Note that to minimise the entries and the opportunity for confusion, the text and image sources are not shown here – do follow the links to the artists or their works and you will find a proper acknowledgement of the sources.
Jan Van Eyck
Portrait of a Man in a Turban (Probable self-portrait)
The Arnolfini Portrait
The Madonna of Chancellor Rolin
Madonna in the Church
|The Ghent Altarpiece aka the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, is a large and complex 15th-century polyptych altarpiece in St Bavo’s Cathedral, Ghent, Belgium. It was begun mid-1420s and completed by 1432. It is attributed to the Early Flemish painters and brothers Hubert and Jan van Eyck. The altarpiece is considered a masterpiece of European art and one of the world’s treasures.|
The three central upper panels (let to right) are the Virgin Mary, the Almighty and John the Baptist. These are flanked by singing angels and these are then flanked by Adam and Eve. The central lower panel is the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, from the left side the groups are male martyrs, pagan writers, Jewish prophets, male saints, and female martyrs. The lamb stands on an altar, surrounded by fourteen angels arranged in a circle. It is flanked to the left by knights and judges, and to the right are hermits and pilgrims.
This full-length double portrait, is believed to depict the Italian merchant Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini and his wife, in their residence at the Flemish city of Bruges.
It is considered one of the most original and complex paintings in Western art, because of its beauty, the complex iconography, its geometric orthogonal perspective, and the expansion of the picture space by the use of a mirror.
The Madonna of Chancellor Rolin was commissioned by Nicolas Rolin, chancellor of the Duchy of Burgundy, whose votive portrait takes up the left side of the picture. It was for his parish church, Notre-Dame-du-Chastel in Autun, where it remained until the church burnt down in 1793. After it spent a period in Autun Cathedral, it was moved to the Louvre in 1805. The scene depicts the Virgin Mary crowned by a hovering Angel while she presents the Infant Jesus to Rolin.
In Madonna in the Church, Mary, with the child, is in the nave of a Gothic cathedral, larger than life.
The detailed depiction of the architecture and the subtle grading of the light give the church interior a spatial aura that is all its own. The bright daylight coming in through the leadframed clerestory windows and the side portal is a reminder of the passage of time.
|This is a single fresco scene from the cycle painted around 1425 by Masaccio, Masolino and others on the walls of the Brancacci Chapel in the church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence. |
This image shows the fresco after restoration. It depicts the Genesis story of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.
Three centuries after the fresco was painted, Cosimo III de’ Medici, in line with the then ideas of decorum, ordered fig leaves to be added to conceal the genitals. The fig leaves were removed in the 1980s, when it was cleaned and restored.
The Holy Trinity, with the Virgin and Saint John and donors is a fresco by Masaccio, dated to some ime between 1425–1427; he died in late 1428 at the age of 26/27.
This painting was therefore one of his last major commissions, and is considered to be one of his masterpieces. It is located in the Dominican church of Santa Maria Novella, in Florence.
The fresco is said to have been aligned precisely to the sight-lines and perspective arrangement of the room and a former entrance-way that faced the painting, so that this would enhance the tromp-l’œil effect.
Tribute Money is a fresco in the Brancacci chapel in Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence. The chapel frescoes in the chapel tell the story of the life of St. Peter. The story of the Tribute Money is told in three separate scenes within the same fresco, an approach described as continuous narrative. The event is described in the Gospel of Matthew. Christ and his disciples are approached by a tax collector (central group), who demands money from them. Christ tells Peter to cast his net and look inside the mouth of his first catch. He does so (figure on the left) and finds a coin that is paid over to the collector (on the right), an account of a minor miracle. Using this technique Masaccio is able to make the event unfold upon the wall of the Brancacci chapel.
Tommaso di Masaccio
The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden
The Holy Trinity
Guido di Fra Angelico
(Detail from Deeds of the Antichrist by Luca Signorelli)
Coronation of the Virgin
|The Coronation of the Virgin was produced by Fra Angelico. This painting can be viewed at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.|
When Cosimo de’ Medici rebuilt the Convent of San Marco in Florence, he commissioned Fra Angelico to decorate the walls with intricate frescos. This included the altarpiece, the inside of the monk’s cells, the friar’s cloister, the chapter house, and inside the corridors; around fifty pieces in total. All of the paintings were done by Angelico himself or under his direct supervision.
