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15 Facts About Famous Art

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1. Mona Lisa

While some claim that Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous painting is a self-portrait of the artist himself in drag, research has concluded it is likely a portrait of a woman named Lisa Gherardini, a member of a prominent Florentine family and wife of a wealthy silk merchant. Leonardo’s father allegedly knew Gherardini’s father very well, and the painting was possibly commissioned by him.

2.  The Last Supper

Da Vinci’s other most famous work—which can be seen in the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy—originally included Jesus’ feet. But in 1652, while installing a doorway in the refectory where the painting is on view, builders cut into the bottom-center of the mural, lopping off Jesus’ feet.

3. The Starry Night

The small town depicted in Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night is Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in the south of France. Van Gogh painted the work while he was a patient at the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole, a psychiatric hospital in Saint-Rémy. Presently, the hospital has a wing named after the painter.

4. Michelangelo’s David

The marble slab that was eventually turned into the sculpture of David by Michelangelo in 1504 was cut 43 years earlier for an artist named Agostino di Duccio, who planned to turn it into a statue of Hercules. Di Duccio abandoned his sculpture, which was originally to be installed in a Florentine cathedral, and the marble was unused for 10 years until another sculptor, named Antonio Rossellino, decided to work with it. Rossellino also abandoned his work because he found marble too difficult to sculpt, and eventually Michelangelo began work on his sculpture in 1501.

5. The Creation of Adam

Michelangelo painted the fresco ceiling of the Sistine Chapel—including the most famous panel called “The Creation of Adam,” which depicts God giving life to the first man—entirely standing up. The artist invented a series of scaffolds specially designed to attach to the chapel walls with brackets so he and his assistants could be close enough to the ceiling to reach above their heads to work and paint.

6. The Scream

There are technically five separate versions of Expressionist artist Edvard Munch’s most famous work, The Scream. The first two, from 1893 and created with tempera and crayon on cardboard, are located in the National Gallery in Oslo and the Munch Museum, respectively. A privately owned third version created in 1895 with pastels recently sold for nearly $120 million at auction. Yet another version from 1895 is a black and white lithograph. A final version, done in 1910 by Munch due to the popularity of the previous incarnations, is also held in the Munch Museum, and it made headlines in recent years for being stolen in 2004 and recovered in 2006.

7. Les Demoiselles d'Avignon

Picasso’s abstract depiction of five Barcelona prostitutes was deemed immoral when it debuted at the artist’s studio in 1907. Picasso created over 100 preliminary sketches and studies before setting his vision down on canvas, and in previous incarnations the figure at the far left was a man.

8. The Thinker

Though there are now dozens of casts of Auguste Rodin’s famous sculpture The Thinker around the world, it had a much smaller origin. Rodin originally created a 70cm version in 1880 as the central component to a bigger sculptural work called “The Gates of Hell.” Inspired by Dante’s Inferno, the piece—first called The Poet—was conceived as a representation of Dante himself. The re-dubbed sculpture was exhibited on its own in 1888, then was enlarged to the depiction we know it today in 1904.

9.  Girl with a Pearl Earring

Much like the Mona Lisa, the subject of Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring has been highly contested—but for the most likely candidate, Vermeer didn’t have to look far. The model for his painting is thought to be his daughter Maria.

10. American Gothic

Another famous painting with interesting models is Grant Wood’s American Gothic, which can be seen on view in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. To depict—for better or worse—the ideals of rural America, Wood wanted to use his mother, Hattie, as a model for his painting. Wood determined that standing for so long would be far too exhausting for his mother, so he had his sister wear his mother’s apron and pin while posing. For the male subject in the painting, Wood used his 62-year-old dentist.

11. Nighthawks

Another painting in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago is Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks. Hopper allegedly based the painting on a diner that was located in New York City’s Greenwich Village in an area where Greenwich Street meets 11th Street and 7th Avenue called Mulry Square. But he actually based the painting on an all-night coffee stand. “I simplified the scene a great deal and made the restaurant bigger,” he said. “Unconsciously, probably, I was painting the loneliness of a large city.”

12. The Persistence of Memory

Though the notoriously plucky artist Salvador Dali sought to never explain his own work, he has said that the idea for his iconic melting clocks came from chunks of Camembert cheese he observed melting in the sun—although he may have been joking.

13. Autumn Rhythm (Number 30)

Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock is known for his many drip paintings, all of which he created by placing the canvases horizontally on the floor of his backyard studio and carefully dripping layers of paint onto them. For Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), Pollock created the work using non-traditional items like sticks, trowels, and knives.

14. Broadway Boogie Woogie

Dutch artist Piet Mondrian moved to New York City in 1940, and would base his famous work Broadway Boogie Woogie on the iconic grid layout of the city’s streets.

15. Campbell’s Soup Cans

Rebecca O'Connell

Andy Warhol’s 1962 Pop Art depiction of a Campbell’s Soup can actually comes in a set of 32 silkscreened canvases, each representing the 32 separate soup varieties that the company sold at the time. Warhol never gave instructions on how to display them, so the Museum of Modern Art arranged them chronologically in the order in which the soups were introduced by the Campbell's.

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Watch a Chain of Dominos Climb a Flight of Stairs
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Dominos are made to fall down—it's what they do. But in the hands of 19-year-old professional domino artist Lily Hevesh, known as Hevesh5 on YouTube, the tiny plastic tiles can be arranged to fall up a flight of stairs in spectacular fashion.

The video spotted by Thrillist shows the chain reaction being set off at the top a staircase. The momentum travels to the bottom of the stairs and is then carried back up through a Rube Goldberg machine of balls, cups, dominos, and other toys spanning the steps. The contraption leads back up to the platform where it began, only to end with a basketball bouncing down the steps and toppling a wall of dominos below.

The domino art seems to flow effortlessly, but it took more than a few shots to get it right. The footage below shows the 32nd attempt at having all the elements come together in one, unbroken take. (You can catch the blooper at the end of an uncooperative basketball ruining a near-perfect run.)

Hevesh’s domino chains that don't appear to defy gravity are no less impressive. Check out this ambitious rainbow domino spiral that took her 25 hours to construct.

[h/t Thrillist]

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A Secret Room Full of Michelangelo's Sketches Will Soon Open in Florence
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Claudio Giovannini/AFP/Getty Images

Parents all over the world have chastised their children for drawing on the walls. But when you're Michelangelo, you've got some leeway. According to The Local, the Medici Chapels, part of the Bargello museum in Florence, Italy, has announced that it plans to open a largely unseen room full of the artist's sketches to the public by 2020.

Roughly 40 years ago, curators of the chapels at the Basilica di San Lorenzo had a very Dan Brown moment when they discovered a trap door in a wardrobe leading to an underground room that appeared to have works from Michelangelo covering its walls. The tiny retreat is thought to be a place where the artist hid out in 1530 after upsetting the Medicis—his patrons—by joining a revolt against their control of Florence. While in self-imposed exile for several months, he apparently spent his time drawing on whatever surfaces were available.

A drawing by Michelangelo under the Medici Chapels in Florence
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Museum officials previously believed the room and the charcoal drawings were too fragile to risk visitors, but have since had a change of heart, leading to their plan to renovate the building and create new attractions. While not all of the work is thought to be attributable to the famed artist, there's enough of it in the subterranean chamber—including drawings of Jesus and even recreations of portions of the Sistine Chapel—to make a trip worthwhile.

[h/t The Local]

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