The musings of a landscape painter, art teacher, and art history lover
Are you curious about the world's most famous works of art? If so, you're in luck because this two-part series is the perfect starting point for anyone interested in learning about art history! While this list isn't definitive, it's an excellent introduction to different artists, genres, and artworks that you'll encounter throughout your life. Whether you're a high school or middle-school art student or just an art enthusiast, this series is sure to pique your interest and deepen your knowledge of the art world. This article will discuss the first 15 most famous artworks on the list and part two will discuss the remaining 15.
Art students and art teachers: Scroll to the bottom of this article to find printable study materials and lesson plans. They are free for you to use.
30 Most Famous Works of Art List
1. MONA LISA, LEONARDO DA VINCI (1503-1506) RENAISSANCE
2. DAVID, MICHELANGELO (1501-1504) RENAISSANCE
3. SCHOOL OF ATHENS, RAPHAEL (1509-1511) RENAISSANCE
4. THE CREATION, MICHELANGELO (1508-1512) RENAISSANCE
5. THE LAST SUPPER, LEONARDO DA VINCI (1495) RENAISSANCE
6, THE BIRTH OF VENUS, BOTTICELLI (1484-5) RENAISSANCE
7. SUPPER AT EMMAUS, CARAVAGGIO (1601) BAROQUE
8. LAS MENINAS, VELAZQUEZ (1556) BAROQUE
9. GIRL WITH PEARL EARRING, VERMEER (1665) BAROQUE
10. SELF PORTRAIT, REMBRANDT (1669) BAROQUE
11. OATH OF THE HORATII, JACQUES LOUIS DAVID (1784) NEOCLASSICAL
12. THE GREAT WAVE OF KANAGAWA, HOKUSAI (1830-32) JAPANESE
13. THE THINKER, RODIN (1880) MODERN OR IMPRESSIONISM
14. WATER-LILLY POND, MONET (1920) IMPRESSIONISM
15. BASKET OF APPLES BY CEZANNE (1895)
16. STARRY NIGHT, VINCENT VAN GOGH (1889) POST-IMPRESSIONISM
17. SUNDAY AFTERNOON ON THE ISLAND OF LA GRANDE JATTE, GEORGES SEURAT(1884-6) POST IMPRESSIONISM /POINTILLISM
18. THE SCREAM, EDVARD MUNCH (1893) MODERN
19. THE KISS, GUSTAVE KLIMT (1907) MODERN
20. WOMAN WITH A GUITAR, GEORGES BRAQUE (1913) CUBISM
21. COMPOSITION VII, KANDINSKY (1913) MODERN
22. AMERICAN GOTHIC, GRANT WOOD (1930) MODERN
23. COW'S SKULL RED, WHITE, & BLUE, GEORGIA O'KEEFFE (1931) MODERN
24. PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY, SALVADOR DALI (1931) SURREALISM
25. THE FLOWER CARRIER, DIEGO RIVERA (1935) MODERN
26. GUERNICA. PABLO PICASSO (1937) MODERN (CUBISM)
27. NIGHTHAWKS, EDWARD HOPPER (1942) MODERN
28. CHRISTINA'S WORLD, ANDREW WYETH (1948) MODERN
29. LAVENDER MIST, POLLOCK (1950) ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM
30. CAMPBELL'S SOUP CANS, ANDY WARHOL (1962) MODERN (POP ART)
1. Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci (1503-1506) Renaissance
Starting our list of the thirty most famous works of art is none other than the Mona Lisa by the legendary Leonardo da Vinci! Also referred to as La Gioconda, this stunning piece depicts the wife of Francesco del Giocondo and was created with oil paints on wood. Its dimensions are 77 x 53 cm (30 x 20 7/8 in) and it is currently owned by the Government of France, proudly displayed at the Louvre in Paris.
The painting showcases a breathtaking mountain landscape and features da Vinci's signature sfumato technique of soft, shaded modeling. The Mona Lisa's mysterious expression, which exudes both allure and aloofness, has catapulted the portrait to worldwide fame.
Fun Fact: Did you know that Napoleon once kept the Mona Lisa in his bedroom?
Although da Vinci began working on the masterpiece in Italy, it was only completed after his move to France at the request of King Francois I. The French monarch first displayed the painting in his Fontainebleau palace before it found a home in the grand Palace of Versailles under Louis XIV. In the 19th century, the painting was famously stolen in 1911 but fortunately recovered. Over the years, it has also been vandalized several times, including two acid and rock attacks in 1956 and spray paint and coffee cup incidents in 1974 and 2009, respectively. However, the painting is now protected by bulletproof glass.
As an essential part of the Louvre's collection, the Mona Lisa is considered to be priceless and is forbidden from being bought or sold according to French heritage law. The painting belongs to the public, and it's safe to say that their hearts belong to her too!