The Annunciation is the most well known of the frescoes. He is credited as the inventor of this type of composition, where Gabriel visits Mary in an outdoor setting. Gothic versions had Mary enthroned. Fra Angelico treats the figures so that they seem to float in the air, and his lines do not end in a vanishing point, making them appear a tad lopsided and rather disproportional.
|The Battle of San Romano is a set of three paintings by the Florentine painter Uccello depicting events that took place at the 1432 Battle of San Romano, between troops of the Republic of Florence and the Republic of Siena. The battle took place in Tuscany, 80kms NW of Florence and 75 kms north of Pisa.|
Paolo di Dono was celebrated in his lifetime as a master of perspective, and of animals and landscape; his nickname, Uccello (‘Bird’), alludes to his depictions of the natural world. He was a versatile designer, working at times on mosaic and stained glass commissions and all of these interests are fused in this masterpiece. As a nocturnal landscape and as a brilliantly structured composition, The Hunt is a highly original painting. In its size and shape it is a spalliera painting, to be viewed at shoulder height.
Gothicizing tendencies in Paolo Uccello’s art are nowhere more apparent than in this painting. It shows a scene from the famous story of Saint George and the Dragon. On the right, George is spearing the beast, and on the left, the princess is using her belt as a leash to take the dragon to the town. The eye in the storm gathering on the right of Saint George is lined up with his spear showing there has been divine intervention.
(aka Paolo di Dono)
(Portrait by unknown artist)
Battle of San Romano
– one part of triptych
Hunt in the Forest
St George and the Dragon
Rogier van der Weyden
1400 – 1464
(Detail from his portrait of Francesco d’Este)
Deposition from the Cross
|The crucified Christ is lowered from the cross, his lifeless body held by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. According to the canonical gospels, Joseph of Arimathea took Christ’s body and prepared it for burial. John (19:38–42) adds one assistant, Nicodemus. |
None of these accounts mention Mary, but during the Middle Ages, the narrative of the Passion became more elaborate, and more attention was paid to the role of Christ’s mother.
One art historian identified the figures in the painting as (from left to right): Mary Cleophas (half-sister to the Virgin Mary); John the Evangelist, Mary Salome (in green, another half-sister of the Virgin Mary), The Virgin Mary (swooning), the corpse of Jesus Christ, Nicodemus (in red), a young man on the ladder – either a servant of Nicodemus or of Joseph of Arimathea, Joseph of Arimathea (in field-of-cloth-of-gold robes, the most sumptuous costume in the painting), the bearded man behind Joseph holding a jar was probably another servant and Mary Magdalene who adopts a dramatic pose on the right of the painting.
|Piero della Francesca was the first artist to write a treatise on perspective – that is, creating an illusion of three-dimensional space on a flat surface.|
In Baptism of Christ he has painted objects in proportion, so that they appear as we see them in real life. This emphasises the depth of the landscape, but also the harmony of the figures and natural features within it. Christ stands in a shallow, winding stream as John the Baptist pours a small bowl of water over his head. Three angels in colourful robes witness the event. The Holy Ghost is shown here as a dove flying over Christ’s head and towards us.
In the main choir chapel (Cappella Maggiore) of San Francesco church in Arezzo, Piero della Francesca painted a fresco cycle narrating the stories of the True Cross – the cross on which Christ was crucified. The subject-matter of the stories illustrated by Piero is drawn from Jacobus de Voragine’s ‘Golden Legend’, a 13th century text that recounts the miraculous story of the wood of Christ’s Cross.
The Flagellation of Christ takes as its theme the scourging of Christ by the Romans during his passion. Its composition is complex and unusual, and its iconography has been the subject of widely differing theories. It is admired for its use of linear perspective and the geometrical order of the composition. The three figures in the foreground have been much discussed, as they appear to be disinterested in what is happening. The figure seated on the left is usually assumed to be Pontius Pilate. Kenneth Clark placed it on his personal list of the best ten paintings, calling it the greatest small painting in the world.
One of the most celebrated portraits of the Italian Renaissance, the diptych features the Duke of Urbino, Federico da Montefeltro (1422-1482) and his wife Battista Sforza (1446-1472).
In the tradition of the 14th c, inspired by the design of ancient coins, the two figures are shown in profile, an angle that is considered to ensure a good likeness and a faithful representation of facial details without allowing their sentiments to show through.
Piero della Francesca
(Self portrait included in his ‘The Ressurection’)
Baptism of Christ
The Legend of the True Cross
Flagellation of Christ
Portraits of Federico da Montefeltro e Battista Sforza
Adoration of the Magi
Camera delgi Sposi
Lamentation over the Dead Christ
|The Adoration of the Magi or Uffizi Triptych is a group of three tempera-on-panel paintings by Andrea Mantegna, dating to around 1460. The three subjects are the Ascension of Christ, Adoration of the Magi (largest and central panel) and the Circumcision of Christ. They were gathered as a trio in the 19th century, although some art historians doubt that they were created as a triptych set in the way that they are now arranged.|
Mantegna‘s best-known surviving work is in the Palazzo Ducale at Mantua. For the Camera degli Sposi, Mantegna used highly realistic painted architectural elements on walls and ceilings, which from ground level convincingly imitated three-dimensionally extended shapes.
