About Nikki Georgopulos

After interning in the merchandising department at Gallery Direct and developing a reputation as the token art history nerd in the office, Nikki took off for a post-bac program in the hills of Umbria in Italy, and is happy to call herself GD's first Overseas Correspondent. Bitten by the travel bug at an early age, nothing makes her happier than exploring new museums or reading old art history textbooks while curled up with her cat, Zeppelin, her basset hound, Diesel, and her main squeeze, James.
It has long been said that art feeds the soul as well as the mind, and now it seems the Duchess of Cambridge would agree. The Mirror reported yesterday that the Princess, Kate Middleton hosted a charity reception at London's National Portrait Gallery, one of the city's most esteemed art institutions, to celebrate the power of art in the lives of children. Natalie Evans reports:
 "Kate will honour the work of one of her chosen charities, The Art Room, which uses painting and drawing to build the self-esteem, self-confidence and independence of young people. The event will also celebrate the launch of the Pledge for the Future appeal, the charity's new fundraising initiative, and its 11th anniversary. The organisation maintains a dedicated art room in a number of secondary and primary schools in Oxford - running sessions from one to four days a week - and works with more than 20 other schools."
Art therapy, developed as early as the 1940s, promotes self-expression through a multitude of media, such as painting, drawing, sculpture, and music, in order to encourage communication and creativity.The Art Room, the charity endorsed by Middleton, works primarily with 5-16 year olds in order to work through emotional difficulties as well as build up a sense of accomplishment and self-worth. Whether by creating yourself or by admiring the work of others, art certainly has a way of transforming our experience. In what ways has art been therapeutic in your life?
children painting art
[caption id="attachment_3738" align="aligncenter" width="528"]children painting canvas art Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons[/caption] Follow me on Google+

Impressions of Motherhood

Follow As I am absolutely certain you’ve all remembered, Mother’s Day is fast approaching. And I bet you’ve already picked out the perfect gift for the occasion, and it’s sitting all wrapped up and ready to go. But on the … Read More

As I am absolutely certain you've all remembered, Mother's Day is fast approaching. And I bet you've already picked out the perfect gift for the occasion, and it's sitting all wrapped up and ready to go. But on the off-chance that you haven't yet found something special for your wonderful mother, Gallery Direct's got your back. We've got a few ideas for you for how to best commemorate a lifetime of love and devotion, so be sure to check back soon for some great DIY tips and other exciting ways to celebrate your mama. In addition to beautiful meadows, gardens, and seascapes, motherhood and family portraits were among the subjects and themes favored by the Impressionists. Gallery Direct's own image vault has a great collection of motherhood paintings from the period, particularly from Pierre-Auguste Renoir, who is famed for his beautiful, cherubesque female figures.
renoir gabrielle children
[caption id="attachment_3707" align="aligncenter" width="300"]renoir gabrielle with children painting Pierre-Auguste Renoir, "Gabrielle with Renoir's Children"[/caption] Renoir's use of soft brushstrokes, warm colors, and round, rosy cheeks that are so characteristic of his depictions of families, particularly of images of motherhood, are sentimental and sweet. He manages to capture the strong bonds and closeness that naturally occurs between a mother and her children with such ease, perhaps because he often used people he knew as subjects, such as the family of his contemporary painter Claude Monet in Camille Monet and her Son Jean in the Garden at Argenteuil. [caption id="attachment_3708" align="aligncenter" width="300"]renoir monet jean garden argenteuil painting Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Camille Monet and Her Son Jean in the Garden at Argenteuil[/caption] Berthe Morisot, one of the few women who were consecrated into the Impressionists' circle of artists, was also known for her beautiful portraits of mothers and children. As a woman with children of her own, her images of familial life give us a unique look into what it meant to be a mother in nineteenth-century Paris. [caption id="attachment_3714" align="aligncenter" width="300"]morisot in a park painting Berthe Morisot, In a Park[/caption] What's your favorite painting of motherhood? Maybe Whistler's Mother, or Monet's painting of his own family? Or perhaps Paul Gauguin's Maternity, a beautiful depiction of Tahitian women and children, or van Gogh's The Man is at Sea. Personally, I think Edgar Degas's The Conversation best captures the intimacy of the relationship between a growing girl and her mother. [caption id="attachment_3716" align="aligncenter" width="300"]degas the conversation painting Edgar Degas, The Conversation (Mother and Daughter)[/caption] No matter your preference, these paintings are all great images through which to contemplate the role of motherhood in your own life. If you're still searching for the perfect gifts for the mothers in your life, consider a print on canvas, or framed on paper.