LINK: Mona Lisa at the Louvre
2. David, Michelangelo (1501-1504) Renaissance
Today, Michelangelo's David is considered one of the most impressive pieces of sculpture ever created and a major tourist attraction. However, the history of this iconic statue dates back much further.
The original commission for the Statue of David came in 1464 from the Opera del Duomo as part of a series of large statues for the Florence Cathedral. The plan was for the sculptures to be crafted on the ground and then hoisted up 260 feet into niches on the cathedral's tribunes.
Unfortunately, the project hit a snag when it was awarded to Agostino di Duccio, who lacked experience with large-scale sculpture. He selected a tall but narrow marble block from the Carrara quarries that was riddled with imperfections, tiny holes, and visible veins. The quarry struggled to prepare and ship the massive block, and when it finally arrived in Florence, Duccio realized his mistake and gave up on the project.
For the next 10 years, the marble block sat untouched until Antonio Rossellino attempted to salvage it. However, he quickly deemed it unusable, and it sat in the courtyard of the Opera del Duomo for another 25 years.
It wasn't until Michelangelo came along that the rough slab of marble was transformed into the masterpiece we know today. He saw potential in the block's imperfections and began work on the statue in 1501. After three years of intense labor, Michelangelo's David was finally unveiled in 1504, standing 17 feet tall and depicting the biblical hero in all his glory.
Despite its rough start, David has become a timeless symbol of human strength and beauty, attracting countless admirers to Florence each year.
3. School of Athens, Raphael (1509-11) Renaissance
Next up is, The School of Athens. This large fresco painting has come to symbolize the marriage of art, philosophy, and science that was a hallmark of the Italian Renaissance. Painted between 1509 and 1511, it is located in the first of the four rooms designed by Raphael. The painting is located in the Stanza della Segnatura at the Vatican.
Take a virtual tour HERE.
4. The Creation, Michelangelo (1508-1512) Renaissance
Get ready to be amazed! Between 1508 and 1512, Michelangelo undertook an extraordinary project that revolutionized Western art and is considered one of the greatest artistic feats in human history! Working under the patronage of Pope Julius II, Michelangelo spent four years painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and the results were nothing short of breathtaking.
One of the most famous sections of the Sistine Chapel is Michelangelo's Creation, which is located right in the center of the ceiling. The painting depicts the biblical scene of God creating Adam and has become an icon of Western art, inspiring awe and wonder in countless viewers.
Michelangelo's incredible talent and dedication to his craft allowed him to create a masterpiece that has endured for centuries and continues to captivate audiences today. His work on the Sistine Chapel ceiling is a testament to the power of art to transcend time and space, and we can only imagine how many people will continue to be awed by it in the future.
What are fresco paintings?
Both Raphael's painting, the School of Athens and Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel paintings are frescoes. Fresco is a technique of mural painting executed upon freshly laid, or wet, lime plaster. Water is used as the vehicle for the dry-powder pigment to merge with the plaster, and with the setting of the plaster, the painting becomes an integral part of the wall. The fresco technique has been employed since antiquity and is closely associated with Italian Renaissance painting.
5.The Last Supper, Leonardo da Vinci (1495) Renaissance
Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper" is one of history's most influential works of art. It is a visual interpretation of the biblical event where Jesus gathers his disciples for a last supper before his betrayal. The painting captures the moment when Jesus tells his disciples that one of them will betray him, and their reactions to this shocking news.
Da Vinci's innovative painting techniques and use of perspective make "The Last Supper" a masterpiece of the Renaissance. However, due to his experimental approach, the painting began to deteriorate soon after its completion. Despite this, it remains a revered work of art, admired for its powerful emotional impact and its influence on art history.
Compare this earlier version of The Last Supper by the artist Duccio, to da Vinci's version of the last supper.
6. The Birth of Venus, Botticelli (1484-5) Renaissance
Botticelli's Birth of Venus is a painting that has captivated audiences for centuries with its exquisite beauty and mythological subject matter. Commissioned by the influential Medici family, it depicts the goddess Venus emerging from the sea on a shell. This masterpiece has become an icon of femininity and grace, inspiring countless artists throughout history. In fact, its influence is still felt today - contemporary artist Andy Warhol created his own interpretation of Venus in a stunning painting. The Birth of Venus remains a beloved work of art, enchanting viewers with its timeless allure.
7. Supper at Emmaus, Caravaggio (1601) Baroque
Caravaggio, an Italian artist of the Baroque era who worked mostly in Milan and Sicily, is renowned for his emotionally charged and dramatically lit paintings. His works frequently feature dark backgrounds and employ strong chiaroscuro techniques.
