Famous Paintings Explained and Analyzed
Explanation, Interpretation and Meaning of Oils, Frescoes and Watercolours by Old Masters

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Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci
Mona Lisa (1503-6)
By Leonardo. One of the
Greatest Paintings Ever.

For advice on how to
interpret fine art, see:
Art Evaluation
How to Appreciate Paintings

Famous Paintings: Analysis and Interpretation
Meaning of Pictures by Great Artists (c.1250-1800)


How to Analyze a Painting
List of Famous Paintings Analyzed
Further Resources

Anonymous Artists (c.800)
Angelico, Fra (1400-55)
Antonello da Messina (1430-79)
Bellini, Giovanni (1430-1516)
Bosch, Hieronymus (1450-1516)
Botticelli (1445-1510)
Broederlam, Melchior (1350-1411)
Bronzino (1503-72)
Bruegel, Pieter (1525-1569)
Campin, Robert (1378-1444)
Caravaggio (1571-1610)
Carracci, Annibale (1560-1609)
Christus, Petrus (1410-75)
Correggio (1494-1534)
Cortona, Pietro da (1596-1669)
David, Jacques-Louis (1748-1825)
Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255-1319)
Durer, Albrecht (1471-1528)
El Greco (1541-1614)
Eyck, Jan van (1390-1441)
Fouquet, Jean (1420-81)
Fragonard (1732-1806)
Fuseli, Henry (1741-1825)
Gentileschi, Artemisia (1597-1651)
Ghirlandaio, Domenico (1449-94)
Giorgione (1477-1510)
Giotto (1267-1337)
Goes, Hugo van der (1440-1482)
Grunewald, Matthias (1475-1528)
Hals, Frans (1582-1666)
Holbein, Hans (1497-1543)
Leonardo (1452-1519)
Limbourg Brothers (fl.1390-1416)
Lorenzetti, Ambrogio (1285-1348)
Mantegna, Andrea (1431-1506)
Martini, Simone (1284-1344)
Masaccio (1401-1428)
Memling, Hans (1433-94)
Michelangelo (1475-1564)
Parmigianino (1503-40)
Perugino (1450-1523)
Piero Della Francesca (1415-92)
Poussin, Nicolas (1594-1665)
Pozzo, Andrea (1642-1709)
Pucelle, Jean (1290-1334)
Quarton, Enguerrand (1410-66)
Raphael (1483-1520)
Rembrandt (1606-1669)
Rubens (1577-1640)
Rublev, Andrei (1360-1430)
Tiepolo (1696-1770)
Tintoretto (1518-94)
Titian (1488-1576)
Uccello (1397-1475)
Velazquez (1599-1660)
Vermeer, Jan (1632-1675)
Veronese, Paolo (1528-88)
Watteau (1684-1721)
Weyden, van der (1400-1464)
Wright, Joseph (1734-97)

Note: This is an ongoing series of educational articles devoted to the analysis and interpretation of important frescoes, oils and watercolours, with new essays being added on a regular basis. Bookmark this page for more details of beautiful portraits, history paintings, landscapes and genre paintings, by leading masters of the Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassical periods. For analysis of pictures produced during the nineteenth or twentieth centuries, please see: Analysis of Modern Paintings (1800-2000).


How to Analyze a Painting

In order to learn how to analyze and interpret a painting, it helps to read through evaluations written by others. This is why we have compiled a list featuring interpretations of famous paintings. We have no desire to impose our subjective views on you - in fact, we expect you to form your own opinion of all the paintings listed below - but our analyses may provide you with some food for thought, and may help you to get started. Art appreciation is not like solving mathematical equations because, there is rarely a 'correct' view about (1) what a particular painter was trying to achieve; (2) whether he/she succeeded; or (3) how beautiful his/her painting is. Furthermore, it is not your conclusion about a painting that matters - it is your reasoning: in other words, WHY you like it, or hate it, or feel indifferent towards it.

How to Interpret a Painting - A Few Simple Tips

When analyzing a painting, don't forget - it is merely paint arranged in a certain way. No more, no less. So open your eyes and take a careful look at things like: (1) how the artist has used lines to draw shapes; (2) the different colours (reds, yellows and so on) used; (3) the different shades or tones of particular colours used (light blue, mid-blue, dark blue and so on); (4) what sort of surface texture the painter has created - is it very smooth, for instance, with few visible brush strokes, or is it pitted with clumps of thick paint and obvious signs of brushwork? (5) how the artist catches your eye - for instance, are there features that catch your eye and lead it around the composition? is the picture organized horizontally from left to right, or diagonally, or vertically? (6) is the artist trying to represent something real, like a person, or scene? If so, is he simply trying to replicate reality, or is he trying to say something about it? (7) are some items included in the picture for symbolic reasons? In the old days, for instance, if an artist included a dog in his portrait of a married woman, it implied that the woman was faithful to her husband. Many paintings contain symbols like this; (8) if the painting is completely abstract, look closely at the types of shapes it contains, and ask yourself if they remind you of anything.

