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 artist or their works and you will find a proper acknowledgement of the sources.
Adam and Eve
The Last Supper
|Adam and Eve are depicted not in a landscape thrown into confusion by the hand of the Creator, but in a more serene, more human dimension. In the leafy arbour the two nude figures moving around the trunk of the tree form the parallel diagonals of the composition.|
A strong light gives a sculptural effect to their ivory-pink flesh. But in the background, on the right, the tranquillity of the foreground scene gives way to the tumultuous epilogue to the fact of human disobedience to Divine will. With rapid brushstrokes Tintoretto evokes the fiery angel who drives Adam and Eve out into the distant desolate hills and plains.
Tintoretto’s Crucifixion presents a panorama of Golgotha populated by a crowd of soldiers, executioners, horsemen, and apostles. At the left the cross of the penitent thief is being partly lifted, partly tugged into place by ropes; at the right the impenitent thief is about to be tied to his cross. A soldier on a ladder behind Christ reaches down to take the reed with the sponge soaked in vinegar from another soldier.
In The Nativity the two large female figures are the Virgin Mary and an older woman, perhaps Saint Anne. These were recycled from a vertical painting of the Crucifixion. The sketchy background scenes, depicting the Journey of the Magi and the Annunciation to the Shepherds, were added by an assistant when the canvas was transformed into a horizontal format. The reason for this drastic surgery is not clear.
Tintoretto depicted The Last Supper several times during his artistic career. His earlier paintings depict the scene from a frontal perspective, with the figures seated at a table placed parallel to the picture plane. This follows a convention observed in most paintings of the Last Supper, da Vinci’s probably the best-known example.
Tintoretto’s 1592–1594 painting, a work of his final years, departs drastically from this compositional formula. The centre of the scene is occupied not by the apostles but instead by secondary characters, such as a woman carrying a dish and the servants taking the dishes from the table. The table at which the apostles sit recedes into space on a steep diagonal.
|Maria de‘ Medici was the eldest legitimate daughter of Cosimo I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany and Eleonora di Toledo. She is shown here around fifteen years old. She had already been betrothed to Alfonso II d’Este and she had become Duchess of Ferarra. She died when she was seventeen years old, probably caused by malaria.|
This frequently painted subject is taken from an appendix to the Book of Daniel. The two elders, obsessed by the beauty of a young woman called Susanna, decide to surprise her while she is bathing in her garden, saying that she enticed them, and thus ruin her reputation. The painter has dramatised the scene: Suzanne is in danger of being raped, as we can see from the lustful expression of the old men and the crude brutality of their gestures. The young woman’s refusal can be seen in her terrified look, the tension in her face and the energy in her hands as she pushes the aggressors away.
Maria de‘ Medici
Susanna and the Elders
Breughel, Pieter the Younger
Massacre of the Innocents
Parable of the Blind
Triumph of Death
Tower of Babel
Hunters in the Snow
The Peasant Wedding
|Mad Meg is running past the gaping mouth of hell. Behind her, women have apparently started pillaging. The horizon appears to be on fire. Bruegel’s biographer described it thus, ‘Like a director of horror films, the painter tried to appeal to all the senses in order to arouse fear and create pleasure at the same time’.|
Massacre of the Innocents: According to St Matthew’s Gospel, after hearing from the wise men of the birth of Jesus, King Herod ordered all children in Bethlehem under the age of two be murdered. Bruegel set the story as a contemporary Flemish atrocity so that the soldiers wear the distinctive clothing of the Spanish army and German mercenaries.
This Parable of the Blind depicts the Biblical story from the Gospel of Matthew 15:14. The painting reflects Bruegel’s mastery of observation. Each figure has a different eye affliction, including corneal leukoma, atrophy of globe and removed eyes. The men hold their heads aloft to make better use of their other senses. It is considered a masterwork for its accurate detail and composition.
In this moral work, The Triumph of Death over mundane things is symbolised by a large army of skeletons razing the Earth. The background is a barren landscape in which scenes of destruction are still taking place. In the foreground, Death leads his armies from his reddish horse, destroying the world of the living. The latter are led to an enormous coffin with no hope for salvation.
The Tower of Babel shows the great, half-built tower, or ziggurat, though Breugel took his inspiration for the architecture of his tower from the Colosseum in Rome. The diminutive size of the town behind the unfinished tower tells us just how large it is becoming.
Bruegel’s Hunters in the Snow offers a bird’s eye view of a world locked in winter that is nevertheless teeming with life. The painting, features a snow-covered landscape that recedes dramatically to a row of jagged mountains in the distance, all under a blue-grey sky. In the lower left corner a trio of hunters and their pack of dogs return from a hunt.