Acquiring Cubists

Follow The big news item in the art world last week was the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s announcement on Tuesday that philanthropist Leonard A. Lauder will be giving his highly esteemed collection of Cubist paintings, drawings, and sculptures to the … Read More

The big news item in the art world last week was the Metropolitan Museum of Art's announcement on Tuesday that philanthropist Leonard A. Lauder will be giving his highly esteemed collection of Cubist paintings, drawings, and sculptures to the prestigious New York City museum. The gift - clocking in at almost 80 pieces worth over a billion dollars - is the biggest in the museum's history. Lauder, a longtime collector and patron of the New York art world (he has been an active trustee, president, and chairman of the Whitney Museum of American Art, just to name one example), told the New York Times that from the very beginning, he envisioned it as a museum-quality collection. By all accounts, he has certainly met his goal; his collection, which he began assembling in 1976 and is still growing today, is considered to be one of the best and most important private collections of the early 20th-century movement. We here at Gallery Direct are happy to announce an acquisition of our own. Much like the Met, we too have recently added a considerable number of Cubist masterpieces to our holdings, and we are thrilled to be able to bring them to you. I remember when I was in college, a professor asked our class a rhetorical question. Wanting to make a point about how the Cubists created a whole new aesthetic in the world of art, he asked how many of us had a piece of Cubist art on our walls at home. He did not expect anyone to respond in the affirmative. His intention was to illustrate how Cubist art did not adhere to traditional notions of beauty, and was thus less likely to adorn someone's walls than, say, a landscape by Monet. But I surprised him by raising my hand - I just happened to have a print of one of my favorite Picassos above my desk at the time - but his point was well taken. One does not typically think of having a Picasso or a Braque above the fireplace - but why not? The best rule of thumb for picking art is to go with what you love, and I loved sitting down at my desk every day and being confronted with a piece of art that was challenging and thought-provoking. That's why Gallery Direct is dedicated to breaking down the barriers between fine art and everyday decor. Why shouldn't you have a museum-quality image in your home? No good reason, as far as I'm concerned. Our recent acquisitions most heavily feature the work of two artists in particular, Juan Gris and Franz Marc. Gris developed his own, unique take on Cubism, often harmonizing colors rather than using monotones, and is particularly well known for his works in collage. His work also demonstrates the popular Cubist motif of incorporating typography and painted typeface into his work, thereby inserting a sort of identifiable referent in what might otherwise be an "unreadable" painting. [caption id="attachment_3666" align="aligncenter" width="222"] Juan Gris, Bottle and Fruit Bowl[/caption] [caption id="attachment_3665" align="aligncenter" width="205"] Juan Gris, Fruit Dish, Glass, and Newspaper[/caption] Marc, heavily influenced by the concomitant German Expressionist movement, had a proclivity for choosing natural subjects and depicting them in an abstract manner. His use of bright, bold colors was motivated by a desire to infuse his work with emotional weight and meaning. [caption id="attachment_3667" align="aligncenter" width="247"] Franz Marc, Colorful Flowers (Abstract Forms)[/caption] [caption id="attachment_3668" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Franz Marc, The Mandrill[/caption] So, what are your thoughts on Cubism? Check out Gallery Direct's new collection and let us know what you think!
There are so many holidays celebrating the things that are near and dear to our hearts: Earth Day, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day (don't forget - that's coming up!), etc. Last year, in honor of Leonardo da Vinci's birthday, April 15th, the International Association of Art (IAA) declared today World Art Day. And why not? Art is something that has the power to bring people from all over the globe together , and is the pinnacle of our collective heritage as the human race. Though it's still in its infancy, World Art Day is a great opportunity to take a moment to consider how art has impacted your life as well as the way you take in the world around you. The IAA, upon its consecration of World Art Day, stated that the primary purpose of the celebration is to spread "art awareness throughout the globe." You don't have to be an artist or an art historian to recognize the significance of artistic creation as an expression of our humanity. So join the conversation! What artist has meant the most to you in your life? Have you ever encountered a painting or sculpture that made you stop dead in your tracks? If you could pick any work of art to hang in your house, what would it be? We want to know! Gallery Direct wishes you a happy World Art Day, and happy birthday to the man of the hour (or rather, the millennium), Leonardo da Vinci.
vitruvian man birthday

Happy Birthday, Maria Sibylla Merian!

