How deep was this touchstone moment in art history buried? Not very deep at all — French teen Marcel Ravidat found it when he fell into a hole on a walk with his dog. Inside, he discovered some six thousand Paleolithic images depicting animals, enigmatic symbols…and a single human form.
Scientists and historians have placed the origin of the paintings within a two millennia time frame, from 15,000 to 17,000 B.C. It took mixtures of simple pigments and charcoal to create the designs, which somehow lasted that incredible length of time without being disturbed. The best thing they can come up with for the purpose of it is ceremonial rites.
“The Ambassadors” by Hans Holbein the Younger
In the year 1533, Hans Holbein the Younger was the most in-demand portrait painter around. He spent a great deal of his time in the court of Henry the VIII, and this painting shows two figures from that same court: Jean de Dinteville, the French ambassador to England, and George de Selve, the English ambassador to the Holy Roman emperor and the pope.
There are numerous allegorical additions, as well as a stretched, squashed item in the lower half — a human skull the viewer must stand at the proper place to see. Supposedly a lesson on mortality and viewing things from different perspectives.
“At the Moulin Rouge” by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
After denying his privilege in favor of the working class and the nightlife, Toulouse-Lautrec started painting. The man suffered from a rare genetic disorder that affected his growth and bone development and reached a full height of a mere four-foot-eight. He took to drinking as he endured taunts.
“At the Moulin Rouge” created a world of ease and joy for the painter, with dancers, singers, and even himself. The diminutive figure in the background is our dear Henri, accompanied by his cousin, Gabriel Tapié de Céleyran. Painted over three years at the end of the nineteenth century, the painting is taller than the painter.
“The Son of Man” by René Magritte
There are some paintings that don't really make a lot of sense when you take your first look at them, and “The Son of Man” is a classic example. It's a self-portrait with an apple, a common theme in his paintings, obscuring his face. The Son of Man is one of the many names that follow Jesus Christ during his time on Earth.
While the full meaning of the painting is uncertain — not unexpected coming from Magritte — it has been called a surrealist interpretation of the transfiguration of Jesus. This famous apple inspired the Beatles to start their recording company Apple Corps, and by extension, inspired Steve Jobs to name his tech company Apple.
“Barge Haulers on the Volga” by Ilya Repin
A condemnation of profit from inhuman labor, “Barge Haulers on the Volga”, shows us defeated men who are trudging as they haul a barge. The single young man, who wears bright colors, fights against his bonds in an effort to free himself from the deplorable conditions.
Repin came up with the idea for the painting during his travels in Russia, depicting real people that he encountered. International praise came quickly when Repin released the painting in 1873 since it showed such a realistic and shocking portrayal of the hardships of working men and women.