Bruegel enjoyed painting peasants and different aspects of their lives in so many of his paintings that he has been called Peasant-Bruegel, but he was an intellectual, and many of his paintings have a symbolic meaning as well as a moral aspect. The bride is in front of the green textile wall-hanging, with a paper-crown hung above her head. She is also wearing a crown on her head, and she is sitting passively, not participating in the eating or drinking taking place around her. The Bridegroom is not in attendance of the wedding feast in accordance to Flemish custom.
|El Greco painted his Christ Healing the Blind a masterpiece of dramatic storytelling either in Venice or in Rome, before moving to Spain in 1576. It illustrates the Gospel account of Christ healing a blind man by anointing his eyes. The two figures in the foreground may be the blind man’s parents. The upper left portion is unfinished. El Greco painted two other versions of the subject, and seems to have taken this one with him to Spain.|
The Disrobing of Christ, which was painted for a room used to house religious relics in Toledo cathedral, depicts the moment when Christ has ascended to Calvary and is stripped of his clothes before being nailed to the cross. In this highly original composition, based on a range of both literary and visual sources, the traditional space has been compressed in order to convey Christ’s physical and mental suffering to the viewer.
Local stories circulated about the Count of Orgaz in the fourteenth century, including a miraculous story of the circumstances of his burial—that after he died Saints Augustine and Stephen lowered him into his tomb to honour him for his good deeds. This story continued to be popular in the city of Toledo, serving as the source of inspiration for El Greco.
Landscape paintings are often meant to document the look of a particular time in a particular place, to freeze a single moment and preserve it for eternity. El Greco’s View of Toledo does not do that. Although the large church is placed in the correct place in the city, El Greco changed the locations of several other buildings, proving that documentation was not the artist’s primary concern. Rather than telling us what Toledo looked like, here, El Greco communicates what the city feels like.
Adoration of the Shepherds: this night scene is set in a narrow, irregular space, a sort of grotto with a gabled opening in the back, consisting of two semi-circular arches.
Mary holds her newborn Son, naked on her lap, while Saint Joseph and three shepherds surround them, expressing their fervent devotion to the child. A kneeling ox also contemplates the baby. The compositional ellipse is closed at the top by a group of angels very close to the holy family. They express Heaven’s pleasure at the birth of the Redeemer.
(Presumed self portrait, from his ‘Portrait of a Man’)
Christ Healing the Blind
The Disrobing of Christ
The Burial of Count Orgaz
View of Toledo
The Adoration of the Shepherds
(Self portrait, 1593)
The Butcher’s Shop
Triumph of Bacchus and Adriane
Pietà with Saint Francis and Saint Mary Magdalene
|Butcher’s Shop is the title of two paintings by the Italian Baroque painter Annibale Carracci, both dating from the early 1580s. Members of the painter’s family were used as models. Significant alterations to some figures are revealed by X-rays, and the hand on the edge of the table, now apparently belonging to the old woman, though not in proportion with the rest of her, may have originally belonged to the butcher to the right of her.|
Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne: As the 16th century drew to a close, a certain weariness was evident against the forms of late Mannerism which had dominated the entire European art scene by the second half of the century. The school of the Bolognese artists Lodovico, Agostino and Carracci formulated the approach clearly by founding an academy. A masterpiece of this reform movement was the huge cycle of paintings commissioned to decorate the Galleria Farnese in Rome, created under the auspices of Annibale Carracci, who was responsible for its planning and execution.
This Pietà was looted from the Mattei family chapel in San Francesco a Ripa in Rome by Napoleon’s troops in 1797 and was not returned at the end of the Napoleonic Wars.
|In this painting Caravaggio demonstrates a masterful naturalistic portrayal of still life. His depiction of the basket of fruit and the cup of wine proffered by the god. The sculpted figure of Bacchus with a stunned expression, due to inebriation, reproduces models of classical art with a languid sensuality.|
Two versions of Medusa were created by Caravaggio – in 1596 and in 1597 – depicting the exact moment she was executed by Perseus. He plays with the concept by replacing Medusa’s face with his own, as an indication of his immunity to her dreadful gaze. Due to its bizarre and intricate design, the painting is said to complement Caravaggio’s unique fascination with violence and realism.
Judith Beheading Holofernes is a painting of the biblical episode when the widow Judith first charms the Assyrian general Holofernes, then decapitates him in his tent.
The Supper at Emmaus is a popular theme in Christian art and represents the story, told in St. Luke’s Gospel when after the Crucifixion, two of Christ’s apostles invite an apparent stranger, whom they have just met, to share their meal with them. When he blesses and breaks the bread, they realize that their guest is, in fact, the Resurrected Christ.
