Near the end of each year, or century, or in this case MILLENNIUM, writers like to go back over that year and dote on the most historic events having taken place, defending their choices, outlining for the historically illiterate some of the background of these events. Sometimes, for a change of pace, they focus just on individuals, or even PLACES or THINGS, and expound on the circumstances and why they were chosen. In the same vein and in view of the fact that there are few surviving paintings more than a thousand years old, I'd like to propose my own personal list of the ten greatest paintings of the last thousand years. Reaching to be the David Letterman of art, I'd like to start with number :
10. Giotto: "Lamentation over the Dead Christ," 1304-06, Arena Chapel, Padua, Italy. This is just one scene in the fresco cycle covering "The Life of Jesus" which decorates the chapel. Undoubtedly the most influential painting of the Medieval period, largely responsible for the resurgence of fresco painting during the Renaissance, remarkable in its pathos, it's audacious handling of grouped figures, movement, color, and composition.
9. Caravaggio: "The Calling of St. Matthew," 1597, Contarelli Chapel, San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome. The first of three in a series covering the ministry of the the tax collector turned apostle. Famous for its dramatic, Baroque use of light, realistic modeling of figures, and its profound, narrative qualities. The best of the three paintings, this series was responsible for spreading Caravaggio's name and influence all over Europe.
8. Rembrandt van Rijn: "The Night Watch," 1642, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Considered to be Rembrandt's best work, this painting broke the mold insofar as group portraits at the time were concerned. Newly cleaned today, the painting stands up well as the best Northern Europe had to offer.
7. Edvard Munch: "The Scream," 1893, Kommunes Kunstsmalinger, Oslo. Though painted in the last century, this painting has become an icon for the pounding stress and strain of THIS century, grappling with the horrors of war, economic and ethnic desperation, social and personal psychological conflict.
6. Edouard Manet: "Luncheon on the Grass," 1863, Musee du Jeu de Paume, Paris. Probably the most revolutionary painting on the nineteenth century, with this work, Manet sounded the opening shot in the war between Modern Art and the Academics by skillfully combining elements of classicism, Realism, Impressionism, and even photography.
5. Jackson Pollock: "Blue Poles," 1953, Australian National Gallery, Camberra. Considered by many to be Pollock's best work, the painting marked the zenith of the Abstract Expressionist movement, striking out on a grand scale with it's color and movement far beyond anything seen or done before or since.
4. Leonardo Da Vinci: "Mona Lisa," 1503-06, The Louvre, Paris. This mysteriously smiling face has become synonymous with art itself. It is certainly the most famous painting ever painted, and arguably the most influential portrait of all time.
3. Vincent Van Gogh: "The Starry Night," 1889, Museum of Modern Art, New York. Without question, this work has come to represent the best of the best from this beloved, but troubled genius. The painting was to influence the expressive use of color and paint for several generations of international artists during the next half-century or more.
2. Pablo Picasso: Les Demoiselles d' Avignon," 1907, Museum of Modern Art, New York. The painting is a ground-breaking landmark for Modern Art as well as Picasso himself, delivering a loud, strong, breathtaking departure in style, composition, and subject matter that is still being felt in art today.
1. And the greatest painting of the last thousand year? Don't miss tomorrow's Arty-fact. (Anyone want to hazzard a guess?)