Billions of dollars of art move through foreign auction houses every year, while museum representatives each keep tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of works of art in their collections. But precious few ever attain the fame needed to truly be considered household names.
Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
It should come as no surprise that that mysterious woman with that elusive smile is the most famous painting in the world. But for this piece of art, that’s one of the few certainties.
Lisa Gherardini, the wife of the Florentine merchant Francesco del Giocondo, is believed to be the sitter in the painting, but experts are not positive. According to the Louvre, where it was first installed in 1804, it represented an innovation in art—the painting is the earliest known Italian portrait to focus so closely on the sitter in a half-long portrait.
Historians say the “Mona Lisa” was little known outside of art circles before the 20th century. But in 1911, the portrait was stolen by a past Louvre employee and hidden for two years. The theft has since helped to cement the position of painting in popular culture and introduced millions to Renaissance art.
The Last Supper
Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
“The Last Supper” painted in a period when religious imagery was still a prevalent artistic trend, portrays the last time Jesus broke the bread before his crucifixion with his disciples.
The painting is a massive fresco — 4.6 meters (15 feet) high and 8.8 meters (28.9 feet) tall, making it a memorable sight
The Starry Night
Artist: Vincent van Gogh
The relatively abstract painting is the signature example of the creative and bold use of dense brushstrokes by van Gogh. The striking blues and yellows of the painting and the dreamy, swirling atmosphere have for decades fascinated art lovers.
When he painted “The Starry Night.” Van Gogh was staying in an asylum in Saint-Rémy, France, being treated for mental illness. He was inspired by the view from his room’s window.
Artist: Edvard Munch
First things first—”The Scream” is not just a single art piece. There are two sculptures, two pastels, and an unspecified number of prints, according to a blog from the British Museum. The paintings are kept safe in the National Museum and the Munch Museum. One of the pastels was sold at auction for almost $120 million in 2012.
The androgynous figure in the foreground of the painting in the Art Nouveau style does not produce the scream, but rather tries to block a piercing scream from nature. It was inspired by a real experience Munch had while taking a sunset stroll in Oslo when his senses were overwhelmed by a dramatic red hue.
Artist: Pablo Picasso
This is the most recent painting on this list and portrays the German aerial bombing during the Spanish Civil War of the town of Guernica in the Basque region.
The painting has the distinctive style of Picasso, and its unflinching analysis of the horrors of war made it a crucial part of the culture and history of the 20th century.
During World War II, “Guernica” was shifted for protection and kept in the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York. Picasso called for the stay to be extended until the return of democracy to Spain. It finally retreated to Madrid in 1981, six years later, after the death of Gen. Francisco Franco, a long-time Spanish dictator.
Artist: Gustav Klimt
Byzantine artistic influences can be seen from the “Golden Period,” of Klimt in the highly decorated robes worn by the passionate, life-sized couple.
The Upper Belvedere says that Klimt makes a “The Kiss,” with a “general allegorical statement about love being at the heart of human existence.” Despite its magnetic attraction, people seem to agree with it.
Although “The Kiss” isn’t for sale, Klimt’s other works are purchased and sold for huge amounts.
The Girl with a Pearl Earring
Artist: Johannes Vermeer
In addition to the stylistic variations, literally, “Mona Lisa.” is not even a portrait, but a “Girl With a Pearl Earring” — a Dutch term for a drawing of an imaginary figure with exaggerated features. This interesting favourite is often contrasted with the “tronie”
In its simplicity, the oil on canvas masterpiece is brilliant. With only a dark background behind her, the girl is wearing a blue and gold turban along with an oversized pearl earring.
During the renovation of the Mauritshuis from 2012 to 2014, “Girl With a Pearl Earring” went on tour in the United States, Italy, and Japan. It attracted massive crowds, further increasing its reputation as one of the most famous works of art in the world.
The Birth Of Venus
Artist: Sandro Botticelli
“The Kiss” was possibly commissioned by a member of the wealthy and art-loving Medici family, which dominated Florence and surrounding areas for centuries, as the oldest painting in the top 10 and vying with “The Birth of Venus” for the most sensuous.
Botticelli creates an unforgettable figure of the Goddess of Love emerging from a massive scallop shell, marrying a revived interest in classic Greek culture with the Early Renaissance style.
The “Venus” of Botticelli contains two significant departures from most other works of his contemporaries.
Firstly, instead of the more common wood, he painted on canvas. Secondly, at this time, nudity was rare—so it was bold that Venus was completely exposed minus her long, flowing hair and a hand (nearly) covering her most private parts of her body.
Artist: Diego Velázquez
As a portrait, the painting does double duty. This is a group portrait of Spanish royalty, but it is also a self-portrait of Velázquez at work himself (on the left).
King Philip IV of Spain, who ruled from 1621 to 1665, commissioned “Las Meninas”. Until 1819, when it went to the Prado, it remained in the royal palace.
Creation of Adam
A part of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is the most famous work by the renowned artist Michelangelo—you have to look up to see it. With outstretched arms, the scene portrays God and Adam, their fingertips almost touching. It is one of history’s most reproduced pictures.
The muscular form of Adam hints at the other talent of Michelangelo—his “David” is perhaps the most popular sculpture in the world. At the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, you will see the towering marble statue.
The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel had, among many other items, been dulled by centuries of exposure to candle smoke. People were surprised to see vivid, vibrant colours.
Michelangelo originally used, after a long, comprehensive cleaning that ended in 1989.