The Crucifixion of Saint Peter by Caravaggio was painted in 1601 for the Cerasi Chapel of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome. Across the chapel is a second Caravaggio depicting the Conversion of Saint Paul on the Road to Damascus. On the altar between the two is the Assumption of the Virgin Mary by Annibale Carracci.
The Entombment of Christ 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.
In David with the Head of Goliath, Caravaggio. captured the drama very effectively by depicting the head dangling from David’s gloved hand with blood. The subject has a sword in his hands with an inscription H-AS OS, which is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase humilitas occidit superbiam (humility kills pride).
Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisa da
Judith and the Holofernes
Supper at Emmaus
Crucifixion of St Peter
Entombment of Christ
David with the Head of Goliath
Breughel, Jan the Elder
(Portrait by Rubens)
Landscape with the Flight into Egypt
Great Fish Market
The Garden of Eden with the Fall of Man
|Landscape with the Flight into Egypt depicts the biblical flight into Egypt of the Holy Family. The work is a naturalistic world landscape, following the then conventions. The family are small figures in an imaginary panoramic landscape seen from an elevated viewpoint, with mountains and lowlands, water, and buildings. The subject had long been a popular one in Early Netherlandish art.|
Brueghel’s Great Fish-Market contains many elements of Mannerist landscape painting. Rendered in a perspective that is almost a bird’s-eye-view, the scene opens up across a downward-sloping foreground teeming with hundreds of figures grouped around the stalls and booths of a fishmarket.
The Garden of Eden… is by two famous Flemish masters: Rubens and Brueghel. They made several versions of this type of painting, which were intended as showpieces that combined the best of both artists. Although Brueghel was responsible for the composition, Rubens started the painting. Very sketchily, in thin paint, he painted Adam and Eve, the tree, the horse and the serpent. Then Brueghel took on the plants and animals, which he painted with encyclopaedic precision in finishing paint.
|Summoned by an angel, a group of fascinated shepherds crowd around to admire the new-born baby Jesus. The baby is surrounded by a divine light that bathes the scene with a warm glow. One early source described this painting as a copy after a lost work by Domenichino’s master, Annibale Carracci. In fact the composition is Domenichino’s own, albeit strongly influenced by Carracci. At the time this painting was made Domenichino was still making frequent visits to Carracci’s studio in Rome.|
Sacrifice of Isaac: This painting was executed for the pictorial decoration of the so-called New Room (Salón Nuevo) of the Alcázar in Madrid, an imposing gallery in the southern wing reserved for important occasions of state. The New Room underwent periodic changes of decoration during Philip IV’s reign.
|Domenichino Domenico Zampieri|
Adoration of the Shepherds
Sacrifice of Isaac
Rubens, Peter Paul
Samson and Delilah
Massacre of the Innocents
Descent from the Cross
Daniel in the Lions’ Den
The Three Graces
The Judgement of Paris
|Peter Paul Rubens’ Samson and Delilah portrays a tragedy of love and betrayal. Delilah, Samson’s lover, has been bribed to discover the secret of Samson’s supernatural strength. Rubens shows the moment when Delilah tells an accomplice to cut his hair, leaving him powerless. Outside, soldiers wait to capture him. But maybe Delilah will pay for her treachery. The profile of the old woman behind her is a striking but withered likeness of her own, perhaps suggesting that she will one day lose the beauty that was Samson’s downfall.|
The Massacre of the Innocents is the subject of two paintings by Rubens depicting the episode of the biblical Massacre of the Innocents of Bethlehem, as related in the Gospel of Matthew (2:13-18). This first version became part of the Liechtenstein Collection in Vienna, Austria, along with Samson and Delilah. The work was sold at auction at Sotheby’s, London on July 10, 2002 for £49.5 million.
The Descent from the Cross is the central panel of a triptych painting by Peter Paul Rubens. In 1794, Napoleon removed this painting and The Elevation of the Cross and sent these to the Louvre. After his defeat, they were returned in 1815.
The Old Testament Book of Daniel recounts how the biblical hero was condemned to spend the night in the lions’ den for worshipping God rather than the Persian king Darius.
Depicted here on the following morning when, after the stone sealing the entrance was rolled away, Daniel prays to God for having survived the night safely.
The Three Graces were minor deities but in this splendid work Peter Paul Rubens devotes his best effort to them. The three goddesses embrace each other forming a circle. The positioning of their feet suggests movement; they seem to dance gently. The setting is as luscious as the nude bodies of the goddesses. A field illuminated by sunlight filtered through dense trees stretches to a distant blue.