Lamentation over the Dead Christ, the dating of the piece is debated, it was completed between 1475-1501, probably early 1480s.
It portrays the body of Christ supine on a marble slab, watched over by the Virgin Mary, Saint John and Mary Magdalene weeping for his death. Mantegna may have made this painting for his personal funerary chapel.
|Lofty Mount Lu is a hanging scroll, in ink and light colours, on paper. It is by Shen Zhou and dated to 1467.|
Shen Zhou before the age of 40 painted small scenes. thereafter he switched to painting larger works. He was 40 when he painted this large landscape.
While painting in the Ming period Shen Zhou paintings, while under 40, are said to apply the styles of the Yuan Dynasty and Wang Meng. After 40 he followed the styles of Huang Gongwang and Wu Zhen.
He is also noted for respecting China’s history while observing his orthodox Confucianism.
Shen Zhou 沈周
Lofty Mount Lu
Da Vinci, Leonardo
Ginevra de’ Benci
Virgin of the Rocks
The Last Supper
Mona Lisa / La Giaconda
|Ginevra de’ Benci depicts her at sixteen, when she is known to have had several admirers who composed poetry in her honour. Among them was Lorenzo de’ Medici, whose elite family was known for its art patronage.|
At this time a well-born girl’s virtue was prized and guarded, and a girl’s beauty was thought to be a sign of goodness. She is depicted with flawless chalk-white skin, porcelain-fine features, and a reserved, somewhat impenetrable expression. Young women of the time were expected to comport themselves with dignity and modesty.
The Virgin of the Rocks (aka The Madonna of the Rocks) is the title of two similar sized paintings, with several differences. This one is in the Louvre, the other in London’s National Gallery. Both were painted on panels, the Louvre version was transferred to canvas. This composition has Mary and Jesus joined by an infant John the Baptist and the angel Uriel. It uses sfumato, a technique for softening or hazing tones and colours, emulating areas outside our eyes’ focal areas.
This drawing has become a worldwide icon. The notes on the page discuss the works of the Roman architect, Vitruvius Pollio, hence Vitruvian Man aka the Canon of Proportions. The two superimposed images of man are placed in a circle and a square, implying perhaps a universal design in microcosm. Da Vinci’s limb proportions are not those of Vitruvius but instead from his own measurements of male models – and corpses? It was only late in the 19th century that the image was widely distributed, so it is unlikely it influenced the proportions applied by Da Vinci’s contemporaries.
The Last Supper was commissioned by Ludovico Sforza for the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan. It is based on St John, 13:21 when Jesus reveals that one of his disciples will betray him. Each character has a different reaction to the news. In 1652 a doorway was cut through the wall and this removed Christ’s feet!
The bottom image sets a copy of La Gioconda held by Madrid’s Prado Museum against the original in the Louvre. The Science News article discusses German researchers who suggest the copy was painted in Leonardo’s studio at the same time from a slightly different position, and the two images can be viewed as a stereoscopic image. Unlikely given that it is suggested it was painted between 1503-6 and that Leonardo continued working on the original until 1517.
|Primavera, a large panel painting has been described as ‘one of the most written about, most controversial paintings in the world’, and also ‘one of the most popular paintings in Western art’.|
The painting depicts a group of figures from classical mythology in a garden, but no story has been found that brings this particular group together. Most critics agree that the painting is an allegory based on the lush growth of Spring, but accounts of any precise meaning vary, though many involve the Renaissance Neoplatonism which fascinated intellectual circles in Florence. The subject was first described as Primavera by the art historian Giorgio Vasari who saw it at Villa Castello, just outside Florence, before 1550.
Idealised Portrait of a Lady is thought that the subject of the painting was Simonetta Vespucci. Many believed her to be the most beautiful woman in Florence at this time. She became the love interest of Giuliano de’ Medici. Her appearance is quite stylised and lavish, with ribbons, feathers and what appears to be a wig. This is thought to be elaborate and unrealistic by the standards of Florence in the 15th century.
Birth of Venus was commissioned by the Medici family, and is Botticelli’s first major modern work. Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574), the artist, architect and writer, who encountered the work at the Medici’s Villa di Castello, where it ws shown alongside Botticelli’s Primavera. Others reference the Classical Venus of Modesty as an inspiration. Imagery from the work has been used by Adobe for their Illustrator pack and software. Beyoncé and Lady Gaga have used the theme in music videos.