Follow Today, Google commemorated what would have been Maria Sibylla Merian’s 366th birthday with a Google Doodle. Merian, a seventeenth-century naturalist and artist, has been credited with making important contributions to the fields of botany and entomology. Born in Frankfurt in 1647, … Read More

Today, Google commemorated what would have been Maria Sibylla Merian's 366th birthday with a Google Doodle. Merian, a seventeenth-century naturalist and artist, has been credited with making important contributions to the fields of botany and entomology.

Born in Frankfurt in 1647, Merian, the daughter of an engraver, was one of the few women of her time to be so deeply involved and successful in a scientific profession. In addition to being a pioneer in her field, she also broke new ground when she undertook a dangerous research expedition to South America with her daughter without a male companion, which was practically inconceivable at the time. Her talent as an illustrator is matched only by her insight into the world of insects and plant life, as evidenced by the hundreds of plates and drawings of the nature and its inhabitants that she produced.

Between the years 1675 and 1680, Merian published her first book, The New Book of Flowers, in three volumes. The illustrations, such as the one above, are considered to be landmarks in the development of botanical printing and illustration.

Merian also undertook a serious study of the development of caterpillars, and in 1679, published The Caterpillars' Marvelous Transformation and Strange Floral Food. One of the first naturalists to observe insects directly in nature, her work on caterpillars is considered to be a major advance in entomology.

Many of her botanical prints, such as Two Simple Narcissicontain glimpses of her interest in caterpillars and butterflies, demonstrating how she combined her two passions in her work. Merian was both an insightful scientific mind and an incredibly proficient artist. It is rare indeed that someone is endowed with one of these remarkable talents; that she possessed both is extraordinary. By capturing every detail of a flower or an insect, Merian became known for her ability to both truthfully represent a subject in a scientific way and produce a beautiful piece of art. This is wonderfully exemplified in prints such as Dutch Rose.

We here at Gallery Direct are proud to print a handful of Merian prints for your home or office. Whether you're looking for roses that will never lose their bloom or a simple hyacinth, Merian's illustrations are not only beautiful, but also represent an important art historical moment - the meeting of science and aesthetics.

Art, Missing in Action

Follow In my last blog post, I revealed that one of my more eccentric interests is art-related crimes. As such, last week I was bombarded with news about the 1990 theft from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts. … Read More

