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Series: The Private Life of a Masterpiece
Adoration in the Forest
Painted over five centuries ago, Filippo Lippi's nativity is like none other: it shows the birth of Christ in a dark, wooded wilderness. There are no shepherds, kings, ox, ass – there is no Joseph. Its beauty inspired Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli. But it also conceals a deeply personal story. It was painted for Cosimo de Medici, a wealthy banker who feared that his money was dragging him straight to hell. The artist's life was equally surprising. One of the most celebrated painters of his day, Filippo Lippi was also a Carmelite friar, but he was no stranger to the temptations of the flesh, to which he frequently yielded. Shortly before painting his Adoration, he caused uproar by seducing a twenty year-old nun. His paintings rejoice not only in divine beauty, but in the beauty of women. In later times, the Adoration's history was interwoven with that of rulers and dictators. It became a bargaining chip after Napoleon's allies seized twenty merchant ships. And in the 20th century, it was hidden by the Nazis in a potassium mine, where specialist american officers, known as Monuments Men, stumbled upon it. they were now told to get it ready to be shipped out. In an unprecedented turn of events they refused. This is the only known case in the whole of the Second World War of American officers refusing an order. It was sent to the National Gallery of Art, but in 1949 Lippi's Adoration was returned to Germany.
Christ of St John of the Cross by Salvador Dali
Salvador Dali's strange crucifixion is often called the greatest religious painting of the 20th century. Yet its artist was a notorious blasphemer some of whose work had outraged the Catholic Church. The Christ of St John of the Cross by Salvador Dali is the first of two extraordinary crucifixions painted by Dali in the early 1950s. The painting is based on a 'cosmic dream' Dali is said to have had, in which the nucleus of the atom was a figure of Christ himself.
The painting offers a surrealist view of the crucifixion of Christ, and is based on a drawing by the 16th century Spanish friar Saint John of the Cross. But Dali's vision was somewhat unique, using an unusual artistic perspective in which Christ is seen from above. His Christ of St. John of The Cross was inspired by a weird mix of Spanish mysticism and nuclear physics, with his Christ being modelled by a Hollywood stuntman. It's also a masterpiece of painting technique.
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte
This award-winning series, Private Life of a Masterpiece, reveals the full and fascinating stories behind famous works of art, not just how they came to be created, but also how they influenced others and came to have a life of their own in the modern world. The works of art featured here are both instantly familiar and profoundly mysterious. Revolutionary in their conception, and iconic years after their execution, they each have their own compelling stories. For behind the beautiful canvases and sculptures are tales of political revolution, wartime escapes, massive ego clashes, social scandal, financial wrangling and shocking violence. In this fascinating series key works of art are investigated and the intricate details of their lives revealed - the history, contemporary reactions, and legacies of each are illustrated.
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte is a popular masterpiece and yet an enduring enigma. It seems to show a quiet scene in a Paris park but there are hints at the demi-monde, if you know where to look. The most remarkable aspect of this vast canvas however remains Seurat's technique his revolutionary pointillism.
The Third of May 1808
Arguably the most powerful painting about war ever achieved. It portrays the slaughter of civilians after Napoleonic troops entered Madrid in 1808. The programme reveals the historical truths behind the painting and shows exactly how Goya achieved this masterpiece of protest. he painting's content, presentation, and emotional force secure its status as a groundbreaking, archetypal image of the horrors of war. Although it draws on many sources from both high and popular art, The Third of May 1808 marks a clear break from convention. Diverging from the traditions of Christian art and traditional depictions of war, it has no distinct precedent, and is acknowledged as one of the first paintings of the modern era.
According to the art historian Kenneth Clark, The Third of May 1808 is 'the first great picture which can be called revolutionary in every sense of the word, in style, in subject, and in intention'. Discover how Goya used drawings by authentic witnesses to depict a real firing squad.
Liberty Leading the People
Artists, academics, and critics discuss the historical origins, original reception, and slow climb to critical acclaim for Eugene Delacroix's painting commemorating the Revolution of 1830, 'Liberty Leading the People.'
A woman of the people with a phrygian cap personifying the concept of Liberty leads the people forward over a barricade and the bodies of the fallen, holding the flag of the French Revolution – the tricolour, which again became France's national flag after these events – in one hand and brandishing a bayonetted musket with the other. The figure of Liberty is also viewed as a symbol of France and the French Republic known as Marianne.
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