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Famous Painters Blogroll

Anguissola, Three Sisters Playing Chess and Phillip II of Spain

Bingham, Fur Traders Descending the Missouri

BonheurPlowing in the Nivernais

Bonheur, The Horse Fair

Botticelli Primavera

Caravaggio, Fashion and Art History

CaravaggioConversion of St. Paul

Caravaggio, Young, Sick Bacchus and Basket of Fruit

Caravaggio, Cardsharps and Fortune Teller

Caravaggio, St. Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy

Caravaggio, Taking of Christ (Kiss of Judas)

Caravaggio Paintings at the Villa Borghese

Cave Paintings

Cezanne, Bathers

Cezanne, Card Players

Cezanne, Most Famous Paintings 

Copley, Paul Revere

David, Death of Marat 

David, Death of Socrates

David, Napoleon Crossing the Alps

de Kooning, Retrospective at MoMA (Part I)

de Kooning,Excavation and Painting, 1948 

de KooningWoman I

Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People  

Diebenkorn, The Ocean Park Series

Duncanson, Robert Seldon.  Art History Welcomes Duncanson 

Durer, The Four Apostles

El Greco, Burial of Count Orgaz

FontanaPortrait of a Noblewoman

Frankenthaler, Color Field Painting and Mountains and Sea

Gainsborough, The Blue Boy

Gentileschi, Artemisia.  Judith Beheading Holofernes

Gentileschi, Artemisia.  Self-Portrait as an Allegory of Painting 

Ghent Altarpiece.  

Ghent Altarpiece via zoom

GiorgioneThree Philosophers 

Goya, Family of Charles IV

Goya, The Third of May 1808 

Goya, Duchess of Alba; Saturn Devouring his Son; Two Old Men; Half-Submerged Dog; Black Paintings

Grunewald, Isenheim Altarpiece

Hals, Banquet of the Officers of the St. George Civic Guard

Hals, The Laughing Cavalier

Hals, Regents of St. Elizabeth's Hospital

Hopper, Nighthawks

Ingres, Grande Odalisque and Portrait of Madame Moissetier

Isenheim Altarpiece

Kahlo, Renowned Frida Kahlo Paintings.  

Angelica Kauffmann.  Self-Portrait Torn Between Music and Painting and David Garrick.  

Klimt, The Kiss and Adele Bloch-Bauer

Leonardo, Painter at the Court of Milan, National Gallery, London 

Leonardo, La Bella Principessa 

Leonardo, New Mona Lisa

Leonardo, Benois Madonna and Madonna Litta 

Leonardo, Savior of the World(Salvator Mundi) 

Leonardo, The Virgin and Child with St. Anne

Leyster, Famous Female Painters 

ManetA Bar at the Folies-Bergere

Manet, Luncheon in the Studio

Manet, The Old Musician

Manet, Street Singer

MantegnaDead Christ

Matisse Paintings, In Search of True Painting

Matisse, The DanceThe Music

Matisse, The Cone Collection

Matisse, The Red Studio

Matisse, The Yellow Dress

Michelangelo, Crucifixion with the Madonna

Michelangelo, Famous Paintings

Michelangelo, La Pieta with Two Angels (latest attribution?)

Michelangelo, St. John the Baptist Bearing Witness

Modersohn-Becker, Famous Female Painters

Monet, Waterlilies

Morisot, Famous Paintings

MorisotMore Famous Paintings

Munch, The Scream

O'Keeffe, Jack in the Pulpit

Picasso, Girl Before a Mirror

Picasso, Nude, Green Leaves and Bust

Picasso, Portrait of Gertrude Stein

Picasso, Las Meninas

Piero della Francesca, The Baptism of Christ

Poussin, Assumption of the Virgin

Raphael, Sistine Madonna

Rembrandt, Aristotle with a Bust of Homer 

Rembrandt, Night Watch

Rembrandt paintings at Frick Show

Rembrandt, Self-Portrait at an Early AgeJeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem, The Jewish Bride

Rembrandt, The Syndics of the Amsterdam Drapers' Guild

Rubens, Venus and Adonis

Sanchez Cotan, Spanish Still-life

Sargent, El Jaleo

Sargent, Madame X

Steen, The Christening Feast 

Steen paintings at Frick Show

Tanner, The Banjo Lesson and The Thankful Poor

Titian, Assumption of the Virgin

Titian, Bacchus and Ariadne

Titian, Man with a Glove

Titian, Nymph and Shepherd, Allegory of Prudence, Jacopa Strada, St. Jerome, Slaying of Marysas

Titian, Rape of Europa

Uccello, Battle of San Romano

van der Weyden, St. Luke Drawing the Virgin

Velazquez, Pope Innocent X

Vincent van Gogh paintings up to 1889

Vincent van Gogh paintings, 1888-1890

van Eyck, Arnolfini Portrait

van Eyck, Adoration of the Lamb

van Eyck, Ghent Altarpiece

van Gogh, The Potato Eaters

van GoghMemory of Garden at Etten; Tatched Cottages; White House

van Gogh,  Portrait of Madam Trabuc; Morning: Going Out

van Gogh, Starry Night

Velazquez, Juan de Pareja

Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring

Vermeer, The Kitchen Maid

Vermeer, The Allegory of Painting

VermeerGirl with the Red Hat

Warhol, Campbell's Soup Cans

Warhol, Marilyn Diptych and Gold Marilyn 

Warhol, Mao 

Anders Zorn

Famous Paintings by Art Museums - ebooks

Learn about famous paintings to see in these art museums:

Albright-Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo, NY). One of those intimate, small art museums with a stellar collectionFamous Paintings at Albright-Knox. 

Art Institute of Chicago: Plan to see these famous paintings at the Art Institute -- and download an ebook about them.

Louvre Museum, (Paris): one of the largest art museums in the world! Know which Louvre paintings not to miss in this sortable ebook. 

Mauritshuis Museum: explore works by renowned Dutch painters

Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City): download the ebook, Famous-Paintings-Metropolitan-Museum, to learn its must-see masterpieces.

National Gallery (London): with 2300 famous paintings alone in its European painting section, discover highlights to see!  Art Paintings to See at the National Gallery.

Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam): 10 famous paintings not to miss

Washington, D.C. Art Museums: Explore forty famous paintings in Washington, DC in this article.

Most Popular Posts

Michelangelo PaintingsThe Torment of Saint Anthony; The Manchester Madonna;Holy Family (Doni Tondo); and Entombment

Cave Paintings: explore this prehistoric art in Spain and France.

