Paintings You Should Know: Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog (c. 1819)

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Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840) was a German Romantic artist. ‘Wanderer’ depicts a lone traveller standing on a precipice looking out over a mysterious landscape of rocks and fog. Who is he? Where has he come from? Where is he going? The fact that this painting so strongly evokes these questions has made it a favourite image for illustrating music and works which touch upon these questions, not only in a literal but also in a spiritual, psychological, or philosophical sense. It is likely that Friedrich, a Romantic, intended it to be interpreted in precisely these symbolic terms.

The landscape is inspired by the landscape of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains in Saxony and Bohemia, but rearranged by the artist for greater effect. ‘Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog’ is painted in oil on canvas and measures 98.4cm by 74.8cm. It is held by the Kuntsthalle Hamburg in Germany.

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Paintings You Should Know: Girl With A Pearl Earring, by Johannes Vermeer (c.1665)

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‘Girl With A Pearl Earring’, Vermeer, c.1665

While the historical novel by Tracy Chevalier, and the movie based on it, have told us otherwise, the truth is that we have no idea who this girl is, or why she’s dressed up in Oriental garb, complete with the titular earring (which one Dutch astrophysicist has suggested might actually be made of tin). Perhaps this mystery is part of what makes the picture so intriguing. Continue reading “Paintings You Should Know: Girl With A Pearl Earring, by Johannes Vermeer (c.1665)”

Paintings You Should Know: Botticelli’s ‘The Birth of Venus’ (c.1486)

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Botticelli, The Birth of Venus, c.1486

Representing a definite break from the Christian themes of the Gothic period, Sandro Botticelli’s (1445-1510) painting depicts the goddess Venus springing fully formed – and stark naked – from the foam of the sea. She was the Roman goddess of sex, love, and fertility, so Freud would have fun with that one. Continue reading “Paintings You Should Know: Botticelli’s ‘The Birth of Venus’ (c.1486)”

Paintings You Should Know: ‘Impression: Sunrise’ by Claude Monet, 1872

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Monet, ‘Impression: Sunrise’, 1872

Although the term ‘Impressionism’ was already in use to describe a style of painting emerging in France in the latter part of the 1800s it was Monet’s use of the word as an off-the-cuff name for this 1872 work (in French, ‘Impression, soleil levant’) which led to its formal and widespread adoption. Continue reading “Paintings You Should Know: ‘Impression: Sunrise’ by Claude Monet, 1872”

Paintings You Should Know: Caravaggio’s ‘The Death of the Virgin’, C.1602-06

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Caravaggio, The Death of the Virgin, 1604-06

The interesting thing about this painting, beyond anything to do with the composition or the skill of the artist, is the fact that it was, and for some arguably still is, controversial to the point of outright offensiveness. Continue reading “Paintings You Should Know: Caravaggio’s ‘The Death of the Virgin’, C.1602-06”

Paintings You Should Know: ‘The Skating Minister’ by Henry Raeburn (1784)

This is one of those paintings that you really should know about just because it’s fun. What’s not to love about The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch? The Minister so solemn and intent in his serious black coat, hat, and hose, arms folded in what one might imagine is a gesture of restraint – and yet gliding in joyful frivolity over the ice of the Loch, one leg upraised behind him.

The skating Minister, by Henry Raeburn
Henry Raeburn, The Rev. Robert Walker Skating, mid-1790s

Continue reading “Paintings You Should Know: ‘The Skating Minister’ by Henry Raeburn (1784)”

Paintings You Should Know: Raphael’s ‘The School of Athens’, 1509-1511

With my nascent interest in the world of philosophy now seemed like the perfect time to write about the Renaissance masterpiece which is The School of Athens. The painting is a fresco, part of a series commissioned for the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City. Regarded as Raphael’s masterpiece, it captures the Renaissance fascination with the philosophy of the Classical (ancient Greek and Roman) world.

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Continue reading “Paintings You Should Know: Raphael’s ‘The School of Athens’, 1509-1511”

Paintings You Should Know: Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ series (1887-89)

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Sunflowers (fourth version in second series), Vincent Van Gogh, 1888

I’ve been watching a lot of Doctor Who lately, and when I saw the episode ‘Vincent and the Doctor’ (Series 5) I knew what my next painting post would be about.

In the three years prior to his death in July 1890, Vincent Van Gogh painted multiple studies of sunflowers. Continue reading “Paintings You Should Know: Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ series (1887-89)”

Paintings You Should Know: The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan Van Eyck (1834)

The Arnolfini Portrait, also known as The Arnolfini Wedding, The Arnolfini Marriage, or The Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and His Wife, is one of those paintings which changed the world of art. During the preceding Gothic period, art had been focussed almost exclusively on religious subjects, but this is a large-scale work depicting two real individuals in a realistic setting.

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Continue reading “Paintings You Should Know: The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan Van Eyck (1834)”