Saturday, October 3, 2015

Famous Paintings, Section 1

The WhiteRock  Family Digital  Art Gallery is presented in sections  containing eight images each of famous  paintings by
great artists.  The works  are arranged  according  to what are  generally  accepted and  what the author  thinks are the
best or the most important by the artists who are themselves presented according to the significance of their respective
contributions to art.

Some factors have to be  considered in order to understand  the criteria of the  selection of the works that are included
in this gallery. Examples of these are the influence of Western philosophy in the development of aesthetic  taste and the
adoption of   Western  values and  culture  in  the selection  of artistic  subjects,  the inspiration  that religious  faith has
provided in the creation of great art and the wealth and power of the Catholic Church to commission the services of the
greatest artists of the Renaissance and beyond.

On the other hand,  the human  form  has always  been a subject of  endless intellectual  speculation and this includes the
creation of tasteful art. Along this line, different cultures also have different standards of defining what is "tasteful."
These factors help explain the exclusion of certain aesthetic values and cultures in this selection as well as its liberality
over the selection of certain subjects that some individuals may otherwise find inappropriate.

Art may be objective, but the process of selecting cannot be but subjective. Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.    

Welcome to The WhiteRock Family Digital Art Gallery.

This section includes works by the following painters:

Leonardo da Vinci
Pablo Picasso
Rembrandt van Rijn
Paul Cézanne
Claude Monet
Vincent van Gogh

Click on the image to view on black background; the title of the work to go to the source.
The name of the artist and location of work link to sources of more information.


Oil on poplar (1503 to 1506; perhaps until 1517)


The Mona Lisa  or La Gioconda has been acclaimed as "the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most
sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world".

The subject's expression,  which is frequently described as enigmatic,  the monumentality of the composition, the subtle
modelling  of forms,  and the atmospheric  illusionism  were  novel qualities  that have  contributed  to the  continuing
fascination and study of the work. wikipedia

Mona Lisa  features  a pyramidal  composition,  a design Leonardo  uses to capture  the essence of  different  focal points
beginning at the top of the triangle  that flows into  detail as it widens at the base.   Her softly rounded lit face draws
your attention  as she appears to be  looking right at you.   A subtle smile,  lifted cheekbones and defined  chin complete
this feminine figure  along with her  robust chest and natural wavy hair.  She properly sits  with her lifelike hands are
featured as her forearm is settled on the arm of the chair.  She seems relaxed and poised; dark yet calm.

This painting introduces  the portrait style painting  focusing on the representation of the ideal woman.  Small details
are faint but  exclusive  such as her  black veil,  gold embroidery  on her dress,  and the definition  in her  hands and the
features on her face.  In a distance  the sky is gray  and the  landscape is  undefined and  hazy in its depiction  of serenity.
This technique is called  sfumato where  Leonardo softly  blends the edges of the surfaces to  illustrate a vision rather
than a realistic scene.  The hazy backdrop  features  the three  elements of land,  water and air.  Settled and serene, the
space divides the elements horizontally offering different color hues. HUM 120 Course Blog

Mona Lisa on Khan Academy


Pablo Picasso
Oil on canvass (1937)
Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid


Guernica is regarded by many art critics as one of the most moving and powerful anti-war paintings in history. It shows
the suffering of people wrenched by violence and chaos.

The painting was created in  response to the bombing of Guernica,  a Basque Country village in  northern Spain,  by Nazi
German  and  Fascist  Italian  warplanes  at  the  request  of  the  Spanish  Nationalists.  Upon   completion,  Guernica  was
exhibited  at the  Spanish  display  at the  1937  World's  Fair  in Paris  and  then  at other  venues around  the world.  The
touring  exhibition  was used to raise funds  for Spanish  war relief.  The painting  became  famous and  widely acclaimed,
and it helped bring worldwide attention to the Spanish Civil War.

Interpretations  of  Guernica  vary widely  and contradict  one another.  This extends,  for example,  to the  mural's two
dominant elements:  the bull and the horse.  Art historian  Patricia Failing said,  "The bull and the horse  are important
characters in Spanish culture."

