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Famous Paintings Reviewed

Famous Paintings: The Allegory of Painting

Posted by Susan Benford

The famous paintings of Johannes (Jan) Vermeer (1632 - 1675) are now internationally lauded, earning him a place with Hals and Rembrandt as one of the greatest Dutch painters. During his lifetime, though, Vermeer was obscure and rarely acknowledged as one of the famous painters then working. 

Vermeer-paintings-kitchen-maidAlthough British painter Sir Joshua Reynolds called Vermeer's Kitchen Maid one of the greatest paintings in Holland during his visit in the latter half of the 18th century, mention 

Johann Vermeer. The Kitchen Maid, c. 1658-1660.  Oil on canvas,   Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

of Vermeer remained rare until he was 're-discovered' in the mid 1850s, largely by the French critic Thore-Burger. His praise was concise when he asserted what many still believe today,

Vermeer's most remarkable trait... is the quality of his light.

There are no known preliminary drawings or sketches associated with any of the known 36 Vermeer paintings. Most historians believe he used a camera obscura (Latin for darkened or veiled camera), a darkened box or booth in which a pinhole functioned as a lens to project images.  Use of this camera coincided with contemporary Dutch innovations in the field of optics, like magnifying glasses, telescopes and microscopes. Clearly, Vermeer was a pioneer in the science of color, as he deftly shows in The Allegory of Painting, known also as The Artist's Studio

One of the most beloved Vermeer paintings, The Allegory of Painting was one of the few works Vermeer never sold; in later years it was confiscated by Hitler for his personal dwelling.

vermeer allegory of painting resized 600

Johann Vermeer.  The Allegory of Painting, c. 1665.  Oil on canvas.  Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

Allegory is rich with commentary about 17th century life and the status of painters, like these observations:

  • The artist at his easel might be Vermeer, but his clothing is from an earlier century.  Perhaps Vermeer is intimating a connection between his own artwork and historically famous painters. The painted mask may reinforce this point if it is interpreted as a symbol of imitation, an objective of 17th century Dutch painters.

  • Vermeer's arm rests on a mahlstick, a resting prop for an artist's hand when painting fine, minute detail. He is painting Clio, the muse of History, who is identified by what she carries and wears.  Her laurel crown symbolizes eternal honor and glory - perhaps the artist's personal wishes - while her trumpet indicates that the painter's fame is attainable and will be recorded by history.

  • The ancient map behind Clio relates a major event in the Netherlands' history.  Its northern provinces earned independence from Spain with the Treaty of Munster in 1648; these northern Protestant provinces lie to the right of the major crease, while to its left are the Catholic provinces still under the social and political control of the Hapsburgs, the Spanish royal family. 

Some art historians speculate that the mask is a death mask, rather baldly hinting at the death of painting in the Hapsburg provinces. 

  • Symbolism in the chandelier overhead isn't so ambiguous: it is adorned with the two-headed eagle, a symbol of the Hapsburgs, but is not functional without candles.  Vermeer is suggesting that the influence of the Spanish royal family is on the decline.

Perhaps, too, the chandelier is a reminder of the new found freedom of painters in the northern provinces - in celebrating their new republic, painters are branching out beyond the religious and history paintings mandated by the Catholic Hapsburgs.

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Famous Painters Blogroll

Anguissola, Three Sisters Playing Chess and Phillip II of Spain

Beckmann, Departure; Self-Portrait in Tuxedo; Sinking of Titanic

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

Turner, J. M. W, The Fighting Temeraire

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, Saint Praxedis

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.

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

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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 Reading List: 50+ great reads in fiction and non-fiction

Art History Videos on YouTube

Cave Paintings

Most Controversial Paintings

Google Art ProjectArt Museums Up Close

Survey of Female Artists

Survey of Renaissance Paintings.

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

A few forays into art outside Europe:

African Art and Bocio

African Mask of Idia

Coatlique 

Japanese Woodblock Prints: The Great Wave

The Terracotta Warriors

 

Famous Paintings ebook

This free ebook has a wealth of facts and articles about the 250 influential paintings in Masterpiece Cards.

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