In my last blog post, I revealed that one of my more eccentric interests is art-related crimes. As such, last week I was bombarded with news about the 1990 theft from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts. Last Monday marked the 23rd anniversary of the heist, which lasted approximately 81 minutes in the early hours of March 18th, 1990 in the wake of Saint Patrick's Day revelry. It is the single largest peacetime property theft in history, with the spoils valued at about $500 million. [caption id="attachment_3544" align="aligncenter" width="400"] The empty frames of works taken from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990. Photo courtesy of artnews.com.[/caption] Last Monday, the aforementioned anniversary, the FBI, who has valiantly headed up the investigation since 1990, put out a press release claiming that they have identified the thieves that have eluded them for all of these years. According to Richard DesLauriers, the special agent in charge at the FBI's Boston office, “The FBI believes with a high degree of confidence in the years after the theft the art was transported to Connecticut and the Philadelphia region and some of the art was taken to Philadelphia where it was offered for sale by those responsible for the theft. With that confidence, we have identified the thieves, who are members of a criminal organization with a base in the mid-Atlantic states and New England." My news conduits have been filled with hurrahs and hoorays and anticipatory speculation these past few days, but I have not been able to shake my admittedly jaded perspective that this is all just false promise. The Gardner case has haunted the FBI and the Boston arts community for over two decades, and people are understandably desperate for some good news. That the press release came out on the anniversary of the theft is all the more telling - it all just seems too neat to me. Additionally, the quote above forces me to raise an eyebrow if only because I was surprised to learn that this information was news to the FBI. Organized crime syndicates are behind a significant percentage of art thefts, and countless leads from the Gardner theft have been related to criminal organizations. That this particular organization is based in New England and the mid-Atlantic should come as no surprise, given that the theft occurred in Boston. This same kind of celebratory sounding-off occurred when Whitey Bulger, a longtime suspect associated with Boston criminal organizations, was arrested in June 2011 on charges unrelated to the museum theft. Almost two years later, we may be experiencing yet another false victory high. I can understand why this would be the case. The Gardner heist is not only an egregious act against the public's right to its cultural heritage, but it also appears to be a very complex and intricate crime. It has been the subject of countless articles, books, and documentaries, and speculation has taken investigators all over the US and Europe in search of the paintings and the culprits. If you find yourself intrigued by the case, I highly recommend Ulrich Boser's book, The Gardner Heist. There are simply too many ways for me to get carried away with talking about the Gardner case, so here is a very simplified version of the events: On March 18th, 1990, just before 1:30am, two men dressed as policemen approached the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and requested entrance from the night security guard, claiming that they were investigating a disturbance. Against protocol, the guard allowed them to enter. The guards on duty were bound and gagged, and were put in the basement of the museum while the thieves, in just over an hour, took 13 works of art, including three Rembrandts, five works by Degas, a Manet, and a Vermeer. The loss of the Vermeer has been noted as particularly devastating, given that there are less than 40 extant Vermeer paintings known today. [caption id="attachment_3546" align="aligncenter" width="500"] The thirteen missing works. From the top left: Vermeer's The Concert, Rembrandt's Self Portrait, Degas's La Sortie de Pesage, Degas's Program for an artistic soiree (one of two), Rembrandt's Storm on the Sea of Galiliee, bronze finial in the form of an eagle from the top of a Napoleonic flag, a Shang Dynasty Chinese Ku, Rembrandt's A Lady and Gentleman in Black, Degas's Program for an artistic soiree (two of two), Govaert Flinck's Landscape with an Obelisk, Manet's Chez Tortoni, Degas's Cortege aux environs de Florence, and Degas's Three Mounted Jockeys. Image courtesy of The Art Newspaper.[/caption] No one has their fingers crossed more tightly than I do that the paintings are eventually recovered. As Anthony Amore, chief of security at the Gardner (whose excellent book Stealing Rembrandts is a fantastic resource for those looking for an introduction to the study of art crimes) said, "this investigation is an exercise in finding 13 needles in a haystack by making the haystack smaller." It seems to me as though the haystack is still quite large. A colleague of mine said it best: I'll believe it when they find the paintings and start prosecuting. For now, I'll spend some time wistfully staring at the RembrandtsDegasManets,and Vermeers that are still around.

Wartime Damage and Destruction

Follow If you’ve seen any of my previous blog posts, you’ll know that I’m an art history afficianado. You may not know, however, that my primary area of interest is a bit peculiar. I am interested in art crimes and … Read More

