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.
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.
Thomas Woolner was the only sculptor in the idealistic boy band known as the Pre Raphellite Brotherhood. A posse of young poets and painters, The Brotherhood was obsessed with the classical verses of England’s poet laureate Lord Alfred Tennyson. Woolner was 24 when he first met his hero — and while the poet was 16 years his senior, Woolner and Tennyson became good friends. Woolner created this plaster relief when Tennyson was 47, and considered it the best portrait roundel he’d made — though Tennyson’s wife requested he shorten the poet’s nose.
‘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.
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."
We don’t know who Flora was — but the Venetian painter Titian painted her at least five times. Here, she carries flowers in her hand, and takes her name from the Greek goddess of Spring. She was painted first as Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love, then painted with a mirror, representing vanity, and finally as the betrayer Salome, carrying the head of John the Baptist.
Every class has its clown. Joseph Ducreux worked alongside the great Neoclassical French painters like Vigée Le Brun, and Jacques-Louis David, but his work sparks with humor and weird energy. His self-portrait from 1793 is still phresh enough to generate its own meme — ‘Gentlemen, who hath released the hounds?’
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.
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.