One of Caravaggio's most famous works is the painting called "Supper at Emmaus." This piece depicts the moment when Christ reveals himself to his apostles, Luke and Cleopas, and captures their immediate reactions. A third figure, perhaps a groom, stands in the background but appears to be unaware of the significant event. The painting is designed to immerse the viewer in the scene, as though they were a fourth person at the table.
The figures in the painting are portrayed with torn clothing and appear lifelike, which differs from the more stylized forms of Mannerism or the Renaissance. Additionally, the basket of fruit on the table seems to be on the verge of falling, giving the impression that everything in the painting is caught in a moment of action. As a result, the scene feels like a real-life drama.
8. Las Meninas, Velazquez (1556) Baroque
Let's celebrate the life and work of Diego Velázquez! Born in 1599, he was a talented Spanish painter who became the leading artist in the court of King Philip IV of Spain and Portugal during the Spanish Golden Age. One of his most famous works is the stunning masterpiece, Las Meninas, which can be seen hanging in the Prado in Madrid, Spain.
Las Meninas is a group portrait that features the princess, Infanta Margarita Teresa, as the main focus. However, the painting also includes other members of the royal court, such as the king and queen themselves. There's even a mirror in the background that reflects the king and queen, as well as the artist himself! Other individuals in the portrait include the queen's chamberlain, ladies in waiting, a chaperone, a bodyguard, and even a couple of court "dwarfs". The dog in the painting remains nameless to this day.
While some believe Velázquez was painting the king and queen's portraits, others think he might have been painting us, the viewers, immortalizing us as royalty. When we look at the figures in the painting, they seem to be staring directly at us, inviting us into their world and giving us a glimpse into the life of the royal family.
But Velázquez was doing more than just creating a royal portrait. He was exploring the nature and importance of painting itself. By including himself in the painting and using the mirror as a tool, he was showing us the full potential of painting to not only capture reality but also to engage us in a collaborative experience with the artwork. In short, Velázquez's Las Meninas is a true masterpiece that continues to inspire and captivate viewers today, centuries after its creation.
9. Girl With Pearl Earring, Vermeer (1665) Baroque
The Girl with the Pearl Earring is one of the most famous paintings in the world, and it's not just because of its beauty. The painting has an interesting history that makes it even more intriguing.
The painting was created by Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer in the mid-1660s. Vermeer was a master of the Baroque style, and this painting is one of his most well-known works. It shows a young woman wearing a turban and a large pearl earring, with a dark background that makes her stand out even more.
For many years, the painting was little known outside of the Netherlands. It wasn't until the early 20th century that it began to gain international fame. Today, it is considered a masterpiece of Dutch painting and is held in the collection of the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague, Netherlands.
One of the reasons the painting is so famous is that it is shrouded in mystery. No one knows for sure who the girl in the painting is, or even if she was a real person. Some art historians believe that the painting is a tronie, or a type of character study, rather than a portrait of a specific person.
In recent years, the painting has undergone extensive scientific analysis to try to uncover more about its creation and history. Researchers have used techniques like X-ray and infrared imaging to study the layers of paint and see how Vermeer created the painting. They've also used DNA analysis to try to identify the materials that Vermeer used. Despite all the analysis, the painting remains as enigmatic as ever. But that only adds to its allure, making it a must-see for art lovers and history buffs alike.
10. Self Portrait, Rembrandt (1669) Baroque
Rembrandt van Rijn, a Dutch Baroque artist who lived from 1606-1669, was renowned for his portrait paintings and his exceptional ability to capture emotions in his artwork. His commitment to uncompromising realism earned him the title of "painter of ugliness" by some critics, as he prioritized accuracy over idealization.
Throughout his prolific career, Rembrandt painted a staggering eighty self-portraits, which provided a glimpse into his changing moods, physical appearance, and financial standing. While these self-portraits offer an introspective look into the artist's life, they were also commercially successful, as many people desired portraits of famous artists.
This particular self-portrait, painted just months before his death at the age of 63, depicts a proud and self-assured artist who knows he has earned a position among the world's greatest artists. Despite his age and poor health, Rembrandt portrayed himself with confidence, reflecting his immense talent and accomplishments.
Two Other Paintings By Rembrandt
11. Oath of the Horatii, Jacques Louis David (1784) Neoclassical
Welcome to Artful Academia:
Welcome to my blog, where I celebrate the joy of creative living and the beauty of the arts! As a professional landscape painter and experienced middle school and high school art teacher, I'm passionate about sharing my artistic journey with you. Here, you'll find a treasure trove of my own artwork, insightful art history lessons, engaging art projects, and motivating tips to inspire and support you on your own creative path. Join me as we embark on a journey of artistic exploration and inspiration together!