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Titian Paintings and Portraits

Posted by Susan Benford

Demand for Titian paintings soared after Titian (ca. 1488-1576) revealed his masterful Assumption of the Virgin in 1518 (below right).

titian assumption virgin naples resized 600Designed for the basilica of Venice's Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, its rich hues and monumental scale -- a colossal 22' 8" tall -- had rarely been see in Italian painting. 

But it's not merely the scale that was ground-breaking: these Titian figures are charged with life and drama, creating what many consider the most renowned Assumption in art history.

Titian.  Assumption of the Virgin, ca. 1516-1518.  Oil on panel, 22' 8" by 11" 10".  Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice.  

Titian divided this massive panel into three sections:

1. the earthly at the bottom;

2. the heavenly at the top with God hovering over all; and

3. the middle in which the Virgin looks upward.

Look how the two red-robed apostles at the bottom form the base of a triangle pointing toward the Virgin, drawing the viewer's eye toward the focal point, the Virgin Mary. 

None less than the renowned sculptor Antonio Canova claimed that Assumption of the Virgin was the most beautiful painting in the world. 

After Assumption was revealed in 1518, demand for Titian portraits and paintings became unsatiable.  

Among the most famous of these Titian paintings is of Isabella d'Este (1474-1539), one of the most influential Renaissance art patrons.

titian isabella d este

Titian.  Isabella d'Este, 1534-36.  Oil on canvas, 3' 4 1/8" by 2' 1 3/16".  Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. 

After her marriage to Francesco Gonzaga, marquis of Mantua, Isabella began collecting ceramics, paintings, cameos, glassware, classical texts, musical instruments and manuscripts, and sculpture.

Perhaps aware of her pending legacy as a Renaissance art patron, Isabella d'Este commissioned portraits from prominent Renaissance painters including Leonardo da Vinci, Andrea Mantegna, and Titian.

Although Isabella d'Este was 60 years old when she commissioned her portrait, she insisted that Titian portray her in her 20s.  

Titian complied, emphasizing her face and hands by the intricacy of her dress' sleeves and the unseen light on the left.  Her dress melts into the background and, as the patron demanded, she is captured as a young (and highly confident) young woman.

titian charlesv resized 600Titian likely wished this d'Este portrait was the last in which he was to reverse the aging process... but it wasn't.  

After his coronation as Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V (1500-1588) appointed Titian the Court Painter and Count Palatine and Knight of the Golden Spur, unheard of honors for a painter.

Charles V was an avid Catholic devoted to maintaining the status and prominence of the Catholic Church. He asked Titian for a portrait of the defeated Protestant League at the Battle of Muhlberg in 1547 (a victory which ultimately failed to arrest Protestant influence).

Titian complied.

Around his neck, Charles wears the Order of the Golden Fleece, an order of 24 knights who pledged to join Charles in preserving Catholicism.  He is shown wearing the actual armor and

Titian.  Emperor Charles V at Muhlberg, 1548.  Oil on canvas, 131" by 110".  Prado, Madrid. 

riding the same horse he employed in the battle. Portraying Charles seated on a horse was novel, but the portrait is of a fictious Charles V.

At the time of Titian's painting, Charles, at age 57, had abdicated and was residing on his Spanish estate. He was riddled with gout, a result of poor habits like drinking ice-cold beer before breakfast, and, according to contemporaries, and of his inordinate fondness for eel pie, olives, spicy Spanish sausages and oysters. 

Once again, Titian practiced portraiture based more on idealism than realism.  But his greater genius, in my mind, was in capturing psychological states, grandly exemplified in his Pope Paul III and his Grandsons

titian pope paul iii grandsons resized 600Pope Paul III, who confronted challenges to the Church's dominance through the Reformation, was dedicated to

Titian.  Pope Paul III and his Grandsons, 1546.  Oil on canvas, 6'10" by 5'8".  Museo e Gallerie Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples.

maintaining the Church's authority for himself, his family, and his nephews (called grandsons).  Here, Titian captures the withered Pope's enduring authority and desire to promote his grandsons' careers while concurrently leaving no doubt about the grandsons' obsequious devotion to him.  

Some critics complained that the sketchy brushwork indicates Titian didn't finish this portrait, but I'd disagree - denser brushstrokes would be redundant in this psychological portrait.

Do you agree that Titian shows these psychological states so palpably? And can any Catholics shed light on using "nephew" and "grandson" interchangeably? Let us know!

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Tags: Titian, Titian paintings

Famous Paintings: Bacchus and Ariadne

Posted by Susan Benford

One of Titian's most famous paintings, Bacchus and Ariadne, is one of five commissioned by Alfonso d'Este (1486-1534) for his palace in Ferrara, Italy.  Like many Italian Renaissance princes, he had a private art gallery, known as a camerino or studiolo.  His was a camerino d'alabastro, or small alabaster room, with white marble-veneered walls to showcase his collection of Renaissance artwork.

bellini feast of gods

Giovanni Bellini and Titian, Feast of the Gods.  Oil on canvas, 5' 7" x 6' 2".  National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. 

The bacchanal paintings commissioned for the Alabaster Room are all based loosely on Roman rites and rituals described by the poet Ovid (43 B.C. - A.D. 1). 

The centerpiece of the Alabaster Room was Feast of the Gods (left) by Giovanni Bellini (1430/1435 - 1516), the greatest Venetian painter of the 15th century. 

Like Feast, the other four commissions treated the theme of love. These works are:

  1. Dosso Dossi's Aeneas in the Elysian Fields; 

  2. Worship of Venus by Titian; 

  3. The Bacchanal of the Andrians by Titian; and

  4. Bacchus and Ariadne, the most renowned of these four Titian paintings.  

 titian worship of venusTitian, The Worship of Venus.  Oil on canvas, 1516  - 1518.  5'8" x 5'8". Museo del Prado, Madrid.