Idealised Portrait of a Lady
Birth of Venus
The Last Judgement
The Garden of Earthly Delights (Triptych)
The Haywain (Triptych)
|The Last Judgment is a triptych of Hieronymus Bosch. The outside of the shutters are painted in grisaille (a method of painting in grey monochrome), while the inside shutters and centre are oil on panel.|
It depicts the Garden of Eden in the left panel and Hell in the right.
In the left, God is shown seated in Heaven, while the Rebel Angels are cast out of Heaven and transformed into insects. At the foot of the panel, God creates Eve from the rib of Adam. In the middle Eve is tempted by the Serpent. Towards the centre of the panel, Adam and Eve are chased by the Angel into the dark forest.
The central painting is based on John’s Book of Revelation. Above is Christ as a judge, surrounded by the Virgin Mary, John the Evangelist and the apostles.
The right panel shows Satan, in the centre, receiving the damned souls. The torture scenes continue in this panel, within a dark landscape dominated by flames and devilish figures.
The Garden of Earthly Delights is a modern title applied to Bosch’s most complex and enigmatic creation. The intricacy of its symbolism, particularly that of the central panel, has led to a wide range of scholarly interpretations over the centuries. Twentieth-century art historians are divided as to whether the triptych’s central panel is a moral warning or a panorama of paradise lost.
The Haywain triptych features, in its central panel, a large wagon of hay surrounded by a multitude of fools engaged in a variety of sins. Christ is portrayed in the sky and an angel on top of the wagon looks up to the sky, praying, but none of the other figures see Christ looking down on the world.
The left panel shows God giving form to Eve and the progression of the Garden of Eden events. The right panel portrays Hell. The outside shutters feature a version of Bosch’s The Wayfarer, painted in colour and not the more usual grisaille.
|Painted by Kamāl ud-Dīn Behzād, the great artist of the Timurid Renaissance, this is a Portrait of Sultan Husayn Bayqara when aged 50, a significant patron of the Arts. |
A benefactor and patron of learning who built multiple centres for learning. His sophisticated court was a source of admiration, particularly from his cousin, Babur of Mughal India.
The 1494-5 construction of a fort at Kharnaq (aka Khavarnaq) in al-Hira is a delightfully naive scene.
Kamāl ud-Dīn Behzād
(His Portrait of a Dervish)
Portrait of Sultan Husayn Bayqara
Construction of the fort at Kharnaq
An Oriental Ruler Seated on His Throne
The Four Horsemen
A Young Hare
The Four Apostles
|Dürer was a leading artist of the Renaissance, In his etchings and woodcarvings he raised the perception of printmaking from a craft to fine art. Like Da Vinci he focused on perspective and anatomical proportion to add realism. This pen and ink drawing has intense detail in terms of clothing and jewellery. Symbolically the hands grasp a small orb and sword. Dürer was appointed court artist for Holy Roman Emperors Maximilian I And Charles V.|
This is one of fifteen woodcuts in Dürer’s The Apocalypse series. It graphically present the horsemen, Death, Famine, War (or Conquest), and Plague (or Pestilence), as described in Revelation 6:v1-8. Peculiar to use this mono medium when three of the horses are described by colour.
At the time Europe was poised, fearing the end of the world was coming in 1500, and more immediately expecting an invasion from the Ottoman Empire. This added real context to the piece.
This watercolour is considered a masterpiece of observational art, alongside his Great Piece of Turf from the following year. The subject is rendered with almost photographic accuracy. However, while the piece is normally given the title Young Hare, the portrait is sufficiently detailed for the hare to be identified as mature.
The Four Apostles is the last of Dürer’s large works. It depicts the four apostles larger-than-life-size. Saints John and Peter appear in the left panel; the figures in the right panel are Saints Mark and Paul.
Mark and Paul both hold Bibles, and John and Peter are shown reading from the opening page of John’s own Gospel. At the bottom of each panel, quotations from the Bible are inscribed.[
The Reformation reduced the number of religious commissions for artists. Dürer donated this work to the Nuremberg town council.
|Doni Tondo: Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus are depicted, with John the Baptist (the Patron Saint of Florence) set in the middle ground.|
The five male nudes at the rear are said to relate to pagan humanity, They were likely prompted by the coincident recovery of Hellenic artifacts in the excavations of Roman villas; at this time the work uncovered the Apollo of the Belvedere and the Laocoön.
The use of mixed bright colours is considered to be a ‘prototype’ for their use in the Sistine Chapel frescoes.
The Sistine Chapel was built by Pope Sixtus IV (1477-80) within the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope. It is used for Papal enclaves and elections.