Picasso's Las Meninas: 58 Picasso paintings inspired by Velazquez's Las Meninas

Ghent Altarpiece: the van Eyck masterpiece, one of the most famous artworks ever made. 

Survey of Renaissance Paintings: want to know what Renaissance paintings were all about? Start with 20 of its most famous painters in this sweeping survey! 

Discover more of readers' favorite art history blog posts. 

Female Artists

While we long for the time when artists are artists and genderless, that time isn't yet here.

These are a few of the female artists who've left lasting legacies in the history of painting:

Sofonisba AnguissolaThree Sisters Playing ChessPhillip II of Spain

Rosa Bonheur.  Plowing in the Nivernais.  Horse Fair.

Lavinia Fontana. Portrait of a Noblewoman.

Helen Frankenthaler. Color Field Painting and Mountains and Sea. 

Artemisia Gentileschi.  Judith Beheading Holofernes.  Self-Portrait as an Allegory of Painting.

Frida Kahlo.  Frida and Diego Rivera.  The Two Fridas.  The Love Embrace of the Universe. 

Angelica Kauffmann.  Self-Portrait Torn Between Music and Painting.  David Garrick.

Judith Leyster.  Self-Portrait.  The Proposition. 

Paula Modersohn-Becker. Self-Portrait with an Amber Necklace. Still Life with Goldfish. 

Berthe Morisot.  Refuge in Normandy.  The Cradle. 

Georgia O'Keeffe. Jack in the Pulpit Series. 

Survey of Female Artists

Art History Other

Art History Blogs

ArtDaily: daily breaking news about art museums and art history.

Art Blog by Bob: this brilliant art history blogger of Picture This on Big Think.

Art History Resources. Unwieldly but informative.

Marisol Roman.  A Spanish art history blog.

Mother of all Art & Art History Links: extensive list of online art history resources (including images, research resources, and art history depts.)

smARThistory. Think online art history textbook.  Brilliant. 

Art History Beyond Europe

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Audubon Prints at the New York Historical Society


An art history blog post from Famous Paintings Reviewed.

The New York Historical Society show, Audubon's Aviary: Parts Unknown, showcases a breathtaking display of Audubon prints. 

IAudubon prints Great Blue Heron resized 600f you've ever had the slightest interest in birds or the work of John James Audubon (1785-1851), this show will stoke it.  

The New York Historical Society functioned until 1870 as both an art and a natural history museum.  It owns all 435 watercolor models for the 435 plates in the

John James Aububon.   Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias), Havell plate no. 211, 1821. Watercolor, oil, pastel, graphite, gouache, black ink, and collage on paper, laid on card. Purchased for the New-York Historical Society by public subscription from Mrs. John J. Audubon, 1863.17.211

priceless John James Audubon book, The Birds of America, engraved by Robert Havell. Parts Unknown, the second of three shows collectively titled The Complete Flock, focuses on what many consider the best Audubon prints, his water birds and waders. 

John James Audubon was America's first famous watercolorist whose efforts to preserve wildlife are belatedly being appreciated. He single-handedly transformed the field of Audubon prints Atlantic Puffin resized 600ornothological illustration by showing all birds life-sized.  

His astonishing mastery of watercolor is reason alone to see this show, which lasts until May 26, 2014. Don't miss the audio guide to the calls and songs associated with each species. 

Right: John James Aububon.  Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica). Havell plate 213, 1833.  Watercolor, graphite, gouache, black ink, and black pastel with touches of glazing.  14 1/2 " by 21 7/16". Purchased for the Society by public subscription from Mrs. John J. Audubon, 1863.


Modern Art in Nazi Germany


An art history blog post from Famous Paintings Reviewed.

Shortly after Adolf Hitler came to power as chancellor in 1933, he commissioned construction of a Munich museum to exhibit what he considered ideal artwork.  Its debut exhibition in July 1937 was titled the "Great Germany Art Exhibition" and featured artwork primarily selected Ziegler_Four_elementsby the chancellor himself.

Prominent in this show was The Four Elements  (left) by Adolf Ziegler, Hitler's favorite artist who was charged with expunging modern art from German museums.

His purge totaled some 20,000 pieces of modern art to be destroyed, sold, or hidden, and were featured in a government-sponsored exhibition titled "Entartete Kunst", or "Degenerate Art".  This show, which opened the day after the "Great Germany Art Exhibition", was intended to demonstrate how modern art was polluting German culture.

Adolf Ziegler.  The Four Elements: Fire, Water and Earth, Air.  Oil on canvas, before 1937.  Left to right: 67" by 33"; 67" by 75"; 63" by 30". 

All styles of modern art - abstraction, Cubism, Dada, Expressionism, Surrealism - were castigated and deemed an affront to the Apollonian "classical" society Hitler envisioned.  In Max Beckmann Departure resized 600three years of traveling throughout Germany and Austria, the Degenerate Art exhibition was seen by an estimated three million people. Remarkably, Jews were held culpable for the threat that modern art posed to Germany - even though they represented only 6 of the 112 painters whose works were exhibited.

Right: Max Beckmann. Departure, 1932-35. Side panels 7' 3/4" x 39 1/4", center panel 7' 3/4" x 45 3/8".  Oil on canvas, Museum of Modern Art, New York.

"Degenerate Art: The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany, 1937" runs at New York's Neue Galerie until June 30th, and is well worth enduring the queue.  

Ziegler's Four Elements, so beloved by Hitler that it hung over his fireplace, is exhibited alongside one of the most famous paintings by Max Beckmann, Departure. Famously reticent about the meaning behind his work, Max Beckmann quipped,

"If people cannot understand it of their own accord,... there is no sense in showing it."

Although Departure is rich with enigma and personal meaning, it was created during a
kirchner group artists resized 600horrific time in Germany and clearly alludes to these events.  The side panels convey the cruelty and brutality of life, with the men's faces either hidden or averted in secrecy.  The center panel, which Max Beckmann referred to as The Homecoming, indisputably carries the iconography of freedom.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.  A Group of Artists: Painters of the Brucke. Oil on canvas, 1925-26. Museum Ludwig, Cologne. 

Beckmann described Homecoming by saying,

The Queen carries the greatest treasure - Freedom - as the child in her lap.  Freedom is the one thing that matters - it is the departure, the new start.

Kandinsky Several CirclesThe meaning of Beckmann's triptych was clear enough - Germany's Nationalist Party denounced Departure so viciously that Beckmann emigrated to the Netherlands.

