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Famous Paintings Reviewed

Top Art History Blog Posts

Posted by Susan Benford

thumbnail michelangelo holy familyIn four years of this art history blog, Famous Paintings Reviewed, these have been the most popular posts:

  • Famous Paintings by Michelangelo, which examines the Torment of St. Anthony, Madonna and Child with St. John and Angels, Holy Family (Doni Tondo) and Entombment.

Michelangelo, Holy Family (Doni Tondo).  Oil tempera on wood, ca. 1504-1501.  Approximately 47" diameter.  Uffizi, Florence, Italy.  

  • van Eyck's masterpiece, Ghent Altarpiece, one of the most famous artworks of the 15th century... and one of the most famous religious paintings anywhere, anytime.

  • female painters kahloTitian Masterpieces by guest blogger Bob Duggan (of Big Think), who assesses five famous Titian paintings including St. Jerome and Allegory of Prudence

  • Our series on (now) famous female painters explores the life and famous artwork of

Paula Modersohn-Becker

Judith Leyster

Lavinia Fontana

Rosa Bonheur (see her most famous painting, The Horse Fair, below)

Artemisia Gentileschi

Frida Kahlo and

Frida Kahlo.  Self-Portrait with Monkey.  Oil on masonite, 1938.  16" x 12".  Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY

Georgia O'Keeffe

  • van eyck man in red turbanRape of Europa by Titian; 

  • the series of 58 Picasso paintings called Las Meninas, inspired by Velazquez's work of the same name;

  • a series on Matisse paintings including The Dance, The Music, The Red Studio, and The Yellow Dress;  

  • the ebook, Famous Paintings at the Met.  Factual information and articles about influential, must-see masterpieces;

  • a survey of Renaissance paintings examining the works of 20 famous painters. 

    Jan van Eyck.  Man in a Red Turban (Self Portrait?).  Tempera and oil on wood, 1433.  13 1/8" by 10 1/8".  National Gallery, London. 

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Tags: famous artwork, art history blog, art history blogs

Caravaggio, Fashion, and Art History

Posted by Susan Benford

Vagaries in the fashion world are too numerous to catalog, yet we imagine that art caravaggio musicianshistory is immune from such trendiness. Given the widespread adulation for Caravaggio paintings (a phenomenon ARTNews described as "Caravaggio mania"), it's informative to realize that art history, like fashion, DOES dictate what is and isn't famous

Caravaggio, The Musicians.  Oil on canvas, ca. 1595.  36 1/4" by 46 5/8".  Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Our beloved Caravaggio is a case in point.

While details are scant about Carvaggio's brief lifetime (1571-1610), it is known that he was born in Milan, where he trained with the painter Simone Peterzano. While his contemporaries followed an academic approach to painting - apprenticing in workshops; drawing ancient sculptures;  copying famous painters of the past - Caravaggio opted instead to paint reality "from nature".  

Some of these earliest Caravaggio paintings are Boy With a Basket of Fruit and The Cardsharps (or The Fortune Teller, below). His masterful handling of light and dark, or chiascuro, defines his style; his secular and religious paintings were in high demand during his lifetime. 

caravaggio cardsharpsWho would have foreseen that Caravaggio would tumble into art history obscurity for the next three centuries? After his untimely death

Caravaggio, The Cardsharps.  Oil on canvas, 1595 - 96. Approximately 36" by 50".  Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas.

in 1610, believed to be from malaria, art critics pounced.  Disdain from the Bolognese painter, Francesco Albani - who oddly speaks of himself in the third person - was typical:

"He never could suffer those who followed Caravaggio, perceiving that this manner is the precipice and total ruin of the most noble and accomplished art of painting, because, although his mere imitation of nature is partly commendable, it was destined to nonetheless engender all those evils that have ensued in the past forty years."


After 300 years in the dustbin of art history, how did Caravaggio become rehabilitated, entrenched now in the ranks of indisputably famous painters?

I'd cite these main factors:

  • the art historian, Roberto Longhi (1890-1970) penned in 1928 - 1934 a series of articles about Caravaggio paintings, proclaiming his talent to fellow art historians and thereby stimulating research;

  • in 1951, Longhi cataloged a landmark Milan exhibition of Caravaggisti and Caravaggio paintings;

  • Walter Friedlander wrote a highly flattering book, Caravaggio Studies in 1955;

  • gender studies in the 1970s, which, as ARTnews notes, fostered speculation about Caravaggio's sexuality; and

  • the Metropolitan's 1985 exhibition,"The Age of Caravaggio", introduced Caravaggio to the U.S. public. 

