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William Blake - Pity 1795 etching watercolor 42.2x52.7cm MET

‘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.

Wenzel Hablik - Starry Sky 1909

We don't know much about Wenzel Hablik's painting of the glittering cosmos. Titled, Starry Sky, Attempt, Hablik seems to understand the imperfection of his vision. It's too full, too bright, too hopeful. He paints a universe as alive as a busy street, outer space with a pulse. But that's Hablik for you, the boy who stared into crystals and saw palaces inside, the man who designed cities perched on mountain tops. The man who lived through WWI, and was still able to say "Speak out! Speak out! Delight in existence — in the universe— in being and perishing."

Jacques-Louis David - Mars Disarmed by Venus and the Three Graces 1824 308x265cm Musees Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique Brussels

Mars Disarmed by Venus and the Three Graces was one of the last paintings by Jacques-Louis David, began in 1822 when he was 73, living in self-imposed exile in Brussles. In 1823, he wrote: "This is the last picture I want to paint, but I want to surpass myself in it. I will put the date of my seventy-five years on it and afterwards I will never again pick up my brush." When the painting was complete, David sent it to Paris, where his former students flocked to view it.

Playing cards has never been less fun.

During the Dutch golden age, paintings of card players were popularized by artists like Jan Miense Molenaer and Antoine and Louis Le Nain. Men and women lit by candle light, laughing and shouting and drinking and betting on a good hand. They were fun paintings, and 150 years later Paul Cézanne came along and bled all the fun out of the genre.

Albrecht Dürer was obsessed with proportion and symbolism. In this engraving, Adam holds a mountain ash branch, the tree of life, while Eve holds a fig branch — the forbidden tree of knowledge.

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. 

In 1699, Maria Sibylla Merian sold 255 of her own paintings to fund a research trip from her home in Amsterdam to Suriname in South America. For two years she explored the Dutch colony there, documenting the local flora and fauna. This lively fellow was painted during her trip, and is known as an Argentine black and white tegu (Salvator merianae), a large species of lizard found in South American rainforests and savannas.  Tegu are highly intellegent and very social, known to seek out human affection like a pet dog. PetHelpful's exotic animal veterinarian Dr. Mark gushingly calls them "the best, the perfect pet lizard." We do not know Merian's precise thoughts on the tegu, but she certainly painted this one with a smile on his face.

The Child King

Meet Louis XV. He's ten years old in this portrait by Rosalba Carriera. Young Louis was the heir apparent of France, since the death of his father in 1715. But you can't have a ten-year-old running France, so his uncle, Philippe I, the Duke of Orléans, acted as regent. It's possible this portrait was in commemoration of little Louis's engagement. In keeping with royal tradition, Louis had been betrothed to his first cousin, the three-year-old Infanta Maria Anna Victoria of Spain. Just a year later, at age 12, Louis was crowned King of France in Reims Cathedral. Louis would go on to reign for 52 years, and become known as Louis the Beloved. Maybe it pays off to start 'em young. 

Mosaic was one of the most popular forms of Byzantine art, used to decorate homes and temples, floors, walls and even furniture, but in the 14th century Byzantine artists decided to double-down. By reducing the size of the mosaic tiles, called tesserae, they developed 'micromosaics' like this madonna and child, which is about the size of a baseball card. This micromosaic from the Metropolitan Museum of Art  depicts the Virgin Eleousa, the Virgin of Compassion — and is one of the few remaining devotional micromosaics left in the world.