When pressed  to explain  the elements in Guernica, Picasso said, ". . .  this bull is a bull and this  horse is a horse. . .
If  you  give a  meaning  to  certain  things in  my  paintings  it may  be very true,  but  it is  not my  idea to  give this
meaning.  What  ideas  and  conclusions  you  have got  I obtained too,  but instinctively,  unconsciously.  I make the
painting for the painting. I paint the objects for what they are."

According to scholar  Beverly Ray  the following list  of interpretations  reflects the general  consensus of historians:

The shape and posture of the bodies express protest. Picasso uses black, white, and grey paint to set a somber mood
and express pain and chaos. Flaming buildings and crumbling walls not only express the destruction of Guernica,
but reflect the  destructive  power of civil war.  The newspaper  print used  in the painting  reflects  how Picasso
learned of the massacre. The light bulb in the painting represents the sun. The broken sword near the bottom of
the painting symbolizes the defeat of the people at the hand of their tormentors. wikipedia

Guernica from Art History Online on YouTube

The Night Watch
Rembrandt van Rijn
Oil on canvass (1642)
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam


Militia  Company  of  District II  under  the  Command  of  Captain  Frans  Banninck  Cocq,  also known  as  The  Shooting
Company  of  Frans  Banning  Cocq  and  Willem  van  Ruytenburch,  but  commonly  referred to as  The  Night  Watch is
renowned  for three characteristics:  its colossal size  (363 cm × 437 cm (11.91 ft × 14.34 ft)),  the effective use of light and
shadow (tenebrism) and the perception of motion in what would have traditionally been a static military portrait.

The painting was  completed in 1642,  at the peak of the  Dutch  Golden  Age.  It depicts the  eponymous  company moving
out, led by Captain Frans Banning Cocq (dressed in black, with a red sash) and his lieutenant,  Willem van Ruytenburch
(dressed in yellow,  with a white sash).  With effective use of sunlight and shade, Rembrandt leads the eye to the three
most  important  characters  among  the  crowd:  the  two  gentlemen  in the  centre  (from  whom  the painting  gets its
original title),  and the small girl  in the centre-left  background.  Behind them,  the company's  colours are carried by
the ensign, Jan Visscher Cornelissen.

Rembrandt   has   displayed  the   traditional  emblem   of   the   arquebusiers  in  a  natural way,   with  the  girl  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  arquebusiers,  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.

Another  interpretation  proposes  that   Rembrandt  designed  this  painting  with  several  layers  of  meaning,  as  was
common  among  the most  talented artists.  Thus,  the Night Watch is  symmetrically divided,  firstly to illustrate the
union  between  the Dutch  Protestants  and the  Dutch  Catholics,  and secondly  to evoke  the war  effort  against the
Spaniards.  For instance,  according to  Rembrandt's  multilayered  design,  the taller captain  (in black)  symbolizes the
Dutch  Protestant  leadership,  loyally  supported  by  the  Dutch  Catholics  (represented  by the   shorter  lieutenant,
in yellow).

One of the most important aspects of The Night Watch is that the figures are nearly human size.  Rembrandt gives the
illusion that the characters jump off the canvas and into real space. wikipedia

The Night Watch on Khan Academy


The Bathers
Paul Cézanne
Oil on canvass (1898-1905)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia


Occasionally referred  to as the Big Bathers or Large Bathers to distinguish it from the smaller works,  The Bathers
is considered  one of the masterpieces  of modern art  and is often considered  Cézanne's finest work.   Cézanne worked
on the painting for seven years, and it remained unfinished at the time of his death in 1906. wikipedia

Paul Cézanne created a series  of bathers' paintings at the end of his career.  The Large Bathers  is so called  because it
was Cézanne's largest composition in the series, and it was  the last to be produced.  When creating  The Large Bathers
Cézanne was  attempting to  produce a piece  that  would  be timeless.  The artist  did  not  follow  fashionable painting
trends and felt no pressure to conform to nineteenth century methods.