What is the Intention of the Painter?

Now, using the information you have generated by analyzing the painting according to these 8 points, ask yourself what the painter's intention was, in each case. For example, if you noticed (point 3) that the artist used a lot of bright red paint - ask yourself why? What was the artist trying to achieve? Or, if you notice that your attention is drawn to a particular object in the picture - ask yourself why the artist might wish to attract your eye to this particular spot. If you can form an opinion as to what the artist's intention was, in relation to the above points, you are bound to have a pretty good appreciation of the painting itself.



Famous Paintings Analyzed

Listed A-Z By Artist

Unknown Artists (c.800)

Christ's Monogram Page (Chi/Rho) in the Book of Kells (800)
Trinity College Dublin Library
Exquisite example of intricate Celtic-style decoration.
Wilton Diptych (1395-99)
National Gallery, London
Created for King Richard II of England, it is named after Wilton House, the stately home of the Earls of Pembroke.

Angelico, Fra (1400-55)

The Annunciation (c.1450)
Fresco, San Marco Museum, Florence
Commissioned by the Medici family, this fresco wall painting was part of the decorative scheme painted by Fra Angelico for the Dominican convent in Florence - one of the most important sets of murals from the Florentine Renaissance.

Antonello da Messina (1430-79)

Christ Crowned with Thorns (Ecce Homo) (1470)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Some art critics regard this portrait as the quintessential humanist work of the Italian Renaissance, in which man-is-God-is-man.

Bellini, Giovanni (1430-1516)

The Ecstasy of St. Francis (1480)
Frick Collection, New York
Bellini's complex scene from the life of St Francis depicting him receiving the stigmata.
Portrait of Doge Leonardo Loredan (1502)
National Gallery, London
Bellini's powerful study of Venice's leader and chief magistrate.
The San Zaccaria Altarpiece (1505)
Church of San Zaccaria, Venice
Giovanni Bellini's exquisite Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints Peter, Catherine, Lucia and Jerome.

Bosch, Hieronymus (1450–1516)

Garden of Earthly Delights (1500-05)
Oil on wood, Prado Museum, Madrid
This devotional triptych is one of the most enigmatic and visionary works of art of the 16th century Netherlandish Renaissance.
Haywain Triptych (1516)
Oil on panel, Prado Museum, Madrid
Another religious masterpiece which focuses on the consequences of sin.

Botticelli, Sandro (1445-1510)

La Primavera (1482-3)
Tempera on poplar panel, Uffizi, Florence
Commissioned by the Medici family, this complex allegorical work combines the linear elegance of Gothic art and the humanistic narrative of the Italian Renaissance. One of the finest examples of mythological painting from the Italian Renaissance.
Birth of Venus (1484-6)
Tempera on canvas, Uffizi, Florence
Commissioned by the humanist patron Lorenzo Medici, this painting was the first secular nude since classical antiquity. It belongs to a series of mythological pictures painted by Botticelli after his return from the Sistine Chapel in Rome.

Broederlam, Melchior (1350-1411)

Dijon Altarpiece (1394-99)
Museum of Fine Arts, Dijon
Combines the decoration and symbolism of International Gothic art, with the naturalism of Italian 14th century pre-Renaissance painting.

Bronzino, Agnolo (1503-72)

An Allegory with Venus and Cupid (1540-50)
National Gallery, London
Cool, erudite and complex mannerist painting commissioned by Cosimo de Medici for the Fontainebleau court of Francis I.

Bruegel the Elder, Pieter (c.1525-1569)

Netherlandish Proverbs (1559)
Oil on oak panel, Gemaldegalerie, SMPK, Berlin
Executed in the style of Bruegel's great Netherlandish predecessor Hieronymus Bosch, it illustrates the universal stupidity of man, and the supreme relevance of the Creator and Saviour.
Mad Meg (Dulle Griet) (1562)
Oil on wood, Mayer van den Bergh Museum, Antwerp
One of three panels painted by Pieter Bruegel the Elder in the manner of Hieronymus Bosch, it is a powerful, apocalyptic work of religious art, personified by the antics of the grotesque Griet.
Tower of Babel (1563)
Oil on panel, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
Commissioned by the Antwerp art collector Niclaes Jonghelinck, this is the second of three versions of the same subject. A stunning pictorial expression of the idea that, without divine rescue, Man's worldly labours are pointless and futile.
Hunters in the Snow (1565)
Oil on oak panel, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
One of the most famous landscape pictures in the history of painting, it contains - like all Bruegel's works - a significant narrative on the rural behaviour of 16th century Netherlanders.
Massacre of the Innocents (c.1565-7)
Oil/panel, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
There are two versions of this chilling piece of Biblical art: one in the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, the other in the Royal Collection at Hampton Court Palace.
Peasant Wedding Feast (1568)
Oil on oak panel, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
This well-known Flemish illustration of peasant life exemplifies Bruegel's late Italianate style of figure painting. It contains numerous symbolic references and an unmistakable moral undertone.
Parable of the Blind (1568)
Oil on oak panel, Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte
One of the most famous examples of a diagonal spatial arrangement, this painting is the typical Bruegel mixture of genre painting, religious sermon and landscape painting.

