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Caravaggio - David with the Head of Goliath 1610 Oil on canvas 125 x 101 cm Baroque Galleria Borghese

Self-portrait as a dead man.

It is somewhat more disturbing to look at a painting of a beheading when you know that the artist had recently murdered a man. In 1606, Caravaggio killed Ranuccio Tomassoni in Naples, possibly over a gambling debt. Caravaggio fled to Malta, where he was welcomed by the Grand Master of the Knights of Malta, Alof de Wignacourt. But being a famous painter can only get you so far, and after getting in another fight and stabbing a knight, Caravaggio was imprisoned.

Thomas Germain - Inkpot and desk clock 1752 silver 37 x 32 x 41cm

François Thomas Germain inherited his father’s position as silversmith to the King of France in 1748 — a time of rococo luxury for the wealthy and powerful. His whimsical designs in silver brought commissions from Russia and Portugal, but the attrition of the Seven Years War crippled the indulgent lifestyle of the monarchy. In 1765 Germain declared bankruptcy. 

John Everett Millais - Ophelia 1851-1852 oil on canvas 76.2x111.8cm Tate Britain

Stop complaining, Millais.

John Everett Millais, painter and inveterate whiner, was a member of the insufferably romantic boy's club known as the Pre-Raphaellite Brotherhood.  Early in his career, Millais was a dedicated realist, working in a densely detailed style, and at the age of only 22 he began what would be one of his most successful paintings. Millais began 'Ophelia' in 1851, painting the river and background by the river Ewell near Kingston-Upon-Thames. But painting outdoors is difficult for the time-intensive work of realistic painting, and Millais was sure to let people know of his suffering, describing the experience in a letter:

This relief sculpture, officially known as a the Wilbour Plaque, is an artist's reference — a sketch in stone that was hung in the workshop by the hole at the top of the stone, studied and copied by students. The figure on the left is thought to be Akhenaten, oposite him queen Nefertiti, they both wear uraeus headdresses bearing the sacred serpent — emblems of supreme power. 

In renaissance Italy it was rare for women to have access to artistic education — but in 1558 Sofonisba Anguissola had already been apprenticed to two painters of the Lombard school, and traveled to Rome to meet and learn from Michelangelo. At the time of this self-portrait, she was just 26 years old, and her career was about to explode. This was the year she would meet the Duke of Alba, who would recommed her to King Philip II of Spain. 

The Girl with a Pearl Earring has become one of the most well known paintings of the modern age. The mysterious girl is the subject of novels, she’s been played by Scarlett Johansson, and recreated as a Banksy mural — but we know nothing about the girl herself, and with good reason. The painting is what’s known as a Tronie, an idealized portrait designed to evoke an emotion rather than depict a specific person.

Vogelherd cave in Stetten, Germany, has been one of the most exciting sites of Neolithic discoveries, and home to some of the oldest neolithic objects ever found. Excavated in 1931 by Gustav Riek, an archaeologist from the University of Tübingen, it is thought to be a site where early peoples gather to feast after successful hunts. Riek attributed the tools and figures discovered in Vogelherd to multiple stone age societies, including the Mousterian, Aurignacian, Magdalenian and Neolithic. 

We know very little about the origin of this beautiful and symbol-laden quilt by Harriet Powers. The arresting use of graphic applique to illustrate stories is linked to artistic techniques in Benin, West Africa. Powers combines Biblical stories with representations of meteorological events in a quilt that is beautiful to the eye, yet gains an ominously apocalyptic tone on deeper inspection. Descriptions of each panel are below:

In this illuminated miniature by Bichitr, the Mughal Emperor Shah-Jahan welcomes his three sons and his father-in-law Asaf Khan. The miniature is part of the Padshahnama, a beautiful collection of 22 single and 11 double-page miniatures by 14 of the finest artists of the Mughal courts. The Padshahnama, also known as the "Chronicle of the King of the World" describes the reign of Emperor Shah-Jahan in rich color and gold leaf.

Koloman Moser designed this chair for the first Vienna Secession exhibition, organized by the already-famous Gustav Klimt. The chair would eventially become synonymous with the Purkersdorf Sanatorium, a sort of artist retreat near Vienna created by the architect Josef Hoffmann.