Art History - World​

Mona Lisa

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
Location: Louvre Museum (since 1797)
Subject: Lisa del Giocondo
Medium: Oil paint
Created: 1503
Dimensions: 77 cm x 53 cm

Mona Lisa is the most well known and most valuable portrait painting in the world. It was painted sometime between 1503 and 1519, by Leonardo Da Vinci who was the greatest painter of Renaissance period. It is an oil painting which is painted on a poplar wooden panel. This painting visually represents the idea of happiness. It is a sitting woman’s half body portrait with a distant landscape as its background. The technique used in painting is called ‘Sfumato’, which is blending of colours without the use of borders and lines. Mona Lisa painting is famous because it was the first painting that used the one-point perspective and mysterious smile. It is set on display for public in the louvre museum. Historians suggest that it took four years to paint Mona Lisa. Many believe that the real name of Mona Lisa was Lisa.
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Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519) is probably best known as the famous artist who painted the ‘Mona Lisa’. However, he wasn’t just a great painter. Da Vinci was also a sculptor, an architect, a poet, a composer, a scientist, a mathematician and an inventor. He was born near Florence in Italy in 1452.
Leonardo was left-handed. But as well as using his left hand to write, he wrote back to front, from right to left across the page which meant that, for many years, people were unable to understand his notes. This kind of ‘mirror writing’ led people to believe that Da Vinci wanted to keep his ideas secret!
Leonardo Da Vinci was the brains behind the bicycle, the aeroplane, the helicopter and the parachute – amazingly he drew designs for all these machines about 500 years before their time!
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Artist– Michelangelo
Location: St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City
Dimensions: 174 cm × 195 cm (68.5 in × 76.8 in)
Subject: Jesus and Mary, Mother of Jesus

The scene of the Pieta shows the Virgin Mary holding the dead body of Christ after his crucifixion, death, and removal from the cross, but before he was placed in the tomb.  This is one of the key events from the life of the Virgin, known as the Seven Sorrows of Mary, which were the subject of Catholic devotional prayers.  The subject matter was one which would have probably been known by many people, but in the late fifteenth century it was depicted in artworks more commonly in France and Germany than in Italy.
This was a special work of art even in the Renaissance because at the time, multi-figured sculptures were rare.  These two figures are carved so as to appear in a unified composition which forms the shape of a pyramid, something that other Renaissance artists (e.g. Leonardo) also favored.
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Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (6 March 1475 – 18 February 1564), known as Michelangelo, was an Italian Renaissance painter, sculptor, architect, poet, and engineer. Along with Leonardo da Vinci, he is often called a “Renaissance man” which means that he had great talent in many areas. Michelangelo lived an extremely busy life, creating a great number of artworks. Some of Michelangelo’s works are among the most famous that have ever been made. They include two very famous marble statues, the Pieta in Saint Peter’s Basilica and David which once stood in a piazza in Florence but is now in the Accademia Gallery. His most famous paintings are huge frescos, the Sistine Chapel Ceiling and the Last Judgement. His most famous work of architecture is the east end and dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica.

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The Night Watch

Artist: Rembrandt
Dimensions: 3.63 m x 4.37 m
Location: Rijksmuseum
Created: 1642
Periods: Baroque, Dutch Golden Age
Medium: Oil on canvas
The Night Watch (over 14 feet long and nearly 12 feet tall) by Rembrandt van Rijn. The night watch one of the most famous painting of Rembrandt. It is oil painting on canvas that was made in 1642. It was a large portrait of Captain Banning Cocq and seventeen of his militiamen. Rembrandt was the first to depict the figures in a group portrait in action, showing the civic guardsmen taking up their positions in order to march out. In this painting Rembrandt has displayed the traditional emblem of the arquebusiers in a natural way, with the woman in the background carrying the main symbols. She is a kind of mascot herself; the claws of a dead chicken on her belt represent the clauweniers , the pistol behind the chicken represents clover and she is holding the militia’s goblet. The man in front of her is wearing a helmet with an oak leaf, a traditional motif of the arquebusiers. The dead chicken is also meant to represent a defeated adversary. The colour yellow is often associated with victory. It is currently displayed at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
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Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) was born in Leiden Netherlands. He is generally considered one of the greatest painters and printmaker in European art history and the most important in Dutch history. He known for uses of rich colour and masterful use of light and shadow. Throughout his work Rembrandt used colour which darkens as it approaches the edge of the painting, and lighter towards the centre.
In the 1600s cameras had not yet been invented, so people had portraits painted of themselves and their families. Rembrandt gained the reputation as a great portrait artist. Many art critics think that he was one of the greatest portrait artists of all time. He also painted numerous (over 40) self-portraits and portraits of his family.
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The Persistence of Memory

Artist: Salvador Dalí
Dimensions: 24 cm x 33 cm
Medium: Oil on canvas
Period: Surrealism
Location: The Museum of Modern Art (since 1934)
Created: 1931

“The Persistence of Memory “is a famous painting by the Spaniard Salvador Dali. It’s an oil painting sized as 9 ½ X 13 inch (24.1 x 33cm) made in the year1931, currently complimenting the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, USA. It is said to be one of the most recognizable works of Surrealism that features the famous picture of the melting clock. In this particular painting, Dali shows watches that look soft and are in melting state. In the bottom left corner, an orange pops out that is fully covered with ants. Ants have always been a common theme in Dali’s work that represent decay, especially when they hit the gold watch.