Campin, Robert (c.1378-1444)

Seilern (Entombment) Triptych (1410)
Oils/gold leaf, Courtauld Institute
The earliest surviving work of Robert Campin/Master of Flemalle, an important founder of the Flemish School, it illustrates the Flemish pictorial preference for observation - to create a new realism, the better to explain religion - instead of the Gothic reliance on formal attributes.
Merode Altarpiece (Annunciation Triptych) (c.1425)
Oil/panel, Cloisters, Metropolitan Museum of Art New York
Also called The Annunciation Triptych, this early 15th century Flemish oil painting was commissioned by the wealthy Flemish merchant Jan Engelbrecht as a domestic devotional altarpiece.

Caravaggio (1571-1610)

The Calling of Saint Matthew (1599-1600)
Contarelli Chapel, Church of San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome
Composed like a genre-painting, this work captures the split-second after Christ's summons hangs in the air, but before Levi can answer. In another second, he will rise up, become Matthew the apostle and follow Christ out of the room.
The Martyrdom of St Matthew (1599-1600)
Contarelli Chapel, San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome
Here Caravaggio depicts the scene, moments before Saint Matthew is martyred. The work hangs alongside its two sister paintings, also by Caravaggio: The Calling of St Matthew and The Inspiration of St Matthew.
The Crucifixion of St. Peter (1601)
Cerasi Chapel, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome
The most shocking feature of this painting is the banal efforts of those tasked with Peter's execution. With all the pushing and pulling and lifting, one almost loses sight of the fact that a man is being put to death.
Conversion on the way to Damascus (1601)
Cerasi Chapel, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome
One of two pictures commissioned by Monsignor Tiberio Cerasi (1544-1601), treasurer to Pope Clement VIII for his family chapel.
Supper at Emmaus (1601-2)
National Gallery, London
One of the best examples of Caravaggio's realist religious painting, noted also for its foreshortening, chiaroscuro and trompe l'oeil effects at the edge of the picture plane.
Death of the Virgin (Morte della vergine) (1601-6)
Louvre, Paris
Caravaggio avoids the overt emotion seen in Mannerist painting, choosing instead to highlight the grief of the mourners by hiding their faces, with careful use of dramatic tenebrism to pick out the weeping mourners, and illuminate Mary's body with heavenly light.
The Entombment of Christ (Deposizione) (1601-3)
Pinacoteca Vaticana, Rome
A masterpiece of tender loyalty as Nicodemus, John the Evangelist, Mary Magdalene, the Virgin Mary and her sister Mary of Clopas lower Jesus into the tomb.
Amor Vincit Omnia (Victorious Cupid) (1602)
Gemaldegalerie SMPK, Berlin
The striking thing about this work is the young model's glee in posing for the painting. So the painting is really a portrait of the boy (Cecco) rather than a depiction of a classical Cupid.

Carracci, Annibale (1560-1609)

Farnese Gallery frescoes "The Loves of the Gods" (1597-1608)
Palazzo Farnese, Rome
Highly influential classical style of monumental fresco painting.

Christus, Petrus (1410-75)

Portrait of a Young Girl (1470)
Gemaldegalerie, Staatliche Museen, Berlin
Innovative portrait masterpiece by Jan van Eyck's greatest follower.

Correggio (1494-1534)

Assumption of the Virgin (Parma Cathedral) (1526-30)
An awesome example of quadratura painting on the underside of the dome.
Jupiter and Io (1533)
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
One of the great mythological masterpieces of the High Renaissance.

Cortona, Pietro da (1596-1669)

Allegory of Divine Providence and Barberini Power (1633-39)
Palazzo Barberini, Rome
An awe-inspiring quadratura fresco celebrating the life of Pope Urban VII.

David, Jacques-Louis (1748-1825)

The Oath of the Horatii (1785)
Oil on canvas, Louvre Museum, Paris
A masterpiece of neoclassical mythological painting.
The Death of Marat (1793)
Oil on canvas, Musees Royaux des Beaux Arts, Brussels
The ultimate propaganda painting which makes a secular martyr out of a ruthless revolutionary.

Duccio di Buoninsegna (c.1255-1319)

Stroganoff Madonna and Child (1300)
Tempera/gold on wood, Metropolitan Museum of New York
This early religious masterpiece from the Sienese School of painting, also known as the Stoclet Madonna, is an important landmark in the transition from Medieval to Renaissance painting.
Maesta Altarpiece (1308-1311)
Tempera/gold/wood, Siena Cathedral Museum
Exemplifying the Gothic manner of the Sienese School of Painting, this Madonna and Child Enthroned with Angels and Saints was designed for the high altar of Siena Cathedral.