The Judgement of Paris: Eris, goddess of discord, was the only immortal not invited to an important wedding. Furious at being left out, she threw a golden apple inscribed ‘To the Fairest’ among all the goddesses at the feast. Three claimed the title – Minerva, Juno and Venus. Jupiter, chief of the gods, declared that Paris should be the judge.
|Rivulets of blood run down the white sheets, as Judith, a pious young widow from the Jewish city of Bethulia, beheads Holofernes, general of the Assyrian army that had besieged her city.|
Moved by the plight of her people and filled with trust in God, Judith took matters into her own hands. She coiffed her hair, donned her finest garments and entered the enemy camp under the pretense of bringing Holofernes information that would ensure his victory. Struck by her beauty, he invited her to dine, planning later to seduce her. Judith saw her opportunity; with a prayer on her lips and a sword in her hand, she saved her people from destruction.
Judith Slaying Holofernes
Diego Rodriguez de Silva y
Waterseller of Seville
|In the centre of the Waterseller‘s compacted composition stands the monumental profile figure of the Waterseller, aged from the hot sun and donned in a humble brown cloak. He offers a boy a glass of water, freshened by a fig, which he has just poured from the large clay vessel in the immediate foreground.|
Although they are physically connected to one another as they both hold the glass, the boy and old man do not make eye contact but instead stare past one another. Perhaps their difference in age prevents a connection between the two, or perhaps it is their difference in social status.
Stylistically, Christ Crucified appears to have been made in the early 1630s -soon after the artist returned from Italy- and most authors date it from around 1632. There is an Apollonian perfection of the anatomy, it is thought that Velázquez`s intention was to imbue the figure with a divine and ineffable beauty, reflecting the belief that Christ was the most beautiful of men.
Venus, the goddess of love, reclines languidly on her bed, the curve of her body echoed in the sweep of sumptuous satin fabric. The pearly tones of her smooth skin contrast with the rich colours and lively brushstrokes of the curtain and sheets. Venus‘ face is reflected in the mirror held up by her son, Cupid, but her reflection is blurred – we can’t see who she really is. Perhaps Velázquez wanted to make sure that Venus – the personification of female beauty – was not an identifiable person; we have to ‘complete’ her features with our imagination.
Las Meninas is one of `s largest paintings and among those in which he made most effort to create a complex and credible composition that would convey a sense of life and reality while enclosing a dense network of meanings. In addition to that group, we see the artist himself working on a large canvas, and reflected in the mirror are the faces of Philip IV and Mariana of Austria, the Infanta`s parents, who are watching the scene taking place.
The artist achieved his intentions. The painting has never lost its status as a masterpiece.
|In this exuberant half-length portrait, a young man poses, arm rakishly akimbo, against a plain grey background. The work is unique in Hals’s male portraiture for the rich colour that is largely imparted by the sitter’s flamboyant costume: a doublet embroidered with fanciful motifs in white, gold and red thread, with a gilded rapier pommel visible at the crook of his elbow.|
Neither the identity of the sitter nor the function of the portrait has yet been firmly established. One source has recently proposed that the sitter is Tieleman Roosterman, a wealthy Harlem textile merchant.
The Laughing Cavalier
van Dyck, Sir Anthony
Portrait of Cardinal Guido Bentivoglio
Rinaldo e Armida
Charles I at the Hunt
Charles I in Three Positions
|The Cardinal‘s portrait achieved an immediate and lasting popularity and was referred to in an 18th century biography of the artist as the finest, he made no other after it which could surpass it.|
The enchantress Armida and her bewitched lover, Rinaldo, a Christian knight, recline in a beautiful landscape, surrounded by attendant cupids. The scene shows a tender moment between the couple before Rinaldo’s comrades, whose helmets are visible behind the bush on the left, disturb their idyll and compel Rinaldo to return to fighting in the First Crusade. This is an episode from Torquato Tasso’s 1581 tale of bewitching and love, La Gerusalemme liberate.
Charles I at the Hunt depicts Charles in civilian clothing and standing next to a horse as if resting on a hunt, in a manner described by the Louvre as a ‘subtle compromise between gentlemanly nonchalance and regal assurance’. Van Dyck gives his naturalistic style full expression: ‘Charles is given a totally natural look of instinctive sovereignty’.