In The Worship of Venus (left), Ariadne, daughter of King Minos of Crete, aided Theseus in his escape from the Minotaur's labyrinth, subsequently falling in love with the Athenian hero. 

Ungrateful for her assistance, he callously abandoned her on the Greek island of Naxos, where she wandered in mourning.  In Bacchus and Ariadne, she hopelessly extends her hand toward Theseus' dimly visible ship.  At that moment, her life is miraculously transformed by the scene Titian memorializes in this landmark painting - love at first sight from, and toward, Bacchus, the god of wine.

Bacchus is immediately recognizable both by the laurel and grape leaves adorning his hair, and by his company of satyrs and maenads (Bacchus groupies); one of these crashs cymbals while in a pose mirroring Ariadne's. He bounds from his chariot, pulled hertitian bacchus and ariadne

Titian, Bacchus and Ariadne. Oil on canvas, c. 1522-23. 5' 9" x 6' 3". National Gallery, London  

by cheetahs rather than leopards.  This deviation from tradition is Titian's nod to Bacchus' conquest of India.  On the far right, the strongman Laocoon would have been immediately identifiable to the Italian Renaissance audience: an antique statue of this Trojan priest was unearthed in 1505, inspiring cross-references from many Renaissance painters and artists. The fat, elder man seemingly asleep on a donkey is Silenus, the head of the satyrs and foster-father to Bacchus.  

In the middle foreground is a baby satyr who alone directly engages the viewer.  He dons a garland and drags a calf head; its dismemberment - and drinking of its blood by the revelers - is a gruesome part of Bacchus' ritual.  In the lower left, Titian's name is inscribed in Latin on the urn, and translates as "Titian made this picture".  He was one of the first Renaissance painters to sign his artwork, and was an early proponent of improving the lowly social status of painters.

Curiously, this didn't include maintaining the integrity of paintings completed by others. Feast, completed in 1514, was altered by Ferrara's court painter, Dosso Dossi, who reportedly altered the painting to coordinate with other decorations in the Alabaster Room. Additional (and well-documented) alterations were made in 1529 by Bellini's student, Titian, who completely repainted the background. It is not known if this alteration was also made to complement other 'decorations' in the Alabaster Room!  When the Este family lost control on Ferrara in 1598, these famous paintings and sculptures were dispersed.

Note: If anyone knows when it became unacceptable to re-paint another artist's completed work, I'd appreciation learning -- it is so remote from today's standards! 




Tags: Renaissance paintings, Titian, Bacchus and Ariadne, Italian Renaissance

Famous Paintings: Rape of Europa

Posted by Susan Benford

The famous Renaissance paintings in Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese -  Rivals in Renaissance Venice have produced much fanfare at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and beyond. With Newsweek proclaiming it as "one of the most breathtaking old-master exhibitions you'll ever see", the meeting of these three Renaissance painters is a timely occasion to discuss one of the best Titian paintings (as well as one of the most famous Renaissance paintings), Titian's Rape of Europa

titian self portrait resized 600But first a bit about Titian (officially Tiziano Vecellio).  He was born around 1488 into a family of modest means living in the mountains north of Venice, and studied in the workshop of Giovanni Bellini, Venice's most prominent artist in the 15th century. 

Titian.  Self Portrait, c. 1560.  Oil on canvas, 86 cm by 65 cm.  Prado, Madrid.

Titian's genius (and lasting legacy) came from integrating three influences:

  • Bellini's work, known for its sharp delineation of form, clarity, and pure tones;

  • the artistic style and thematic innovations of Giorgione; and

  • Titian's own expressive brushwork and thick paint application. 

Indeed, Titian and Giorgione shared workspace from approximately 1500-1510, so that their similarity of style in Titian's early career is hardly shocking. It has led to confusion about the attribution of several Renaissance paintings, most significantly The Concert Champetre, or Pastoral Concert.  Nearly five centuries of art history later, it was only recently attributed to Titian rather than to Giorgione!

After Giorgione died from plague in 1510, Titian became the most famous painter of the 16th century Italian Renaissance.  None other than Velazquez opined on the reputation of Titian:

To tell the truth, I do not like Raphael at all. It is in Venice that the finest things are to be found... It is Titian who carries the day".

Titian's stature in art history remains unshakeable for two general reasons:

  • Titian transformed the status of the painter from lowly craftsman to creative genius, becoming the first painter to attain international recognition; and

  • Titian mastered two types of Renaissance paintings most popular with 16th century rulers: portraiture, in which Titian brilliantly melded realism with idealism, and mythological paintings such as Rape of Europa.

titian rape europa

Titian (Tiziano Vecellio). Europe, 1560-62.  Oil on canvas, 178 x 205 cm. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, Massachusetts.

Painted for Phillip II, King of Spain, this mythological painting portrays the abduction of Europa by Jupiter, who dupes Europa with his disguise as a bull. Rape of Europa is a study of contrasts: Europa is a reclining nude both submissive and resistant, both abandoned with desire and frightened, beneath a sky of opposites, both calm blue sky and with threatening storms.

The putti, or Cupids, in the sky and atop the dolphin are mesmerized watching the tension between the lovers; the nymphs, vague on the distant shore, watch and wave helplessly. Europa's generous, billowing flesh and Jupiter's tail seem to quiver with excitement at the pending sexual act.

This famous artwork lives at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, where I've had the pleasure of its frequent company.  With each visit, I'm reminded that the bull's eye - which Titian painted as inescapably leering, impossible to avoid - is the most intensely painted eye in Western art, human or animal.

It's riveting, dares you not to stare back, and is not to be missed.

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Tags: Titian, Titian paintings, Rape of Europa

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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.

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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