Henri Matisse referred to his painting the Harmony in Red almost dismissively, calling it a “decorative panel.” And like a piece of ornamental furniture, he scattered the massive canvas with arabesques and floral pattern — a dining room scene with no conventional focal point and a strangely flattened perspective. But the paintings hallmark flood of powerful crimson is radically different than the original painting.
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.
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.
Jade cong are among the most enimatic Neolithic artefacts. Buried with bodies in grave sites, and found in most of China's important archeological excavations, cong were extrordinary to difficult to create, since Jade cannot be split and had to be sanded to a smooth flat surface. This cong follows a common pattern, being hexagonal, with a round hollow core, with a slight taper from top to bottom. Each corner is inscribed with a stylized face.
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:
You have to admire the honesty of ancient Roman portraits. In this bronze sculpture, as in all his portraits, the Roman Emperor Caracalla looks like a square-jawed, growly bull of a man. Caracalla is nearly always shown his brow furrowed with an intensity unique to men who feel they're being treated unfairly by the world that hails them as king. And perhaps Caracalla was given the short end of the imperial stick. When he became emperor in 198 CE, the Roman empire was sliding toward ruin. The Gothic tribes in Germany were claiming Roman territory, and the value of currency was slipping. To add insult to injury, the newly appointed emperor had to co-run the country with his elderly father and his younger brother, until 201 CE when his father died, and he swiftly murdered his brother. After all this, Caracalla went to the German front to lead his army, who hated him so much that just six years later a disaffected solder stabbed him to death while he was taking a piss by the side of the road.
A five-headed god may be a disorienting concept to western viewers, so let's break it down. Meet Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction. Shiva is one of the three supreme Hindu gods, the Trimūrti. In this bust, each of Shiva's heads is a metaphor, representing one of his five aspects: Sadyojāta is fearsome face, Vāmadeva the face of healing, Aghora the face of knowledge, Tatpuruṣa the face of soul and meditation, and Īśāna is the face of the cosmos.
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.
The extravagantly costumed Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven poses with the Jamaican author Festus Claudius "Claude" McKay, who starting in 1928, published four novels that would establish him as one of the most important voices of the Harlem Renaissance. McKay is also costumed in floral patterns and pearls, and looks like his patience with the situation may be running low.