1905-1906
Period/Style: Fauvism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 5.8 ft tall by 7.9 ft wide
Current location: Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
matisse joy of life
The composition of Matisse’s Le Bonheur de Vivre (The Joy of Life) may have been inspired by a print of Agostino Carracci’s late 16th Century engraving of a 1585 painting by Pauwels Franck called Love in the Golden Age, but it’s style of execution was radical and controversial. Contemporary critics savaged the painting, not just for the Fauvist use of color to express emotional reality, but more for the daring rejection of the rules of perspective: the sizes and shapes of the adult humans seem to depend on the viewer being in many places at once, including inside the world of the painting. This break with tradition – which outraged some, including painter Paul Signac, who thought Matisse had “gone to the dogs” – was inspired by Cezanne and in turn inspired Picasso, who is said to have begun Les Demoiselles d’Avignon after seeing this painting hanging in the Paris home of its then-owner, Gertrude Stein. (While others thought Matisse had gone too far, Picasso felt he had not gone far enough.) Stein recognized the importance of the painting, writing that it “created a new formula for color that would leave its mark on every painter of the period.” Random Trivia: Matisse returned to the circle of dancers, seen in the background here, in The Dance, from 1909 and 1910. 

292. Le Portugais (The Portuguese)

Artist: Georges Braque
Date: 1911
Period/Style: Analytic Cubism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.8 ft. tall by 2.7 ft. wide
Current location: Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland

If attempting to depict three-dimensionality on a two-dimensional surface is a lie – as Picasso and other modernists alleged – then how should painters represent three-dimensional objects in a truthful way? Cubism’s answer was: by breaking the object into multiple two-dimensional sections and presenting them simultaneously on the canvas. The traditionalist looked at a subject from a single point of view and then drew or painted what he saw, using techniques like linear perspective, modeling, and foreshortening. The Cubists rejected these limitations. As Cubism co-founder Georges Braque once said, “Perspective is a ghastly mistake which it has taken four centuries to redress.” One of the goals of the Analytic Cubism developed by Braque and Pablo Picasso in 1908-1912 was to show three-dimensional objects from all points of view – front, back, top, bottom, outside and inside – on the two-dimensional surface of the canvas. To do this, they deconstructed the scene – whether a portrait, a landscape, a still life or, as in The Portuguese, a musician performing in a café or night club – into a series of two-dimensional segments, each containing a portion of the total view. To emphasize the form and structure of the objects, Braque and Picasso chose a very limited, almost monochromatic palette of browns, gray and greens. What we see are complex, multiple views of objects and figures, presented as overlapping monochromatic planes, which seem to build up from, or in front of the canvas. (In traditional paintings, the frame seemed to open a window into a receding space in which objects appear to be behind the plane of the canvas.) As Analytic Cubism progressed, it became more and more difficult to determine what objects or figures are being deconstructed. In The Portuguese, we can make out parts of a human being (with a mustache, perhaps), the sound hole and strings of a musical instrument, and some accoutrements of a bar or café. By stenciling letters and numbers directly on the canvas (including “D BAL”, possibly a fragment of ‘Grand Bal’, or Grand Ball – maybe from a poster on the wall of the café, obscured by the guitar player), Braque is drawing our attention to its flat surface. In some ways, he implies, a canvas is no different from a page of a book or a newspaper or the wallpaper on the wall; when we read a newspaper, we do not expect the letters and words to create an illusion of three-dimensionality on the page, why should the representation of other objects be any different? By including extraneous material like letters and numbers, Braque is also laying the groundwork for collage, which was the basis for Synthetic Cubism, which Braque and Picasso developed beginning in 1912.