If you've seen any of my previous blog posts, you'll know that I'm an art history afficianado. You may not know, however, that my primary area of interest is a bit peculiar. I am interested in art crimes and cultural heritage protection. In fact, I will be pursuing a post-graduate degree in the field this upcoming summer - but more on that another time. My first real training in the field was last year when I participated in the Provenance Research Training Program in Magdeburg, Germany, which is a course dedicated to the theories and methodologies involved in studying art that was destroyed, stolen, looted, or otherwise obtained by the Nazi regime during World War II. I could go on and on about the topic, and I'm sure you'll hear more about it in future blog posts, but today, I want to focus on two paintings that I came across in Gallery Direct's growing collection of modern masters. Namely, Gustav Klimt's Garden Path with Chickens and Hygieia (a detail from his painting Medicine). Along with thousands of other works of art, these two paintings were destroyed by Axis forces during the war. By all accounts, Hygieia is an exemplar of Klimt's so-called Golden Phase, which prominently featured stunning figures, usually women, rendered in bold colors (the most well known example being The Kiss). Hygieia, a figure from Ancient Greek mythology, is the focal point of his painting Medicine, one of three paintings Klimt made for the University of Vienna. The goddess of health, well-being, and hygiene, she was the daughter of the god of medicine, Asclepius. Klimt depicts her holding in one hand the cup of Lethe, symbolizing one of the rivers of the underworld, and in the other, the Asclepian snake, which symbolized healing and the renewal of health. By juxtaposing a symbol of death and a symbol of life, Klimt represents life and death not as too diametric opposites, but rather as two parts of a single, unified cycle. Klimt's use of mythological allegories in his paintings is one of the aspects of his work as a symbolist that are so unique. Along with the other two paintings commissioned to Klimt for the University of Vienna, Medicine was rejected as pornographic, and went on instead to be featured in the Tenth Exhibition of the Vienna Secession in 1901. After the exhibition, it was purchased by Klimt's friend and fellow Vienna Secession artist, Koloman Moser, and it eventually passed into the collection of a Jewish family. Sadly, the collection was seized in 1938 bythe Third Reich, as Jewish property was deemed to be the property of the German state. This was the case with thousands of families and millions of objects, many of which are still missing to this day. Garden Path with Chickens is not what one would consider a "typical" Klimt painting. Created in 1917, the colorful garden scene demonstrates that in addition to his groundbreaking subject matter and style, Klimt was also a precise and masterful technician of his craft. The detail of each individual flower and the considered blending of colors demonstrate how dedicated Klimt was to perfecting even the most minute and intricate aspects of his compositions. Garden Path was incorporated into the collection of Erich Lederer, which, along with many other works, including Medicine, was relocated to the Schloss Immendorf in Austria at the beginning of World War II, ostensibly for safekeeping. Throughout the war, countless objects, monuments, and landmarks were stolen, destroyed, or defaced, but even after the fall of the Third Reich, the damage continued. After the Nazi regime fell and SS troops were instructed to return to Germany, they left a path of destruction in their wake. One victim was the Schloss Immendorf, which was destroyed by a fire set by Nazi troops on their way out of Austria. All of the paintings within were completely lost, so all that remains of them today are the artist's preliminary sketches and photographs. That is, perhaps, what makes it so remarkable that we are able to have these two paintings at Gallery Direct, as we ensure that while the originals may be lost, and can surely never be replaced, the memory of the paintings and the horrific way in which they were lost endures.

Star-Gazing with Sidney Hall

Follow One of the great things about working with the merchandising team at Gallery Direct is that I have crawled and crept through every corner of our enormous digital collection. It is such great fun to discover all the amazing … Read More

One of the great things about working with the merchandising team at Gallery Direct is that I have crawled and crept through every corner of our enormous digital collection. It is such great fun to discover all the amazing images we have (that's everyone's idea of fun, right?). A few weeks ago, I came across yet another hidden gem in our historical holdings: a series of constellation engravings by nineteenth-century engraver Sidney Hall.  [caption id="attachment_3497" align="aligncenter" width="528"] "Virgo"[/caption] A couple months ago in my inaugural blog post, I revealed my quirky obsession with nineteenth-century maps. Apparently I'm not the only person with a penchant for geography, because our vintage maps section has since taken off. When these kinds of maps were growing in popularity, cartographers and engravers alike also turned their attention skywards, and began publishing what were referred to as "star atlases," or celestial atlases. Sidney Hall, a fairly successful British cartographer, begun his career by contributing engravings to popular international atlases. Around 1825, however, following the major success of Alexander Jamieson's Celestial Atlas, published in 1822, Hall was asked to created a set of 32 engravings depicting the sky's constellations. Published as a set of cards under the title Urania's Minor or A View of the Heavens, Hall created two editions of the cards, the later of which, released in 1833, have become iconic interpretations of the skies above. [caption id="attachment_3498" align="aligncenter" width="528"] "Cancer"[/caption] Hall's engravings were accompanied by a text by Jehoshaphat Aspin, A Familiar Treatise on Astronomy. The cards served the dual purpose of illustrating the text, as well as serving as practical astronomical tools for consumers. In addition to the illustrations of figures and animals that Hall uses to depict the constellations, he accurately places the actual stars along the constellation lines. What's more, the manufacturers of the cards punched small holes where the stars are represented to allow light to come through. [caption id="attachment_3499" align="aligncenter" width="528"] "Gemini," with visible star holes.[/caption] This allowed for two things for people interested in the night sky: one could hold the card up in the air to properly locate and align the constellations, or project a shadow of the constellation onto a surface by holding the card up to a light. The card above, showing the twin stars, Castor and Pollux, commonly referred to as Gemini, gives a clear view of the star holes inserted into the cards. I love learning about how our predecessors conceived and thought about the world around them. Looking at maps and celestial atlases is a great way to get a glimpse into how conceptions of the world were changing with innovations in transportation, communication, and industry. In addition to the nerdy, historical aspects, I think these cards make awesome pieces for wall art. A close friend of mine just had a baby in early August, so I'm thinking for the baby's first birthday, I'm going to have the "Leo" constellation printed on birchwood for the her room in honor of her astrological sign. [caption id="attachment_3500" align="aligncenter" width="528"] "Leo Major and Leo Minor"[/caption] So, what's your sign?
In 1508, famed High Renaissance painter and architect Raphael was given the commission that would make his career. The young artist was asked by Pope Julius II and his personal architect Donato Bramante to create the massive frescoes that adorn what are known today as the Stanze di Raffaello, or Raphael Rooms, of the Vatican Palace. Raphael's first conquest was the Stanza della Segnatura, which now contains four of his most beautiful and well-known frescoes, The Disputation of the Holy Sacrament,The Parnassus, Cardinal and Theological Virtues, and, his masterpiece, The School of Athens. Each of these four frescoes was meant to represent the four areas of human knowledge: religion, poetry, jurisprudence, and philosophy. Toward the end of 1509, Raphael began his second fresco of the series, The School of Athens, representing philosophy. Since its creation in the Apostolic Palace, it has been endlessly revered and contemplated.

