The 10 Most Famous Works of Art and Where To Find Them

From Edvard Munch's The Scream to Van Gogh's Starry Night, here are the locations of the world's most famous artistic masterpieces.

The 10 Most Famous Works of Art and Where To Find Them

Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus (circa 1485/86), Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510), The Birth of Venus, c. 1485/86 | Photo via Wikimedia
Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510), The Birth of Venus, c. 1485/86 | Photo via Wikimedia

The revival of art during the Renaissance began in Italy, with Florence as an important center because of the patronage of the Medici banking family. Sandro Botticelli's works La Primavera ("The Spring") and The Birth of Venus symbolized the new flourishing of thought that arose during the humanistic era and the stability of Florence.

Both paintings were commissioned by Lorenzo de 'Medici for his recently acquired country estate Villa di Castello in Florence. Since their completion and suspension, they have never been separated: until 1815, Venus and La Primavera remained in the villa, when they both moved to the Uffizi.

Michelangelo Buonarroti, David (1501-04), Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence

Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564), David, 1501-04 | Photo: Jörg Bittner Unna via Wikimedia
Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564), David, 1501-04 | Photo: Jörg Bittner Unna via Wikimedia

With his marble David, Michelangelo Buonarroti created the first monumental statue of the High Renaissance. The contract was commissioned by the Florentine wool weavers guild, the Arte Della Lana. Master sculptor Michelangelo, in the truest sense of the word, shaped David out of a single large block of marble from nearby Carrara.

Michelangelo portrayed the nude 17-foot-tall David in a relaxed contrapposto, a posture of statues with a standing and bent leg, which was widely used in classical antiquity, but only revived again during the Renaissance.

Michelangelo's David was erected in 1504 on the square in front of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. Due to weathering of the statue, David was transferred indoors to the Galleria dell'Accademia in 1873.

Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa (1503-06), Musée du Louvre, Paris

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Mona Lisa, 1503-06 | Photo via Wikimedia
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Mona Lisa, 1503-06 | Photo via Wikimedia

The most famous work of art is undoubtedly the Mona Lisa, painted by Leonardo da Vinci at the beginning of the 16th century. It is still not completely clear who the woman behind the mysterious smile is, but the sitter is most often identified as Lisa del Giocondo, the wife of a Florentine silk merchant.

Leonardo kept the Mona Lisa in his possession for over 10 years and took it to France when King Francis I in 1516 hired him at his court. Only shortly before his death did he sell the portrait to his royal patron. Until the French Revolution, the Mona Lisa was part of the art collection of the Kings of France until it was finally issued in 1797 to the Louvre.

Michelangelo Buonarroti, The Creation of Adam (1508-12), Sistine Chapel, Vatican

Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564), The Creation of Adam, 1508-12 | Photo via Wikimedia
Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564), The Creation of Adam, 1508-12 | Photo via Wikimedia

The second most famous work by Michelangelo is The Creation of Adam, which is part of the ceiling paintings of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. Depicted is a figuratively portrayed God giving life through his finger to the still powerless Adam, the gift of life to humanity.

Michelangelo was commissioned by Pope Julius II to design the chapel ceiling. The builder of the chapel, Pope Sixtus IV, had commissioned the wall decoration by the most important painters of the Renaissance, including Sandro Botticelli and Domenico Ghirlandaio.

And of course, The Creation of Adam is still at the place of its creation.

Diego Velázquez, Las Meninas (1656), Museo del Prado, Madrid

Diego Velázquez (1599-1660), Las Meninas, 1656 | Photo via Wikimedia
Diego Velázquez (1599-1660), Las Meninas, 1656 | Photo via Wikimedia

From 1623 until his death in 1660, Baroque artist Diego Velázquez was court painter under King Philip IV. He painted the king and his family as well as numerous courtiers and members of the Spanish nobility. His most famous work as a court painter is Las Meninas ("The Maid of Honor") from 1656, which shows the Infanta Margarita, daughter of Philip IV, surrounded by her court ladies. Velázquez also immortalized himself in the painting.

After its completion, the painting hung in the Real Alcázar de Madrid, the royal residence in Madrid, until it burned down in 1734 and was replaced by the present palace building. Las Meninas survived the fire with minor damage, but was renamed The Family of Philip IV. Since the founding of the Museo del Prado in 1819, Velázquez's masterpiece has been exhibited there except for when it was taken to Geneva during the Spanish Civil War.

