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Hippolyte Bayard, Cyanotype, 1842, France, Early Photography

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.

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. 

Thomas Woolner - Alfred Tennyson 1856 Plaster 26x26cm Tate Britain

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.

Heironymus Bosch - The Garden of Earthly Delights 1503–1504 2.20x3.9m Museo Nacional Del Prado

A window into Hell.

The Alterpiece Tryptich was an old idea by the time that Heironymus Bosch got ahold of it. Three painted panels in an elaborate frame, often telling a story from right to left. Giotto's Stefaneschi Triptych for St. Peter's cathedral is a good example of what a tryptich should look like — Christ, serene, surrounded by adoring disciples. But Bosch had a different story to tell. The Garden of Earthly Delights is a folding tryptich, the left and right panels fold inwards, and when closed is shows a meditative image of the world during its creation, painted in the gray-green grisaille common to Netherlandish triptychs of the time. A moment of solemnity before the leaping madness inside is revealed. 

Pieter Bruegel - The Triumph of Death 1562 117x162cm Museo del Prado

The skeletons are winning.

Not to diminish the work of Pieter Brueghel the Elder, but we owe Hieronymus Bosch for The Triumph of Death. In an era of royal portraits and pious depictions of the Christ, Bosch introduced the fever-dream of apocalyptic art, and Brueghel brought his own dark flavor to the genre just a few years later.

Jacques-Louis David - The Intervention of the Sabine Women 1795-1799 385x522cm Musee du Louvre

David's greatest painting, and a get-out-of-jail-free card.

1795 was a dark time for Jaques-Louis David. The French Revolution was is in full bloody swing — and David, who's waffling political allegiances had kept him safe had finally gone too far. As a member of the revolution's vicious police force, the Committee of General Security, David had directly participated in the execution of thousands of French citizens. David had blood on his hands, and when the tide turned, and Robespierre himself was guillotined, he was thrown in jail. In prison, David concieved of The Intervention of the Sabine Women.

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.

In 1797 Francisco Goya created a series of 80 etchings that laid out a scathing critique of pre-enlightenment Spain. Illustrating the damaging effects of superstition, arraigned marriage, and a wasteful ruling class, Goya’s Los Caprichos was a tour-de-force second only to his Horrors of War.

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.