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March 17, 2022

What Are the 10 Most Famous Paintings of All Time

People have been admiring artwork since the dawn of time. Early works were generally on wooden panels or produced as alter pieces and seen to be enjoyed by the upper classes and aristocracy.

It was in the 16th century during the Italian Renaissance that materials such as canvas became widely used.

So what are the most famous paintings to date…

The Mona Lisa

The Mona Lisa is undeniably the most famous painting in the world. Even among those who typically don’t consider themselves art lovers, but the mere mention of the Mona Lisa will always elicit a response.

Historians believe the Mona Lisa was painted between 1509 and 1513 by Leonardo da Vinci. The oil on wood artwork is currently housed in the Louvre.

The painting gained notoriety in 1911 when an ex-Louvre employee stole and hid the piece. Since then, the portrait has continued to gain popularity. 

This is primarily because of the mystery — and to an extent, the conspiracy — surrounding her. 

The primary conspiracy surrounds the subject of the artwork, as many wonder if it truly depicts Lisa Gherardini, who was the wife of Francesco del Giocondo, a Florence merchant. 

A Starry Night

This oil on wood painting was painted by Vincent Van Gogh in June 1889. This is another world-famous piece and one of Van Gogh’s most well-known works. The painting supposedly depicts the view from the east-facing window of the  Saint-Rémy-de-Provence asylum where Van Gogh was held after cutting off his ear. 

However, unlike the Mona Lisa, the art piece isn’t known for its backstory but is universally thought to be a masterpiece.

The Scream

The Scream was painted by Edvard Munch in 1893. The Scream is part of two paintings, one of which sold in 2012 for nearly £74 million in.

But, much like the Mona Lisa, the Scream became widely recognised  because of its theft. 

The theft took place in 1994 when it was stolen from a museum in Oslo, Norway.  The thief gained mass coverage because of the ransom demands, the notes left by the thieves, and the surprising 12 second-long theft.

It was stolen again in 2004, which only cemented the painting’s notoriety.

Girl With A Pearl Earring

Johannes Vermeer’s most famous painting is the Girl With a Pearl Earring.

The oil on canvas was painted when canvas was becoming popular in the mid-17th century.

Currently located at The Hague in the Netherlands, this painting is often compared to the Mona Lisa. However, not only are the paintings stylistically different, the Girl in the Pearl Earring is not a portrait. Instead, it’s a tronie. A “tronie” is a Dutch word describing a painting that is depicting an idealised version of a person with exaggerated features.

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Birth of Venus

Sandro Botticelli painted this famous painting in 1485, making this one of the oldest paintings to make the list of the most famous paintings of all time. 

Given the age of this painting, little proof exists surrounding the back story of the artwork, but it is believed to have been commissioned by the Medici family. 

The artwork was a departure from the work of his contemporaries. The first deviation Botticelli made was he painted on canvas instead of the most popular medium of the time — wood.

Botticelli Birth of Venus also depicts nudity which was not popular at that time. 

The Last Supper

Leonardo da Vinci has plenty of renowned artwork that has become synonymous with the Italian Renaissance and yet The Last Supper stands out among them. Painted between 1494 to 1498, the painting is unique because it wasn’t painted on canvas but rather a larger than life-sized fresco that is 4 metres tall and 8.8 metres wide.

You can find “The Last Supper” at its original location at the Santa Maria Delle Grazie convent in Milan, Italy, and it is well worth a visit.

Guernica

A list of famous paintings would not be complete without a work by Pablo Picasso. While Picasso is well known — many of those who aren’t art lovers cannot name one of his paintings. Picasso is generally known more for his unique art style, which is on full display in the Guernica. 

Painted in 1937, the painting is currently viewable at the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid.

The painting depicts the terrible aerial bombing of the town of Guernica in the Basque region during the Spanish Civil War.

During World War II, the work of art was moved to the Museum of Modern Art for safekeeping.

Las Meninas

Painted by Diego Velázquez in 1656 and can be viewed at the Museo del Prado in Madrid, making Madrid home to two of the ten most popular paintings in the world.

The painting is the ultimate portrait. Not only depicting Spanish royalty at that time but is also a self-portrait of Velazquez as he paints.

Given the uniqueness of the portrait, it is unsurprising Las Meninas has become Velázquez’s most popular painting.

The Kiss

Painted between 1907 and 1908, this painting by Gustav Klimt shows off the Byzantine artistic influences of the time with decorative robes worn by the passionate couple.

The painting depicts love at the centre of human existence and  is painted on canvas with gold leaf attached.

You can view the original at the Upper Belvedere Museum in Vienna, Austria

The Persistence of Memory

Classic surrealism is on display in this artwork by Salvador Dali in 1931. The painting displays limp watches, painted with precision. 

While not as popular as other paintings on this list, the painting by Dali has grown a following for its bleak but infinite dreamscape. It is held in the collection of the museum of modern art in New York.

Although this is a list of the most famous paintings to date, there may be others worthy of inclusion. 

Two such paintings are The Creation of Adam and the Night Watch. The Night watch should perhaps be part of the list for its pure size alone, it measures a massive 3.4 x 4.4 mtrs (13 x 15ft) and can be viewed at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.