Raphael's intricate fresco, measuring approximately 25 by 16 feet, contains nearly 60 figures in a beautifully arranged and appointed background. For hundreds of years, art historians and scholars of philosophy, classics, and mathematics have attempted to identify the different figures, though it seems that Raphael was intentionally vague in the majority of the depictions, with a few exceptions. What we can be sure about is that the two central figures represent Plato (on the left) and Aristotle (on the right). Raphael depicts Plato pointing to the heavens and Aristotle gesturing toward the earth - a commentary on their respective philosophies. Other figures that can be identified with some degree of certainty include Pythagoras, Socrates, Diogenes, Ptolemy, Heraclitus, and Euclid. Despite the many questions about the identities of the figures, what remains clear is that Raphael is representing thinkers from across myriad schools, time periods, and geographical locations from classical antiquity. Thus, he is not attempting to depict an historical moment, but rather a thematic representation of Greek philosophy at its finest. Identifying the figures becomes even more difficult when one realizes that they often have double identities - one from antiquity, and one from Raphael's own time. Many have speculated, for example, that Plato can also be identified as Leonardo da Vinci, Heraclitus has the visage of Michelangelo, and that Euclid shares features with Bramante. [caption id="attachment_3470" align="aligncenter" width="437"] Detail, Raphael's Plato with Leonardo da Vinci's 1510 self-portrait[/caption] So, why did Raphael choose to imbue his figures with this double identity? During the Renaissance, ancient Greek and Roman writers and thinkers experienced a renewed popularity, and were respected as the premier philosophers throughout history. By blurring the line between figures from classical antiquity and his own peers, Raphael asserts that the thinkers of the Renaissance were on par with their formidable predecessors. The artist also blatantly includes an image of himself, gazing out to the viewer. In addition to his commentary on the relative status of the Renaissance in relation to antiquity, Raphael boldly breaks with tradition regarding his representation of the idea of philosophy. While those who came before him tended to represent philosophy in a purely allegorical way (or at least in a way in which the allegory or ideal of philosophy is given more importance than its human practitioners), Raphael humanizes his topic. He does not forsake the allegorical depiction of philosophy, but rather makes it almost secondary relative to the rest of the subjects. The personification of philosophy, often called Philosophia, appears in the accompanying tondo (an Italian term for a round painting or sculpture). The tondo above the The School of Athens announces the subject of the work, in the same fashion as the other frescoes in the Stanza della Segnatura. The beautiful Philosophia sits upon a throne, flanked by two cherubim bearing the words "Causarum Cognitio," a reference to Cicero meaning, "Knowledge of causes." She holds two books, one entitled "Morals," the other, "Nature." This is a classical depiction of Philosophy, and yet within the context of The School of Athens, the figure is relatively diminutive. The tondo is merely six feet in diameter, and because it is over 25 feet off the ground, it is hardly easy to see from eye level. Furthermore, while tradition dictates that the depiction of Philosophy should be the focal point of a work, Raphael isolates her from the rest of his work. While she may loom over the individual practitioners of the art of philosophy, the latter are nonetheless the primary subjects, overwhelming the former in size, number, and relevance. By making the practitioners the focal point of his fresco, Raphael humanizes and indeed secularizes the practice of philosophy. Like so many of his compositions (a personal favorite is the cherubim detail in his Sistine Madonna), Raphael's School of Athens truly rewards careful study and contemplation.

