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10 Most Famous Paintings in the World of All Time

The Last Supper
The Last Supper Leonardo da Vinci's late-1490s mural painting in Milan

Every year, billions of dollars’ worth of art pass through international auction houses, while leading museums each hold tens of thousands — even hundreds of thousands — of artworks in their collections. But precious few ever achieve the fame required to truly be considered household names. Here are the world’s 10 most-searched-for paintings: 

1. Mona Lisa

The Mona Lisa (Italian: Monna Lisa or La Gioconda, French: La Joconde) is a half-length portrait painting by the Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci. It is considered an archetypal masterpiece of the Italian Renaissance, and has been described as “the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world. Mona Lisa is also one of the most valuable paintings in the world. It holds the Guinness World Record for the highest known insurance valuation in history at US$100 million in 1962 (equivalent to around $852 Millions as of 2019). The painting is thought by many to be a portrait of the Italian noblewoman Lisa Gherardini, the wife of Francesco del Giocondo, and is in oil on a white Lombardy poplar panel. It had been believed to have been painted between 1503 and 1506; however, Leonardo may have continued working on it as late as 1517.

 Recent academic work suggests that it would not have been started before 1513. It was acquired by King Francis I of France and is now the property of the French Republic itself, on permanent display at the Louvre Museum in Paris since 1797.

2. The Last Supper

Depictions of the Last Supper in Christian art have been undertaken by artistic masters for centuries, Leonardo da Vinci’s late-1490s mural painting in Milan. Leonardo, the original “Renaissance Man,” is the only artist to appear on this list twice. Painted in an era when religious imagery was still a dominant artistic theme. The painting is actually a huge fresco — 4.6 meters (15 feet) high and 8.8 meters (28.9 feet) wide, which makes for memorable viewing. Did you know? The fresco has survived two wartime threats — Napoleon’s troops used the wall of the refectory on which the fresco was painted as target practice. It also was exposed to the air for several years when bombing during World War II destroyed the roof of the Dominican convent of Santa Maria Delle Grazie in Milan.

3. The Starry Night

The Starry Night is an oil on canvas by the Dutch post-impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh. Painted in June 1889, it describes the view from the east-facing window of his asylum room at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, just before sunrise, with the addition of an ideal village.

It has been in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City since 1941, acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest. Regarded as among Van Gogh’s finest works, The Starry Night is one of the most recognized paintings in the history of Western culture.

4. The Scream

The Scream is the popular name given to a composition created by Norwegian Expressionist artist Edvard Munch in 1893. The original German title given by Munch to his work was Der Schrei der Natur (The Scream of Nature), and the Norwegian title is Skrik (Shriek). The agonized face in the painting has become one of the most iconic images of art, seen as symbolizing the anxiety of the human condition. Munch recalled that he had been out for a walk at sunset when suddenly the setting sunlight turned the clouds “a blood-red”. He sensed an ‘infinite scream passing through nature’. Scholars have located the spot to a fjord overlooking Oslo, and have suggested other explanations for the unnaturally orange sky, ranging from the effects of a volcanic eruption to a psychological reaction by Munch to his sister’s commitment at a nearby lunatic asylum.

Munch created four versions in paint and pastels, as well as a lithograph stone from which several prints survive. Both of the painted versions have been stolen, but since recovered. One of the pastel versions commanded the fourth highest nominal price paid for a painting at a public auction.