In the foreground of the painting there’s a monster like fleshy creature that almost looks like a stretch of Dali’s face in profile. Even though this painting is a combination of a lot of objects that depict a dream-like state where common objects appear in an unusual state, like the melting watches, the deformed face that is an approximation of the artist’s himself, the naked tree holding the melted clock etc. , there is a hint of reality too, that shows up in the background of the painting with the sea and rocks and this particular style of art that combined reality with dreams came to be known as surrealism.

Many Art critiques have interpreted Dali’s watches, having “no sense of time” and also as “time is not important”. Some have even suggested that the watches refer to Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Though Dali denied this, citing, instead a Camembert cheese he had seen being melt in the sun as the inspiration for this central motif.
This famous Spanish painter was always interested in making paintings, sculptures, films about the dream that he had and finally joined the Surrealists in 1929 and remained intensely interested in the idea of subconscious art. He even claimed to paint in a kind of self-induced hallucinatory state, which he called his ‘paranoiac-critical method’, enabling him to “systematize confusion and thus discredit completely the world of reality,” much to the delight of the French Surrealist co-founder Andre Breton. Surrealist artists were influenced by a famous psychoanalyst called Sigmund Freud. A psychoanalyst is a doctor who studies the human mind and tries to understand it. Freud believed our mind was divided into two parts: the conscious part and the unconscious part. The conscious mind is what we use to make decisions every day, like whether we walk or ride a bike to school. The unconscious mind is where our memories are stored. Most of the time we are not aware of our unconscious mind, but sometimes the memories stored there get mixed up in our dreams and this is what Dali tried to paint. Amongst many things, he is famous for his upturned pointy moustache that he grew. Dali died at the age of 84.
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Family Group

Artist: Henry Moore
Created: 1950
Art form: Sculpture
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This bronze sculpture depicts an almost life-size man and woman seated on a low bench, holding a child between them. The woman sits to the right of the man and holds the child over her lap with both her arms. The man’s left arm support’s the child’s legs while his right-hand rests on the woman’s left shoulder. The title, Family Group, indicates that the man and the woman are the parents of the small child.
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Henry Spencer Moore (30 July 1898 – 31 August 1986) was an English sculptor and artist in the modern art genre. Moore was born in Castleford, England, the son of a mining engineer. He was best known for his abstract monumental sculptures, which are public works of art in many places around the world. His forms are usually abstractions of the human figure, typically mother-and-child or reclining figures. He did some work in architecture. in 1955 Moore did his only work in carved brick, “Wall Relief” at the Bouwcentrum in Rotterdam. The brick relief was sculpted with 16,000 bricks by two Dutch bricklayers under Moore’s supervision.
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Broadway Boogie Woogie

Artist: Piet Mondrian
Dimensions: 1.27 m x 1.27 m
Period: De Stijl
Location: The Museum of Modern Art
Created: 1942–1943
Medium: Oil paint
Broadway Boogie Woogie is one of Piet Mondrian’s final pieces, a highly influential piece of abstract geometry that uses deceptively simple blocks of colour to evoke the shimmering neon streets of Manhattan, where Mondrian spent the last years of his life. It is the last painting completed by Mondrian.
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Piet Mondrian (7 March 1872 – 1 February 1944) is a Dutch artist best known for his abstract paintings. Art that is abstract does not show things that are recognisable such as people, objects or landscapes. Instead artists use colours, shapes and textures to achieve their effect. Mondrian best known for his 1920’s works of art that feature only horizontal and vertical lines along with black, white and primary colours. His early paintings show abstract landscapes in post-impressionist and cubist style.
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Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird

Artist: Frida Kahlo
Dimensions: 47 cm x 61 cm
Period: Naïve art
Medium: Oil paint
Created: 1940
About the Painting:
Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, was painted by Frida Kahlo in 1940. She was not only painting a realistic scene but using these symbolic elements to express her feelings. A bird often symbolizes freedom and life. Especially a hummingbird which is colourful and always hovering above flowers. Frida spent most of her life in physical pain after the bus accident happened when she was eighteen.  This is a painting about her suffering.
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About the Artist:
Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón (6 July 1907- 13 July 1954) better known as Frida Kahlo, who is a very famous Mexican painter known for her self-portraits, and works inspired by nature and Mexican artifacts. She has tried to voice her opinion as a woman on many topics such as questions of identity, post colonialism, gender and class in the Mexican society. Kahlo has been described as a surrealist or magical realist.
Kahlo, who suffered from polio as a child, nearly died in a bus accident as a teenager. She suffered multiple fractures of her spine, collarbone and ribs, a shattered pelvis, broken foot and a dislocated shoulder. She began to focus heavily on painting while recovering in a body cast. In her lifetime, she had 30 operations.
Frida Kahlo once said, “I paint myself because I am often alone and I am the subject I know best”.
A Biography of Frida Kahlo was written. In the year of 2002, a movie named Frida was released, this movie was nominated for six Academy Awards and won for Best Makeup and Original Score.
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The Great sphinx of Giza