293. The Bride of the Wind (The Tempest)

Artist: Oskar Kokoschka
Date: 1913-1914
Period/Style: Expressionism; Austria
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 5.9 ft. tall by 7.2 ft. wide
Current location: Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland 
The Bride of the Wind (also known as The Tempest), by Austrian Expressionist Oskar Kokoschka, shows two lovers in a strange bed reminiscent of a giant seashell, apparently outdoors – mountains loom in the background, and something moon-like sits in the sky. There are swirling masses of paint surrounding the couple. Are they in a boat in a storm? In their bed in a room? Or do the violent brushstrokes tell us of the inner thoughts of the man who cannot sleep, or the dreams of his partner? There is a powerful turbulence expressed by the forms and colors in what is considered Kokoschka’s masterpiece. The Bride of the Wind is considered an allegorical painting, but it is also a double portrait of the artist (on the left, wide awake, anxiously staring into space) and his lover Alma Mahler (on the right, sleeping and beautiful, and painted with a lighter touch than any other portion of the canvas). Kokoschka and Mahler, the widow of Gustav Mahler and a gifted composer in her own right, had a tempestuous three-year relationship that came to an end in 1914. Critics disagree about whether Kokoschka completed painting The Bride of the Wind before or after Mahler left him and he became creepily obsessed with her (to the point of commissioning a life-size mannequin in her image). Although Kokoschka rejected the label of expressionist, his style – with its dramatic colors, broad brushstrokes, reduced forms, and raw emotion – fits squarely within that movement.

294. The Gates of Hell

Artist: Auguste Rodin
Date: Rodin received the commission in 1880. The bulk of the work was probably completed before 1900, but Rodin continued to work on and rework the sculpture in his studio until his death in 1917.
Period/Style: Realism; Impressionism; France
Medium: Set of doors with relief sculptures depicting 186 figures. The original is made of plaster, and there are eight bronze casts.
Dimensions: 19.7 ft. tall by 13.1 ft. wide by 3.3 ft. deep.
Current locations: The original plaster cast is in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. Bronze casts are in various collections, including: the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia (1926-1928 cast); Musée Rodin in Paris (1926-1928 cast); and Kunsthaus Zürich in Zürich, Switzerland (1949 cast)
gates of hell 1  
In 1880, the French government commissioned Auguste Rodin to design a pair of brass doors for a new decorative arts museum in Paris, based on Dante’s Divine Comedy. Five years earlier, Rodin had visited Florence, where he had studied Lorenzo Ghiberti’s doors for the Florence Baptistery, dubbed The Gates of Paradise. Rodin conceived an elaborate sculpture based on Dante’s Inferno, to be known as The Gates of Hell. He imagined a Hell with no gravity, which would allow him more freedom in choosing positions and postures for his sculpted figures (see details in images below) When the plans for the decorative museum were put on hold indefinitely, Rodin decided to keep working on the project; it was still in his studio when he died in 1917. Among the figures are the originals for The Thinker, The Kiss (later removed) and The Three Shades, all of which Rodin made for The Gates but also enlarged into independent pieces. Over the 37 years that he worked on The Gates of Hell, Rodin moved away from the idea of depicting specific stories from the Inferno and began to focus on expressing universal truths and powerful emotions through his figures. After Rodin’s death, the plaster pieces were assembled to produce a version of The Gates of Hell. The plaster original is now in the Musée d’Orsay, which is located, ironically, at the same location as the never-built decorative arts museum. No bronze casts of The Gates of Hell were made in Rodin’s lifetime. The first two bronzes were cast in 1926-1928.
SONY DSC    

295. Suprematist Composition: White on White

Artist: Kazimir Malevich
Date: 1918
Period/Style: Suprematism; USSR
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.6 ft. square
Current location: Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY

After shaking up the art world with his Black Square (1915), Russian Suprematist Kazimir Malevich created a painting in which he painted a tilted white square on a slightly differently colored white background. (Anyone who’s ever selected house paints knows that there are many, many shades of white.) The image was titled Suprematist Composition: White on White. It was Malevich’s intent to make the top square seem as if it were floating above the canvas, literally taking flight within the new freedom. In addition to anticipating Minimalism by several decades (quite a few artists from the 1950s on, including Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Ryman, Agnes Martin, and Jo Baer, have created all-white paintings), White on White embodied the Suprematist intention to free viewers from the prison of pictorialism, the idea that what is on the canvas must in some way represent a reality in the world outside. Reducing picture to a bare minimum allowed Malevich to dispense with depth, volume and even color, but not the act of creation. As one critic noted, White on White is not impersonal because the trace of the artist’s hand is visible in the richly textured paint surface, the subtle variations of white and the delicate brushwork. As another commented, “The imprecise outlines of the asymmetrical square generate a feeling of infinite space rather than definite borders.” This freedom reflected the optimism that Malevich and many others had in 1918, a year after the Russian Revolution, when they believed they were building a new society where materialism allowed for spiritual freedom. As Malevich said in the program to a 1919 exhibition of his work, “Swim in the white free abyss, infinity is before you.” Random Trivia: Malevich’s very serious painting was preceded by a not-so-serious painting by French humorist Alphonse Allais, whose 1883 work entitled First Communion of Anemic Young Girls in the Snow, may be the first deliberate attempt at an all-white painting.