It's stunning enough that female artists with established reputations like Judith Leyster and Lavinia Fontana slipped into art history oblivion - but Caravaggio, too? Breathtaking.

I bet he won't disappear into the shadows of art history ever again. Meanwhile, I'm wondering which popular modern artists will be soon regarded as trends, and which other famous painters in art history will be discovered.  Or re-discovered...

Tags: famous artwork, Caravaggio paintings

Famous Paintings: Family of Charles IV

Posted by Susan Benford

One of the most famous Goya paintings -- and a splendid example of how art paintings capture history - is his Family of Charles IV.  When Francisco Goya (1746 - 1828) created this masterpiece, he was 54, had been deaf for seven years, and had recently been appointed first painter to the Spanish king, Charles IV.

Goya was heavily influenced by the famous artwork of the Spanish Royal Collection, as seen by the inclusion of his own self-portrait with his patrons (that's Goya in the shadows, toiling on a massive canvas).


Francisco Goya.  The Family of Charles IV, 1800.  Oil on canvas, 9' 2" by 11'.  Museo del Prado, Madrid.

This Goya portrait is an unmistakable nod to Velazquez's own portrait captured in one of the most well known Velazquez paintings, Las Meninas (below); it shows the family of King Philip IV of Spain.

Goya is clearly paying homage to Velazquez (and perhaps even begging for a direct comparison to the famous painter).

velazquez-las-meninas_smaller-resized-600In the left foreground of Family of Charles IV is Ferdinand, resplendent in a blue, embroidered costume. As Prince of the Asturias, he was heir to the throne  - but nonetheless orchestrated a coup against

Velazquez.  Las Meninas, 1656.  Oil on canvas. 10' 7" by 9' .5".  Museo del Prado, Madrid.

his parents in 1808. 

Ferdinand assumed the throne and reigned as a despot.  His deplorable acts included eliminating free speech and banishing liberals -- including Goya, who fled in 1824 to Bordeaux, France, where he remained in exile until his death in 1828. 

All of the court members in Family of Charles IV are identifiable, with one notable exception - the woman to Ferdinand's left.  With her face averted, she was included as a stand-in for his future, yet-to-be-determined wife.

In the center of the canvas looms the queen, Maria Luisa. 

Although Spain was a devoutly Roman Catholic country during these years, Maria Luisa and her paramour, the politican Manuel Godoy, essentially ruled Spain (with their illicit affair memorialized in this famous artwork). To Maria Luisa's left is the king himself, who, despite lavish clothing laden with awards and jewelry, was a weak and ineffectual ruler.

Some art historians contend that this Goya painting is an expose of Spain's royal family, depicting them, Marilyn Stokstad notes, "as common, ugly, and inept."  Stokstad disagrees, observing that the royal family approved Goya's preliminary sketches for Family of Charles IV.  Further, it seems highly unlikely that Goya would so publicly or permanently disparage his patrons. 

"Don't bite the hand that feeds you" was true even two centuries ago (except, apparently, in the case of the despot Ferdinand!).

Explore more Francisco Goya paintings:

Duchess of Alba

The Third of May

Self-Portrait with Dr. Arrieta

Like famous paintings?

Explore them in this set of 250 art history flashcards, spanning over 500 years of art history. Here's both sides of one:

sampleCardIt's an overview of art history, to have, hold, study, compare, and to know some of the best paintings in US and Europe's art museums.

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Tags: famous artwork, Goya paintings, Family of Charles IV

Can You Name the Five Most Famous Paintings?

Posted by Susan Benford

Which famous paintings have had the greatest impact on art history? And which famous painters, too? A tall (and subjective) order, for sure, but one that's approachable with a simple methodology.

Here's how: starting with major art history textbooks (those used in AP art history, college art history, and art appreciation courses) and "Best of" art books (like the late Thomas Hoving's Greatest Works of Art in Western 

leonardo mona lisa

Civilization), we recorded which famous paintings were discussed by this array of some forty art historians (in some 17,000 pages). We counted the "votes", or citations, for each famous artwork, beginning with Renaissance paintings and ending with early Pop art. And then we plucked out the 250 most-cited art paintings.