The story that  some critics have told describes  the women in The Large Bathers  as goddesses in the middle of nature.
The trees are acting as their theater and the figures in the background are watching their actions.  There is a distinct
triangle shape  that  forces  the viewer  to  focus  on  the  lake and  the  small  figures  in  the background.  Despite  the
movement in the picture there is a sense of calm among the bathers.  The viewer appears to take a  voyeuristic peek into
their private world.

Cézanne's scene,  with its  tranquil lake  and  church  tower  is not an exact  representation  of a  real  village.  Cézanne
created  this image  using his imagination  and drawing from nature.  The  artist  enjoyed  painting  landscapes  and  was
inspired by nature but he wanted to understand it and paint more than what was on the surface.

Paul Cézanne prepared a number of practice paintings of figures before he started working on  The Large Bathers.  He
experimented  with  how  he  wanted the figures  to  relate  to each  other  and   preparatory  pieces   show  the  bathers
interacting with each  other in various different ways.  Despite it's unpolished state The Large Bathers is considered a
masterpiece of modern art and has appeared on television shows as one of the greatest compositions of all time.
Artble; The Large Bathers

The Large Bathers from Nerdwriter1 on YouTube

Water Lilies
Claude Monet
Oil on canvass (1914-7)
Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio


Water Lilies is a series of  approximately 250 oil paintings by  French Impressionist  Claude Monet. The paintings depict
Monet's flower garden at his home in Giverny,  and were the main focus of Monet's artistic production during the last
thirty years of his life. Many of the works were painted while Monet suffered from cataracts. wikipedia

Monet had moved  with his family  to the commune of Giverny,  50 miles west of Paris,  in 1883 and keenly  begun filling
his garden with arbours,  fruit trees and ornamental flowers.  Leaving the  French capital behind – scene of his and his
fellow Impressionists’ great rise – he now opted,  aged 43,  for a more sedate life.  “I’m good for nothing except painting
and gardening,” he declared.

After a decade  and a bit in  Giverny,  he looked to  expand his  two-acre  property  –  his specific aim to divert  the River
Epte,  a tributary  of the Seine,  and create  a water  garden for  himself  across the road,  adorning it with water lilies
from Egypt  and South  America.  The neighbours  and local  council  objected,  convinced  he would  poison  their water
with his strange flowers, but Monet proceeded anyway.

The water  lilies weren’t just a source  of prolonged inspiration for  Monet, t hough: in a way,  his paintings serve  as an
alternative  diary  for him.  He famously  suffered  with  cataracts  from  1912  onwards,  and this explain  –  at  least,  in
part – the coarse, thickly applied strokes of blues, purples and greens in Irises two years later.

In November 1918, meanwhile, the day after Armistice was signed,  Monet promised a set of huge water-lily paintings to
the French  nation,  as a “monument to peace”.  These  would  end  up as  decorative  panels in  the Orangerie  building at
Paris’s Tuileries Gardens. Alistair Smart for The Telegraph

Water Lilies on Khan Academy

The Calling of Saint Matthew
Oil on canvass (1599-1600)
San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome


The Calling of Saint Matthew is a masterpiece by  Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio,  depicting the moment at which
Jesus Christ inspires  Matthew to follow him.  It was completed in 1599–1600  for the Contarelli Chapel  in the church
of the French congregation, San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome, where it remains today. wikipedia

The tale  of the  calling of  Saint  Matthew  is found  in the  New Testament,  Matthew 9:9:  "And when  Jesus  passed on
from thence, he saw a man sitting in the custom house, named Matthew;  and he said to him:  Follow me. And he arose up
and  followed him."  In  this  painting,  Caravaggio  depicts the  very moment  when  Matthew  first realizes  he is  being

Caravaggio's  The Calling of  Saint Matthew  was executed  for the  left  wall of the  Contarelli  chapel in the  French
church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome.  Cardinal Matteo Contarelli had saved for years to pay for the decoration of
his chapel with scenes from the life of Saint Matthew, his namesake.