296. The Human Condition 

Artist: René Magritte
Dates: Version I: 1933; Version II: 1935
Period/Style: Surrealism; Belgium
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: Each canvas is 3.2 ft. tall by 2.7 ft. wide
Current locations: Version I: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Version II: Simon Spierer Collection, Geneva, Switzerland

The paintings of Belgian Surrealist René Magritte, whose hyperrealistic painting style owes its origin in part to Magritte’s early years as an advertising artist, are both witty and eerily unsettling. Magritte gave the name The Human Condition to two different paintings with the same theme (and the same size), made two years apart. In both works, we see what is apparently a completed painting on an easel. In the first, we are looking through a curtained window (windows feature in many of Magritte’s works, almost always seen from inside looking out) onto a somewhat bland landscape; in the second, we are looking through an archway onto a (also somewhat bland) seascape. In both works, the painting on the canvas both blocks our view of the actual landscape, while also recreating and blending with that landscape perfectly, an effect achieved through a deft manipulation of the rules of linear perspective. The paintings ask questions about both the nature of perception and the nature of art. Magritte draws on the philosophy of Immanuel Kant and Ludwig Wittgenstein to posit that when we look at the world, what we see is not the reality (Kant’s noumena, or “thing-in-itself”), but a mental representation of that outside world that exists only inside our heads. Yet we persist in taking the mental picture for the real thing. This conflict – the impossible desire to perceive the world outside our minds, and the lie we tell ourselves that our perceptions put us in contact with that external reality – is the human condition. But Magritte is also commenting on the issues raised by Matisse and Picasso and their modernist followers. We assume that the landscapes on the canvases in these paintings block the “real” landscape behind them, but do they? Why do we believe that we know what we will see if the easels are removed? Both the “real” landscape and the landscape on the easel are painted. Neither is real and so neither needs to follow any of the physical rules that apply to external reality (that is, external to the painter’s canvas). Just as a mental picture of a thing is not the thing-in-itself, a painting of that thing is also a kind of lie. Magritte is reminding us that traditional perspectival painting (the kind that Magritte is using here) is a lie – not only is it impossible for a two dimensional canvas to reproduce nature’s three-dimensionality, but any attempt to represent external reality in a work of art must fail. Art, then, merely makes overt a delusion that is normally covert: we cannot gain direct access to the world of our perceptions, whether we perceive reality or artistic representations of reality.

297. Nude in the Bath 

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

298. The Old King

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

299. Christina’s World

Artist: Andrew Wyeth
Date: 1948
Period/Style: Contemporary Realism; US
Medium: Egg tempera on a gessoed wood panel
Dimensions: 2.7 ft. tall by 3.9 ft. wide
Current location: Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
Wyeth Christinas World
Why is it that, when the Museum of Modern Art in New York not long ago published a list of the most important works of art in its collection, American artist Andrew Wyeth’s famous painting Christina’s World (which MOMA bought in 1948) was not mentioned? Probably because, although Christina’s World is beloved by many members of the public as a beautifully understated and profoundly moving painting, many critics and art historians find the work drab, kitschy and overly sentimental. Wyeth met Anna Christina Olson in the 1940s on one of his summer trips to Cushing, Maine, where Olson and her brother lived in a picturesque farmhouse on a hill. When Wyeth first saw Olson, he watched from a window while she, 55 years old at the time, slowly crawled across a field up to the house. Wyeth and his wife Betsy befriended Christina, who had a degenerative muscle disorder (possibly polio), and did not want to use a wheelchair, and he eventually decided to paint a scene with a composite figure that would represent Christina’s dignity and struggle. For the figure’s legs, torso and head, Wyeth used Betsy, then in her mid-20s, as the model. An aunt sat as the model for the figure’s hair, and Christina herself modeled for the figure’s arms and hands. Wyeth rearranged the buildings of the farm to more properly balance the asymmetrical composition. Employing a style known as magic realism, Wyeth recorded the arid landscape, rural house, and shacks with great detail, painting minute blades of grass, individual strands of hair, and nuances of light and shadow. Known for his muted palette, Wyeth’s use of pink in Christina’s dress, while conservative by Expressionist standards, emerges as a shock of vibrant color against the surrounding landscape. Wyeth’s subdued tones were in part a result of his choice of materials. In 1942, he switched from oil paints to quick-drying egg tempera, the medium of choice in Medieval Europe.