Durer, Albrecht (1471-1528)

Self Portrait with Fur Collar (1500)
Alte Pinakothek, Munich
This self-portrait is Durer's way of saying that he wished to be considered a Renaissance artist rather than a North European craftsman.

A Young Hare (1502)
Albertina, Vienna
One of the first nature studies to constitute a painting in its own right

Great Piece of Turf (1503)
Albertina, Vienna
An example of Durer's unique synthesis of Northern Renaissance eye for detail and Italian Renaissance humanism and disegno.

El Greco (1541-1614)

The Burial of Count Orgaz (1586-88)
Church of Santo Tome, Toledo, Spain
The artist's largest and most famous picture, commemorating the legendary funeral of Don Gonzalo de Ruiz, which was visited by Saint Stephen and Saint Augustine.
View of Toledo (1595-1600)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
This atmospheric picture of El Greco's beloved city of Toledo is one of the world's first 'pure' landscapes.
The Disrobing of Christ (El Espolio) (1577)
Cathedral of Toledo
Highly dramatic picture of the scene in which Christ is stripped prior to his crucifixion. Dominated by the central figure of Jesus in a rich scarlet robe.
Christ driving the Traders from the Temple (1600)
National Gallery, London
One of five versions of the Biblical story of the Cleansing or Purification of the Temple, which occurs in all the Gospels.
Portrait of Felix Hortensio Paravicino (c.1605)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Exquisite monochrome portrait of the influential royal theologian, poet, and Trinitarian friar.
Portrait of a Cardinal (1600)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Psychoanalytical portrait of Cardinal Don Fernando Nino de Guevera, Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition.

Eyck, Jan Van (1390-1441)

Ghent Altarpiece (1425-32)
Oil on wood, St Bavo Cathedral, Ghent
One of the greatest religious paintings of the day, this massive polyptych by Hubert and Jan van Eyck is one of the cultural cornerstones of the Flemish School of painting, acclaimed for its vivid colour, stunning realism and wide-ranging subject matter.
Man in a Red Turban (1433)
Oil on wood, National Gallery, London
One of several world-famous oil paintings by the leader of the Flemish School, it exemplifies the new realism which emanated from Flanders during the 15th century, and which influenced a wide range of Italian Renaissance painters.
Arnolfini Portrait (1434)
Oil on wood, National Gallery, London
Painted in Bruges and crammed with complex symbolism, this work is one of the most famous panel paintings of the 15th century Flemish School of painting.



Fouquet, Jean (1420-81)

Portrait of Charles VII of France (1445-50)
Louvre Museum, Paris
Considered to be one of the greatest portrait paintings of the French school.

Melun Diptych (1450-55)
Oil/panel, Koninklijk Museum; Gemaldegalerie, SMPK, Berlin
This devotional diptych - commissioned by Etienne Chevalier, treasurer to King Charles VII - could easily be mistaken for a work of modern art, rather than an example of International Gothic.

Fragonard, Jean-Honore (1732-1806)

The Swing (Fragonard) (1767)
Wallace Collection, London
French Rococo masterpiece of erotic art in the tradition of Jean Watteau and Francois Boucher.

Fuseli, Henry (1741-1825)

The Nightmare (1781)
Detroit Institute of Arts
Highly imaginative fantasy/surrealist painting, now an iconic image.

Gentileschi, Artemisia (1597-1651)

Judith Beheading Holofernes (1620)
Oil on canvas, Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
A favourite Biblical subject of Artemisia's, which is usually modelled on herself (as Judith), and her rapist Agostino Tassi (as Holofernes).

Ghirlandaio, Domenico (1449-94)

Old Man with a Young Boy (1490)
Louvre Museum, Paris
Ghirlandaio's work illustrates the humanistic strides made by Early Renaissance art and culture during the quattrocento.

Giorgione (1477-1510)

The Tempest (1508)
Venice Academy Gallery
Complex, allegorical painting by Venice's most mysterious painter.
The Sleeping Venus (Dresden Venus) (1508)
Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden
Completed by Titian who based his own Venus of Urbino upon it.

Giotto (1267-1337)

Scrovegni Chapel Frescoes (c.1303-10)
Cappella degli Scrovegni, Padua
The cornerstone of Renaissance art, Giotto's fresco cycle in the Scrovegni or Arena Chapel marks an important pictorial break from the flat Byzantine/Gothic style of painting, and paves the way for quattrocento naturalism.

- The Betrayal of Christ (Kiss of Judas) (1305) Scrovegni/Arena Chapel
- Lamentation of Christ (1305) Scrovegni/Arena Chapel

Goes, Hugo Van Der (1440-1482)

The Portinari Altarpiece (1476-9)
Oil on wood, Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
Flemish masterpiece commissioned by Tommaso Portinari, manager of the Bruges branch of the Medici Family Bank. Had a major influence on the art of the Florentine Renaissance.