Michelangelo was commissioned by Pope Julius II to paint the ceiling and sanctuary wall. The chapel also has wall paintings by Botticelli, Ghirlandaio and Perugino, and has tapestries by Raphael.
The ceiling shows nine scenes based upon the book of Genesis, The Creation of Adam being the most famous.
The Sanctuary wall has the fresco The Last Judgement.
See Michelangelo as sculptor here.
The Creation of Adam (Sistine Chapel)
The Last Judgement
(Detail from his Illustrated Legends of Seikōji)
Bamboo in the Four Seasons
late 15th/early 16th c
|A Muromachi work, Bamboo in the Four Seasons. The traditional Chinese subject of bamboo is given a distinctly Japanese treatment in this rendition of the four seasons. Attributed to Tosa Mitsunobu.|
|Dragon Pine by Wu Boli (a Daoist priest), was painted in the late 14th/early 15th c for Zhang Yuchu, the forty-third Daoist ‘pope’ of the Orthodox Unity sect. It bears his appreciative colophon.|
During the Ming, and before, the pine signified ‘the moral character of the virtuous man’, and Wu Boli is thought to have seen his pine as representing the Daoist sage or ‘perfected being’.
According to Daoist geomantic beliefs, vital energies collect at the base of a mountain slope along the edge of a stream-precisely the location of the pine in Wu Boli’s painting.
(Detail from his Clouds and Pines in an Ancient Valley)
aka Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino
Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints
Madonna and Child (aka The Madonna Conestabile )
Portraits of Agnolo and Maddalena Doni (née Strozzi)
Madonna of the Pinks (Carnations)
School of Athens
Portrait of a Young Man (possible Self Portrait)
Portrait of Baldassar Castiglione
Chalk Study of a Man’s Head and Hand
|The Madonna and Child are on a throne with a canopy. The Madonna wears red to display her passion for Christ and a blue mantle to show she is the Queen of Heaven. Christ, dressed in white (purity) and violet (repentance) is blessing a young John the Baptist, and joined (left to right) by the discuples St Peter and St Paul, and by Catherine with another female (St Barbara, St Helen or St Lucy). The lunette has God performing a blessing, flanked by two seraphims.|
This second Madonna and Child is also an early work and perhaps Raphael’s last work in Umbria before moving to Florence. In 1881 when it was transferred to canvas it was discovered that the incongruous book, was originally a pomegranate, a symbol for the Passion.
The Portraits of Agnolo and Maddalena Doni were painted while Raphael was studying Da Vinci’s style. It is said that the composition, the pose and the serenity resembles Mona Lisa. A key moment in Raphael’s maturing into a High Renaissance master.
This was only formally attributed to Raphael in 1991, La Madonna dei garofani, means the Madonna of the carnation, a Christian symbol forecasting Christ’s passion. Raphael’s uncommon use of greens (using malachite and verdigris) and blues (azurite and ultramarine) links the subject to the landscape. However the window shows no verdant landscape, but instead a ruined building to symbolise the fall of paganism by the birth of Jesus.
Raphael, at twenty-five, was summoned by Pope Julius II to decorate the Papal Apartments. In the room used by the Pope as a library Raphael painted (1509-11) this fresco Scuola di Atene; he decorated three further rooms The Raphael Rooms.
It is ranked as one of the top Renaissance paintings for its synthesis of Greek (ie Pagan) and Christian thinking. Plato (holding his Timaeus) and Aristotle (holding Ethics) stand at the centre. Many philosophers are featured including Pythagoras, Ptolemy and Zaroaster. Two backgroud sculptures are Apollo and Minerva (aka Athena). Looking outward is a self-portrait of Raphael, standing next to Ptolemy.
In the Sistine Madonna a vision of the Madonna and baby Jesus appears in clouds to St Sixtus (aka Pope Sixtus II) and St Barbara (Lebanese/ Greek martyr), The pair are surrounded by a host of obscured and two clear putti (not to be confused with cherubs). One story has it that these two were the children of Raphael’s models who would sit and watch him painting. Another tale is that he saw these two staring like this into a baker’s shop. Whatever the truth of that, these two have helped sell postcards and other items, and appeared on postage stamps.
Portrait of a Young Man by Raphael is often thought to be a self-portrait.
During the Second World War the painting was stolen by Nazis from Poland. Many historians regard it as the most important painting missing since World War II.
Baldasar Castiglione was an Italian courtier, diplomat and author. He met Raphael when they were both in Urbino, and refreshed their friendship when Castiglione became Urbino’s ambassador in Rome.
Raphael was commissioned to paint a portrait of England’s Henry VII in 1505. It was Catiglione who travelled to England and presented the portrait to the King. It is also suggested that Castiglione advised Raphael as he painted the 1509-11 School of Athens.