The heads in the painting are drawn and modelled with a care and restraint unusual in Van Dyck. The contrast between the blue Garter ribbon and the three different colours of the King’s costume, which include three differently patterned lace collars; in the richly worked sky all contribute to turning a utilitarian commission into a work of great beauty. The fashion for men to wear their hair longer on the left at this date is clearly shown with the figure rotated in space.
|Rembrandt was only twenty-five when he was asked to paint the portraits of the Amsterdam surgeons. The painting was commissioned for the anatomy lesson given by Dr Nicolaes Tulp in January 1632. Rembrandt portrayed the surgeons in action, with them all looking at different things. Dynamism is added to the scene by the great contrasts between light and dark.|
Rembrandt’s most striking narrative painting Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, is also his only painted seascape. The detailed rendering of the scene, the figures’ varied expressions, the polished brushwork, the bright colouring are characteristic of his early style.
Rembrandt’s largest and most famous painting, The Night Watch, was made for one of the three headquarters of Amsterdam’s civic guard. These groups of civilian soldiers defended the city from attack. Rembrandt was the first to paint all of the figures in a civic guard piece in action. The captain, dressed in black, gives the order to march out. The guardsmen are getting into formation. Rembrandt used the light to focus on particular details, like the captain’s gesturing hand and the young girl in the foreground. She was the company mascot.
Bathsheba is considered to be one of Rembrandt’s greatest portrait paintings and a masterpiece of 17th century Dutch Realism.
This piece of Biblical art illustrates a scene from the second book of Samuel (11:2-27). One evening while pacing the roof of his palace King David observed the beautiful Bathsheba bathing. She was the daughter of Eliam and wife of his neighbour, Uriah the Hittite, who was away in the army. Totally smitten, he summoned her by letter to the palace, as a result of which she became pregnant.
Rembrandt‘s Prodigal was painted just months before his death. A pale, emaciated, shattered man returns to the father whom he left in his youth as a reckless pleasure-seeker, gambler and spendthrift, who asked his parent for his share of the inheritance and squandered it away down to the last coin. Everything impermanent has slipped from him like an empty husk. At the cost of suffering and losses he has gained insight.
This Self Portrait is one of three Rembrandt made just before his death in 1669. About 80 survive from his 40-year career, far more than any other artist of his time. He painted them for different reasons – to practise different expressions, to experiment with lighting effects, and also to sell to wealthy patrons and collectors.
Rembrandt, Harmenszoon van Rijn
(Self portrait, detail from his Night Watch)
The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp
Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Gallilee
The Night Watch
Bathsheba Holding King David’s Letter
The Return of the Prodigal Son
The Abduction of the Sabine Women
Et in Arcadia Ego
The Holy Family on the Steps
|Abduction of the Sabine Women depicts an incident in Roman mythology in which the men of Rome committed a mass abduction of young women from the other cities in the region. It has been a frequent subject for artists and sculptors. The word ‘rape’ has often been used but a more correct translation would be ‘kidnap’.|
Et in Arcadia Ego (aka Les bergers d’Arcadie or The Arcadian Shepherds) depicts a pastoral scene with idealised shepherds from classical antiquity, and a woman, possibly a shepherdess, gathered around an austere tomb. Poussin was a leading painter of French Baroque style.
|The calligrapher Nanha‘s The Emperor Shah Jahan with his Son Dara Shikoh. This c1620 superbly painted image framed by a splendid border shows the future emperor Shah Jahan admiring jewels with his favorite son. Holding a tray of emeralds and rubies, the father contemplates a ruby in his right hand, while the child grasps a peacock fan and a turban ornament. The sumptuousness of court life is conveyed in the detailed depiction of the jewels, the gilded furniture, the textiles, and, most spectacularly, the large bolster with its designs of figures and plants.|
Emperor Shah Jahan and his son
Officer and a Laughing Girl
The Little Street
View of Delft
Woman Holding a Balance
The Music Lesson
Girl with a Pearl Earring
Girl with a Red Hat
Art of Painting: An Allegory
|Officer and Laughing Girl includes many characteristics of Vermeer’s style. The main subject is a woman in a yellow dress, light is coming from the left-hand side of the painting from an open window, and there is a large map on the wall. Each of these elements occur in some of his other paintings, although this painting differs slightly with the man also sitting at the table.|
The Little Street: This is an unusual painting in Vermeer’s oeuvre, and remarkable for its time as a portrait of ordinary houses. The composition is as exciting as it is balanced.
The old walls with their bricks, whitewash, and cracks are almost tangible. The location is Vlamingstraat 40–42 in Delft.
The Milkmaid: A maidservant pours milk, entirely absorbed in her work. Except for the stream of milk, everything else is still. Vermeer took this simple everyday activity and made it the subject of an impressive painting – the woman stands like a statue in the brightly lit room. Vermeer also had an eye for how light by means of hundreds of colourful dots plays over the surface of objects.
View of Delft: This is the most famous cityscape of the Dutch seventeenth century. The interplay of light and shade, the impressive cloudy sky and the subtle reflections in the water make this painting an absolute masterpiece.
We are looking at Delft from the south. There is hardly a breath of wind and the city has an air of tranquillity. Vermeer reflected this tranquillity in his composition, by making three horizontal strips: water, city and sky. He also painted the buildings a bit neater than they actually were.
Woman Holding a Balance is a superb example of Vermeer’s exquisite sense of stability and rhythm.
A woman dressed in a blue jacket with fur trim stands serenely at a table in a corner of a room. The scales in her right hand are at equilibrium, suggestive of her inner state of mind.
Vermeer’s enigmatic work The Music Lesson is characterised by the artist’s remarkable use of perspective, drawing the viewer’s eye to the man and woman standing by the virginal at the back of the room. In front of them, a bass viol lies on the floor. The Latin inscription on the lid of the virginal, Musica letitiae co[me]s / medicina dolor[is]’, means ‘Music is a companion in pleasure and a balm in sorrow.’ It suggests that the artist is exploring the relationship between the two figures.
Girl with a Pearl Earring is Vermeer’s most famous painting. It is not a portrait, but a ‘tronie’ – a painting of an imaginary figure. Tronies depict a certain type or character; here it is a girl in exotic dress, and oriental turban and an improbably large pearl in her ear.
Girl with the Red Hat is one of Vermeer’s smallest works, and it is painted on panel rather than on his customary canvas. The girl has turned in her chair and interacts with the viewer through her direct gaze. Girl with the Red Hat is portrayed with unusual spontaneity and informality.
Allegory: This illusionistic painting is one of Vermeer’s most famous. In 1868 Thoré-Bürger, known today for his rediscovery of the work of painter Johannes Vermeer, regarded this painting as his most interesting. Svetlana Alpers describes it as unique and ambitious; Walter Liedtke as a virtuoso display of the artist’s power of invention and execution, staged in an imaginary version of his studio … According to Albert Blankert No other painting so flawlessly integrates naturalistic technique, brightly illuminated space, and a complexly integrated composition.
|Pilgrimage to the Isle of Cythera. was submitted by Watteau to the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture as his reception piece in 1717. The painting is now in the Louvre in Paris. A second version of the work, sometimes called Pilgrimage to Cythera to distinguish it, was painted by him in about 1718 or 1719 and is in the Charlottenburg Palace, Berlin.|
Gilles was completed in the later phase of Watteau’s career, Pierrot is somewhat unusual case in the artist’s body of work. The painting depicts a number of actors portraying commedia dell’arte masks, with one as the titular character set in the foreground.
Pilgrimage to the Isle of Cythera
Gilles (aka Pierrot)
Canaletto, Giovanni Antonio
The Basin of San Marco on Ascension Day
The Old Horse Guards
|Stonemason’s Yard: Painted during the late 1720s, this is one of Canaletto’s finest early works. He has skilfully described various materials and textures: the crumbling plaster, exposed brick, and rough timber in a subtle range of colours. This intimate view of Venice, weatherbeaten and dilapidated, is one of Canaletto’s masterpieces. In the early morning sun, workmen chisel away at pieces of stone. Everyday life continues around them: a mother rushes to comfort her crying child, watched by a woman on the balcony above. This square – the Campo San Vidal – was not usually a mason’s yard: it appears to have been temporarily transformed into a workshop while repairs are done to the nearby church of San Vidal.|
Basin of San Marco: Looking across the basin of San Marco, this vast view captures the scale and splendour of a ceremony taking place along the waterfront. Boats carrying spectators and animated gondoliers surround the gold and red state barge or Bucintoro, its upper deck crowded with figures. Every year on Ascension Day, the Bucintoro was rowed out onto the lagoon where the doge (the head of the Venetian state) cast a blessed ring into the water to symbolise the marriage of Venice and the sea.
The Old Horse Guards: Canaletto’s paintings were in demand from rich patrons. However, this work was produced speculatively, possibly in the hope of selling it to a wealthy resident of Downing Street (seen on the right). Canaletto invited prospective buyers to view the painting at his Soho lodgings.
|Abraham…: This painting presents an event mentioned in the book of Genesis (18, 1. 19). Tiepolo had depicted this subject earlier in a painting from the series he painted for the palace of the Archbishop of Udine in 1726. Here, however, it is presented in a more modern manner, with a contained equilibrium among all parts of the composition and a harmonious coexistence of neoclassical values with others marked by a curious pre-Romantic spirit.|
Sat at a grand table, Cleopatra, ruler of Egypt, is about to dissolve one of her priceless pearls in a goblet of vinegar, showing her contempt for wealth to the Roman general Mark Antony, who, dressed in red, recoils in surprise. The moment is described by the Roman historian Pliny in his Natural History (Book IX). The tension in the scene is increased by the efforts of the servant in the bottom left to control a fine white horse, and the onlookers watching in suspense.
Marriage…: During the early 1750s, the Venetian artist Giovanni Battista Tiepolo painted a series of frescoes for the archbishop’s palace in Würzburg in Germany. This picture is a small oil sketch after one of those scenes, probably made by his son Domenico.
Frederick Barbarossa was Holy Roman Emperor from 1155 to 1190, and married Beatrice of Burgundy in 1156. This painting doesn’t reflect twelfth-century fashions, however the setting and costumes are of a sixteenth-century style, and the figure of the emperor is based on Prince-Bishop Karl Philipp von Greiffenklau, who commissioned the fresco.
Allegory: The canvas, which is among Tiepolo’s largest and most dazzling oil sketches, represents Apollo about to embark on his daily course across the sky. Deities around the sun god symbolize the planets and allegorical figures on the cornice represent the Four Continents. On April 20, 1752, Tiepolo presented this preliminary sketch to Carl Philipp von Greiffenklau, prince-bishop of Würzburg, as his proposal for the decoration of the staircase ceiling of the Residenz, often considered the artist’s greatest achievement and a landmark of European painting.
Tiepolo, Giovanni Battista
(Self portrait from the ceiling fresco, Würzburg Residence)
Abraham and the Three Angels
The Banquet of Cleopatra
Marriage of the Emperor Frederick and Beatrice of Burgundy
Allegory of the Planets and Continents
(Self portrait with his
The Rake’s Progress,
Plate 3 (of 8)
The Rake’s Progress,
Plate 8 (of 8) in Bedlam
Marriage Settlement (Marriage a la Mode, 1 of 6)
|The Rake’s Progress: The eight paintings for the series are now in Sir John Soane’s Museum. They were Hogarth’s second series of ‘modern moral subjects’ and were painted soon after the publication of ‘A Harlot’s Progress’ in 1732.|
The subscription for the prints after them began in late 1733, but Hogarth delayed publication until 25 June 1735, the day the Engravers’ Copyright Act became law. Even so, pirated copies had already appeared by that time. The set cost two guineas, but Hogarth had also a smaller and cheaper set, copied by Thomas Bakewell and costing 2s 6d, published soon after. The original copperplates were sold by Quaritch in 1921 and are now in a private collection.
This is the first in Hogarth’s series of six paintings titled Marriage A-la-Mode. They were painted to be engraved and then sold after the engravings were finished.
For centuries, the English have been fascinated by the sexual exploits and squalid greed of the aristocracy, and these are the subjects of the six-part series Marriage A-la-Mode, which illustrates the disastrous consequences of marrying for money rather than love.The basic story is of a marriage arranged by two self-seeking fathers – a spendthrift nobleman who needs cash and a wealthy City of London merchant who wants to buy into the aristocracy. It was Hogarth’s first moralising series satirising the upper classes.
|Nattier was influenced by Nicolas de Largillièrre and brought about the revival of the Fontainebleau school through his depiction of the aristocratic women of the court in the guise of mythological figures.|
This is a typical example from his large production of this type of work. Here the model is shown as the personification of rivers or springs. This elegant image with its silvery gray tonalities allows us a glimpse of Nattier’s technique, although at the time he was criticized for his over-idealisation of the model.
This second portrait was painted in 1746, shortly after the Marquise’s official presentation at Court in September 1745, when she became one of the mistresses of Louis XV.
(Portrait by Louis Tocqué, late 1840s)
Portrait of Madame Marie-Henriette Berthelot de Pléneuf
Madame de Pompadour as Diana the Huntress
(Portrait by Gustaf Lundberg)
Triumph of Venus
Diana Leaving her Bath
The Brunette Odalisque
The Toilette of Venus
of Madame de Pompadour
|Boucher’s Triumph of Venus is an archetype of Rococo style, from the mythological subject that is playfully imbued with eroticism, to the cool palette, dynamic, pyramidal composition, and series of interlocking arabesques. The goddess Venus emerges from the sea, carried aloft on a wave upon a mother-of-pearl shell and surrounded by admirers. Naiads, nymphs, and gods float among dolphins and doves, winged cupids floating above them. The painting is a celebration of love and lust, the sensuous flesh of the figures rendered in modulations of creams and pinks. A female figure at left seems to throw back her head in ecstasy, a white dove perched suggestively between her legs.|
Diana Bathing or Diana Getting out of her Bath is a painting by François Boucher, depicting the Roman goddess Diana. It was acquired in 1852 by the Louvre, where it now hangs.
The Brunette Odalisque is a painting of c1745 by François Boucher, now in the Louvre in Paris. The painter’s signature is engraved on the low table. He later produced two other works in the odalisque genre, both known as The Blonde Odalisque. An odalisque is a mistress, a female slave and this dark-haired [brune] odalisque is one of several portraits by Boucher who, in painting them, was accused of ‘prostituting his own wife’.
Toilette: Boucher executed this painting for Madame de Pompadour, the powerful, official mistress of Louis XV and Boucher’s most significant patron from 1747 until her death in 1764.
It originally decorated the bathing apartments in Pompadour’s Château de Bellevue. The construction of her château prompted many of the most important commissions of Rococo painting and sculpture.
The first Portrait of Madame de Pompadour is from 1756. It is an oil on canvas painting by François Boucher, now in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Germany. The second portrait is a 1759 painting, the last of a series of seven portraits by the artist of Madame de Pompadour. It was first exhibited at the Château de Versailles before passing to the subject’s brother. It is on show at the Wallace Collection in London.
|Bellotto was an Italian urban landscape painter or vedutista, and etcher, the student and nephew of the famous Giovanni Canaletto and sometimes used the latter’s illustrious name, signing himself as Bernardo Canaletto. The large church at the left of the painting is the Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute.|
This stunning view of the River Adige by Canaletto’s nephew was bought by Robert, 1st Baron Clive of Plassey, ‘Clive of India’ by 1771 and was saved for Powis Castle, Wales in 1981.
It remains inset in the oak-panelled niche in the Oak Drawing Room which was made for it over a hundred years ago.
(Self portrait as Venetian Ambassador)
Entrance of the
Grand Canal, Venice
View of the
Ponte delle Navi, Verona
Mr & Mrs Robert Andrews
The Blue Boy:
Portrait of the Honourable Mrs Mary Graham
Portrait of A Lady in Blue
|This portrait of Mr Robert and Mrs Frances Andrews is the masterpiece of Gainsborough’s early career.|
It has been described as a ‘triple portrait’ – of Robert, his wife and his land. Behind Mr and Mrs Andrews is a wide view looking south over the valley of the River Stour. Robert Andrews owned nearly 3,000 acres and much of the land we see here belonged to him. Gainsborough has displayed his skills as a painter of convincingly changing weather and naturalistic scenery, which was still a novelty at this time.
Blue Boy: Gainsborough’s iconic painting first appeared in public in the Royal Academy exhibition of 1770 as A Portrait of a Young Gentleman, where it received high acclaim. By 1798 it was being called The Blue Boy, a nickname that stuck. Huntington purchased The Blue Boy in 1921 for $728,000, the highest price ever paid for a painting at the time. By bringing a British treasure to the United States, Huntington imbued an already well-known image with even greater notoriety on both sides of the Atlantic.
Mrs Graham: This is one of Gainsborough’s finest full-length portraits. The costume and accessories evoke the era of King Charles I and the opulent court portraits of Sir Anthony van Dyck.
The sitter was born the Honourable Mary Cathcart, daughter of 9th Lord Cathcart, who was Ambassador to Catherine the Great. She married the Perthshire landowner Thomas Graham in 1774, and they bought Lynedoch House near Methven, Perthshire in 1787.
The portrait was highly acclaimed when exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1777.
Lady in Blue: Gainsborough’s portrait of this unknown lady is rightly regarded as one of the most charming and excellent works in the Hermitage collection of English painting. Although the artist did not in fact like painting portraits, preferring to work on landscapes, it is for his portraits that he was best loved and is best known today. Here he created an image of great elegance and beauty, a painting dominated by a mood of romantic dreaminess.
|Prosperous Suizhou, showing commerce on the water. Painted by Xu Yang in 1759.|
Xu Jang 徐扬
(detail from his
Changmen street in Suzhou)
Yosa Buson 与謝 蕪村
Black Hawk and two crows
|Edo period: Black Hawk and two crows. These are by Yosa Buson both are colour on paper. Considered an important cultural asset of Japan it is on show at the Kitamura Art Museum.|
|Pine, Plum and Cranes, by Shen Quan. A hanging scroll, in ink and colour on silk, on show at the The Palace Museum, Beijing.|
Shen Quan 沈铨;
(taken from Pine, Plums and Cranes)
Pine, Plums and Cranes
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 artist or their works and you will find a proper acknowledgement of the sources.