300. Number 1, 1950 “Lavender Mist”

Artist: Jackson Pollock
Date: 1950
Period/Style: Abstract Expressionism; Action Painting; US
Medium: Oil paints, enamels and aluminum on untreated canvas
Dimensions: 7.2 ft. tall by 9.8 ft. wide
Current location: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
pollock lavender-mistJackson Pollock was one of a subset of Abstract Expressionists known as Action Painters, because they believed that the act of creating the artwork was the artwork. The resulting painting or sculpture was, in effect, a byproduct of the process, like a documentary film of a performance. Pollock grew up in the American Southwest and he was fascinated by Navajo sand painters, for whom the meticulous creation of abstract patterns with sand served a religious purpose (see image below left). Pollock eventually gave up traditional painting methods and began to lay unprimed canvases on the floor of his studio and stand over them, flinging or dripping paint onto the surface. He did not like to give titles to his “drip” or “action” paintings – he just liked to number them, but titles apparently made the paintings easier to sell. Art critic Clement Greenberg is to blame for the title Lavender Mist that has attached to the drip painting that Pollock titled Number 1, 1950. Even though there is no lavender in the painting and “lavender mist” sounds like a perfume or a tacky landscape painting, Pollock agreed to add it as a subtitle. The large-format canvas contains many layers of paint, mostly black, white, russet, orange, silver and stone blue, which do create a mauve, possibly even lavender glow. Thick long streaks of black, often near the edges of the canvas, present focal points of emphasis, but, as one critic noted, “The eye is kept continually eager, not allowed to rest on any particular area.” Instead of looking at a finished product, a work that has reached its resting point of equilibrium, “everything is in flux, caught in the act of becoming”, as one scholar pointed out. Texture is also an element that Pollock chooses to manipulate through random processes as well as conscious control. In some spots, the multiple layers of paint create a three-dimensional architecture of paint rising from the canvas (see detail in image below right). Perhaps to emphasize the primitive aspects of spattering paint on a large surface, Pollock signed the work by placing his handprints in one of the upper corners, like a prehistoric cave painter.
sand painting  pollock lavender mist detail

301. 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.

302. Painted Bronze: Ale Cans

Artist: Jasper Johns
Date: 1960
Period/Style: Neo-Dada; Pop Art; US
Medium: Bronze sculpture with oil paints
Dimensions: 5.5 inches tall by 8 inches wide by 4.7 inches deep
Current location: Offentliche Kunstsammlung, Basel, Switzerland
johns painted bronze
American artist William de Kooning once complained/joked that gallery owner and art dealer Leo Castelli could sell anything, even a couple of beer cans. American artist Jasper Johns, famous for his reworkings of the American flag, heard the story and decided that two beer cans would make a good sculpture. A student of Dadaist Marcel Duchamp, Johns was interested in the difference between an object and an artistic representation of the object. Johns made bronze casts of two cans of Ballantine Ale. One is punctured, hollow and light; the second has no holes in it and is much heavier. Johns painted the cans to look like Ballantine Ale cans and placed them on a small pedestal. At first glance, we seem to be looking at real beer cans, but close inspection reveals brush strokes and blurred writing. So that no one would miss the point that these were not really beer cans, Johns titled the piece Painted Bronze, also known as Painted Bronze (Ale Cans) to distinguish it from another sculpture with the same title. Many of Johns’ works involve the reworking of everyday objects into art – things like flags and targets that we see so often we no longer really see them. As one commentator put it, Johns “eliminates the role of composition through his choice of subject – by doing that, he forces you to focus on the means of representation.” Some commentators interpret the pair of cans as a representation of Johns’ close relationship with Robert Rauschenberg, which took a turn for the worse about this time when Rauschenberg moved to Florida. This theory may explain why Johns painted the word “Florida” on one of the cans. Epilogue: Although he never sold any actual beer cans, Leo Castelli did sell Painted Bronze for $900.