Chalk Study of a Man’s Head and Hand – Little is published about this drawing although the subject has similarities to one of the subjects used in Raphael’s Studies of Two Apostles in preparation for The Transfiguration.
The Transfiguration was Raphael’s last painting. For four centuries it was acclaimed as the most famous painting in the world. It was commissioned by Cardinal Giuilo de Medici (later Pope Clement VII) when he was appointed to the legation of Bologna, which included the archbishopric of Narbonne France.
He then commisioned two paintings for Narbonne Cathedral, this one and Sebastiano del Piombo’s The Raising of Lazarus. There appears to have been an element of competition between the two artists. Perhaps for this reason, the
painting has both the transfiguration, Christ flanked by Moses and Elijah, and the disciples trying to heal a possessed boy; thus including the human and the spiritual from of Christ.
|Clearing after Snow on a Mountain Pass is a hanging scroll artwork by Tang Yin, a Ming artist and poet. It is on show at the National Palace Museum, Beijing.|
Tang Yin is also known for eccentricities. Spotting a slave girl in a high official’s boat, he arranged to be sold in to slavery to be able to approach her. Fortuitously he managed to extricate them from serfdom. The tale prompted the play Three Words by Feng Menglong.
A Fisher in Autumn, by Tang Yin is ink and colours on silk, and is on show at the National Palace Museum, Beijing.
Tang Yin 伯虎
aka Tang Bohu
Clearing after Snow on a Mountain Pass
A Fisher in Autumn
Titian / Tiziano Vecelli
Sacred and Profane Love
Assumption of the Virgin
Bacchus and Ariadne
Portrait of Alfonso d’Avalos with a Page
Venus of Urbino
Danaë (six versions)
Danaë and the Shower of Gold
Pope Paul III with his Grandsons
Venus and Adonis
The Rape of Europa
|Sacred and Profane Love was commissioned by Nicolo Aurelio, whose coat of arms it bears, on the occasion of his marriage to Laura Bagarotto in 1514.|
This painting was given its title by a inventory of the Borghese collection in 1693, prior to this it was called ‘Beauty adorned and Beauty unadorned’. It perhaps depicts a figure representing the bride dressed in white, sitting beside Cupid and accompanied by the goddess Venus.
The Assumption of the Virgin shows Titian’s early career tendency towards vivid colours and luminous qualities. Later his style evolved to subtler shades of colour and highly lifelike shadows. The composition is brilliantly designed to lead the eyes upwards in a pyramid shape, beginning with the red robed apostles at the bottom, to Mary’s red dress, and finally to the red tunic of God at the top.
Bacchus and Ariadne is one of the most famous paintings in the National Gallery, Titian’s work illustrates a story told by the classical authors Ovid and Catullus.
Portrait of Alfonso d’Avalos with a Page depicts a general in the service of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. Titian produced the work in Bologna.
Venus of Urbino, is one of Titian’s most famous works and it depicts the emblematic figure of a young bride about to be dressed to take part in the celebration of the ritual known in Venice as ‘il toccamano’. It was a ceremony held in the home and not in church, during which a young woman whose hand was requested in marriage would touch the hand of the groom to express her consent.
Titian takes this as his inspiration for a seductive Venus, using an iconography that began in the early Renaissance, inspired by the ancient depiction of the ‘Venus pudica’.
Titian painted six Danaë paintings, Danaë and the Shower of Gold was created for Philip II, in which Cupid was replaced by an old nursemaid. This enriched the painting by creating a series of sophisticated counterpoints: youth versus old age; beauty versus loyalty; a nude figure versus a dressed figure.
Paul and his grandsons was commissioned by the Farnese family and painted during Titian’s visit to Rome between autumn 1545 and June 1546. It depicts the scabrous relationship between Pope Paul III and his grandsons, Ottavio and Alessandro Farnese.
Ottavio is shown in the act of kneeling, to his left; Alessandro, wearing a cardinal’s dress, stands behind him to his right.
The painting explores the effects of ageing and the manoeuvring behind succession.
Venus and Adonis – Titian was inspired, by tales from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, to paint what he called poesie, or poetry in paint. Here, Venus tries to stop her lover from departing for the hunt, fearing – correctly – that he would be killed. The mood of sensuality, conveyed by the beautiful depiction of Venus, seen from the back, enhances the viewer’s sense of the tragic end to this story, expressed through their exchanged glances and the frightened Cupid.
The Rape of Europa refers to the mythological story of the abduction of Europa by Zeus (Jupiter to the Romans).