The disdain shown to Max Beckmann, though, paled in comparison to the Nationalists' dislike for the modern art painters of Die Brucke, founded by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erich Heckel, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, and Fritz Bleyl.  Started in 1905, Die Brucke (The Bridge) painters
envisioned themselves as the conduit (or bridge) between historic German art and modern art.  

Their untraditional, dynamic brushwork and bold color diverged radically from prevalent style.

Not surprisingly, Kirchner's A Group of Artists: Painters of the Brucke, was featured in the
Degenerate Art show (all told, 639 works by Kirchner were confiscated as "degenerate.")

Although Kirchner depicts himself and his fellow artists as nonchalant and casual, ostracism took a toll: a year after painting A Group of Artists, Kirchner killed himself while in exile.

Vasily Kandinsky.  Several Circles, 1926.  Oil on canvas, 55 1/4" by 55 3/8".  Guggenheim.

Other seemingly benign modern art paintings were also confiscated, like Several Circles (above) by Max Beckmannm Self portrait Horn resized 600Vasily Kandinsky. While it doesn't have any discernible message critical of the Nationalists, it was guilty of being too modern. 

Several Circles directly nods to 2014: it was sold by the German art dealer, Hildenbrand Gurlitt, whose son, Cornelius Gurlitt, is embroiled in an international controversy over the rightful ownership of allegedly family paintings.

Right.  Max Beckmann.  Self-Portrait with Horn, 1938.  Oil on canvas, approximately 43" by 40".  Neue Galerie, New York.

By 1938, Hitler had grown increasingly vocal with threats of sterilizing and imprisoning degenerate artists, prompting Beckmann to flee to Amsterdam. He immediately painted Self-Portrait with Horn, one of over 80 Max Beckmann self-portraits.  His robe is reminiscent of prison garb, and he looks ready to blow his horn and sound an alarm - perhaps a clarion call. Underneath his signature is the letter "A", which he added to all works painted from Amsterdam.

One of the jewels of "Degenerate Art: The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany, 1937" is a degenerate art ledgerbulging ledger book with painstakingly typed lines detailing, line by line, all the degenerate art confiscated in 1937 and 1938.

Some paintings, still unaccounted for, are symbolized by missing frames hanging throughout the Neue Galerie; an "X" in the ledger denotes those known to have been destroyed.

The enormity of the ledger, on loan from the Victoria and Albert Gallery in London, steals the show. 

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Famous Painters: Horace Pippin


An art history blog post from Famous Paintings Reviewed.

Horace Pippin (1888-1946), now one of the most renowned African American artists, began painting as physical therapy to recover from an arm injury sustained in World World I. Horace Pippin self portrait resized 600This self-taught artist kept an illustrated journal of his war time experiences that would later inform his artwork.

Horace Pippin. Self Portrait, 1944. Oil on canvas adhered to cardboard, 8 1/2" by 6 1/2". Metropolitan Museum of Art.  

During the onset of Pippin's painting career in the 1930s, the lifestyle of the South was being explored and celebrated in media like George Gershwin's opera, Porgy and Bess (1935), and the book Gone With the Wind (1936). It was during this period that Horace Pippin was discovered through his painting, Cabin in the Cotton.  

The art critic and curator, Christian Brinton (1870-1942) and the illustrator, N. C. Wyeth (1882-1945) spotted Cabin in the Cotton in the window of a shoe repair shop in Pippin's home town, West Chester, Pennsylvania.  After the popular actor Charles Laughton purchased Cabin in 1940, Horace Pippin was on his way to becoming one of the most lauded American painters of the mid-twentieth century.

The range of subjects Pippin painted was diverse: interior scenes, portraits, landscapes and even a series of works about the abolitionist, John Brown (whose killing was allegedly seen by Pippin's grandmother, a former slave).  It was his fortune that self-taught American painters and their "primitive" styles were in vogue in the 30s when Cabin in the Woods was discovered. Its saturated palette and thick, textured brushstrokes became typical of Pippin's style.

horace pippin cabin in woods

According to the Art Institute of Chicago, the painting's composition references the opening and closing scenes in a 1932 film starring Bette Davis and titled... Cabin in the Woods.  That same year, two popular singers, Cab Calloway and Bing Crosby, each produced his own version of a song of the same name.  

I'd add "brilliant marketer" to Pippin's list of talents!

Horace Pippin.  Cabin in the Cotton, 1933-37.  Oil on canvas mounted on Masonite, 18" by 33".  Art Institute of Chicago. 

Domino Players is one of the most famous paintings by Horace Pippin, and is horace pippin domino playersa characteristically intimate interior setting.  By invoking childhood memories of every day life of his family and friends - as they played games, sewed, tended children, smoked - he offered a rare, insider's glance into African American family life.  Here, a young boy, likely Pippin or his younger brother, peers directly at the viewer, pleading for sympathy with his boredom.  The cold neutral palette of the spartan room is punctuated by the colors of the quilt and the intense reds scattered throughout the painting.  

Horace Pippin.  Domino Players, 1943.  Oil on composition board,  12 3/4" by 22".  Phillips Collection, Washington, DC.

There is an undercurrent of ambiguity and danger here, too: the open scissors on the floor seem disproportionately scaled and the flames in the fire resemble pointed, sharp teeth.

Although different in mood than Domino Players, The Barracks shares a similar palette of "restrained colors, black, white, gray, with touches of red", according to Duncan Phillips, the founder of the Phillips Collection.   It clearly references his stint in the New York 15thHorace Pippin Barracks resized 600

National Guard, an African American unit that became the 369th Infantry Regiment after incorporation into the U. S. Army.  

Horace Pippin.  The Barracks, 1945.  Oil on canvas, 25 1/4" by 30".  Phillips Collection, Washington, DC.

In The Barracks, Pippin captures the stark, claustrophobic life of the soldier while painfully reminding the viewer that even in war and national crisis, segregation prevailed.  

Despite his recognition as one of the leading America painters of his time, Pippin's total output comprised only about 140 paintings, mainly due to his immobile arm.  One of the last of these was his Self-Portrait (above, left), one of only two self portraits painted during his brief life of 56 years.

Question: Do you see lurking danger in the scissors and fire (and perhaps even in the jagged red flames of the oil lamp)?


Famous Painters: Piero della Francesca


An art history blog post from Famous Paintings Reviewed.

Piero della Francesca (ca. 1420-1492) is in a legion of famous painters who were lost to art history for centuries -- in his case, for over four. The works of Piero, along with artists including Sandro Botticelli (1446-1510) and Jan Vermeer (1632-1675), were among those "re-found" in the 19th century by artists, collectors, critics, and art historians.  