Curious which famous paintings were discussed, analyzed and assessed most often?

In third place, a tie among these five famous paintings:

  • Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa.  Louvre, Paris.

  • Pablo Picasso, Guernica.  Reina Sofia, Madrid.

  • Raphael, Philosophy (School of Athens), Vatican, Rome.

  • Jean-Antoine Watteau, Embarkation for Cythera. Louvre, Paris.

  • Matthias Gruenewald, The Isenheim Altar.  Musee d'Unterlinden, Colmar, France.

These famous artworks received the second most citations:

  • Georges Seurat, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte - 1884.  Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago.  

  • Diego Velazquez, Las Meninas (The Maids of Honor).  Museo del Prado, Madrid. 

Pablo Picasso Les DemoisellesAnd the painting that was most discussed by these luminaries of art history? Les Demoiselles by Pablo Picasso.  Indisputably one of the most famous paintings of the world, it may be seen at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.  

Know an art history know-it-all? Let'em try to name these famous paintings!

Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles.  Oil on canvas, 1907.  8' x 7' 8".  Museum of Modern Art, New York

Read and discover more about art history with Masterpiece Cards, art history cards of 250 famous paintings made between the Renaissance and 1960s.  Each art painting is both reviewed by an art historian (or two), who places the work in its historical and social context, and brilliantly reproduced, with art museum approved images. Discover Masterpiece Cards here!



Tags: famous paintings, famous artwork, art history, history of painting, art paintings

Famous Artwork: The Adoration of the Lamb

Posted by Susan Benford

The most famous artwork created by Hubert and Jan van Eyck (ca. 1390 - 1441) is the renowned Ghent Altarpiece, completed in 1432. 

This masterpiece of Renaissance paintings consists of 24 panels hinged together in a polytych; 12 art paintings are visible when the altarpiece is either fully open or closed. The most famous artwork in Ghent Altarpiece - and an icon of religious paintings - is The Adoration of the Lamb

Lamb of God Ghent Altarpiece

Hubert and Jan van Eyck. The Adoration of the Lamb, panel from the Ghent Altarpiece.  Completed 1432.

Based on a passage from the Book of Revelations read on All Saints Day (November 1), this painting shows the Lamb of God in a meadow, with the community of saints arriving from the four corners of the earth. In Christian belief, the Lamb of God was sacrificed to redeem humanity from the Original Sin of Adam and Eve. The Lamb of God's blood is captured in a chalice, while angels surrounding the altar hold the Instruments of the Passion:

  • the column upon which Christ was flogged;

  • the cross and nails from his Crucifixion;

  • the lance which pierced him; and

  • the sponge used to moisten his lips when he hung on the cross.

The two groups approaching the Altar in the background are the holy confessors, bishops and 

adoration of mystic lamb detail

cardinals (identifiable by their red, flat hats, above), and the holy Virgins (below). They carry palms to symbolize the triumph of martyrdom over death. 

adoration of lamb van eyck

In the left foreground (below) are representatives from the Old Testament and various well-known

ghent altar adoration

pagans, including the Roman poet, Virgil; he is in the center wearing a white robe and laurel crown.  The group in the right foreground (below) includes the Twelve Apostles, shown in front.  

twelve apostles van eyck paintings

The sheer dazzle and brilliance of this famous artwork are impossible to reproduce (and nearly as challenging to describe).  The late Thomas Hoving, author of "Greatest Works of Art of Western Civilization", commented

The painting is renowned for how every detail is brilliantly rendered.  The realism of this work is literally breathtaking and there is simply no other work in existence that can come near to the intense concentration of the utter reality of everything in the picture, but especially of the details.  Everything... seems to have been (and perhaps was) painted with a single-hair brush

If you're lucky enough to be in Belgium.. get Adoration of the Lamb and the Saint Bavo Cathedral on your itinerary!  Read about other panels in Ghent Altarpiece. 


Learn about other famous artwork.

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Tags: famous artwork, Jan van Eyck, Ghent Altarpiece, van Eyck

Famous Artwork: Ghent Altarpiece

Posted by Susan Benford

Considering all the famous artwork made during the Renaissance, Ghent Altarpiece ranks on any short list of the best Renaissance art - and it is also one of the most significant religious works in the entirety of art history.   