Great Sphinx of Giza, colossal limestone statue of a recumbent sphinx located in Giza, Egypt, that likely date from the reign of King Khafre (c. 2575–c. 2465 BCE) and depicts his face. It is one of Egypt’s most famous landmarks and is arguably the best-known example of sphinx art. Sphinx, mythological creature with a lion’s body and a human head, an important image in Egyptian and Greek art and legend. The word sphinx was derived by Greek grammarians from the verb sphingein (“to bind” or “to squeeze”).
The Great Sphinx is among the world’s largest sculptures, measuring some 240 feet (73 metres) long and 66 feet (20 metres) high. It features a lion’s body and a human head adorned with a royal headdress. The statue was carved from a single piece of limestone, and pigment residue suggests that the entire Great Sphinx was painted. According to some estimates, it would have taken about three years for 100 workers, using stone hammers and copper chisels, to finish the statue.
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Nefertiti Bust

Nefertiti, also called Neferneferuaten-Nefertiti, (flourished 14th century BCE), queen of Egypt and wife of King Akhenaton (formerly Amenhotep IV; reigned c. 1353–36 BCE), who played a prominent role in the cult of the sun god known as the Aton. Many pictures of Nefertiti, found in tombs and temples, show her performing religious rites. She made offerings to the sun god Aton, even though this job was typically done by a king. During Akhenaton’s reign, Aton became the main god of Egypt. Egyptians often worshipped Nefertiti and her husband alongside Aton. Her name means “A Beautiful Woman Has Come.”
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Under the Wave off Kanagawa (The Great Wave)

Artist: Katsushika Hokusai
Dimensions: 26 cm x 38 cm
Period: Ukiyo-e
Location: Numerous
Created: 1820–1831
Medium: Ink

Katsushika Hokusai’s Under the Wave off Kanagawa, also called The Great Wave has become one of the most famous works of art in the world—and debatably the most iconic work of Japanese art. Initially, thousands of copies of this print were quickly produced and sold cheaply. Despite the fact that it was created at a time when Japanese trade was heavily restricted, Hokusai’s print displays the influence of Dutch art, and proved to be inspirational for many artists working in Europe later in the nineteenth century.
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About Artist:
Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾北斎, 1760–May 10, 1849) was a Japanese artist, ukiyo-e painter and printmaker of the Edo period. In his time he was Japan’s leading expert on Chinese painting. Born in Edo (now Tokyo), Hokusai is best-known as author of the woodblock print series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (c. 1831) which includes the iconic and internationally recognized print, The Great Wave off Kanagawa, created during the 1820s. Hokusai created the “Thirty-Six Views” both as a response to a domestic travel boom and as part of a personal obsession with Mount Fuji. It was this series, specifically The Great Wave print and Fuji in Clear Weather, that secured Hokusai’s fame both within Japan and overseas. The Great Wave print that initially received, and continues to receive, acclaim and popularity in the Western world.
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Lofty Mount Lu

Creator: Shen Zhou
Date: 1467
Provenance: National Palace Museum
Physical format: painting, 193.8h x 98.1w cm
Medium: ink on paper
Dynastic period: Ming Dynasty
Artist’s birth and death date: 1427-1509
This painting is about 2 meters in height. According to the inscription, it is painted by Shen Zhou, the leader of Wumen (today’s Suzhou) school, to celebrate his teacher Chen Kuan’s 70 years old birthday. The painting had been carefully considered in its selection of painting materials, composition and painting style. The painting portrays Mount Lu’s lofty hills and waterfalls. At the foot of mountain, there is a literati looking up at the cloud-kissing peaks. Mount Lu is located near Chen Kuan’s hometown; Shen Zhou took it as description object and adopted high-distant drawing method of “looking up to the mountain top from the foot of the mountain” (from “Lin Quan Gao Zhi”). It was obviously an expression of the student’s admiration for his teacher. As for painting techniques, it mainly adopts Wang Meng’s typical texturing method(Jiesuo Cun). This is, on one hand, because Wang Meng’s meticulous painting is suitable for highlighting the dense vegetation on Mount Lu, and on the other hand, because Chen Kuan’s father Chen Ji was a good friend of Wang Meng, Shen Zhou tried to show his teacher Chen Kuan’s status as the orthodox successor of literati painting in Yuan Dynasty, which must have played a key role in his selection of drawing method.
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