None was more influential in rediscovering Piero della Francesca than Roberto Longhipiero della francesca baptism resized 600 (1890-1970), an Italian art historian.   Through his 1914 article, "Piero dei Franceschi e lo sviluppo della pittura veneziana," ("Piero Francesca and the Development of Venetian Painting"), 

Piero della Francesca.  The Baptism of Christ, 1450s.  Tempera on wood, approximately 5' 6" by 3'10".  National Gallery, London.

Longhi launched Piero's journey from relative obscurity to present acclaim as one of the most famous painters of the Italian Renaissance.  Longhi's subsequent book, Piero della Francesca, was published in 1927 and is still considered the preeminent formal analysis of Piero.

Influenced by investigations into perspective by Paulo Uccello (ca. 1397-1475), Piero became so knowledgeable that he published a treatise in 1474.  This fascination with linear
perspective and mathematical and geometrical precision is evident in one of his earliest extant works, The Baptism of Christ.

In Christian belief, the Trinity is the collective name for "the one nature of God" - God the Father; God the Son, who is Christ; and the Holy Spirit.  In The Baptist of Christ, the dove symbolizes the Holy Spirit witnessing Christ's baptism (note how its shape resembles a cloud).

geometric analysis piero della francescaRight: Geometric Analysis of The Baptism of Christ. 

It is speculated that a portrayal of God the Father may have been in a roundel or medallion above the work; it is certain that The Baptism of Christ was originally the central section of a polyptych, a work comprised of four or more painted or carved panels hinged together. 

The Baptism of Christ exemplifies many developments in painting during the first portion of the 15th century, including:

  • chiaroscuro, or using shadow and lighting to create three dimensional shapes;

  • realism (the greenish hue to Christ's skin is a result of green underpainting wearing through and is not the original color of his flesh); 

  • perspective and proportionality; and

  • descriptive landscape (behind Christ is Piero's home town of Sansepolcro in Tuscany).

Compositionally, Baptism has a pronounced central vertical: the dove is aligned with the baptismal water St. John the Baptist is pouring; it is aligned with the tip of Christ's beard; the beard is positioned just above Christ's praying hands, which are aligned with his navel.  

Yet despite the exacting linear perspective in The Baptism of Christ, this monumental composition doesn't feel mathematical or contrived but is instead mysteriously spiritual and quiet.  

Perhaps that is why Piero della Francesca is widely recognized as a timeless artist, and is deservedly one of the most famous painters in the early Renaissance.

Why do you believe Baptism has such stillness to it? What has Piero done to convey this?


The Value of Learning Art History


An art history blog post from Famous Paintings Reviewed.

Anyone involved with art history or art has, I suspect, fretted that emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) often comes at the expense of the arts. Copley Boy With Flying Squirrel resized 600Further, the instantaneous availability of information has left many learning experiences on fast forward, overshadowing perceptions and knowledge that seep in only over time.

John Singleton Copley.  A Boy with a Flying Squirrel (Henry Pelham), 1765.  Oil on canvas, 30 3/8 x 25 1/8 in.  Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

An antidote? Explore how Jennifer L. Roberts, a professor of art history and architecture at Harvard, tackles this: she requires each student to sit in front of a painting for three hours.  She reports that after initial (and predictable) grumbling, they subsequently thank her.

Read how Roberts teaches art history (and so much more) in this brilliant article, in which she shares her own study of John Singleton Copley's Boy with a Flying Squirrel - you'll learn riveting history about it, and discover how she teaches that looking isn't the same as seeing.

Do you agree with Roberts that students need to now be taught deceleration and patience? If you teach, how have you incorporated this study into your classroom?


Velazquez Paintings: Pope Innocent X


An art history blog post from Famous Paintings Reviewed.

One of the most highly regarded Velazquez paintings, Pope Innocent X is the signature work in the Galleria Doria Pamphilj, a private art collection of 650 works by famous painters including Caravaggio, Titian, Raphael and Velazquez. This comparatively little known museum is a jewel.

describe the imageDiego Velazquez.  Portrait of Innocent X, 1650.  Oil on canvas, 4' 8" by 3' 11".  Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome.

Giovanni Battista Pamphilj (pronounced Pom-fee-lee) became a cardinal in 1629 and was elected to the throne in 1644 as Pope Innocent X.  Giacinto Gigli (1594-1671), an Italian who wrote about Baroque Rome, described the Pope:

He was tall in stature, thin, choleric, splenetic, with a red face, bald in front with thick eyebrows bent above the nose [...] that revealed his severity and harshness...". 


How ironic that such an unkind person is memorialized in a portrait now considered one of the finest of the 17th century -- and of all Velazquez paintings.

Diego Velazquez (1599-1660) was the court painter for Spain's Philip IV, who granted permission for Velazquez to travel to Rome to paint Pope Innocent X.  For unknown reasons, however, the Pope didn't immediately grant an audience to the great Spanish painter, who bided his time and painted his manservant in another marvelous portrait, Juan de Pareja (below, left).

Velazquez paints Pope Innocent X in the traditional three-quarter pose utilized in papal bust Olimpia Pamphilj resized 600portraiture since Raphael.  Pope Innocent X is an explosion of red and crimson hues, with a red velvet armchair in front of a red door; red skin tones; his red cape and red camauro, or papal headdress. 

While Velazquez pays homage to traditional papal portraiture, he concurrently presents a man who looks irritable and angry, as if he might explode.  That tension is amplified by the shadows which don't sync with the illumination: Pope Innocent X is lit from the right, but Velazquez has painted a menacing shadow behind the Pope's chair on the right, too.  

Alessandro Algardi, Bust of Olimpia Maidalchini Pamphilj.  Galleria Doria Pampilj.

Pope Innocent feels as if he's about to rise from his chair while grasping a petition signed "Velazquez" in his left hand. It's as if Velazquez is telling us that something isn't right here.

And that's true.

Pope Innocent X's sister-in-law, Olimpia Maidalchini Pamphilj (1594-1657), convinced him that it was immoral for the Vatican to collect taxes from brothels, offering instead to perform this unseemly work herself.  When police interfered with the brothels, Olimpia had the family coat of arms installed over their doorways.  

Need we mention that the clergy were the main patrons of these houses of disrepute?

Olimpia was unquestionably the most powerful woman in Baroque Rome, amassing considerable influence and enormous wealth due only partially to her illicit, amorous relationship with Pope Innocent Velazquez self portrait resized 600X. When visiting dignitaries began calling on her prior to seeing him, Innocent X exiled her.