Called Ghent Altarpiece due to its location in the Saint Bavo Cathedral in Ghent, Belgium, it was created by Hubert van Eyck and Jan van Eyck (ca. 1390 - 1441); because Jan van Eyck completed the Altarpiece after his brother's death, it is impossible to know who created which panels. 

Regardless, the Altarpiece remains a sterling example of a polyptych, or hinged, multi-panelled painting: as the folding Altarpiece is opened, it reveals additional subjects and narratives to its audience.

The van Eyck altarpiece consists of twenty four panels of varying sizes and shapes aligned in two rows;  twelve panels are visible with the Altarpiece open, and twelve when closed.

van eyck ghent altarpiece open resized 600

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

The Open Altarpiece.

These panels depict the Redemption of Man, a popular theme in Renaissance art. 

In the upper registry, or row of panels, God the Father appears in a frontal pose with a raised hand and a crown at his feet; he is flanked by John the Baptist, who wears a green robe over his hair shirt, and the Virgin, as in the Deesis.  On either side are choirs of music-making angels, including Saint Cecilia at her organ.  Adam and Eve are portrayed illusionistically in stone niches.

On the step behind the crown at the Lord's feet is a noteworthy inscription:

On his head, life without death.  On his brow, youth without age.  On his right, joy without sadness.  On his left, security without fear.  

These words capture the Franciscan conception of God as the benevolent Father of the human race, supplanting earlier beliefs in a judgmental, austere God. 

The bottom registry of the Altarpiece is dominated by its most famous artwork, The Adoration of the Lamb by All Saints.  Laden with symbolism, The Adoration depicts the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, as the Just Judges, The Warriors of Christ, the Holy Hermits and the Holy Pilgrims convene. 

The Closed Altarpiece.

When closed, the van Eyck Altarpiece consists of three rows.  At the top, two Old Testament prophets and two sibyls herald the inevitability of the Annunciation.  In the middle is the Annuciation - the angel Gabriel, who foretold the van eyck ghent altarpiece closed resized 600 resized 600

Closed. Completed 1432.  Tempera and oil on wood, approx. 11' 6" by 7' 7". 

birth of Christ, and John the Baptist, who delivers his message to Mary (right).  Her answer is jan van eyck detailwritten upside down for God (and not the viewer) to read. 

The central lower panel shows John the Baptist, who cradles a lamb, and John the Evangelist, who grasps a chalice. 

Both are painted in grisaille, simulating sculpture, and are related directly to the altarpiece: Saint Bavo Cathedral was dedicated to John the Baptist, and John the Evangelist wrote the Book of Revelation, the source for the interior images. 

On either side of the saints are believed to be the donors of the Ghent Altarpiece, Jodocus Vijd and his wife, Isabel Borluut. 

The van Eyck Altarpiece is known for its minutely realistic depiction of every detail, reminding us that both Hubert and Jan van Eyck trained as miniaturists. 

As the late Thomas Hoving noted in Greatest Works of Art of Western Civilization

"A visitor could spend a week viewing just the amazing crown.  The transformation of base materials to the divine, the sheen of gold on embroidered garments, in no way takes away from the overall impression of devotion and piety. For reverence, this Altarpiece wins out even over Michelangelo's Sistine ceiling frescoes."

If you've been lucky enough to see both the Sistine Chapel and Ghent Altarpiece, do you agree with Thomas Hoving?

Please do tell!

UPDATE: Read about current renovations of the Ghent Altarpiece, brushstroke by brushstroke! 

Learn about Jan van Eyck paintings:

Explore more Renaissance art in this survey of famous paintings.

In awe of famous artwork? 

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Covering Renaissance art through Pop art (nearly 6 centuries), these are the Greatest Hits of Art History. On portable, durable Cards, you can closely examine the works. And compare them. And see a survey of the history of painting.

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Tags: famous artwork, Renaissance art, Jan van Eyck, Ghent Altarpiece

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.

famous paintings boxWant to learn more about Vermeer paintings, and works by over 200 other famous painters?

Explore Masterpiece Cards, a box of art history cards that reproduce and assess 250 leading paintings.  

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Tags: famous paintings, famous artwork, Vermeer paintings

World Famous Paintings: Can You Name Them?

Posted by Susan Benford

What a bold question -- and a foolhardy one, too, if identifying "the" world famous paintings is merely one person's opinion. 

