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THE BEST "ART 101"
by Thomas Hoving
 
Ever since I dropped a pencil in the art survey course of western art during my freshman year and missed 500 years, I’ve wanted to rip apart Art 101. Instead of those unmemorable thousands of works I’d pick only the indelible masterpieces. I’d do one lecture, not the dozen or so. I’d choose the hot images that never go out of fashion. The pieces that changed my life forever. Those works in which I see something new every time I look at them and which get better and better each time I see them. The ones I have to visit to keep me alive.

So, here are my lifetime favorites in chronological order. I’ll bet my list of masterworks is just like yours. And, if not, you ought to change yours.

THE ANCIENT WORLD
* The "Venus of Willendorf." The Natural History Museum of Vienna. 24,000 BC. Small as a child’s fist, vividly painted ochre, to me this is the image of the beginning of the world, the Big Bang, mother earth, the fertility of the ages. A gorgeous image of universal humanity.

* It’s alive! It’s a five-thousand-year-old Egyptian wooden sculpture of a wealthy, fat, contented, perspicacious overseer, sometimes known as the Sheik el-Beled. Cairo Museum. Found in a mastaba tomb. His glistening eyes look forward to his nightly journey into the afterlife. To me, it’s one of the most compelling portraits ever created in any civilization.

* The tomb models of Meket-Re. 4,000 years old. Half of them in the Metropolitan, half in the Cairo Museum. Herbert Winlock of the Met found them near Luxor (what was ancient Thebes) in 1920. Read how excited he got when he unearthed them:

My beam of light shot in to a little world of four thousand years ago, and I was gazing down into the midst of brightly painted little men going this way and that. A tall, slender girl gazed across at me perfectly composed; a gang of little men with sticks in their upraised hands drove spotted oxen; rowers tugged at their oars on a fleet of boats, while one ship seemed floundering right in front of me with its bow balanced precariously in the air. And all of this busy going and coming was in uncanny silence, as though the distance back over the forty centuries I looked across was too great for even an echo to reach my ears. . . . Four thousand years is an eternity. Just saying it over and over again gives no conception of the ages that have gone by since that funeral. Stop and think of how far off William the Conqueror seems. That takes you only a quarter of the way back. Julius Caesar takes you halfway back. With Saul and David you are three-fourths of the way, but there remains another thousand years to bridge with your imagination. Yet in that dry, still, dark little chamber those boats and statues had stood indifferent to all that went on in the outer world, as ancient in the days of Caesar as Caesar is to us, but so little changed that even the fingerprints of the men who put them there were still fresh upon them. Not only fingerprints, but even flyspecks, cobwebs, and dead spiders remained from the time when these models were stored in some empty room in the noble's house waiting for his day of death and burial. I even suspect that some of his grandchildren had sneaked in and played with them while they were at that house in ancient Thebes. . . ."

* The Harvester Vase. Minoan. 1550 BC. Herakleion Archaeological Museum, Crete. Joy! The threshing of the long, hot day is over and the gang marches back home, singing at the thought of having that first juicy slug of wine.

* Nefertiti. 1370 BC.  Altes Museum, Berlin. The drop-dead wife of the heretical, monotheistic pharaoh Iknaten, who attempted to create a kind of monotheism. Her name translates, as Wikipedia tells me, to "the beautiful (or perfect) one has arrived." They sure got that one right.

* King Tut’s gold and lapis lazuli mask. 1330 BC. Cairo Museum. This portrait, unique in all history, is both a young, vulnerable, down-to-earth human kid squirming out of adolescence and an unapproachable heaven-dwelling god. It portrays one of the inscriptions on the boy’s coffin, "I have seen yesterday, I know tomorrow." (No curse here. I had a close look at this stunning work of art when I was putting together the 1976 Tut show. I lifted the surprisingly heavy mask out of its high glass case and, sweating heavily, carried it to the ground. Once safely down, I gave it a fat kiss. I’m okay. So far.)

* A 10-foot high Olmec head found at La Venta in Mexico. 1200 BC. An intimate portrait of some VIP or miracle-making priest. Those full lips, those soulful eyes! 