Grunewald, Matthias (c.1475-1528)

The Isenheim Altarpiece (c.1515)
Oil on wood panel, Unterlinden Museum, Colmar.
The greatest expressionist altarpiece in the history of art; combines Gothic art, Bosch-like imagery and the latest German Renaissance painting techniques. Art critics have never fully understood it.

Hals, Frans (1582-1666)

The Laughing Cavalier (1624)
Oil on canvas, Wallace Collection, London.
Exemplifies Hals' lively and spontaneous style of portraiture, although ironically the sitter is neither a Cavalier nor is he laughing.

• Holbein, Hans (1497-1543)

Portrait of Erasmus of Rotterdam (1523)
National Gallery, London
Holbein's first major portrait, it turned him into an international artist.
Portrait of Sir Thomas More (1527)
Frick Collection, New York City
Thomas More, a close acquaintance of Erasmus, was Holbein's main patron during the latter's first visit to England.
Portrait of a Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling (1527–28)
National Gallery, London
Recently identified as Anne Lovell, wife of Sir Francis Lovell, attendant to Henry VIII.
Portrait of the Merchant Georg Giese (1532)
Gemaldegalerie, SMPK, Berlin
One of a series of portraits of Hanseatic League merchants working in London.
Portrait of Thomas Cromwell (1532-4)
National Portrait Gallery, London
Cromwell was Holbein's main sponsor during his second visit to England, and the his career never fully recovered from Cromwell's downfall in 1540.
The Ambassadors (1533)
National Gallery, London
Double portrait of Jean de Dinteville, the French Ambassador, and Georges de Selve, Bishop of Lavaur.
Portrait of Henry VIII (1536)
Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid
The surviving Holbein portrait, plus details of other paintings, including the Whitehall Palace mural.

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)

Virgin of the Rocks (Madonna of the Rocks) (1483-5)
Oil on panel, Louvre, Paris
This rare painting by Leonardo was installed in the chapel of the Immaculate Conception, in the church of San Francesco Grande in Milan. However, it was soon sold for to King Louis XII of France, whereupon a second version was executed. This now hangs in the National Gallery in London.
Lady with an Ermine (1490)
Oil on panel, Czartoryski Museum, Krakow
One of only a tiny handful of portraits completed by the Florentine genius Leonardo da Vinci, this painting was commissioned by Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, Leonardo's main employer between the years 1482 and 1499.
The Last Supper (1495–98)
Tempera/oil, Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan
Known in Italian as Il Cenacolo or L'Ultima Cena, this complex rendering of the Biblical story features mathematical and narrative symbolism, along with outstanding use of colour and perspective.
Mona Lisa (La Gioconda) (1503-06)
Oil on wood, Louvre, Paris
With an estimated value of $1 billion, La Gioconda is perhaps the greatest painting of the Italian Renaissance. It exemplifies Leonardo's matchless oil painting technique, including the device of sfumato.

Limbourg Brothers (Pol, Herman, Jean) (fl.1390-1416)

Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (1413)
Gouache on vellum, Musee Conde, Chantilly
One of the most magnificent examples of Medieval miniature painting, this illuminated manuscript is the showpiece of the Musee Conde, in Chantilly.

Lorenzetti, Ambrogio (c.1285-1348)

Allegory of Good and Bad Government (1338-9)
Palazzo Pubblico, Siena
This series of six fresco murals for Siena's town hall is Ambrogio's masterpiece.

Mantegna, Andrea (1431-1506)

Lamentation over the Dead Christ (c.1470-80)
Tempera on panel, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan
One of the greatest Early Renaissance paintings produced outside Florence, it is renowned as probably the most famous example of the illusionistic technique of foreshortening in the quattrocento.
Camera degli Sposi frescoes (1465-74)
Fresco, Camera Picta, Ducal Palace, Mantua
One of the most famous examples of Early Renaissance illusionistic painting, the ceiling and mural frescoes in this commonplace reception room at the Ducal Palace in Mantua, are characterized by trompe l'oeil painting techniques like quadratura.

Martini, Simone (1284-1344)

Annunciation Triptych with St. Margaret and St. Ansanus (1333)
Uffizi Gallery, Florence
Martini's greatest work, this exquisite Gothic altarpiece was created for a side chapel in the Siena Cathedral.

Masaccio (1401-28)

Brancacci Chapel frescoes (1424-8)
Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence
Known as the "Sistine Chapel of the Early Renaissance", the Brancacci Chapel was frescoed by Masolino da Panicale and his young assistant Masaccio, and became the embodiment of Early Renaissance art in Florence.
Expulsion From the Garden of Eden (1425)
Fresco mural, Brancacci Chapel
Known in Italian as Cacciata dei progenitori dall'Eden, this painting is probably the best known of all the Brancacci Chapel frescoes.
The Tribute Money (1426)
Fresco mural, Brancacci Chapel
Another mural from the Brancacci Chapel fresco cycle, it is noted for its scientific linear perspective, humanistic aesthetics and three-dimensional figures.
Holy Trinity (1428)
Fresco mural, Santa Maria Novella, Florence
An iconic work of Early Renaissance painting, it is noted for its outstanding application of single-point linear perspective.