But this list of 250 famous paintings is derived from multiple opinions and from many pros - it's a consensus from over forty art historians who've written prominent art history textbooks (for details, see "Methodology" and "References" below).  According to them, the world famous paintings in Western art (from the Renaissance to the 1960s) are these:

Albers, Homage to the Square: Ascending// Altdorfer, Alexander's Victory (Battle of Alexander at Issus)// Angelico, Annunciation// Bacon, Figure with Meat// Baldung Grien,The Three Ages of Man and Death// Balthus, Nude Before a Mirror// Beckmann, Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery// Bellini, Saint Francis in the Desert & The Doge Leonardo Loredan// Bierstadt,The Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak// Boccioni, Dynamism of a Human Body// Bonheur,The Horse Fair// Bonnard,The Open Window// Bosch, Garden of Earthly Delights//Botticelli,The Birth of Venus & Mystical Nativity// Boucher, The Toilet of Venus// Braque, Fishing Boats// Bronzino, An Allegory with Venus and Cupid// Brueghel the Elder, Peasant Wedding & The Return of the Hunters// Campin (Master of Flémalle), The Annunciation Triptych (Mérode Altarpiece)// Canaletto, Venice: Campo San Vidal and Santa Maria della Carità (The Stonemason's Yard)// Caravaggio,The Conversion of St. Paul & The Musicians// Carracci,Loves of the Gods// Cassatt, Boating Party// Castagno, David with the Head of Goliath// Cézanne, Valley of the Arc & The Large Bathers// Chagall, I and the Village// Chardin, The Kitchen Maid// Chirico, The Soothsayer's Recompense// Church, Niagara// Close, Big Self Portrait// Clouet, A Lady in her Bath// Cole, View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm - The Oxbow// Constable, The Hay Wain// Copley,The Death of Major Peirson, 6 January 1781// Corot, Le Port de la Rochelle (The Harbor of La Rochelle)// Correggio,The Assumption of the Virgin & Jupiter and Io// Cortona, Triumph of Divine Providence// Courbet, Burial at Ornans & The Painter's Studio: An Allegory// Cranach, Rest on the Flight into Egypt// Cuyp,The Maas at Dordrecht// da Vinci, The Last Supper & The Mona Lisa// Dalí,The Persistence of Memory// Daumier,The Third-Class Carriage// Gerard David,The Wedding at Cana// Jacques Louis David, The Oath of the Horatii between the Hands of Their Father & The Death of Marat// Davis, Swing Landscape// de Kooning,Woman I// Degas, In a Café (L'Absinthe) & Dancing Lesson// Delacroix, Dante and Virgil & Death of Sardanapalus// Derain, Mountains at Collioure// Dubuffet, Le Métafisyx// Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2// Dufy, Street with Flags// Dürer, Self -Portrait// Eakins,The Gross Clinic// El Greco, View of Toledo// Elsheimer,The Flight to Egypt// Ensor, Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889// Ernst,The Attirement of the Bride (La Toilette de la mariée)// Fabriano, Adoration of the Magi// Fabritius,The Goldfinch// Fragonard,The Swing// Francesca, Battista Sforza and Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino & The Baptism of Christ// Frankenthaler, Mountains and Sea// Friedrich, Wanderer Above a Sea of Fog// Fuseli, The Nightmare// Gainsborough, Mr. and Mrs. Andrews// Gauguin, Spirit of the Dead Watching & Where Do We Come From? What are We? Where are We Going?// Gaulli, Triumph of the Name of Jesus and the Fall of the Damned// Gentileschi, Judith and Her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes// Géricault, Raft of the "Medusa"// Ghirlandaio, Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni// Giorgione, La Tempesta (The Tempest)// Gorky, The Liver is the Cock's Comb// Goya, The Duchess of Alba, Executions of the Third of May, 1808, & The Family of Charles IV// Gozzoli, The Adoration of the Magi// Greuze, Betrothal in the Village// Gris, Le Déjeuner// Gros, Napoleon Bonaparte Visiting the Victims of the Plague at Jaffa, 11 March 1799// Grosz,The Funeral - Dedicated to Oskar Panizza// Grüenewald,The Isenheim Altar// Guardi, Gala Concert in Honour of Princess Maria Fedorowna in Venice// Hals, Banquet of the Officers of the Civic Guard of St. George// Hartley, Portrait of a German Officer// Hicks, Peaceable Kingdom// Hockney, American Collectors (Fred and Marcia Weisman)// Hodler,The Stockhorn Group on the Lake of Thun// Hofmann, The Gate// Hogarth, Marriage à la Mode: The Tête à Tête// Holbein the Younger, Henry VIII & Jean de Dinteville and Georges de Selve ('The Ambassadors')// Homer, Breezing Up (A Fair Wind)// Hooch, Courtyard of a House in Delft// Hopper, Nighthawks// Hunt, The Awakening Conscience// Indiana,The Figure Five// Ingres, Valpinçon Bather & Oedipus and the Sphinx// Johns, Three Flags// Jordaens, Portrait of the Artist's Family in the Garden// Kahlo,Self-Portrait with Monkey// Kalf, Still Life with Lobster, Drinking Horn and Glasses// Kandinsky, Improvisation No. 30 (Cannons)// Kauffmann, Cornelia Pointing to Her Children as Her Treasures// Kelly, Red Blue Green// Kirchner, Two Women in the Street// Klee, Senecio// Klimt, The Kiss// Kokoschka,The Bride of the Wind (Windsbraut)// La Tour, The Magdalen with the Smoking Flame// Lam, Initiation// Léger,The City// Leibl, Three Women in a Church// Leyster, Self-Portrait// Lichtenstein, Whaam!