One of the most important pieces of art in the Western canon is “The Beheading of St. John the Baptist” by Caravaggio. It shows us the depths of cruelty and violence that humanity is capable of, even against a holy man.
This painting was so large (almost four meters high, more than five meters across) that, despite all the empty space, the human figures were nearly life-sized. The scale of this piece is one of the most memorable parts of this painting, but so too is the woman clearly reacting in horror to the gruesome scene about to play out before her.
A Heavenly Departure
One of Rembrandt’s lesser-known paintings, “The Archangel Raphael Leaving Tobias’s Family,” is still an evocative piece. The family of Tobias has just found out that the traveler they met on the road was one of the archangels of Heaven, Raphael, and are reacting in shock, awe, and wonder.
Tobit, Tobias’s father, stays bowed, head pointed at the ground. His wife Anna averts her gaze from the glow while Tobias himself and his wife Sarah watch the angel depart in uncontained awe. You can see the small signature, as well as the year it was painted, in the lower left corner.
Captain Cook’s Secret
The theatrical scenery of William Hodges, who lived from 1744 to 1797, is second to none. He was the official artist of Captain Cook’s second voyage to the Pacific from 1772 to 1774. The painting pictured here, “View in Pickersgill Harbour, Dusky Bay, New Zealand,” is a bright and stirring scene of exploring a wilderness, but it hides something even more wild.
Underneath the remarkable painting might be an even more remarkable scene – Antarctica. Cook’s journey took them near the great icy continent, and it seems that Hodges had painted a rough scene of mounds of ice before painting over it. It’s like something from an H.P. Lovecraft story.
A Big Earner
Once you know that the name of this painting is “Salvator Mundi,” you can probably figure out who it is depicting. Yes, it’s Jesus Christ himself, painted in an anachronistic blue robe, making the sign of the cross with his right hand and holding a clear crystal sphere, symbolizing the heavenly sphere, in his left.
It’s our old friend Leonardo Da Vinci who created this sight. The important part is the crystal sphere, which should be reflecting something but isn’t. The small specks inside the crystal may be something that was painted over, or they may represent heavenly bodies or something of a kind.
The stories of classical myth are many, and we see here the climax of one of the most famous: Perseus facing off against the monstrous Medusa. She could turn men to stone with nothing but her gaze, but Perseus got the better of her.
Cellini devised this memorable statue, which stands more than ten feet tall, and you can even see Cellini if you look closely. At the back of Perseus’s helmet, that is. In addition, this sculpture is thought to be the first since the classical age to use a segment of the base as part of the work itself: Medusa’s fallen body.