Memling, Hans (c.1433-94)

The Last Judgment Triptych (c.1471)
Oil on panel, Muzeum Narodowe, Gdansk.
Painted a few years before the Donne Triptych (1475-80, National Gallery, London) this is Memling's most important religious painting, linking Gothic art with that of the Florence Renaissance.
Donne Triptych (1477-80)
Oil on panel, National Gallery, London.
Small-scale altarpiece with grisaille exterior, commissioned by the Welsh nobleman Sir John Donne of Kidwelly and executed in Bruges.

Michelangelo (1475-1564)

Genesis Fresco (1508-12)
Ceiling of Sistine Chapel, Rome
Arguably the greatest exemplar of figurative painting in the history of art, this spectacular fresco decoration occupies about 1,000 square-metres of ceiling, illustrating events taken from the biblical Book of Genesis.
Creation of Adam (1511-12)
Fresco, Sistine Chapel, Rome
An iconic work of Christian art, this is the most famous of Michelangelo's ceiling frescoes from the Genesis cycle in the Sistine Chapel, commissioned by Pope Julius II.
Last Judgment Fresco (1536-41)
Altar Wall of Sistine Chapel, Rome
Painted 25 years after the completion of his Genesis fresco, this fresco mural was ordered by Pope Clement VII (1523-1534). Together with the Genesis work, it is regarded as the greatest ever masterpiece of religious art.

Parmigianino (1503-40)

Madonna with the Long Neck (1535)
Uffizi Gallery, Florence
Madonna and Child with an allegorical message.

Perugino, Pietro (1450-1523)

Christ Handing the Keys to Saint Peter (1482)
Sistine Chapel, The Vatican, Rome
One of the greatest works of Biblical art from the Italian Renaissance, it reinforces the dogma surrounding Papal authority and demonstrates the concept of linear perspective.

Piero Della Francesca (1415-92)

Flagellation of Christ (1450-60)
Tempera/oil on panel, Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, Urbino
Ranked by the art scholar Kenneth Clark as among the ten finest paintings of all time, this Early Renaissance masterpiece is renowned for its application of linear perspective.

Poussin, Nicolas (1594-1665)

Abduction of the Sabine Women (1634-5)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Poussin's most famous mythological painting on classical antiquity.
Et in Arcadia Ego (1637)
Louvre Museum, Paris
Allegorical memento mori executed in Poussin's typical classical style.

Pozzo, Andrea (1642-1709)

Apotheosis of St Ignatius (1688-94)
Jesuit Church of Sant'Ignazio, Rome
Arguably the greatest work of trompe l'oeil fresco painting ever.

Pucelle, Jean (1290-1334)

The Belleville Breviary (1323-26)
Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris
The most famous illuminated breviary known to 14th century French painting.
The Hours of Jeanne d'Evreux (1324-28)
The Cloisters, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Personal prayer-book created for the French Queen, Jeanne d'Evreux.


Quarton, Enguerrand (1410-66)

The Avignon Pieta (1454-6)
Louvre, Paris
One of the finest religious paintings of the 15th century. A masterpiece of the Provencal school.

Raphael (1483-1520)

School of Athens (Scuola di Atene) (1509-11)
Fresco, Stanza della Segnatura, Vatican
The most famous fresco painting in the Raphael Rooms at the Vatican, commissioned by Pope Julius II (1503-13), it is a pictorial synthesis of Greek Humanism and Renaissance Christianity.
Sistine Madonna (1513-14)
Oil/canvas, Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden
One of the last pictures completed by Raphael himself, and arguably his most beautiful Madonna, it was installed on the high altar of the Benedictine abbey church of San Sisto in Piacenza.
Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione (1514-15)
Oil/canvas, Musee du Louvre, Paris
This High Renaissance portrait depicts the eminent literary artist and thinker active at the court of Urbino during the early 16th century. It is believed to be a collaborative effort between Raphael and other assistants, such as Giulio Romano.
Pope Leo X with Cardinals (1518)
Oil on panel, Galleria Palatina, Pitti Palace, Florence
Like his portrait of Pope Julius II, this masterpiece is a complex work of political portraiture which influenced a wide number of Renaissance painters.
The Transfiguration (1518-20)
Oil on panel, Pinacoteca Apostolica, Vatican
Commissioned by Cardinal Giulio de' Medici, shortly to be elected Pope Clement VII, this masterpiece of High Renaissance Biblical art was an important precursor of Mannerism.