// Limbourg Brothers, Les Très Riches du Duc de Berry, February// Lippi,The Coronation of the Virgin// Lorrain, Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba// Lotto, Portrait of a Young Man// Louis, Alpha-Pi// Mabuse, Saint Luke Painting the Virgin// Magritte, The Menaced Assassin// Malevich, Black Square// Manet, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère & Olympia// Mantegna, Camera degli Sposi (Room of the Newlyweds)// Marc, Large Blue Horses // Masaccio, Holy Trinity// Matisse, The Dance & The Red Room (Harmony in Red)// Matta, Je m'honte// Memling, Maria Portinari (Maria Maddalena Baroncelli) and Tommaso di Folco Portinari// Michelangelo, Holy Family (Doni Tondo) & The Sistine Chapel ceiling// Millais, Ophelia// Millet, The Gleaners// Miró, Painting// Modersohn-Becker, Seated Nude with Flowers// Modigliani, Nude on a Blue Cushion// Monet, Rouen Cathedral: The Portal (In Sun) & Impressionism: Sunrise// Moreau, The Apparition// Morisot, Summer's Day// Motherwell, Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 34// Munch, The Scream// Murillo, The Immaculate Conception of the Escorial// Newman, Vir Heroicus Sublimus// Noland, Gift// Nolde, Masks// O'Keeffe, City Night// Panini, Modern Rome// Parmigianino, Madonna of the Long Neck// Perugino, Delivery of the Keys to Saint Peter// Picasso, Les Desmoiselles, Guernica & Three Dancers// Pippin, Domino Players// Pissarro, La Place Du Théâtre Français// Pollock, Autumn Rhythm (Number 30)// Pontormo, Entombment// Poussin, Landscape with Saint John on Patmos & A Dance to the Music of Time// Prud'hon, Empress Josephine// Puvis De Chavannes, The Sacred Grove, Beloved of the Arts and the Muses// Quarton, Pieta de Villeneuve d'Avignon// Raphael, Madonna of the Meadow & Philosophy (School of Athens)// Rauschenberg, Reservoir// Reinhardt, Abstract Painting, Blue// Rembrandt, Return of the Prodigal Son & Militia Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq ("Night Watch")// Reni, Aurora// Renoir, Luncheon of the Boating Party// Reynolds, Mrs. Elisha Mathew// Ribera, The Club-footed Boy// Rigaud, Portrait of Louis XIV// Rivera, Controller of the Universe// Romano, Fall of the Giants from Mount Olympus// Rossetti, Ecce Ancilla Domini! (The Annunciation)// Rothko, No. 61 (Rust and Blue) [Brown Blue, Brown on Blue]// Rouault,The Old King// Henri Rousseau, The Snake Charmer (Le Douanier)// Theodore Rousseau, The Forest of Fontainebleau, Morning// Rubens, The Disembarkation of Maria de' Medici at the Port of Marseilles on November 3, 1600 & The Judgement of Paris// Ruysch, Flower Still Life// Ruysdael, Two Watermills and an Open Sluice at Singraven, Netherlands// Sánchez Cotán, Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber// Sargent, The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit// Schiele, Portrait of Paris von Gütersloh// Schlemmer, Bauhaus Stairway// Schmidt-Rottluff, Manor in Dangast, Gramberg Houses// Schongauer, Madonna of the Rose Bower// School of Fontainebleau, Diana the Huntress// Seurat, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte-1884// Signorelli, Damned Cast into Hell// Soutine, The Little Pastry Cook// Stael, Musicians// Steen, The Christening Feast// Stella, Tahkt-i-Sulayman I// Stuart, George Washington// Tanguy, The Five Strangers// Tanner, Annunciation// Teniers, The Archduke Leopold's Gallery// ter Borch, The Letter// Tiepolo, Rinaldo Under the spell of Armida//Tintoretto, The Last Supper// Titian, Venus of Urbino, Le Concert champêtre (Pastoral Concert), & Madonna of the Pesaro Family// Toulouse-Lautrec, At The Moulin Rouge// Turner, Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhoon Coming On)// Uccello, The Battle of San Romano (1423)// van der Weyden, The Escorial Deposition (or Descent from the Cross)//van Dyck, Equestrian Portrait of Charles I// van Eyck, Madonna adored by the Canonicus Van der Paell & Man in a Red Turban// van Gogh, Bedroom at Arles, The Starry Night & The Night Café// van Goyen, The Pelkus Gate near Utrecht// Vasarély, Arcturus II// Velázquez, Las Meninas (The Maids of Honor) & Surrender at Breda (The Lances)// Vermeer, View of Delft, Netherlands, After the Fire & Woman Holding a Balance// Veronese, Last Supper (Christ in the House of Levi)// Vigée-Lebrun, Marie-Antoinette and her Children// Vuillard, Interior with Work Table (The Suitor)// Warhol, Marilyn Diptych// Watteau, Embarkation for Cythera// Wesselmann, Great American Nude No. 57// West, Penn's Treaty with the Indians// Whistler, Nocturne in Black and Gold - The Falling Rocket, & Symphony in White, No. 2: The Little White Girl// Witte, Interior of a Church// Witz, The Calling of St. Peter (The Miraculous Draught of Fishes)// Wood, American Gothic// Wright of Derby, An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump// Zurbarán, Saint Serapion.