* The heart-rending image of the dying and fighting lioness in the reliefs depicting the lion hunt of King of King Ashurbanipal of today’s Iraq. 664 BC. From Nineveh. British Museum.

* The Parthenon sculptures. 439 BC.  Created under the divine guidance of the Olympian gods and, of course, Phidias, the Athenian sculptor chosen by Pericles to oversee the construction of the Parthenon and its decoration. The most deceptively pure and simple expression of man and woman ever made.

* The Scythian Horse and Griffon pectoral. Kiev. Municipal museum. 5th century BC. The chiefs of the fierce Scythian nomadic hordes that swept throughout the world from what is now the Ukraine hired the finest Greek craftsmen to work their gold. This piece, as finely wrought as any Parthenon relief, shows in miraculous detail two warriors combing out a sheepskin jacket. The death struggle of the horses and griffons symbolizes the perpetual war between good and evil.

* Poseidon. 5th century BC. The National Museum of Athens.  A perfection of physical beauty. The kind of stand-up guy I’d like at my side in some conflict.

* The Altar of Pergamon. Berlin. 4th century BC. I choose this for all of Hellenistic art, since we have no sure works left by Lysippos, the most praised artist of the period. Ferociously elegant. Especially the Gigantomachy, a dramatic depiction of the truly evil giants of Greek mythology. This massive altar might be the one mentioned in Revelations as "Satan's Throne." If so, old Mephistopheles sure hired the finest architects and sculptors.

* The "Alexander" sarcophagus. 3rd century BC. Archaeological Museum, Istanbul. So it wasn’t made for Alexander, but who cares? This idyllic sculpture was made by one of the finest carvers who ever lived.

* Roman art is always disparaged when compared to the Greeks. Yet, sometimes it’s better such as the incomparable huge royal cameo of emperor Augustus in Vienna’s great Kunsthistorisches Museum. 1st AD. This may be the finest figurative work of jewelry to have survived.

* Emperor Constantine. No work of art better sums up the turmoil of the end of the pagan world and the beginning of the Christian era than this awesome heroic-sized marble in the courtyard of the Conservatory Museum on the Capitoline in Rome. Part realistic, part iconic, the huge hunk of propaganda depicts the authority and cruelty of the emperor who allowed Christians to worship and then held sway over the council of bishops at Nicea who expunged the heretical works from the New Testament. Constantine, the story goes, was able to sit in state for hours without moving a muscle. Maybe he just substituted this image.

MEDIEVAL TIMES
* The 6th-century AD mosaics in the interior of San Vitale in Ravenna. Commissioned by emperor Justinian. These mosaics are so resplendent they look like a huge fireworks display. My favorites are the state portraits of Justinian and his empress Theodora entering the grand church for the first time (an event that probably never happened). The all-powerful former actress (some said whore) has the Three Magi embroidered into the lower part of her imperial purple robe. These royals and their courtiers and ecclesiastics are so blessed that they hover a foot off the floor. They are already in heaven. Who is this Maximianus who gets top billing? The bishop who carried out Justinian’s commission.

* The Book of Kells. Ireland. Late 7th to early 8th century AD. Trinity College, Dublin. The epitome of the art of the so-called "Dark Ages" when barbarian hordes swept across the civilized world and when human figures lost all their reality and became colorful, labyrinthine patterns. When I held one of these pages in my hands it took me an hour to travel along just one strap-work decoration. The legend of the time was that angels illuminated these pages. I believe it.

* The Carolingian Renascence. 9th century. Emperor Charlemagne converted millions of barbarians to Christianity and brought about the first artistic revival in the history of art. He set up a workshop in his palace at Aachen and instructed his artists to copy and adapt works made, he thought, during the age of Constantine. A group of luxurious manuscripts and ivory carvings were the result, which in a few cases exactly copy early Christian models and in others use the models but mix in that delightful whipping tangle one sees in the Book of Kells. The two landmarks are the ivory book covers on the principal manuscript made at Lorsch. Christ on one, solid, a real figure, garbed in wind-driven draperies. Below the scenes copy known early Christian models. The Virgin on the other with scenes of the nativity copied from Constantinian models.