5. Guernica

Guernica, official and Basque name Gernika, is a town in the province of Biscay, in the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country, Spain. The town of Guernica is united in one municipality with neighboring Lumo, as Gernika-Lumo. The population of the municipality is 16,224 as of 2009. Gernika is best known to those residing outside the Basque region as the scene of the April 26, 1937 Bombing of Guernica, one of the first aerial bombings by Nazi Germany’s Luftwaffe. It inspired the painting Guernica by Pablo Picasso. The painting is in Museo Reina Sofía (Madrid)

6. The Kiss

The Kiss (in German Der Kuss) is an oil-on-canvas painting with added gold leaf, silver, and platinum by the Austrian Symbolist painter Gustav Klimt. It was painted at some point in 1907 and 1908, during the height of what scholars call his “Golden Period”. It was exhibited in 1908 under the title Liebesparr (the lovers) as stated in the catalog of the exhibition. The painting depicts a couple embracing each other, their bodies entwined in elaborate beautiful robes decorated in a style influenced by the contemporary Art Nouveau style and the organic forms of the earlier Arts and Crafts movement. 

The painting now hangs in the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere museum in the Belvedere, Vienna, and is considered a masterpiece of Vienna Secession (a local variation of Art Nouveau) and Klimt’s most popular work.

7. Girl With a Pearl Earring

Girl with a Pearl Earring (Dutch: Meisje met de Parel) is an oil painting by Dutch Golden Age painter Johannes Vermeer, dated 1665. Going by various names over the centuries, it became known by its present title towards the end of the 20th century after the large pearl earring worn by the girl portrayed there. The work has been in the collection of the Mauritshuis in The Hague since 1902 and has been the subject of various literary treatments. In 2006, the Dutch public selected it as the most beautiful painting in the Netherlands.

8. The Birth of Venus

The Birth of Venus (Italian: Nascita di Venere) is a painting by the Italian artist Sandro Botticelli, probably made in the mid-1480s. It depicts the Greek Metheology goddess Venus arriving at the shore after her birth when she had emerged from the sea fully-grown (called Venus Anadyomene and often depicted in the art). The painting is in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy.

Although the two are not a pair, the painting is inevitably discussed with Botticelli’s other very large mythological painting, the Primavera, also in the Uffizi. They are among the most famous paintings in the world, and icons of the Italian Renaissance; of the two, the Birth is better known than the Primavera. As depictions of subjects from classical mythology on a very large scale, they were virtually unprecedented in Western art since classical antiquity, as was the size and prominence of a nude female figure in the Birth. It used to be thought that they were both commissioned by the same member of the Medici family, but this is now uncertain.

They have been endlessly analyzed by art historians, with the main themes being: the emulation of ancient painters and the context of wedding celebrations (generally agreed), the influence of Renaissance Neo-Platonism (somewhat controversial), and the identity of the commissioners (not agreed). Most art historians agree, however, that the Birth does not require complex analysis to decode its meaning, in the way that the Primavera probably does. While there are subtleties in the painting, its main meaning is straightforward, if individual, treatment of a traditional scene from Greek mythology, and its appeal is sensory and very accessible, hence its enormous popularity. 

9. Las Meninas

Las Meninas (Spanish for “The Ladies-in-waiting”) is a 1656 painting in the Museo del Prado in Madrid, by Diego Velázquez, the leading artist of the Spanish Golden Age. Its complex and enigmatic composition raises questions about reality and illusion, and creates an uncertain relationship between the viewer and the figures depicted. Because of these complexities, Las Meninas has been one of the most widely analyzed works in Western painting. The painting shows a large room in the Royal Alcazar of Madrid during the reign of King Philip IV of Spain and presents several figures, most identifiable from the Spanish court, captured, according to some commentators, in a particular moment as if in a snapshot.

10. The Arnolfini Portrait

By Jan van Eyck 1434 is one of the most significant works produced during the Northern Renaissance, this composition is believed to be one of the first paintings executed in oils. A full-length double portrait, it reputedly portrays an Italian merchant and a woman who may or may not be his bride.  In 1934, the celebrated art historian Erwin Panofsky proposed that the painting is actually a wedding contract. What can be reliably said is that the piece is one of the first depictions of an interior using an orthogonal perspective to create a sense of space that seems contiguous with the viewer’s own; it feels like a painting you could step into.

 

Sources: Wikipedia and CNN.COM

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