In the myth, the god assumed the form of a bull and enticed Europa to climb onto his back. Once there, the bull rode into the sea and carried her to Crete, where he revealed his real identity. Europa became the first Queen of Crete, and had three children with Zeus.
|Typical of Visitation scenes, this work shows the moment when St. Elizabeth (pregnant with John the Baptist) visits the Virgin Mary (pregnant with Jesus) thus symbolizing the future importance of the relationship between the two unborn children.|
This early painting is in fact one of two Visitation scenes Pontormo painted, compare this with the second version completed a little over a decade later.
Madonna with Child and Saints portrays numerous figures. Saint Joseph, on the left, is holding Jesus (a role usually fulfilled by the Madonna). The presence of Saint Joseph is explained by the fact that the Gospel of James deals with Christ’s childhood and praises Joseph’s paternal cares. Saint Francis is connected to name of the committant and the devotion of his order towards Jesus.
Portrait of Cosimo di Giovanni de’ Medici depicts the founder of the House of Medici who had died over fifty years earlier. The work was commissioned by Goro Gheri, who from September 1519 onwards was responsible for the extraordinary administration of Florence, possibly at the instigation of Giovanni de’ Medici, later to become Pope Leo X.
Entombment is a counter-reformation painting has a diagonal cascade of mourners and cadaver-bearers descending to the limp, dead Christ and the bare stone. It is not a moment of transfiguration, but of mourning.
As the viewer’s eye descends from the gloom there is a descent from the hysteria of Mary of Clopas through subdued emotion to death as the final emotional silencing.
Unlike the gory post-crucifixion Jesus in morbid Spanish displays, Italian Christs die generally bloodlessly, and slump in a geometrically challenging display.
In this Visitation the Virgin Mary calling on her pregnant but aged cousin Elisabeth who was the wife of Zacharias. The two figures in the painting with their interlinked arms form a lozenge shape, one of Pontormo’s trademarks as was the way he makes the characters seem to be almost floating.
Jacopo da Pontormo
Visitation of the Virgin and St Elizabeth
Madonna with Child and Saints
(aka Pucci Altarpiece)
Portrait of Cosimo di Giovanni de’ Medici il Vecchio
The Entombment of Christ
The Visitation of the Virgin and St. Elizabeth
Hans Holbein the Younger
The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb
Portrait of Erasmus of Rotterdam
A Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling
Portrait of Sir Thomas More
Portrait of Henry VIII
|The Body of the Dead Christ shows a life-size, grotesque depiction of the stretched and unnaturally thin body of Jesus Christ lying in his tomb. The painting is especially notable for its dramatic dimensions (31 cm x 200 cm), and the fact that Christ’s face, hands and feet, as well as the wounds in his torso, are depicted as realistic dead flesh in the early stages of putrefaction. His body is shown as long and emaciated while eyes and mouth are left open.|
Erasmus (late 1460s-1536) was one of the most famous writers of his day and one of the most admired humanist scholars. In this portrait the artist has tried to surround the sitter with items which reflect his interests and profession.
In Lady with a Squirrel… A solemn woman wearing a soft cap of dense white fur sits with a red squirrel in her lap and a glossy-feathered starling at her shoulder. Common pets in the fifteenth-century, these animals also have a symbolic meaning and serve as clues to the sitter’s identity. She is thought to be Anne Lovell, whose husband, Sir Francis Lovell, was employed at the court of Henry VIII, King of England.
Portrait of Sir Thomas More was created when Holbein lived in London. He had gained the friendship of the Dutch humanist Erasmus, who recommended that he befriend More, then a powerful, knighted speaker at the English Parliament.
The Ambassadors: Jean de Dinteville, the man on the left, is shown on his second diplomatic mission to England on behalf of Francis I, King of France. To the right is his close friend, Georges de Selve, Bishop of Lavaur. This portrait was painted at a time of religious upheaval in Europe. If viewed from a particular angle the elongated shape between the men’s feet becomes a skull. Equally hidden at the top left of the picture is a crucifix that hints at the hope of redemption in the resurrected Christ.
Portrait of Henry VIII is a lost work by Hans Holbein the Younger, it was destroyed by fire in 1698, but is still well known through many copies. Henry is posed without any of the standard royal accoutrements such as a sword, crown, or sceptre. This was common in progressive royal portraiture of the period, for example the portraits by Titian of the Habsburg family and other royalty, and also French and German royal portraits.
|The Assumption of the Virgin is a dome fresco was commissioned by the citizens of Parma, to celebrate its liberation from the French.|
Mary rejoins her son, and the fresco features the four patron saints of Parma, St John the Baptist, St Hilary, St Bernard and St Thomas. The Apostles are shown, as are Adam and Eve, Judith and Holofernes… They spread around them in a trompe l’oeil vortex.