Prince Jonathan Doria Pamphilj, an heir who resides in the familial palace, considers Portrait of Innocent X  "a turning point in the

Diego Velazquez.  Juan de Pareja, 1648.  Oil on canvas, 32" by 27 1/2".  Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.  Purchase, Fletcher Fund, Rogers Fund, and Bequest of Miss Adelaide Milton deGroot

history of Western art" because it allegedly depicts the humanity and vulnerability of its subject, rather than his power alone. According to Prince Pamphilj, Innocent X, when first shown the completed portrait, exclaimed, "E troppo vero!" -- or, "It's too true!".

I don't find humanity and vulnerability here, but see an implacable, unforgiving and forbidding man.

Conversely, Olimpia recalibrated the way in which she lived the rest of her life: she re-populated S. Martino al Cimino, the town to which she was exiled, with prisoners she had released and prostitutes she relocated from nearby Rome.  Each couple was given a house and the opportunity to build a new life alongside Olimpia for the remainder of her life. 

Do you see the humanity and vulnerability in Portrait of Pope Innocent X that the Prince does? Why is this portrait so enduring? And what was the Velazquez's intent in painting illogical shadows? 

Please share your thoughts.

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Caravaggio Paintings at the Villa Borghese


An art history blog post from Famous Paintings Reviewed.

Among the most famous artwork in Rome's Villa Borghese are Caravaggio paintings that span the career of this brilliant but volatile painter.

caravaggio paintings boy with basket fruit resized 600And each one of them has fascinating art history behind it.

Michelangelo Merisi, called Caravaggio (1571-1610), was born in Milan, not in the northern Italian town of Caravaggio, as was believed until several years ago. In Milan, he studied with Simone Peterzano, a former pupil of Titian, but left neither personal history nor works of art there.  

Caravaggio.  Boy with Basket of Fruit, 1593-94.  Oil on canvas, approximately 27" by 26".  Gallery Borghese, Villa Borghese, Rome.

Caravaggio relocated to Rome in late 1592, and apprenticed briefly in the studio of the Cavalier d’Arpino and his brother, Bernardino Cesari, specializing in painting fruits and vegetables. Unlike the typical 16th century artist, Caravaggio rejected the current academic training the devoted years to drawing sculptures and copying artwork made by famous painters.

Instead, he recaptured realism in art and pioneered dramatic lighting effects now known as tenebrism.

Caravaggio paintings in the initial phase of his career feature still lifes and people often found on the street, like cardcheats or cardsharps, fortune-tellers, and beggars. His style was equally pioneering: Caravaggio eschewed initial sketches and painted directly onto the canvas.

Regardless of his less academic and formal style, Caravaggio developed a core of faithful Roman patrons. Among the most significant of these was the legendary art patron Scipione Borghese (1576-1633), whose uncle, Camillo Borghese (1552-1621), became Pope Paul V in 1605. Shortly caravaggio paintings sick bacchus resized 600thereafter, the new Pope gave his favorite nephew the title of Cardinal.

Right: Caravaggio. Self-Portrait as Bacchus (Sick Bacchus), ca. 1593-94.  Oil on canvas, 26" by 21". Gallery Borghese, Villa Borghese, Rome. 

The remarkabe Caravaggio paintings in the Villa Borghese include these famous paintings: 

Boy with a Basket of Fruit, ca. 1593-94 

This early work (above, left) demonstrates Caravaggio’s mastery of realistic depictions of nature, imperfections and all.  Highlights are captured on individual grapes, whose veined, mottled leaves drape over the basket. On the lower right, a dying leaf nearly floats; together with the browning fruit in the center, Caravaggio hints that the bounty and pleasures of life are fleeting. 

The overt sensuality of the young man suggests that these pleasures also include the carnal. The cleft in the ripe, golden peach is repeated in the lad's chin, while its lusciousness is echoed in his bare right shoulder. 

Self-portrait as Bacchus (Sick Bacchus), ca. 1593-94

Many 16th century painters believed that moonlight offered optimal lighting for painting.  This, according to the Borghese Gallery, likely accounts for the greenish, waxy pallor of Bacchus' (or Caravaggio's) complexion (above, right).  The intent of the Bacchus iconography remains unclear, despite extensive art historical debate about it.

What is clear is that Scipione Borghese longed for this work, as well as Boy with a Basket of Fruit, which were both in the hands of the Cavalier d'Arpino.  On the orders of Pope Paul V, these Caravaggio paintings were confiscated and the Cavalier was jailed -- and was freed only when he "gave" the paintings to Cardinal Scipione Borghese. 

Madonna of the Palafrenieri, 1605-06

Originally commissioned for the Saint Anne Chapel in St. Peter's, Madonna of the Palafrenieri was caravaggio paintings madonna palafrenieri resized 600heavily criticized for its alleged lack of decorum and dignity.

Mary teaches the young Jesus how to kill a menacing serpent, a symbol of heresy and evil. Both she and Saint Anne, the patron saint of the confraternity of the Palafrenieri

Caravaggio.  Madonna of the Palafrenieri, ca. 1605-06.  Oil on canvas, approximately 9'7" by 7'.  Gallery Borghese, Villa Borghese, Rome.

who commissioned the work, are depicted as ordinary women. They, like Jesus, are not idealized by Caravaggio. 

Although it isn't known specifically why the confraternity refused to accept the painting, it hung in Saint Peter's for a mere two weeks in April 1606 before Madonna of the Palafrenieri was re-gifted to Cardinal Scipione Borghese. 

Saint Jerome, 1606

The joy of seeing this painting is discovering that Caravaggio painted the quill pen with one assertive brushstroke.  That, along with lengthy brushstrokes in the white cloth and the roughness of the books, cloak and saint's beard, have convinced some art historians that Saint Jerome is unfinished.  

Although St. Jerome is typically portrayed as a penitent, Caravaggio shows him as a devoted caravaggio paintings saint jerome resized 600scholar, reading and annotating scriptures.  

Saint Jerome was commissioned by Scipione Borghese and was included in the Borghese Gallery inventory of 1693.

Caravaggio.  Saint Jerome, 1606.  Oil on canvas, 3' 10" by 5'.  Gallery Borghese, Villa Borghese, Rome.

Curiously, St. Jerome was subsequently attribued to the Spanish painter, Jusepe di Ribera (1591-1652). 

St. John the Baptist, 1610

One of the last attributed Caravaggio paintings, St. John the Baptist was a favored subject in Caravaggio paintings.  Other versions include those in the Galleria Corsini, Rome; the Nelson-Atkins, Kansas City; and the Capitoline Museum, Rome.

caravaggio paintings saint john baptistYet again, Caravaggio's rendition of the subject matter is atypical.  This Saint John is pensive, and looks more like a resting shepherd than a renowned saint.