Jan Vermeer, The Girl with the Pearl Earring (1665), Mauritshuis, The Hague

Jan Vermeer (1632-1675), The Girl with the Pearl Earring, 1665 | Photo via Wikimedia
Jan Vermeer (1632-1675), The Girl with the Pearl Earring, 1665 | Photo via Wikimedia

The Girl with the Pearl Earring by the Dutch Baroque painter Jan Vermeer is the star of the collection of the Mauritshuis in The Hague. The iconic 17th century work is best known for the subtle coloring against the dark background, the girl's captivating gaze and the large pearl shimmering from her ear.

The subject was probably one of Vermeer's seven daughters. In 1881, the painting, which was then called The Girl with the Turban, was auctioned in The Hague by the great art collector Arnoldus Andries of Tombe for two guilders (about $30 today.) Tombe gave it to the Mauritshuis in 1902.

Vincent van Gogh, Starry Night (1889), Museum of Modern Art, New York City

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), Starry Night, 1889 | Photo via Wikimedia
Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), Starry Night, 1889 | Photo via Wikimedia

In June 1889, Vincent van Gogh painted his famous Starry Night. He was then in a mental hospital in Saint-Rémy -de-Provence, in which he had admitted himself after a nervous breakdown. The perspective of the painting corresponds to the view from van Gogh's room window. The mixture of the painting's swirling lines and calm blue tones reflects the insecurity and inner turmoil which van Gogh suffered at that time.

Vincent van Gogh then gave the painting to his brother, Theo, an art dealer in Paris. After the two brothers died in quick succession, the work became part of collections in Paris and Rotterdam before coming to New York, where it has been at MoMA since 1941.

Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907), Museum of Modern Art, New York City

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, 1907 | Photo via MoMA
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, 1907 | Photo via MoMA

Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon from 1907 is also exhibited in the New York's Museum of Modern Art, where it has been since 1939. Before that it belonged to the French art collector Jacques Doucet, who bought it from Picasso in 1924.

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon is a key work on the cusp of Cubism, inspired by African folk art. It was exhibited in Paris at the turn of the century to mixed opinions: some deemed it immoral, while others envisioned its contribution to modern art.

Gustav Klimt, The Kiss (1908), Austrian Gallery Belvedere, Vienna

Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), The Kiss, 1908 | Photo via Wikimedia
Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), The Kiss, 1908 | Photo via Wikimedia

In the midst of his golden phase, Gustav Klimt completed one of the most striking paintings of the Art Nouveau: The Kiss. Klimt exhibited it in the year of its creation at the Kunstschau Wien, where it was acquired by the Ministry of Culture and Education and brought to the recently founded Neue Galerie in the Upper Belvedere, the former residence of the general Prince Eugene of Savoy.

In The Kiss, Klimt glorified sensual love and highlights it through the golden background as something infinitely precious. But even if it is a general account of the nature of love, many see the painter himself and his partner Emilie Flöge as the depicted lovers.

Edvard Munch, The Scream (1893/1910), Norwegian National Gallery, Oslo / Munch Museum, Oslo

Edvard Munch (1863-1944), The Scream Left: First Version of 1893, Norwegian National Gallery, Oslo || Right: Tempera version of 1910, Munch Museum, Oslo | Photos via Wikipedia
Edvard Munch (1863-1944), The Scream Left: First Version of 1893, Norwegian National Gallery, Oslo || Right: Tempera version of 1910, Munch Museum, Oslo | Photos via Wikipedia

The Scream by the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch is often considered a prelude to Expressionism. In the now world-famous painting, Munch processed an anxiety attack that had plagued him during an evening stroll.

Several versions of The Scream exist. The first Munch painted in 1893 in oil, tempera and pastel. It was donated in 1910 to the Norwegian National Gallery by the art collector Olaf Schou. Another 1983 version is located in the Munch Museum in Oslo, as well as the tempera version of 1910. A 1895 version in pastel is privately owned by American billionaire Leon Black.

Perhaps apart from its material value, the value of Munch's The Scream can be measured by the fact that two of the four versions have been stolen (and retrieved) twice from the National Gallery and the Munch Museum.

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