Rembrandt (1606-69)

Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (1632)
Oil/canvas, Mauritshuis, The Hague
One of the most famous group portraits of the Dutch Baroque, it was Rembrandt's first large canvas and the painting which helped to establish his reputation after his move to Amsterdam in 1631-2.
The Night Watch (1642)
Oil/canvas, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
The best known group portrait of the Baroque age, it is best known for its revolutionary composition in turning a humdrum subject into a dynamic work of art.
Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer (1653)
Oil/canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
This mythological portrait was executed for Don Antonio Ruffo of Messina (1610-78), one of Sicily's great art collectors. In 1961, it was acquired by New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art for $2.3 million. Its current estimated value exceeds $100 million.
Bathsheba Holding King David's Letter (1654)
Oil/canvas, Louvre, Paris
Amongst Rembrandt's greatest portraits, this Biblical work was an excuse for Rembrandt to paint another of his exquisitely expressive female nudes.
Portrait of Jan Six (1654)
Oil/canvas, Private Collection, Amsterdam
Perhaps Rembrandt's greatest individual portrait, it portrays his friend the businessman, magistrate, and writer Jan Six (1618-1700).
The Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis (1661)
Oil/canvas, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm
One of the most powerful works of Dutch painting of the 17th century, it was installed in the new Town Hall in Amsterdam, until a dispute arose, whereupon Rembrandt kept the painting, which he reduced in size to make it more easily sellable.
Syndics of the Cloth-Makers Guild (The Staalmeesters) (1662)
Oil on canvas Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Far less famous than The Night Watch, this is another of Rembrandt's fabulous group portraits, executed in his final decade. The commission was awarded to Rembrandt after his bankruptcy, indicating the high respect which he still commanded.
Suicide of Lucretia (c.1666)
Oil/canvas, Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Exemplifying Rembrandt's mastery of chiaroscuro, this dramatic but poignant work also illustrates his genius for injecting emotional content into portraiture.
The Jewish Bride (c.1665-8)
Oil/canvas, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
One of Rembrandt's final double portraits, this Biblical work is one of the few real expressions of love created by a Baroque artist in 17th-Century Holland.
Return of the Prodigal Son (1666-69)
Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg
One of Rembrandt's last paintings, it represents his finest interpretation of a Biblical scene - in this case the famous parable of the lost son from St Luke's gospel.

Rubens (1577-1640)

Samson and Delilah (1609-10)
National Gallery, London
A masterpiece of Biblical art, it shows the full impact of the Italian Renaissance and the later Italian Baroque on Rubens' art.

Descent from the Cross (Rubens) (1612-14)
Cathedral of our Lady, Antwerp
The most famous of Rubens' versions of this New Testament composition.

The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus (1618)
Alte Pinakothek, Munich
Complex mythological painting whose meaning remains debatable to this day.

Judgment of Paris (1632-5)
National Gallery, London
Probably the finest of several illustrations by Rubens of this Greek myth.

Rublev, Andrei (1360-1430)

The Holy Trinity Icon (1411-25)
Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
The most famous of all Russian icons, originally painted for the Trinity Monastery of St. Sergius, it represents a highpoint of Russian medieval art.

Tiepolo, Giambattista (1696-1770)

Wurzburg Residence Frescoes (1750-53)
Kaiserhaal, Treppenhaus, Wurzburg Palace
Greatest 18th century fresco paintings by the great Venetian Rococo painter.

Tintoretto (Jacopo Robusti) (1518-94)

The Crucifixion (1565)
Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Venice
Mannerist-style panoramic scene of Golgotha. Highly unusual and innovative version of Christ on the cross.

Titian (1488-1576)

Venus of Urbino (1538)
Uffizi Gallery, Florence
Modelled on Giorgione's Reclining Venus (1518), it is one of the most famous female nudes of the Italian Renaissance.
Assumption of the Virgin (1516-18)
Saint Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice
Arguably the most dramatic and inspirational altarpieces in the history of art.
Pope Paul III with his Grandsons (1546)
Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples
Highly complex political portrait of the Farnese family pontiff, full of symbolism.
Bacchus and Ariadne (1520-23)
National Gallery, London
Venetian mythological painting commissioned by Alfonso I d'Este, Duke of Ferrara for his ducal palace.
Bacchanal of the Andrians (1523-5)
Prado Museum, Madrid
High Renaissance mythological painting known as a poesia, based on a story by the Roman writer Philostratus.

Uccello, Paolo (1397-1475)

Battle of San Romano (1438-55)
Tempera on panel, National Gallery London; Uffizi Florence; Louvre Paris
One of the few secular triptychs of the Italian Renaissance, it was 'acquired' by the covetous Lorenzo de' Medici from its owner the Bartolini Salimbeni family. The work was an important experiment in linear perspective.

Hunt in the Forest (1470)
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
Like its sister, the Battle of San Romano (1438-55) this painting illustrates Uccello's mastery of linear perspective.