Caravaggio.  Saint John the Baptist, 1610.  Oil on canvas, approximately 5' by 4' 2". Gallery Borghese, Villa Borghese, Rome.

David with the Head of Goliath, 1606 

Like many Caravaggio paintings, David with the Head of Goliath has long been the subject of debate: in this case, the controversy focuses on dating the work and whether the heads of Goliath and David are self-portraits of Caravaggio. 

The Borghese Gallery provides some clarity, dating it at 1609-1610. 

Giovanni Pietro Bellori, the biographer (and curator to Pope Clement X), documented in 1672 that Goliath was Caravaggio's self-portrait.  Recent conjecture suggests that David was also a self-portrait, despite his similarity to Saint John.

The rapid brushstrokes in David with the Head of Goliath pay homage to late Titian paintings.

Known for his volatile temper and fits of rage, Caravaggio murdered a man, Ranuccio Tommasoni, caravaggio paintings david with head goliath resized 600in May 1606.  Although his influential patrons had shielded him from other legal infractions, there was no recourse here.   Ironically, Caravaggio was sentenced to death by Pope Paul V.  

Caravaggio.  David with the Head of Goliath, 1606.  Oil on canvas, 4' 2" by 4' 4".  Gallery Borghese, Villa Borghese, Rome.

Many art historians believe that Caravaggio painted David with the Head of Goliath as a admission of guilt and remorse by depicting himself as the decapitated head of David.  He presented David, along with St. John the Baptist, to the papal court as a (highly unusual) request for a papal pardon.

Tragically, Caravaggio died in exile before learning that the pardon had been granted.

Can't get enough of Caravaggio, either? Explore:

And feel free to weigh in on your favorites.

Art Shows: The Armory Show at 100


An art history blog post from Famous Paintings Reviewed.

There's a reason art history considers the 1913 "International Exhibition of Modern Art", or "Armory Show", one of the most significant art exhibitions ever held. 

The period between 1890 and 1914, known now as the era of "Modernism", was one of the nude descending a staircase no 2 1912 resized 600most prolific and revolutionary periods in Western culture.  

Revamping and questioning accepted norms and conventions was widespread

  1. in science, exemplified by the work of Charles Darwin (1809-82) and Albert Einstein (1879-1955); 

  2. in music, poetry and literature, where works by Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971), James Joyce (1882-1941), Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), and T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) were among those who challenged the status quo; and

  3. in philosophy, by thinkers like Soren Kierkegaard (1813-55) and Karl Marx (1818-83).

Right.  Marcel Duchamp.  Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2), 1912.  Oil on canvas, 57 7/8" by 35 1/8".  Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Painting was no exception.  

The Armory Show of 1913 introduced some 300,000 people to modern art paintings and sculpture. An exhibition at the New York Historical Society, The Armory Show at 100, revisits the lasting influence of the legendary exhibition.

A group of progressive American artists, the Association of American Painters and Sculptors, decided to organize a 1913 show of their artwork.  Midway through the planning, however, Matisse Blue Nude 1907 resized 600they opted to create an international exhibition, ultimately assembling roughly 1,350 works of modern art.

Left. Henri Matisse.  Blue Nude (Souvenir of Biskra), 1907.  Oil on canvas, 36 1/4" by 55 1/4".  Baltimore Museum of Art.

These works were arranged as a small retrospective from the mid 19th century to Impressionism to Post-Impressionism to Fauvism to Cubism, suggesting that artworks were an outgrowth of their predecessors. Half the exhibition was devoted to American art (and of that, fully 20% of the artworks were by women); half of the show was European art.

Although the intent of the show was to educate, it instead shocked and enraged viewers.

The Matisse Le Luxe ii resized 600curators at the New York Historical Society remind us that Gilded Age portraiture defined artistic taste in the early 20th century.  Modern art was an affront to accepted taste. As Patricia Cohen of the New York Times wittily observed, "Imagine Mozart hearing Metallica."

Left. Henri Matisse.  Le Luxe (II), 1907.  Distemper on canvas, 82 1/2" by 54 3/8".  Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen. 

To the annoyance of American artists, press attention focused almost exclusively on Marcel Duchamp and Henri Matisse.  It's not a surprise that they stole the limelight: these two modern painters were demanding a new way of seeing art.  Their spin on modernism featured forms and colors unfamiliar to the viewing public.

Nude Descending A Staircase was first conceived to illustrate a poem about a person climbing a stairway to the stars.  While not strictly a Cubist painting, Nude does employ the Cubist principles of fragmentation. DuChamp painted its title directly onto the lower left of the painting; as this is the only way the viewer knows that the figure is nude, DuChamp is wryly commenting about the ways in which language circumscribes interpretation.

Nude provoked controversy and criticism, with even President Theodore Roosevelt weighing in to say it reminded him of a Navajo rug in his bathroom.   

The thirteen Matisse paintings in the show faired equally poorly in public opinion.

matisse red studioBlue Nude caused outright anger.  

I'd guess that's because Matisse jettisoned the tradition of the reclining nude that dated back to the Renaissance -- and added further insult by painting his nude anatomically inaccurately in riotous colors.  

Right.  Henri Matisse. The Red Studio, 1911.  Oil on canvas, 5' 11 1/4" by 7' 2 1/4".  The Museum of Modern Art, New York.  Mrs. Simon Guggenheim Fund.

Art students in Chicago, where the 1913 Armory Show traveled after New York, burned Matisse paintings in effigy - and protest.

Scholar Laurette E. McCarthy recently discovered two installation photographs showing how the Matisse paintings were hung in the 1913 exhibition. 

Blue Nude was flanked by Luxe II on its left, and Red StudioMatisse paintings Armory Show resized 600 on its right.

Although the photo is grainy, imagine the impact of this wall of Matisse paintings.  

It's a solid step to understanding the outcry and frenzy of the 1913 Armory Show.

The Armory Show at 100 continues through February 23, 2014.  









Edvard Munch: The Scream


An art history blog post from Famous Paintings Reviewed.

The Scream by Edvard Munch (1863-1944) is one of the most famous paintings in Western art history -- and perhaps the most powerful Expressionist painting ever made. It certainly is the most readily recognized.

Edvard Munch spent his childhood in Oslo, the second of five children born to a prominent Norwegian family.  Both parents and a younger brother died when Munch was young. By the Edvard-Munch-The-Screamage of 17, Edvard Munch discovered painting as a tool to articulate his feelings of depression and fear of death.