Correggio regularly used sfumato, quadratura and sotto in su to create illusion. This approach that has subjects seem to extend out into the viewers’ space was original at the time, and became a standard in the Baroque period.
Lamentation also known as Deposition, this is the moment that Christ’s body is taken down from the Cross. Statues of this moment are termed as a Pietà.
He is mourned by John, the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene. Nicodemus holds the ladder and pincers used to remove Christ’s nails.
Correggio’s series of Jupiter’s Loves followed on from the success of his Venus and Cupid with a Satyr.
Leda and the Swan shows three scenes of Jupiter’s seduction of Leda. Their meeting to the right, their love-making in the centre and its aftermath to the left.
While this was in Philippe II, Duke of Orléans’ collection his son Louis believed it to be too degenerate and attacked Leda’s face with a knife. Reworked three times, the new head of Leda has a chaste expression and removes the ecstatic twist of her head of the original.
Jupier and Io was inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphoses Io, daughter of Inachus, king of Argosis is seduced by Jupiter (aka Zeus in Greek). Io is shown sensually pulling Jupiter’s immaterial, and rather smoky hand, towards herself.
Antonio Allegri Correggio
The Assumption of the Virgin
Leda and the Swan
Jupiter and Io
Lucas Cranach the Elder
Winged Altar with the Last Judgement
Apollo and Diana
Martin Luther and wife
|Last Judgement‘s centre panel show Christ as a judge sitting upon a rainbow. To the left souls are carried upwards by angels. Below and on the right panel it depicts Hell.|
Apollo and Diana: this painting by Cranach the Elder is in the Royal Collection. It shows the sun god Apollo, admired for his moral standing and physical beauty, and his twin sister Diana or Artemis, goddess of the moon, who was associated with chastity, archery and hunting.
The scene is given a particular intensity by the way in which the figures are seen in relief but also related to the forest behind them. Diana’s precisely rendered hair curls around the stag’s antlers, which in turn are deliberately confused with the branches of the trees behind.
In 1525 Martin Luther, the apostate Augustinian monk, married Katharina von Bora, a former nun. He was thoroughly aware of the political consequences of this step.
|Parmigianino presented this self-portrait, painted on a convex wooden surface, along with two other small-format works to Pope Clement VII in the summer of 1524. He was ultimately unsuccessful in this attempt to gain prestigious and lucrative commissions from the Vatican, but even in the 16th century this unusual portrait was a widely recognised testimony to his talent.|
Madonna and Child… is a jarring, unusual, eye-catching composition. Saint John the Baptist dominates the foreground, staring at us intently. With his exaggeratedly long finger he points upwards to the Virgin and Child, seated in a burst of light against dark grey storm clouds. The Christ Child mischievously kicks his foot out of the painting towards us.
Saint Jerome lies sleeping on the ground, exhausted from his vigils in the wilderness, clutching a cross with the crucified Christ.
According to the art biographer Vasari, Parmigianino was working on this picture when imperial troops burst into his workshop but ’seeing him [and] stupefied at this work… they let him pursue it’.
The infant Christ places a ring on Saint Catherine’s finger in her vision of a ‘mystic marriage’. Parmigianino has positioned the gold ring with a blue stone at the very centre of the painting. Beside Saint Catherine is the spiked wheel upon which she was tortured for her Christian faith.
The Madonna with the long neck is a statuesque figure reminiscent of Michelangelo, but with unnaturally elongated forms, contemplates the Divine Infant, who is asleep on her lap. The Child’s slumber prefigures his death on the cross, as the image of the Crucifixion is reflected in the urn that the angel is showing to the Virgin.
In the commissioning contract, the artist undertook to finish the painting in five months, but died in 1540, the altarpiece was in his study unfinished.
Two years later, a decision was made to place it on the altar for which it had been destined, and the following inscription was added to the base of the column to justify its incomplete state: ‘Adverse destiny prevented Francesco Mazzola from Parma from completing this work’.
Francesco Mazzla Parmigianino
Self portrait in a convex mirror
Madonna and Child with Saints John the Baptist and Jerome, The (Vision of St Jerome)
Mystic Marriage of St Catherine
Madonna with the long neck
Qiu Ying 仇英
The Emperor Guangwu Fording a River
|Qiu Yung specialised in the gongbi (realist) brush technique. He had a natural talent, but had formal training from the famous artist Zhou Chen.|
It is a hanging scroll in ink and colors on silk and is on show at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.
Note that to minimise the entries and the opportunity for confusion, the text and image sources are not shown here – do follow the links to the artists or their works and you will find a proper acknowledgement of the sources.