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Madonna and Child (1370s) by Paolo di Giovanni Fei. Tempera on wood, gold ground. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Image source The Met (public domain)

Paintings of the Nursing Madonna presented artists with a unique problem. How do you show the Virgin Mary with a single bare breast for the Christ Child to suckle whilst maintaining her modesty?

Known as Madonna Lactans, devotional images of this kind grew in popularity during the late Middle-Ages as…

Venus and Cupid (1520s) by Lorenzo Lotto. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source The Met (open access)

This painting is brimming with symbolism. It shows Venus reclining on a rug of blue fabric in the setting of a bower, where the goddess of Love takes shade beneath a tree.

Next to her stands her son Cupid. He is recognisable by the wings on his back and the…

The Dance Class (1874) by Edgar Degas. Oil on canvas. 83.5 x 77.2 cm. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Image source The Met (open access)

Edgar Degas painted young ballet dancers with an almost obsessive curiosity. Nearly half of his oil paintings and pastel works depict ballerinas at the corps de ballet at the Paris Opéra.

Many of the works focus on the backstage preparations: teaching classes, rehearsal and dressing room scenes. A backstage friend…

Three-part structure and triangular compositions of ‘Assumption of the Virgin’ (1516–18) by Titian. Oil on canvas. Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice. Image source Wikimedia Commons (modified by the author)

Most artworks occupy dimensions in space. In the case of a painting, for example, the image has a certain height and width, and within those dimensions, a composition.

Composition is the way in which elements within an artwork are combined. …

The Abbey in the Oakwood (1809–10) by Caspar David Friedrich. Oil on canvas. 171 x 110.4cm. Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin. Image source Wikimedia Commons

It can take a few moments for your eyes to adjust to the crepuscular light of this intriguing painting. The lustrous band of yellow that billows across the canvas tends to draw the eye upwards, away from the mist and shadows of the lower section.

If you closely you’ll notice…

The Rape of Proserpina (1622) by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Marble. Galleria Borghese, Rome. Image source Wikimedia Commons

The story of Proserpine — or Proserpina in Latin — is told in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Proserpine is the daughter of the corn-goddess Ceres, who whilst out gathering flowers in the Vale of Nysa was seen by the powerful god Pluto, King of the Underworld.

According to Ovid, Pluto was struck…

Where the Mona Lisa should have hung, at the Salon Carré, Louvre Museum, after having been stolen in 1911. Image source Wikimedia Commons

On August 21 1911, the Mona Lisa painting vanished from the Louvre Museum in Paris.

Three men disguised as museum staff quietly slipped away with the painting stowed beneath a blanket. They had hidden in the museum overnight. And with the stolen painting freed from its frame and glass, they…

Christopher P Jones

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