Although Edvard Munch received little formal training, his style matured in the 1890s after his exposure in Paris to works of Paul Gauguin and to van Gogh's Arles paintings.  Their energetic brushwork and bold colors provided a subjective vocabulary for personal interpretation of subjects.

Edvard Munch. The Scream, 1893. Tempera and casein on cardboard, 36 by 29".  Munch Museum, Oslo.

These painters were among those experimenting with the direct expression of emotion as the primary element in painting, rather than the Impressionist aesthetic that valued style, form and color more highly.

Edvard Munch viewed art making as a quest to express his most privately-held feelings and beliefs, saying

In my art I have tred to find an explanation for life and to discover its meaning.  I also intended to help others understand life."

To acheive this goal, Munch created The Frieze of Life, his lifelong series of paintings in which trepan mummy getty resized 600he sought to resolve elementary questions about life. This grand view of the purpose of art was not unusual, and was similarly pursued by artists in works such as

  • Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) in Gates of Hell

  • Paul Gauguin's Where Do We Come From? Who are We? Where are We Going?; and 

  • Pablo Picasso in La Vie

The Frieze of Life consists of many well-known Munch paintings, including The Scream (and for Edvard Munch fans, other iconic works like Anxiety; Kiss; Vampire; Madonna and Death in the Sickroom, all at the Munch Museum, Oslo).

Picture taken 20 February 2007 of a trepan mummy from Chachapoya kingdom in Peru, displayed as part of the exhibition 'La saga de l'homme, l'homme expose' (The man saga, the man exposed) in the Paris 'Musee de l'Homme' museum. AFP PHOTO FRANCOIS GUILLOT

But no other Munch paintings convey the angst seen in The Scream, which, according to Thomas Hoving,

...truly stands alone in art.  Before Munch, no one in history portrayed human fear and pain outside of specific depictions of gladiatorial contests, battles and hand-to-hand combat, the torturing of saints, or people being attacked by fierce animals." (1)

As with van Gogh, Munch's deteriorating mental condition underlies his work.  But an important distinction exists between Edvard Munch and Vincent van Gogh: van Gogh translated his agitation and duress into symbols like cypress trees, sunflowers and menacing skies (read more about Vincent van Gogh paintings), where Edvard Munch painted his pain literally.

Some art historians believe that he suffered a panic or anxiety attack, recreated in The Scream.  Munch wrote in his diary,

"One evening I was walking along a street, tired and ill, with two friends: the city and the fjord lay below us.  The sun was setting and the clouds turned blood red.  Then I heard the colours of nature scream - and that shrill cry echoed over the fjord." (2)

Other art historians reference the 1883 Indonesian volcano, Krakatoa, whose eruption krakatau volcano resized 600generated deafening sound waves that traveled 1,500 miles, cloaking Europe in preternatural blue and red sunsets for half a year.

Krakatoa volcano.

 After seeing these effects in present day Oslo, Edvard Munch wrote, 
... I sensed a great, infinite scream pass through nature."

Yet another inspiration for The Scream may have been a Trepan mummy from the Peruvian  Chachapoya kingdom (above right, the only image I could find). The Trepan mummy was shown at Paris' Trocadero Museum, and likely at the 1889 World's Fair.  

Its angst is similar to that of The Scream

Regardless of what inspired Edvard Munch, though, the agony in The Scream is excrutiating: the sound is so overpowering and crippling that it distorts the face of the figure, who vainly cups his ears to protect them.  Notably, the two figures in the left background are unaffected, suggesting that the figure's turmoil may only be internal.  

The Scream is a universal symbol of suffering.

Is there any alternative explanation? 

1. Hoving, Thomas.  Greatest Works of Art of Western Civilization. New York: Workman Publishing Company, 1997.  Page 64. 

2. Edvard Munch, From My Diary, 1929.

Dutch Painters at the Frick


An art history blog post from Famous Paintings Reviewed.

An exhibition showcasing Dutch painters, titled Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Hals: Masterpieces of Dutch Painting from the Mauritshuis, opens at the Frick on October 22. Although this show vermeer girl pearl earring resized 600is a scaled-down version of Girl With a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis, which previously traveled to the De Young and High Art Museums, the Frick exhibition will showcase fifteen remarkable Dutch paintings.

The portraits, genre scenes, vanitas paintings and landscapes by these Dutch painters define the Dutch Golden Age. 

Johann Vermeer - Girl With a Pearl Earring

In the 17th century, Holland was the most urbanized and wealthy European country, with riches accumulated from its dominant maritime trade.  A popular means to demonstrate this newly found wealth was through portraiture, including a subset called tronies.  These bust-length portraits were

Right. Johann Vermeer.  Girl with a Pearl Earring, ca. 1665.  Oil on canvas, approximately 17 1/2" by 15".  Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague

studies of facial expressions and postures rather than exact likenesses of the sitter, who was often dressed in exotic clothing.

Indisputably, the most renowned tronie is Girl with a Pearl Earring. 

The full brilliance of Girl with a Pearl Earring is only realizable when one is able to study its 
rembrandt tronie man feathered beretdiversity of brushstrokes: those on the face of the girl, whose identity remains unknown, are smooth and yield her flawless skin, while those in her jacket collar are few, bold, and thickly painted.  The semicircular brushstrokes in her turban, atypical attire for 17th century Holland, are readily discernible.

Rembrandt.  "Tronie" of a Man with a Feathered Beret", 1634 - 40. Oil on panel, 5'3" by 3'11". Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague 

The Girl With a Pearl Earring is simply mesmerizing. No wonder she has earned her own room in all three U. S. venues.  

The Frick is uniquely positioned to add its own twist: Girl with a Pearl Earring will be shown near the three Vermeer paintings owned by the Frick, Girl Interrupted at Her Music (purchased in 1901 for $26,000), Officer and Laughing Girl (purchased in 1911 for $225,000), and Mistress and Maid

Rembrandt Paintings

Tronie of a Man with a Feathered Beret

The man in Tronie of a Man with a Feathered Beret (above right) turns toward the viewer as rembrandt susanna 1936 resized 600if preparing to speak.  Rembrandt's skill in capturing such spontaneous instances results from careful manipulation of light and shade, a talent apparent in many Rembrandt paintings, including his Syndics of the Amsterdam Drapers' Guild of 1662.  

Remarkably, Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-69) conveys that the man with a feathered beret is arrogant, as if he deigns to regard the viewer.