The painting can be divided into two parts.  The figures on the right form a vertical rectangle while those on the left
create a  horizontal  block.  The two  sides are  further  distinguished  by  their  clothing  and symbolically,  by Christ's

The artist's use of light and shadow adds drama to this image as well as giving the figures a quality of immediacy. Many
other artists later followed Caravaggio's  example and copied this technique.  The figures are engulfed by shadow and
it is only the beaming light that shines across the wall and highlights the fact of  Saint Matthew and the seated group
that brightens the canvas.

The Calling of Saint Matthew is proof of  Caravaggio's ability to show biblical scenes more realistically and unfolding
before the viewer's very eyes.  The artist was not  creating a descriptive  naturalism but instead focused on the physical
reality of this particular scene.  He drew on his earlier genre  figures when creating  this piece and the result in Saint
Matthew and his cronies depicted as approachable figures to whom people could relate. Artble; The Calling of Saint Matthew

The Calling of Saint Matthew from Spencer's Painting of the Week on YouTube

The Creation of Adam
Fresco (c. 1508-12)
The Sistine Chapel, Rome


The Creation of Adam  is a fresco  painting by  Michelangelo,  which forms  part of the  Sistine Chapel's ceiling,  painted
c. 1508–1512.  It illustrates  the  Biblical creation  narrative  from the  Book of Genesis  in which  God breathes  life into
Adam,  the first  man.  The fresco  is part  of a  complex  iconographic  scheme  and is  chronologically the  fourth  in the
series of panels depicting episodes from Genesis.

The  image  of   the  near-touching  hands  of   God  and  Adam   has  become   iconic  of  humanity.   The  painting  has   been
reproduced in countless imitations and parodies.  Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper and Michelangelo's Creation of Adam
are the most replicated religious paintings of all time.

God  is  depicted  as  an  elderly  white-bearded   man  wrapped  in  a  swirling  cloak  while  Adam,  on  the  lower  left,  is
completely nude.  God's right arm  is outstretched  to impart  the spark of life  from his  own finger into  that of Adam,
whose left arm is  extended in a pose  mirroring God's,  a reminder that  man is created  in the image and likeness of God
(Gen 1:26).  Another point is that Adam's finger  and God's finger are not touching.  It gives the impression that God, the
giver  of life,  is  reaching  out  to Adam  who  has  yet  to  receive it;  they are  not on  "the same  level"  as  would  be two
humans shaking hands, for instance.

Many hypotheses  have been  formulated  regarding  the identity  and meaning  of the  figures  around God.  The person
protected by God's left arm might be Eve due to the figure's  feminine appearance and  gaze towards Adam,  but was also
suggested to be Virgin Mary, Sophia, the personified human soul, or an angel of feminine build.

The Creation of Adam is  generally  thought  to depict  the  excerpt  "God created  man in his own image,  in the image of
God He created him" (Gen 1:27).  The inspiration  for Michelangelo's  treatment of the subject may come from a medieval
hymn called  Veni Creator Spiritus,  which asks  the  'finger of the  paternal right hand'  (digitus paternae  dexterae) to
give the faithful speech.

Several hypotheses  have been put  forward  about the  meaning of  The Creation of Adam's  highly original composition,
many of them taking  Michelangelo's well-documented  expertise in  human  anatomy  as their starting point.  In 1990, an
Anderson,  Indiana physician  named  Frank  Meshberger  noted in the  Journal of the American Medical Association that
the background figures and shapes portrayed behind the figure of God  appeared to be an anatomically accurate picture
of the human brain.  On close  examination,  borders in  the painting  correlate  with  major sulci of the  cerebrum in the
inner and outer  surface of the brain,  the brain stem, the frontal lobe,  the basilar artery,  the pituitary  gland and the
optic chiasm.

