Artsy Editorial

The Stories behind 10 of Art History’s Most Iconic Works

Art
Diego Velázquez’s “Las Meninas”
Scholars have been analyzing “Las Meninas” by Diego Velázquez for more than 300 years, and they still haven’t settled on its meaning.
Casey Lesser
Mar 23, 2018
Art
Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s “The Swing”
Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s flirtatious “The Swing” offers a peek inside an illicit garden of earthly delights.
Alina Cohen
Sep 09, 2019
Art
Francisco de Goya’s “Third of May”
Spanish artist Francisco de Goya’s searing history painting, “Third of May,” broke the rules of art to show that war has no heroes, only horror.
Jackson Arn
May 02, 2019
Art
Hieronymous Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights”
Few artworks sum up the wild ecstasy and weirdness of lust better than Hieronymus Bosch’s famed triptych “Garden of Earthly Delights.”
Alexxa Gotthardt
Oct 18, 2019
Art
Jan van Eyck’s “Arnolfini Portrait”
From questions of pregnancy to perspectival accuracy, misinterpretations have proliferated and evolved since Jan van Eyck’s “Arnolfini Portrait” appeared in a museum in 1842.
Sarah Dotson
Jan 03, 2020
Art
Édouard Manet’s “Le déjeuner sur l’herbe”
At the 1863 Salon des Refusés, Édouard Manet debuted “Le déjeuner sur l’herbe,” his most groundbreaking—and enigmatic—work.
Alina Cohen
Mar 21, 2019
Art
Thomas Eakins’s “The Gross Clinic”
Thomas Eakins’s “The Gross Clinic” both reveals and conceals its subject matter, functioning as a brutal record and an homage to science.
Alina Cohen
Nov 23, 2019
Art
Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica”
While numerous works by Pablo Picasso have been crowned masterpieces, “Guernica” stands alone in the artist’s prolific oeuvre. But why?
Casey Lesser
Jun 12, 2017
Art
Titian’s “Venus of Urbino”
When Titian finished “Venus of Urbino,” he created a work that contained what would become one of the most identifiable tropes in art history: the reclining nude.
Sarah Dotson
Aug 27, 2020
Art
Salvador Dalí’s “The Persistence of Memory”
“The Persistence of Memory” by Salvador Dalí is one of the rare works of art that can be conjured with the mention of two simple words: melting clocks.
Sarah Dotson
Aug 04, 2020
About the Series

Throughout art history, certain works have risen to the top of our collective understanding of what makes a masterpiece. These works become icons, remaining in the cultural consciousness for years after they were first unveiled. From artists who reimagined what art could look like to paintings that introduced tropes that would be revisited for centuries to come, these 10 works make remarkable statements about the societies in which they were produced and the generations of art that followed.

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Jenna Gribbon, Luncheon on the grass, a recurring dream, 2020. Jenna Gribbon, April studio, parting glance, 2021. Jenna Gribbon, Silver Tongue, 2019