Velazquez (1599-1660)

Waterseller of Seville (1618-22)
Wellington Museum, Apsley House, London
Velazquez' most famous genre painting or bodegon.
Christ Crucified (Christ on the Cross) (1632)
Prado, Madrid
Pared-down, classical image of the crucifixion.
The Surrender of Breda (Las Lanzas) (1634-5)
Prado, Madrid
Complex historical painting featuring the nobility of Ambrogio Spinola.
The Rokeby Venus (1647-51)
National Gallery, London
Velazquez' greatest female nude.
Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1650)
Doria Pamphilj Gallery, Rome
The most famous of all papal portraits; basis for Bacon's Screaming Popes.
Las Meninas (Ladies-in-Waiting) (1656)
Prado Museum, Madrid
Velazquez' greatest work, a complex group portrait dealing with the issues of truth and illusion.

Vermeer, Jan (1632-1675)

The Little Street (Street in Delft) (c.1657-58)
Oil/canvas, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
A masterpiece of protestant Dutch Realism, this painting is one of only a tiny handful of works by the artist which do not contain a significant figurative element.
Soldier and a Laughing Girl (c.1658)
Oil/canvas, Frick Collection, New York
This genre painting demonstrates Vermeer's mastery of light and space, as well as his ability to create a sense of intimacy into which we intrude.
The Milkmaid (c.1658-1660)
Oil/canvas, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
One of the finest examples of Dutch Realist genre painting, full of symbolism and moral narrative, it has long been a favourite of artists and critics alike.
Woman Holding a Balance (1662-3)
Oil/canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
One of the greatest genre paintings in the history of art, this overtly allegorical work blends meticulous technique with profound intimacy - a style unmatched by any other painter from the Schools of Leiden, Haarlem, Utrecht, Dordrecht or Delft.
Young Woman with a Water Jug/Pitcher (c.1662)
Oil/canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
One of five Vermeers in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the first in his series of "pearl pictures", it exemplifies Vermeer's handling of light, as well as the pearl-like tones of his blue and yellow colour palette.
Woman with a Pearl Necklace (c.1663)
Oil/canvas, Gemaldegalerie, SMPK, Berlin
Another of Vermeer's "pearl pictures", it exhibits Vermeer's hallmark painting technique, including soft-edge brushwork and yellow-blue-grey colour palette.
Girl with a Pearl Earring (Head of a Girl with a Turban) (1665)
Oil/canvas, Mauritshuis, The Hague
Known as the "Mona Lisa of the North", this works shows that Vermeer was also a master portraitist, as well as a master genre painter.
Girl with a Red Hat (c.1666-1667)
Oil/panel, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
Portrait or genre painting? Who cares! One of Vermeer's smallest paintings this exquisite masterpiece is also one of his few works on panel.
The Art of Painting: An Allegory (c.1666-73)
Oil/canvas, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
This work, also called The Artist in His Studio and The Allegory of Painting, is the largest of all of Vermeer's pictures and may contain a self-portrait of him in action.
The Lacemaker (c.1669-1670)
Oil on canvas, Louvre, Paris
Vermeer's smallest picture, it is regarded as one of the greatest genre paintings created during the period of Dutch Realism.

Veronese, Paolo (1528-88)

Wedding Feast at Cana (1563)
Louvre Museum, Paris
Illustrates the biblical miracle when Jesus turned water into wine. The setting for this religious story was 16th century Venice.
Feast in the House of Levi (1573)
Venice Academy Gallery
Highly contentious work, originally a 'Last Supper'. Veronese changed the theme to that of 'Christ in the House of Levi' to protect himself against the Inquisition.

Watteau, Jean-Antoine (1684-1721)

Pilgrimage to Cythera (1717)
Oil/canvas, Louvre, Paris; Charlottenburg, Berlin
Part genre painting, part landscape painting, this work (two versions of which exist) introduced a brand new type of picture known as La fete galante.

Weyden, Roger Van der (c.1400-1464)

Descent From the Cross (Deposition) (c.1435-40)
Oil on panel, Prado, Madrid
This masterpiece of Flemish religious art is Van der Weyden's greatest work, and one of the most influential works of the mid-15th century.

Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-97)

An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump (1768)
National Gallery, London
Realist genre painting of a scientific experiment. Caravaggist lighting.


Further Painting Resources

Great European Painters
For biographies of famous painters (c.1250-1800), see: Old Masters.
Great Modern Painters
For careers of modern artists (1700-1900), see: Famous Painters.
Greatest Artists
For the greatest painters, see: Best Artists of All Time.
Top History Paintings
For the finest narrative painters, see: Best History Painters.
Top Portraits
For the greatest portraiture, see: Greatest Portrait Paintings.
See also: Best Portrait Artists.
Top Landscape Paintings
For the most awesome views, see: Best Landscape Artists.
See also: Famous Landscape Paintings.
Top Genre Paintings
For the most beautiful genre works, see: Greatest Genre Paintings.
See also: Best Genre Painters.
Top Still Life Paintings
For the finest still lifes, see: Best Still Life Painters.

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