Alternatively,  it has been observed  that the red cloth around God has the shape  of a human uterus  (one art historian
has called it a  "uterine mantle"),  and that the scarf hanging out,  coloured green,  could be a newly cut umbilical cord.
Recently a group  of  Italian  researchers  published  on  Mayo Clinic  Proceedings  an  article  where the  images  of  the
mantle  and  the  postpartum  uterus  were  overlapped.  According  to Enrico  Bruschini  (2004),  "This  is an  interesting
hypothesis that presents the Creation scene as an idealised  representation of the physical  birth of man.  It explains the
navel that appears on Adam, which is at first perplexing because he was created, not born of a woman." wikipedia

The Creation of Adam on

The Starry Night
Vincent van Gogh
Oil on canvass (1889)
Museum of Modern Art, New York City


The Starry Night  is an oil painting by the  Dutch post-impressionist painter  Vincent van Gogh.  Painted in June 1889, it
depicts the view from the east-facing window of his asylum room at  Saint-Rémy-de-Provence,  just before sunrise, with
the addition of an idealized village.  It is regarded as among Van Gogh's finest works and is one of the most recognized
paintings in the history of Western culture.

In the aftermath  of the  23 December 1888  breakdown that  resulted in the  self-mutilation  of his left ear,  Van Gogh
voluntarily  admitted   himself  to  the   Saint-Paul-de-Mausole   lunatic  asylum  on   8  May  1889.   Housed  in  a  former
monastery,   Saint-Paul-de-Mausole   catered   to  the  wealthy  and  was  less  than   half  full  when  Van  Gogh  arrived,
allowing him to occupy not only a second-story bedroom but also a ground-floor room for use as a painting studio.

Although  The Starry Night  was painted during the day in  Van Gogh's ground-floor studio,  it would be inaccurate to
state that the  picture was  painted from  memory.  The view  has been  identified as  the one  from his bedroom  window,
facing east,  a view which Van Gogh painted  variations of no fewer than twenty-one times,  including The Starry Night.
"Through the iron-barred window," he wrote to his brother, Theo,  around 23 May 1889, "I can see an enclosed square of
wheat . . . above which, in the morning, I watch the sun rise in all its glory."

Van Gogh next  mentioned the painting  in a letter to Theo on or about 20 September 1889,  when he included it in a list
of paintings  he was  sending  to his  brother  in Paris.  Of this  list of  paintings,  he wrote,  "All in all the  only  things I
consider a little  good in it are the  Wheatfield,  the Mountain,  the Orchard,  the Olive trees  with the  blue  hills and
the Portrait  and the Entrance  to the quarry,  and the rest  says nothing to me";  "the rest" would  include The Starry
Night. In a letter to painter Émile Bernard from late November, 1889, Van Gogh referred to the painting as a "failure."

Van Gogh argued with Bernard and, especially, Paul Gauguin as to whether one should paint from nature,  as Van Gogh
preferred,  or  paint  what  Gauguin  called  "abstractions":  paintings  conceived  in  the  imagination.   In  the  letter  to
Bernard,  Van Gogh recounted his experiences  when Gauguin lived with him in 1888:  "I once or twice allowed myself to
be led astray into abstraction, as you know. . . .  But that was delusion, dear friend,  and one soon comes up against a brick
wall. . . .  And  yet,  once  again  I  allowed  myself  to  be  led astray  into  reaching  for  stars  that are too  big  -  another
failure  -  and I have had my fill of that." wikipedia

"Now, I understand what you tried so say to me; how you suffered for your sanity."

In the soil beneath Amsterdam’s Van Gogh museum waits a time capsule containing a set of the artist’s brushes  -  and the
sheet  music  for  Don  McLean’s  Vincent  (Starry  Starry  Night).   Museum  staff  play  the  song  for visitors  every  day,
although there’s no  danger of it being  forgotten.  Indeed,  it is likely to be the American singer’s powerful portrait of
misunderstood genius that brought them there in the first place. Helen Brown in The Telegraph

The Unexpected Math Behind Van Gogh's Starry Night from TED-Ed on You Tube

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