Mythological and Biblical nudes such as Susanna recur in Rembrandt's work.  After disrobing in preparation for a bath, Susanna discovers two men, barely visible in the bushes, spying on her.  Embarrassed, she vainly shields her nakedness while gazing outward, as if the viewer were a complicit voyeur.

Rembrandt.  Susanna, 1636.  Oil on panel, approximately 19" by 15".  Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague 

Portrait of an Elderly Man

In one of Rembrandt's last dated portraits, an unknown, unkempt man, with an rembrandt portrait elderly man resized 600unbuttoned jacket and loose collar, is slumping in his chair. Typical of the style of later Rembrandt paintings, some of the work is rendered with precision while some is loosely executed.  

Rembrandt. Portrait of an Elderly Man, 1667. Approximately 2' 8" by 2' 3". Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague

Here, the elderly man's face is captured realistically, while his cuffs and hands are executed with only several decisive strokes.  Rembrandt even scratched into wet paint to create the sitter's hair.

Frans Hals - Jacob Olycan and Aletta Hanemans 

Frans Hals' (1582/83-1666) reputation as one of the leading portrait painters in the first half of the 17th century arose mainly from his talent in portraying sitters in a lively frans hals aletta hanemans resized 600manner, as evidenced by the paired, or pendant, portraits of Jacob Olycan and Aletta Hanemans.

Frans Hals.  Aletta Hanemans, 1625.  Approximately 4'1" by 3'2". Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague  

Frans Hals.  Jacob Olycan, 1625.  Approximately 4'1" by 3'2". Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague 

These portraits were likely commissioned to frans hals jacob olycancommemorate the couple's marriage in 1624 when Jacob, a beer maker, was 29 and Aletta was 19.  Their expensive clothing featuring brocade, lace and satin attests to their prosperity.

Pieter Claesz - Vanitas Still Life

The vanitas still life conveys a common theme in much of 17th century Dutch painting: time is fleeting, and rather than become attached to worldly goods, opt instead for a God-fearing lifestyle.

Each object in Vanitas Still Life conveys the finiteness of life, the passage of time, and the inevitability of death -  the crumbling book pages; the skull; a watch; and wispy smoke. The undeniable admonishment from Pieter Claesz (1596/97-1660) is to lead a virtuous life.  

Carel Fabritius - The Goldfinch

Carel Fabritius (1622-1654) is at last earning his due.

Historically overlooked as likely having been the teacher of Johann Vermeer, or simply as a link between he and Rembrandt,claesz vanitas still life resized 600 Fabritius is now applauded as one of the most accomplished Dutch painters of the Golden Age

Pieter Claesz.  Vanitas Still Life, 1630.  Oil on panel, approximately 15" by 22". Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague

His mastery of illusionism is exemplified by his diminutive painting, The Goldfinch.  The life-size bird, often kept as a pet in 17th century Holland, is tethered to its perch by a delicate chain.  The angle of the goldfinch and its perch suggests that The Goldfinch was to be hung high on a wall.  

Nicholas Maes - Old Lacemaker

Apprenticed to Rembrandt for several years, Nicholas Maes (1634-93) portrays here an idealized 17th century Dutch woman: from her orderly kitchen, she works studiously to make her own lace, indicating her feminine virtue.   

fabritius the goldfinch resized 600Compositionally, Maes located the lacemaker and cabinet parallel to the picture plane, which, along with a somber palette, contributes to the intimacy of this work. Below, right.  

Carel Fabritius. The Goldfinch, 1654. Oil on panel, approximately 13" by 9". Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague.

Gerard ter Borch - Woman Writing a Letter

Ter Borch (1617-81) painted portraits and genre scenes of middle-class, affluent life in 17th century Holland.  He was intrigued by the effect of light and shade, and was renowned for his skill in painting textures, especially satin.

That skill is apparent in Woman Writing a Letter.  The heft of the oriental rug is palpable, while the light reflecting from the woman's dress and earring are perfectly executed.  Below, left.

Jan Steen

As the Old Sing, So Twitter the Young

Jan Steen (1626-1679) was a highly regarded genre painter who portrayed the middle class instead of the upper and royal classes often painted by contemporary Dutch painters. In many of his nearly 800 paintings, Steen offers a moral lesson, typically as straightforward as that in As the Old Sing, So Twitter the Young: children often replicate the behaviors modeled by adults, so it's best to lead one's life accordingly.

Read more about As the Old Sing, So Writter the Young.

 Girl Eating Oysters

At first glance, this stunning still life is a simple scene of a young girl eating oysters on a table holding a Delft pitcher, a tray with a partially eaten roll, a pile of salt and a paper cone with peppercorns spilling from it.  

But in the mid 17th century when Steen painted Girl Eating Oysters, they were widely considered aphrodisiacs.  So this seemingly innocent, flirtatious girl is loaded with sexual innuendo, further reinforced by the bedroom with a curtained window behind her.  Below, right.

Jacob van Ruysdael - View of Haarlem from the Bleaching Grounds 

Considered the most accomplished landscape painter of the Dutch Golden Age, Jacob ter borch woman writing lettervan Ruysdael (ca. 1629-82) was noted for his realistic sky and clouds, as exemplified by View of Haarlem from the Bleaching Grounds - the firmament occupies  2/3 of this Ruysdael painting.

Gerard ter Borch.  Woman Writing a Letter, ca. 1655.  Oil on panel, approximately 15" by 11".  Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague

The subtle gradation in his clouds creates a credible sky with the sun breaking through to the pure dune water; it was believed to be the best possible to bleach local linens. See below, right.

Adriaen Coorte - Still Life with Five Apricots

Still Life with Five Apricots (below, left) is typical of over 60 signed paintings by Adriaen Coorte (ca. 1665-1707/10), which often are:

  • small in scale;
  • of fruits or vegetables, with occasional shells or nuts; 
  • displayed on a stone table; and
  • brilliantly illuminated against a dark background.
Steen Girl Eating Oysters

Nearly nothing is known of Coorte's life, including the year and location of his birth and death, and even whether he supported himself as a painter; it is known that he was penalized in 1696 for selling his work without being a member of the local painters' guild.

Jan Steen.  Girl Eating Oysters, ca. 1658-60.  Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague.

Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Hals: Masterpieces of Dutch Painting from the Mauritshuis runs October 22, 2013 to January 19, 2014. 

Jacob van Ruysdael. View of Haarlem with Bleaching Grounds. Oil on canvas, 1670-1675. Approx. 22" by 24". Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague.

ruisdael view haarlem bleaching grounds















Adriaen Coorte.  Still Life with Five Apricots, 1704.  Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague.

 Coorte Still life with five apricots resized 600









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