  • Laurie Schneider Adams, Art Across Time.
  • Carol Strickland, Ph.D. and John Boswell, The Annotated Mona Lisa.
  • H. H. Arnason and Peter Kalb, History of Modern Art.
  • Robert Cumming, Annotated Art.
  • Jonathan Fineberg, Art Since 1940.
  • Richard G. Tansey and Fred S. Kleiner, Gardner's Art Through the Ages.
  • Frederick Hartt, Art: A History of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture.
  • Hugh Honour and John Fleming, The Visual Arts: A History.
  • H. W. Janson, History of Art.
  • H. W. Janson and Anthony F. Janson, A Short History of Art.
  • Martin Kemp, The Oxford History of Western Art.
  • Penelope J. E. Davies et al, Janson's History of Art: Western Tradition.
  • Marilyn Stokstad, Art History.
  • Sister Wendy Beckett and Patricia Wright, The Story of Painting.
  • The Art Book.  Phaidon
  • Dr. Robert Belton, Art: The World of Art, from Aboriginal to American Pop, Renaissance Masters to Postmodernism.
  • E. H. Gombrich. The Story of Art.
  • Thomas Hoving. Greatest Works of Art of Western Civilization.
  • Herbert Read.  A Concise History of Modern Painting
  • M. Therese Southgate, M. D. The Art of JAMA: One Hundred Covers and Essays from The Journal of the American Medical Association.
  • Ingo F. Walther. Art of the 20th Century and Masterpieces of Western Art.


Using the reference books above (some 17,000 pages of art history), I recorded which famous paintings were reproduced in each text.  From this database, I counted the number of citations for each work and generated a list of 250 masterpiece paintings. Presto!

Addendum: To ensure that the list represented diverse famous painters (Picasso, Goya, Titian and van Gogh alone could create a list of 250 masterpiece paintings!), I limited to three the number of paintings from each. 

Questions? Comments? Wondering what happened with all this great data? Visit

Susan Benford

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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, Lady with an Ermine

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

Peeters, Clara

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 collectionExplore famous paintings at the 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. 

10 Famous Paintings at the Prado. Don't miss a one of these.

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


Japanese Woodblock Prints: The Great Wave

The Terracotta Warriors