* For Romanesque I choose the so-called Bury St. Edmunds cross. The Cloisters. English. 1152 AD. Artist, Master Hugo, who in the monastery chronicle is recorded to have "carved in incomparable manner a cross in the choir flanked by a little Mary and John." The original figure of Christ is in the Kunstindustrietmuseum, Oslo. The walrus-ivory cross is a little less than two feet high and is carved with almost 100 figures -- each about the size of the nail on your little finger -- illustrating the Passion and Old Testament prophets. The prophets carry scrolls inscribed in Latin with Old Testament phrases that "prove" the coming of Christ as Savior, a typology as it’s called in the art biz. The style is revolutionary, one of the earliest examples (perhaps the earliest) of the "wet" drapery style that reveals the human figure beneath. There’s a harsh side to the beautiful cross. It seems to have been carved to memorialize the arrival in 1152 at Bury of the corpse of "little William," a youth who was said to have been crucified by local Jews at Easter and which performed numerous cures throughout England. On the front, in the center Moses sets the stage by saying, "Just as Moses raised the brazen serpent in the desert, so shall the son of God be raised up." On the back, in the center Synagogue collapses "after vain and stupid effort" after spearing the sacred lamb of Christ. [For a detailed look at the Bury cross, see "Super Art Gems of New York City," Sept. 27, 2001.]

* The most flamboyant, grand and theatrical work of the high Middle Ages is the altar (once a pulpit) completed in 1181 and made by Nicholas of Verdun, an enameller of unparalleled brilliance. He ranks up there with Michelangelo and Dürer. Twenty-seven enamel plaques depicting scenes from both Old and New Testaments out of the original 100 survived a fire in the 14th century. The drawing is strong and the figures as expressive as in any work of art ever created in the West.

* Medieval art came to an end and the modern period began with one work. Giotto’s frescoes of the life of Christ and the Virgin in the Scrovegni, or Arena Chapel, in Padua. The figures for the first time ever exist in real space. He drew his figures from life, something that had not been done since ancient Greeks and Roman Hellenistic days.

THE BEAUTIFUL STYLE
Between the middle Ages and the Italian Renaissance there’s a dreamlike hiatus, a couple of decades of pure delight. Art historians call the period the Beautiful Style. It took place a few decades before and after the year 1400. No matter what the subject, the men are handsome and svelte with wasp waists and broad shoulders; the women are serene, slightly come-hither and are more beautiful than any supermodel. Everyone is dressed in exotic flowing garments decked out with cascading trumpet folds. Everyone poses as if in a curtain call. 

* The sweet Bohemian Madonna -- the so-called Madonna of St. Vitus. 1420. Prague. Hradjny Museum. Near the cathedral. She is a perfect example of the Beautiful Style. Svelte, sinuous, adorable. The little carvings on the luxurious frame are hallmarks of the style.

* Apocalypse tapestries. Angers. Designed by Nicolas Bataille and Robert Poincon around 1375. Elegant theatrical, resplendent and moving. Originally there were 105 tapestries running 20 by 551 feet, some 10,764 square feet of luxuriantly woven images. Seventy have survived. One particularly lovely one that got away from Angers is a fragment in the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco in which the vivid colors are almost intact.

* The Tres Riches Heures of the Duke of Berry. Chantilly chateau in France. Painted by the Limbourg brothers. 1408. Soft, delicate, perceptive, dreamy colors, artistic perfection.

* The bronze gilded doors by Lorenzo Ghiberti for the Baptistery in Florence. 1401. Said to have been called by Michelangelo "‘the Gates of Paradise." Along with Michelangelo’s Pieta, this is the last and the greatest work of the Beautiful Style.

EARLY RENAISSANCE
* The Penitent Mary Magdalene. Donatello. 1425. Florence. Cathedral Museum. Wood. There’s nothing like this pitiless image of the prostitute in the last stages of her terminal illness, confessing to Christ.

* The Rohan Hours. 1430. