MASTERPIECES
     
Paintings and plastic art with a unique status and inspiring examples for other artists. They are familiar as old acquaintances. At the same time they have all something of mystery. Every piece is a revolutionary creation, timeless icons in the world of art, each with their own fascinating history. Originally, the term masterpiece referred to a piece of work produced by an apprentice or journeyman aspiring to become a master craftsman in the old European guild system. His fitness to qualify for guild membership was judged partially by the masterpiece, and if he was successful, it was retained by the guild. Great care was therefore taken to produce a fine piece in whatever the craft was, whether confectionery, painting, goldsmithing, knifemaking, or many other trades. The Royal Academy of Arts in London is one institution that has acquired a fine collection of "diploma works" as a condition of acceptance. Also such a "masterpiece" was the paper which a student needs to present in order to gain the degree of Master of Arts - i.e. a fine piece of scholarship, the particular craft in which the student sought to be admitted as a master craftsman.
The term probably derives from the Dutch "meesterstuk" (German: Meisterstück), and the form "masterstik" is recorded in English in 1579 (or in Scots, since this was from some Aberdeen guild regulations), whereas "masterpiece" is first found in 1605, already outside a guild context, in a Ben Jonson play.In modern times it is used for an exceptionally good piece of creative work or the best piece of work of a particular artist or craftsman.
On this page some beautiful paintings ranked from periods from the Renaissance through 20th Century.

 

 

 
RENAISSANCE
 
17th CENTURY
 
1800 - 1850
 
1850 - 1900
 
IMPRESSIONISM & POST IMPRESSIONISM
 
20th CENTURY
 
 

La Primavera, Sandro Boticelli The Battle at San Romano, Paolo Uccello The Last Supper, Leonardo da Vinci David, Michel Angelo The Resurrection of Christ, Piero della Francesca
Primavera, also known as 'Allegory of Spring, is a tempera panel painting by Italian Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli. Painted ca. 1482, the painting is described in Culture & Values (2009) as "[o]ne of the most popular paintings in Western art". It is also, according to Botticelli, Primavera (1998), "one of the most written about, and most controversial paintings in the world."

While most critics agree that the painting, depicting a group of mythological figures in an garden, is allegorical for the lush growth of Spring, other meanings have also been explored. Among them, the work is sometimes cited as illustrating the ideal of Neoplatonic love.

Around 1450–1456 he painted his three most famous paintings The Battle of San Romano, the victory of the Florentine army over the Sienese in 1432, for the Palazzo Medici in Florence.

The extraordinarily foreshortened forms extending in many planes accentuate Uccello's virtuosity as a draftsman, and provides a controlled visual structure to the chaos of the battle scene.

The Last Supper (Italian: Il Cenacolo or L'Ultima Cena) is a 15th century mural painting in Milan created by Leonardo da Vinci for his patron Duke Ludovico Sforza and his duchess Beatrice d'Este. It represents the scene of The Last Supper from the final days of Jesus as narrated in the Gospel of John 13:21, when Jesus announces that one of his Twelve Apostles would betray him.
The theme was a traditional one for refectories, although the room was not a refectory at the time that Leonardo painted it. The painting was commissioned by Sforza to be the centerpiece of the mausoleum. The lunettes above the main painting, formed by the triple arched ceiling of the refectory, are painted with Sforza coats-of-arms. The opposite wall of the refectory is covered by the Crucifixion fresco by Giovanni Donato da Montorfano, to which Leonardo added figures of the Sforza family in tempera
"David" is a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture created between 1501 and 1504, by the Italian artist Michelangelo. It is a 5.17 metre (17 feet) marble statue of a standing male nude. The statue represents the Biblical hero David, a favoured subject in the art of Florence.

Originally commissioned as one of a series to be positioned high up on the facade of Florence Cathedral, the statue was instead placed in a public square, outside the Palazzo della Signoria, the seat of civic government in Florence, where it was unveiled on 8 September 1504.

Because of the nature of the hero that it represented, it soon came to symbolise the defence of civil liberties embodied in the Florentine Republic, an independent city-state threatened on all sides by more powerful rival states and by the hegemony of the Medici family.

The eyes of David, with a warning glare, were turned towards Rome. The statue was moved to the Accademia Gallery in Florence in 1873, and later replaced at the original location by a replica

The Resurrection

Piero della Francesca seems to have been another incorruptible, though little is known about him: his birth date could have been any time between 1400 and 1420, though we know he died in 1492. His father was a tanner and his own first job was to paint the striped poles used to carry candles in religious processions.

Yet such was the upwards mobility of the times, intellectual as well as social, that he made himself a master mathematician and played a bigger role in the spread of Euclid’s geometry than anyone else. He wrote a number of learned treatises, three of which survive, including an exposition of the rules of perspective, De prospectiva pingendi, which demanded more mathematical skills than most painters have ever possessed.

Perspective and geometry figure both prominently and subtly in all Piero’s works. He liked to organise large, plain masses of colour in patterns which suggest an underlying geometrical scheme.

     
17th CENTURY:


The Rokeby Venus, Diego Velasquez The Midnight Round, Rembrandt van Rijn Art of Painting, Johannes Vermeer
The Rokeby Venus (also known as The Toilet of Venus, Venus at her Mirror, Venus and Cupid, or La Venus del espejo) is a painting by Diego Velázquez (1599–1660), the leading artist of the Spanish Golden Age. Completed between 1647 and 1651, and probably painted during the artist's visit to Italy, the work depicts the goddess Venus in a sensual pose, lying on a bed and looking into a mirror held by the Roman god of physical love, her son Cupid. The painting is in the National Gallery, London.
Velázquez combined two established poses for Venus: recumbent on a couch or a bed, and gazing at a mirror. She is often described as looking at herself on the mirror, although this is physically impossible since viewers can see her face reflected in their direction
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Night Watch or The Night Watch or The Shooting Company of Franz Banning Cocq is the common name of one of the most famous works by Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn.
The painting may be more properly titled The Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch. It is on prominent display in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, the
Netherlands, being the most famous painting in their collection.The painting is renowned for three elements: its colossal size (363 x 437 cm ~ 11ft 10in x 14ft 4in), the effective use of light and shadow, and the perception of motion in what would have been, traditionally, a static military portrait.
This painting was completed in 1642, at the peak of the Dutch Golden Age
The Art of Painting, also known as The Allegory of Painting, and or Painter in his Studio, is a famous 17th century oil on canvas painting by Dutch painter, Johannes Vermeer. Many art historians believe that it is an allegory of painting, hence the alternative title of the painting. It is the largest and most complex of all of Vermeer's works. The painting is famous for being one of Vermeer's favourites, and is also a fine example of the optical style of painting, offering a realistic visual depiction of the scene and especially the effects of light streaming through the windows on various elements of the painting.

1800-1850

The Third May 1808 Francisco Goya Liberty leading the people, Eugene Delacroix
The Third of May 1808 (also known as El tres de mayo de 1808 en Madrid, or Los fusilamientos de la montaña del Príncipe Pío, or Los fusilamientos del tres de mayo) is a painting completed in 1814 by the Spanish painter Francisco Goya, now in the Museo del Prado, Madrid. In the work, Goya sought to commemorate Spanish resistance to Napoleon's armies during the occupation of 1808. Along with its companion piece of the same size, The Second of May 1808 (or The Charge of the Mamelukes), it was commissioned by the provisional government of Spain at Goya's suggestion.

The painting's content, presentation, and emotional force secure its status as a groundbreaking, archetypal image of the horrors of war.

Liberty Leading the People (French: La Liberté guidant le peuple) is a painting by Eugène Delacroix commemorating the July Revolution of 1830, which toppled Charles X. A woman personifying Liberty leads the people forward over the bodies of the fallen, holding the tricolore flag of the French Revolution in one hand and brandishing a bayonetted musket with the other. This is perhaps Delacroix's best-known painting, having carved its own niche in popular culture

1850-1900

Le Dejeuner sur l Herbe, Eduard Manet Whistler arrangement in grey and black no1, James Mc Neill The Scream, Munch The Kiss, Auguste Roding
Le déjeuner sur l'herbe (English, "The Luncheon on the Grass") — originally titled Le Bain (The Bath) — is a large oil on canvas painting by Édouard Manet. Created in 1862 and 1863, its juxtaposition of a female nude with fully dressed men sparked controversy when the work was first exhibited at the Salon des Refusés. The piece is now in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris. A smaller, earlier version can be seen at the Courtauld Gallery, London.
Arrangement in Grey and Black: The Artist's Mother, famous under its colloquial name Whistler's Mother, is an 1871 oil-on-canvas painting by American-born painter James McNeill Whistler. The painting is 56.81 by 63.94 inches (144.3 × 162.4 cm), displayed in a frame of Whistler's own design, and is now owned by the Musée d'Orsay in Paris. It occasionally tours worldwide. Although an icon of American art, it rarely appears in the United States, having toured in 1932–1934, appeared at the Atlanta Art Association in the fall of 1962, the National Gallery of Art in 1994 and the Detroit Institute of Arts in 2004. It appeared at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts from June to September 2006. Between May 22 and September 6, 2010, it is at the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco. The painting will also be seen at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, Tennessee from October 15, 2010 through Jan. 23, 2011. This painting was also central in the plot of the 1997 film Bean starring Rowan Atkinson
The Scream (Norwegian: Skrik; created in 1893–1910) is the title of expressionist paintings and prints in a series by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, showing an agonized figure against a blood red sky. The landscape in the background is Oslofjord, viewed from the hill of Ekeberg, in Oslo (then Kristiania), Norway.

Edvard Munch created several versions of The Scream in various media. The Munch Museum holds one of two painted versions (1910, see gallery) and one pastel. The National Gallery of Norway holds the other painted version (1893, shown to right). A fourth version, in pastel, is owned by Norwegian businessman Petter Olsen. Munch also created a lithograph of the image in 1895.

The Scream has been the target of several high-profile art thefts. In 1994, the version in the National Gallery was stolen. It was recovered several months later. In 2004, The Scream and Madonna were stolen from the Munch Museum. Both paintings were recovered in 2006. They had sustained some damage and went back on display in May 2008, after undergoing restoration.

The Kiss is an 1889 marble sculpture by the French sculptor Auguste Rodin. Like many of Rodin's best-known individual sculptures, including The Thinker, the embracing couple depicted in the sculpture appeared originally as part of a group of reliefs decorating Rodin's monumental bronze portal The Gates of Hell, commissioned for a planned museum of art in Paris. The couple were later removed from the Gates and replaced with another pair of lovers located on the smaller right-hand column.

IMPRESSIONISM & POST IMPRESSIONISM:

Sunday afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, Georges Surat Sunflowers, Vincent van Gogh
Members of each of the social classes participating in various park activities. The tiny juxtaposed dots of multi-colored paint allow the viewer's eye to blend colors optically, rather than having the colors blended on the canvas or pre-blended as a material pigment. It took Seurat two years to complete this ten foot wide painting, much of which he spent in the park sketching in preparation for the work
Sunflowers (original title, in French: Tournesols) are the subject of two series of still life paintings by the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh. The earlier series executed in Paris in 1887 gives the flowers lying on the ground, while the second set executed a year later in Arles shows bouquets of sunflowers in a vase.
In the artist's mind both sets were linked by the name of his friend Paul Gauguin, who acquired two of the Paris versions. About eight months later Van Gogh hoped to welcome and to impress Gauguin again with Sunflowers, now part of the painted décoration he prepared for the guestroom of his Yellow House where Gauguin was supposed to stay in Arles. After Gauguin's departure, Van Gogh imagined the two major versions as wings of the Berceuse Triptych, and finally he included them in his exhibit at Les XX in Bruxelles
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20th CENTURY

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, Pablo Picasso The Kiss, Gustav Klimt
Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (The Young Ladies of Avignon) is a large oil painting of 1907 by the Spanish artist Pablo Ruiz Picasso (1881–1973). The work portrays five nude female prostitutes from a brothel on Avinyó Street in Barcelona. Each figure is depicted in a disconcerting confrontational manner and none are conventionally feminine. The women appear as slightly menacing and rendered with angular and disjointed body shapes. Two are shown with African mask-like faces and three more with faces in the Iberian style of Picasso's native Spain, giving them a savage aura. In this adaptation of Primitivism and abandonment of perspective in favor of a flat, two-dimensional picture plane, Picasso makes a radical departure from traditional European painting. The work is widely considered to be seminal in the early development of both Cubism and modern art. Demoiselles was revolutionary and controversial, and led to wide anger and disagreement, even amongst his closest associates and friends.
The Kiss (original Der Kuss) was painted by Gustav Klimt, and is probably his most famous work. He began work on it in 1907 and it is the highpoint of his so-called 'Golden Period'. It depicts a couple, in various shades of gold and symbols, sharing a kiss against a bronze background.
When he painted The Kiss Klimt was 45 and still lived at home with his mother and two unmarried sisters - but behind the respectable façade he was a man with a ferocious sexual appetite. Klimt fathered at least three illegitimate children and probably many more. He was obsessed by women and he had a fixation with redheads. It is no surprise that the woman in The Kiss has red hair. According to writer Frank Whitford: "Together the man and the woman form the shape of an erect penis and I think that is intentional - it's about sex and about the fulfilment of sex between a man and a woman.
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Two figures are situated at the edge of a flowered escarpment. The man is wearing neutral coloured rectangles and a crown of vines; the woman wears brightly coloured tangent circles and flowers in her hair. The couple’s embrace is enveloped by triangular vining and a veil of concentric circles.
Similarly juxtaposed couples appear in both Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze and Stoclet Frieze.