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November 1, 2006

top 10 paintings

The Guardian proposes "20 paintings to see in the flesh before you die." There's much discussion on the Guardian's site and on Crooked Timber. I happen to have my own list lying around. I notice that I have picked innovative pictures, because I believe that we derive aesthetic pleasure not only from a work in itself but also from the story of art, which is a sequence of courageous discoveries and experiments. Further, the following are mostly pictures that have something to say about art. They imply theories of painting and representation that we could try to paraphrase in prose. That makes them especially interesting. But they are not mere manifestos or illustrations of ideas; they are also extraordinary images.

  • Giotto, Scenes of the Passion, Capella Scrovegni (a.k.a Arena Chapel), Padua, 1305
  • Masaccio, Tribute Money, Brancacci Chapel, Santa Maria della Carmine in Florence, 1426-8
  • Jan Van Eyck, The Arnolfini Wedding, National Gallery, London, 1434
  • Piero Della Francesca, The Flagellation, Urbino, 1455
  • Giorgione and/or Titian, Fte Champtre, Louvre, Paris, 1508
  • Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi), Madonna di Loreto, 1603-05, S. Agostino, Rome
  • Diego Velzquez Las Meninas, The Prado, Madrid, 1655
  • Johannes Vermeer, View of Delft, Mauritshuis, The Hague, ca. 1660-1661
  • Edouard Manet, The Old Musician, National Gallery, Washington, 1862
  • Some limitations: These are all paintings (not sculptures, drawings, stained glass, or buildings) that I have personally seen during my late adolescence or adulthood. I can't recommend such reputed masterpieces as Caravaggio's Burial of St. Lucy, because I have only seen them in illustrations. This stricture also explains the European bias; I've never visited Asia (beyond Turkey), Africa, or South America. Finally, my list doesn't adequately represent Modernism. I didn't want to add token works to represent a whole category of art; I wanted individual masterpieces. I had difficulty identifying specific Modernist works that could stand up to particular "Old Masters." (However, I was tempted to include a Picasso like The Guitar Player, or a Matisse.)

    November 1, 2006 9:44 AM | category: fine arts | Comments


    No Hudson River School? Having grown up on trips to the homes of Cole and Church, as well as Sojourns to the New York Public Library to see Asher Durand's "Kindred Spirits" (now being whisked away to Bentonville Arkansas), I must protest. Certainly you can think of an American landscape you saw at the National Gallery to put in the list if you want to make your list less heavy on pre-18th century works.

    November 1, 2006 5:39 PM | Comments (1) | posted by Steven Maloney

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