These are the 12 most famous Baroque paintings from art history.
Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez (1656)
Velázquez was a Spanish painter and the leading artist in the court of the Spanish and Portuguese King, Philip IV. Not only he was a creator of scenes of historical and cultural significance, but he also painted portraits of the Spanish royal family, which culminated in this very painting. Las Meninas was recognized as one of the most important paintings in western art history. Some of the figures look out of the canvas towards the viewer while others interact among themselves. The 5-year-old, Infanta Margaret Theresa is depicted surrounded by her entourage of maids, bodyguards, two dwarfs, and a dog. Moreover, Velázquez portrayed himself working on a large canvas, looking outwards beyond the pictorial space.
Rokeby Venus by Diego Velázquez (1647-1651)
The Rokeby Venus depicts the nude goddess Venus, lying on a bed and looking into a mirror held by the Roman god of love Cupid. It was painted by Velázquez, the leading artist of the Spanish Golden age. As nudes were extremely rare in 17th century Spain, this is the only surviving female nude by Velázquez. Unlike most earlier portrayals of the goddess, which depict her with blond hair, Velázquez’s Venus has brown hair.
Judith Beheading Holofernes by Caravaggio (1598–1599 or 1602)
This biblical episode painting was created by Caravaggio, who was an Italian painter whose paintings are characterized by art critics as combining a realistic observation of the human state, physical and emotional. He used lighting dramatically which had a formative influence on Baroque painting. This painting depicts the widow, Judith who stayed with the Assyrian general Holofernes in his tent after a banquet. She then decapitated him after he passed out, drunk. She seduced him, so she can serve her people. “Approaching to his bed, she took hold of the hair of his head” (Judith 13:7–8).
Saturn Devouring His Son by Peter Paul Rubens (1636)
Rubens was a Flemish artist and diplomat, considered to be one of the most influential artists of the Flemish Baroque tradition. His most famous motifs were aspects of classical and Christian history. This painting portrays an old man in accordance with the conventional method that was faithful to prevailing iconographic precepts. In his right hand, the god Saturn is clasping a scythe, using it to steady himself. He is leaning over a boy, into whom he sinks his teeth to devour him.
The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp by Rembrandt van Rijn (1632)
This oil on canvas painting is regarded as one of Rembrandt’s early masterpieces. He was a Dutch Golden age painter and one of the most important figures in Dutch art history. It depicts Nicolaes Tulp, a Dutch surgeon, and mayor of Amsterdam, explaining the musculature of the arm to a group of doctors. Anatomy lessons were a social event in the 17th century, took place in lecture rooms or theatres, and had an entrance fee. The corpse is of the criminal Aris Kindt, who was convicted of armed robbery and hence sentenced to death.
The Art of Painting by Johannes Vermeer (1666–1668)
Vermeer was a Dutch Baroque period painter whose specialization was interior scenes of middle-class life. He worked slowly and produced a few paintings. Many art critics believe that this painting is the most famous Vermeer work. is an allegory of painting, therefore the alternative title is The Allegory of Painting. This painting is considered a work of significance for the artist who was very poor and left nothing to his wife and son after his death, but never parted with this painting.
Et in Arcadia ego by Nicolas Poussin (1637–1638)
This painting was painted by Poussin, the leading painter of the classical French Baroque. It shows a pastoral scene with shepherds from classical antiquity. The literal translation of the inscription on a stone is et in arcadia ego, meaning “Even in Arcadia, there am I”. Earliest biographers of Poussin, interpreted the “I” of the phrase to refer to Death, thus making the painting a memento mori, reminding the viewer that even in the blissful utopia of Arcadia death still exists.
David and Goliath by Orazio Gentileschi (1605-1607)
Orazio Gentileschi was painting in a Mannerist style, and much of his work consists of figures within the decorative schemes of other artists. This painting depicts a story from the Book of Samuel, which describes a Philistine giant, Goliath, being defeated by a young man, David.
The Entry of the Animals Into Noah’s Ark by Jan Brueghel the Elder (1613)
Brueghel the Elder was a Flemish painter and draughtsman who worked in many genres – history, still life, allegorical and mythological scenes, landscapes, and seascapes. This painting depicts an animal, fighting, climbing, flying, and swimming, all shepherded by Noah toward his ark in the distance. All species of animals are portrayed, from large elephants to tiny hamsters on the ground.
The Birth of the Virgin by Francisco de Zurbarán (1625–1630)
Francisco de Zurbarán was a painter of the Spanish Golden age, whose work evolved to approximate the Italian Mannerist masters. This oil on canvas painting is a different telling of the Virgin giving birth. She is on a rich bed, surrounded by several women, while an old woman in the foreground holds the infant. It is notable for Zurbaran’s rich color scheme and subtle play of light and shadow.
Gypsy Girl by Frans Hals (1628–1630)
Frans Hals was a Dutch Golden age, who played an important role in the evolution of 17th-century group portraiture, and he is best known for his loose painterly brushwork. This painting, which is referred to as Malle Babbe, depicts a young Gypsy woman. The display of cleavage was not a common feature of costume seen in public in the 17th century, but Hals decided to depict it. The girl is laughing, and looking towards the right, while her hair is falling on her shoulders.
The Rape of the Sabine Women by Nicolas Poussin (1637–1638)
Nicolas Poussin was a founder of French classicism, who was inspired mostly by subjects from history, biblical stories, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The Rape of the Sabine Women was an incident in Roman mythology when men of Rome abducted young women from the neighboring city. This subject is extremely frequent in art, especially during the renaissance. The word “rape” is the translation of the Latin word raptio, meaning “to kidnap”, and does not have a connection with today’s connotation.
The Night Watch by Rembrandt van Rijn (1642)
Rembrandt was a famous Dutch golden age painter who is considered to be one of the greatest visual artists in the history of art. His works depict a wide range of styles and subjects, from portraits to animal studies. This painting, The Night Watch (De Nachtwacht) is one of the most famous Dutch paintings. It is colossal in size, but its dramatic use of light and the perception of motion enhance its greatness. This painting was three times attacked by vandals and protesters, for the first time in 1911, and the last time in the 1990s, but every time it was fully restored.
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