By exposing photosensitive paper soaked in iron salts to light, Hippolyte Bayard created some of the first direct positive prints — beautiful impressions of ferns and lace laid. Sadly, Sir John Herschel invented the Cyanotype the same year, stealing yet another photography milestone from the unlucky Bayard.
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.
‘Pity, like a naked newborn babe, striding the blast, or heaven’s cherubim horsed, upon the sightless couriers of the air, shall blow the horrid deed in every eye’ — These lines from scene 7, act 1 of Macbeth inspired William Blake to create one of his ‘frescos’ — a heavily worked form of monoprint where Blake began with a relief etching, then applied oil or tempera mixed with chalk, and finally finished by hand with and pen. Blake illustrated many scenes by Shakespeare and Milton — creating a strangely cohesive world of ghostly figures and supernatural ritual.
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.
Why paint three portraits in one? Because in this extrordinary portrait of King Charles the 1st, Anthony van Dyck had prepared a three-dimentional schematic for a sculptural bust. The commission of the bust was a gift by pope Urban VIII, to be made by the Italian sculptor Lorenzo Bernini. Pope Urban hoped to coax the king into return to the Roman Catholic church. King Charles and queen Henrietta Maria were delighted with the bust, and gave Bernini a diamond ring in appreciation.
Rachel Ruysch’s flowers electrified the court of the Netherland’s Elector Johann Wilhelm — a childhood in the home of a botanist, a steady hand and an eye for dramatic composition made Ruysch one of the most successful still life artists of her day.
For a year and half, Rosa Bonheur dressed in mens clothes to avoid attention and wandered the Parisian horse market at the Boulevard de l’Hôpital. Her sketches informed The Horse Fair — a painting of such grand scale that Bonheur called it her “Parthenon frieze.” The Horse Fair was first shown in the Paris Salon in 1583, but Rosa reworked the painting for the next two years. 32 years later the painting would be aired by Cornelius Vanderbilt, who donated it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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.
We don’t know the artist who created this vivid, otherworldly portrait, but we know its subject is Guan Yu, descending from heaven. Guan was a Han dynasty warrior who died in 219 CE, and was posthumously elevated to the status of Emperor. Guan became a venerated symbol of courage and faithfullness, honored by the Manchu rulers in shrines throughout China.
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.