303. Marilyn Diptych

Artist: Andy Warhol
Date: 1962
Period/Style: Pop Art; US
Medium: Acrylic paint on canvas covered with 50 silkscreened reproductions of a photograph
Dimensions: 6.7 ft. tall by 9.5 ft. wide
Current location: Tate, London, England, UK
warhol_marilyn_diptychAndy Warhol and other Pop artists rejected the notion that artists – their intentions, their emotions, their technical skill – should be the focus of art. Instead of turning inward, they looked out to the society and culture surrounding them, a society filled with factories, superhighways, mass-produced consumer goods, advertising jingles, and the cult of celebrity. Just days after the death of mega-celebrity Marilyn Monroe in 1962, Andy Warhol bought a publicity still photograph of her from the 1953 movie Niagara. This photo formed the basis for his large Marilyn Diptych. The diptych consists of 50 reproductions of the publicity photo, 25 on the left, painted with bright but unrealistic colors, 25 on the right in black and white, fading as we move to the right. By titling this painting a diptych, Warhol hearkens back to the tradition of altarpieces in Roman Catholic churches of the Middle Ages; each panel of the diptych would show a scene from the life of Mary, Jesus or one of the saints. Warhol’s title tells us that he believes Monroe, a celebrity and a tragic figure, is a secular saint. The use of a publicity photo means that we are always looking at the celebrity as shaped by the Hollywood machine, not the real person. The multiple images remind us of the 24-frames-per-second that generate the illusion of reality in the movies. On the left, the Technicolor Marilyn appears as we see her in the movies and the publicity machine. On the right, we get a glimpse of the dark reality of fame, and the fading mortality of Marilyn’s star. On the one hand, the repetition destroys the subject’s individuality, reducing her to a cog in a machine. Yet, at the same time, Warhol’s diptych acts as a secular shrine where the viewer can feel a sense of the pathos of this woman’s too-short and tragic life. Warhol shows that even while he is mechanically appropriating mass produced images, he can use the creative process to achieve an original and powerful result.

304. Angel of the North

Artist: Antony Gormley
Date: 1998
Period/Style: Contemporary art; UK
Medium: Cor-Ten steel sculpture with concrete base.
Dimensions: 66 ft. tall; 177 ft. wide.
Current location: Gateshead, England, UK. Gormley also made five life-size cast-iron maquettes, one of which is on display at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.
angel of the northWhen drivers on the A1 and A167 roads in the far north of England pass a hill in Gateshead that sits atop a former coal mine, they encounter a remarkable vision: a statue of an enormous angelic figure, standing firmly against the sky (see image below). Angel of the North is a steel sculpture by British artist Antony Gormley, who served as the model for the angel’s body. It stands 66 ft. tall, with a wingspan of 177 ft. across. The wings are curved forward at a 3.5 degree angle, to create the sense that the faceless statue is embracing the land in front of it. The body weights 110 tons; the wings are 55 tons each. Built to withstand 100 mph winds, the sculpture is anchored to bedrock 70 feet underground by 660 tons of concrete. The statue is located in a part of England that has suffered greatly in the transition from the heavy industrial economy of the past to today’s information age. Gormley’s intentions in making the statue and placing it in Gateshead were threefold: (1) to commemorate the coal miners who worked beneath the hill from the 1700s to the 1960s; (2) to inspire the community as it finds its way in the new economy; and (3) to serve as a focal point for people to express their hopes and fears. Although some opposed the project at first, it has become a beloved icon; it is the largest sculpture in the United Kingdom. Gormley also made six life-size maquettes from cast iron; one sold for two million pounds in 2008. A much smaller bronze maquette that was used in fundraising in the 1990s became the most valuable item ever appraised on the TV show Antiques Roadshow, where it was valued at 1 million pounds.
angelofthenorth

On 4 Lists

305. 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.
 

306. 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.
 

307. 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.

308. 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.

309. 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.  

310. 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.

311. 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.”

312. 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.

313. 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.

314. 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

315. 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.

316. 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

317. 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).

318. 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

319. 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.

320. 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

321. 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.

322. 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.

323. Amazon Frieze (Amazonomachy), Mausoleum of Halicarnassus

Artists: Leochares, Bryaxis, Scopas of Paros, & Timotheus
Date: c. 357-350 BCE
Period/Style:
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). 

324. 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.

325. 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

326. 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)
 

327. Relief Sculptures, Great Stupa of Amaravati

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

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

328. 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