The Mysteries of Mona Lisa

Follow “The most famous painting in the world” – The Mona Lisa. La Joconde. La Gioconda. Leonardo’s masterpiece. The portait of Lisa Gherardini, the wife of Francesco del Giocondo, is instantly recognizable to virtually everyone in the Western world. The Mona Lisa … Read More

"The most famous painting in the world" - The Mona LisaLa Joconde. La Gioconda. Leonardo's masterpiece. The portait of Lisa Gherardini, the wife of Francesco del Giocondo, is instantly recognizable to virtually everyone in the Western world. The Mona Lisa practically has a cult following - but why? People crowd around the small portrait at the Musée du Louvre in Paris every day just to get a glimpse of the world's most famous smile, even from a distance. When I was living in Paris, I was taking an art history course that had me walking through the miles upon miles of galleries of the Louvre at least once a week. I spent hours taking it in and soaking up as much as I possibly could. Sometimes, I would go early on a Tuesday morning, and I would feel like the only person around - until I got to the Salle des États where The Mona Lisa is housed. No matter the time of day or week, there was always an admiring crowd surrounding the approximately 21 x 30 in. painting. Clearly there's something special about this painting. It is easily the most parodied work - from famed Dadaist Marcel Duchamp's L.H.O.O.Q. to one of Gallery Direct's own artists, Randy Slack.

The painting, created by Leonardo da Vinci between 1503 and 1519, has been the subject of much speculation and mystery for hundreds of years. Theories about its creation abound, and studies are still being done today as to the origins and formal qualities of the painting. In fact, artdaily.org reported this week that Alfonso Rubino has performed a geometrical analysis on La Joconde, revealing that Leonardo "worked the geometry found in his design of the Vitruvian Man into his paintings." According to Dr. Markus Frey of the Mona Lisa Foundation, not only is this a groundbreaking find, but is also confirms that a painting that was thought to be an earlier version of The Mona Lisa is in fact genuine.

The "Earlier Version," according to recent carbon dating, was created sometime between 1410 and 1450. There are so many theories as to the creation of the painting that an earlier version is sure to prove to be fuel for the proverbial fire. Theories about The Mona Lisa range from topics such as pregnancy, Bell's Palsy, high cholesterol, secret societies, biblical references, and many more.

The Mona Lisa has inspired people for centuries, but not always in a good way. In 1911, a worker at the Louvre, Vincenzo Peruggia, an Italian patriot, stole the small poplar panel right from the wall of the Louvre, believing that despite the fact that the painting was completed in France and legally sold to the French king after da Vinci's death, the painting belonged to the artist's home country of Italy.

After biding his time for two years, however, Peruggia attempted to sell The Mona Lisa to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Officials at the Uffizi immediately notified the Louvre, at which point it was returned to Paris after an extended tour throughout Italy.

The painting has also been the target of many iconoclastic attempts. It was attacked twice in 1956, first by acid and then by a thrown rock, at which point it was decided that it could no longer be displayed without the protection of a bulletproof-glass case. Even after the case was added, however, it was the subject of vandalism in 1974 and more recently in 2009.

So why does this painting inspire people so much - whether it be to artistic creation, endless research, conspiracy theories, criminal activity, or violence? The enigmatic smile, the beautiful and slightly surreal landscape in the background, the facial geometry, the bodily arrangement of the portrait, the identity of the sitter, and numerous other inquiries have captured the world's attention.

Personally, as a student of art history (who admittedly does not focus on the Renaissance, and is by no means a da Vinci scholar), the formal execution of the painting is at the heart of the matter. Putting aside all of the theories and mysteries surrounding it, The Mona Lisa is, above all, an exemplar of Renaissance fastidiousness and ingenuity. The amount of detail and precision that was exercised by da Vinci is the most captivating element of the painting. The bizarre landscape, the ethereal veil that floats above her delicate curls, every fold on her dress, the considered use of sfumato - all suggest to me that the painting was created by an exceedingly patient, practiced, and loving hand. When I look at La Joconde, I envision the artist, meticulously tending to each line, each shadow on the relatively small panel. I see a life dedicated to artistry and aesthetic integrity.

So what do you think? Does The Mona Lisa inspire you? What do you think she's smiling at?