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Famous Paintings Reviewed

Famous Paintings to Start the Art History School Year

Posted by Susan Benford

With another year of art history starting in high schools and colleges, I have consolidated some earlier posts about the famous paintings and artwork typically studied at the start of an academic year.  Dig in!

Cave Paintings

Chauvet CaveConsidered to be among the most famous artwork ever made, cave paintings are indisputably among the oldest works ever created by humankind.  Images in the Chauvet caves in southwest France are believed to be some 32,000 years old, based on recent radiocarbon dating. 

In the Altamira caves of Spain, which date to approximately 12,500 BCE, artists incorporated the textures and irregularities of the cave walls into their paintings to create strong three-dimensional images. Conversely, the Lascaux caves in southern France are the best preserved of all cave paintings - a chalk covering the walls rendered them waterproof, permitting the images to remain comparatively intact.

Right: Big Horn Rhino, Chauvet caves, France.

The Terracotta Warriors

Terracotta Warrior armorImagine becoming the first Emperor of China -- at the age of 13.  That is but one fascinating fact about Qin Shi Huang (259 BC - 210 BC), who created a clay and bronze army of some 8,000 soldiers (along with their horses, chariots, and weaponry) to guard him in the afterworld. These Terracotta Warriors, discovered in 1974, are one of the greatest achievements in Chinese art.

And one of the most astonishing, too.  A Chinese historian claims that 700,000 workers were conscripted to build the Terracotta Warriors and mausoleum for Qin Shi Huang... and took 11 years to do so. 

Left: Armor worn by a Terracotta Warrior


Uccello, The Battle of San Romano

This masterpiece of Renaissance art depicts the 1432 battle between Siena and Florence. Painted as a tryptych, or on 3 separate panels, The Battle of San Romano at one time hung in Lorenzo de' Medici's private living quarters in the Medici Palace. 

With this work, Paolo introduced linear, or one point, perspective.  Note how the broken lances in the National Gallery panel create receding lines, or orthogonals, which converge on a fixed "vanishing point". 

Battle of San RomanoNow, these Paolo Uccello paintings are individually owned by the National Gallery (London), the Uffizi Gallery (Florence), and the Louvre (Paris).  Although it would be magnificent to view the original Battle of San Romano as a tryptych, each merits a visit to any of these art museums just to see it alone!


Right: Paolo Uccello, The Battle of San Romano. Tempera on wood panel, approx. 6' x 10'7".  National Gallery, London.

Ghent Altarpiece

Created by brothers Hubert and Jan van Eyck, Ghent Altarpiece is, like The Battle of San Romano, one of the seminal works of Renaissance art.  Unquestionably, it is also one of the most powerful religious works in the entirety of art history.

Ghent Altarpiece is a polyptych, or multi-paneled work, that consists of 24 panels of different sizes and shapes aligned into two rows; when the altarpiece is closed, twelve panels are visible; when open, another twelve are.

The open altarpiece (below) depicts a popular theme in Renaissance art, the Redemption of Man.  God is portrayed in the Franciscan manner as a benevolent Father, superseding earlier beliefs in a harsh and judgmental one.  The bottom registry, or row of panels, depicts Ghent Altarpiece's most famous artwork, the Adoration of the Lamb by All Saints.  

Ghent Altarpiece closedThe closed altarpiece consists of three rows: the top shows two Old Testament prophets and two sybils announcing the inevitability of the Annunciation; the middle row shows the Annunciation itself; and the bottom row depicts John the Baptist, who holds a lamb, and John the Evangelist, who are flanked by a man and woman believed to be the donors of Ghent Altarpiece

Left: Hubert van Eyck and Jan van Eyck. Completed 1432. Tempera and oil on wood,  11'6" by 15'1".  Cathedral of St. Bavo, Ghent. 

Arnolfini Portrait

While art historians agree that this portrait is indeed by Jan van Eyck, there is little agreement about any other aspects of this work, despite its being nearly six centuries old.

Some art historians contend that this is a wedding portrait of Giovanni de Nicolao Arnolfini and his wife, citing the matrimonial references in the painting like the unshod feet of the couple; this signalled the sanctity of the bedroom and its status as a holy place.  Others, however, believe that this is simply a portrait and may be in honor of the recently deceased wife.  The praying figure of St. Margaret hints at her intervention for the newly departed.

It is doubtful that there will ever be certainty about this work (or perhaps six more centuries are needed)/  One sure thing, though, is that Giovanni is 30 years old or younger.  How can this be known? In 15th century Flanders, a marriage ultimatum was given to unmarried men who were thirty, with names of those who failed to marry recorded in the dreaded "Book of Disgrace".

Arnolfini PortraitRight: Jan van Eyck.  Arnolfini Portrait, 1434.  Oil on wood.  32 1/4" x 23 1/2".  National Gallery, London.

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Famous Painters Blogroll

Anguissola, Three Sisters Playing Chess and Phillip II of Spain

Beckmann, Blind Man's Buff

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

Bingham, Fur Traders Descending the Missouri

BonheurPlowing in the Nivernais

Bonheur, The Horse Fair

Bosch, Garden of Earthly Delights

Botticelli, Primavera

Caillebotte, Gustave, The Floor Scrapers; The House Painters; Pont de l'Europe; Paris Street, Rainy Day; Fruit Displayed on a Stand

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, Madame Cezanne Paintings

Cezanne, Most Famous Paintings

Cezanne, Red Dress series

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

Degas, The Bellilli Family, The Dance Class, In a Cafe (Absinthe Drinker)

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

El Greco, View of Toledo

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.  

GiorgioneThree Philosophers 

Goya, Duchess of Alba

Goya, Family of Charles IV

Goya, Self-Portrait with Dr. Arrieta

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

Ingres, Oedipus and the Sphinx

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

Lawrence, Great Migration Series

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

20 Louvre Paintings not to Miss 

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, Impression, Sunrise

Monet, Nymphaes, Le Pont de l'Europe

Monet Paintings at the Marmottan Monet Museum

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

Pippin, Domino Players and Cabin in the Cotton

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

Sargent, Smoke of Ambergris

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

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

van Gogh, Three Pairs of Shoes

Vincent van Gogh paintings up to 1889

Vincent van Gogh paintings, 1888-1890

Vigee-LeBrun, Marie Antoinette and Her Children, Self Portrait, Self-Portrait with Julie

Velazquez, Juan de Pareja

Velazquez, Pope Innocent X

Velazquez, Overview of Famous Paintings

Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring

Vermeer, Saint Praxedis

Vermeer, The Kitchen Maid

Vermeer, The Allegory of Painting

VermeerGirl with the Red Hat

Vigee-LeBrun, Marie Antoinette and Her ChildrenSelf PortraitSelf-Portrait with Julie

Warhol, Campbell's Soup Cans

Warhol, Marilyn Diptych and Gold Marilyn 

Warhol, Mao 

Whistler, Whistler's Mother

Anders Zorn

Famous Paintings by Art Museums

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. Or read the blog post, "Famous Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum". 

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.

Whitney Museum of American Art.  Don't miss these 10 famous paintings at the Whitney.

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.

Elisabeth Vigee-LeBrun.  Self-Portrait; Marie Antoinette and Her Children; Self-Portrait with Julie

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 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