I don’t know about you, but one of the things I look forward to most when we can travel internationally again isn’t even the real world. They are paintings of this world. Here are some of my favorites that I want to share with you from different galleries around the world. Some of them are well-known masterpieces. Others are smaller paintings that are often overlooked. That’s a nice parallel to famous landmarks and off the beaten path!
La Primavera, Uffizi Gallery, Florence
The Renaissance masterpiece by Sandro Botticelli is full of allegorical figures and exquisite flower passages and is probably one of the most famous paintings in the world. I came across it for the first time on a record sleeve. The recording was Bach’s violin concertos. One is the concerto for two violins and orchestra, of which the slow movement is particularly beautiful. The entanglement of the fingers of the Three Graces in Botticelli’s painting will forever be associated with the voices of the two violins in this slow movement. So a very subjective answer, yes. But it shows you how masterpieces can work their magic in a very personal way.
Las Meninas, Prado Museum, Madrid
The 1656 masterpiece by Diego Velasquez is one of the jewels in the Prado’s crown. The foreground figures include the daughter of Philip IV, the Infanta Maria Theresa and her two ladies-in-waiting (hence the title of the painting). But my favorite character is the beautiful dog in the foreground, who seems to tolerate the tortured foot of a court dwarf with great indulgence.
An Architectural Whim, National Gallery, London
Francesco Guardi was just a little less famous than his contemporary Canaletto and also painted views or vedutas of Venice. But it’s his small-format architectural fantasies, one of which An Architectural Caprice belongs to, that I love: the motifs, mostly ruins, are more fantastic, the painting style freer and the compositions more inventive. Here arches frame a sparsely populated inner courtyard. The effect is fantastic.
Windmill in Wijk bij Duurstede, Rijksmusem, Amsterdam
Among the greatest masters of the Dutch Golden Age, Jacob Isaackszoon van Ruisdael is best known for his cloud painting. The main theme of the windmill in Wijk bij Duurstede (around 1670) is a windmill on the Rhine in a town outside of Utrecht. It’s a moody, atmospheric painting, the small group of figures on the right, the boats on the river on the left, and the distant buildings in the middle, dwarfed by both the cylindrical shape of the windmill and the wonderful clouds above it.
Still life with a jar of olives, Louvre, Paris
Jean Simeon Chardin was a painter of the intimate, fleeting and inexpressible. His still lifes are small, silent masterpieces that cast a spell and reduce you to a similar silence. In the busy Louvre they are tiny oases and well worth a visit. Still Life with a Jar of Olives is characterized by its limited, muted palette and for Chardin’s handling of the soft curves of the fruit and the subtle modulations of light and dark, while the tall glass and its contents seem to emerge from the shadows.