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The most famous paintings of all time

A list of the most well-known works of art, from Gustav Klimt's masterpiece to Jan van Eyck's picture.

It's challenging to rank the greatest artworks of all time.

Painting is an old medium that has persisted as a form of expression despite the development of photography, film, and digital technologies. Only a tiny portion of the many paintings that have been preserved through many centuries and millennia may be considered "timeless classics" that are well-known to the general public—and which, coincidentally, were created by some of the most well-known painters of all time.

It begs the issue of what confluence of ability, brilliance, and circumstance results in the production of a masterpiece. The easiest response may be that you can recognize one when you see one, whether it's at one of the numerous museums in New York City (including The Metropolitan Museum, the Guggenheim, MoMA, and others) or at establishments abroad.

Of course, we have our own opinions on what qualifies, and we've included them in our list of the greatest paintings ever created.

1. Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci, 1503–19

Da Vinci's captivating portrait, which was painted between 1503 and 1517, has been the subject of two inquiries ever since it was created: Why is the person smiling, and who is she? Over the years, a variety of ideas for the former have been put forth: That she is Caterina, Leonardo's mother, as imagined from his childhood recollections of her; that she is the spouse of Florentine businessman Francesco di Bartolomeo del Giocondo (thus the alternative title for the piece, La Gioconda); and lastly, that it is a self-portrait dressed as another person. Regarding that fabled grin, its mysterious character has long baffled mankind. Whatever the cause, Leonardo's use of atmospheric perspective allows the idealized landscape behind Mona Lisa to fade into the distance while maintaining her expression of unnatural peace.

2. Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer, 1665

The young lady in Johannes Vermeer's 1665 study is astonishingly genuine and strikingly contemporary, almost like a snapshot. This raises the question of whether Vermeer used a camera obscura, a kind of pre-photographic equipment, to generate the picture. Aside than that, no one is certain who the sitter was, however it has been suggested that she could have been Vermeer's maid. She seems to be trying to make an intimate connection across the ages as he paints her glancing over her shoulder and locking her eyes with the spectator. Technically speaking, Girl isn't a portrait at all, but an illustration of the Dutch headshot style known as a tronie, which is more of a still life of the contours of the face than an effort to capture a resemblance.

3. The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh, 1889

The Starry Night, Vincent Van Gogh's most well-known picture, was produced by Van Gogh when he was a patient at the Saint-Rémy institution, which he had checked himself into in 1889. As the night sky comes alive with swirls and spheres of frenetically applied brush strokes arising from the yin and yang of his own demons and wonder of nature, The Starry Night does indeed appear to mirror his volatile state of mind at the time.

4. The Kiss by Gustav Klimt, 1907–1908

The Kiss, a depiction of intimacy by Gustav Klimt from the turn of the century that is lavishly gilded and lavishly patterned, combines Vienna Jugendstil, an Austrian take on Art Nouveau, with Symbolism. Klimt presents his characters as mythological beings who have been modernized by lavish surfaces of contemporary graphic elements. The piece is a high point of the artist's Golden Phase, which spanned 1899 to 1910 and was characterized by the frequent use of gold leaf. This technique was motivated by a 1903 trip to Ravenna, Italy's Basilica di San Vitale, where he witnessed the church's renowned Byzantine mosaics.

5. The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli, 1484–1486

The Birth of Venus by Botticelli, which was created for Lorenzo de Medici, was the first full-length, non-religious nude since antiquity. The Goddess of Love is said to be based on Simonetta Cattaneo Vespucci, whose favors are said to have been shared by Lorenzo and his younger brother Giuliano. Zephyrus and Aura, the wind gods, are seen blowing Venus on a large clamshell to land where the personification of spring is waiting in a cloak. Naturally, Venus enraged Savonarola, the Dominican monk who oversaw a fundamentalist assault on the Florentines' secular preferences. During his campaign, famed "Bonfire of the Vanities" in 1497 took place, in which "profane" items including books, paintings, and cosmetics were burnt on a bonfire. The Birth of Venus was supposed to be burned, but luckily, it was spared. Botticelli, however, was so alarmed by the event that he temporarily stopped painting.

6. Grey and Black Arrangement by James Abbott McNeill Whistler

Whistler's Mother, also known as Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1, expresses the artist's desire to create art for the sake of creating art. In the piece, which James Abbott McNeill Whistler created in his London studio in 1871, the formality of portraiture takes on the form of an essay. Anna Whistler, Whistler's mother, is shown as one of numerous components arranged in a series of right angles. Despite Whistler's formalist goals, the picture came to represent motherhood because of her stern countenance, which blends in with the composition's rigidity.

7.The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck, 1434

This composition, one of the most important works created during the Northern Renaissance, is said to be among the first oil paintings ever created. It is said to be a full-length double portrait of an Italian businessman and a lady who may or may not be his wife. The renowned art critic Erwin Panofsky said that the artwork is really a marriage contract in 1934. It is safe to say that the painting is one of the first interiors to use orthogonal perspective to create a feeling of space that is next to the viewer's own; it has the appearance of a picture you might enter.

8.The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch, 1503–1515

Generally speaking, this weird triptych is seen as a distant precursor of surrealism. In actuality, it's the expression of a late medieval artist who thought that Heaven, Hell, and the Devil were actual places. The left panel of the three images portrays Christ delivering Eve to Adam, while the right panel displays the wrath of Hell; it is less clear if the middle panel represents Heaven. The damned are attacked by giant ears with phallic knives in Bosch's vivid depiction of Hell, while a bird-beaked bug king wearing a chamber pot as a crown sits on the throne and consumes the unfortunate before swiftly defecating them out again. This riot of symbols has generally resisted interpretation, which would explain why it is so popular.

9. Georges Seurat, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, 1884–1886

Georges Seurat’s masterpiece, evoking the Paris of La Belle Epoque, is actually depicting a working-class suburban scene well outside the city’s center. Seurat often made this milieu his subject, which differed from the bourgeois portrayals of his Impressionist contemporaries. Seurat abjured the capture-the-moment approach of Manet, Monet and Degas, going instead for the sense of timeless permanence found in Greek sculpture. And that is exactly what you get in this frieze-like processional of figures whose stillness is in keeping with Seurat’s aim of creating a classical landscape in modern form.

10. Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907

The ur-canvas of 20th-century art, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon ushered in the modern era by decisively breaking with the representational tradition of Western painting, incorporating allusions to the African masks that Picasso had seen in Paris's ethnographic museum at the Palais du Trocadro. Its compositional DNA also includes El Greco’s The Vision of Saint John (1608–14), now hanging in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The women being depicted are actually prostitutes in a brothel in the artist's native Barcelona.

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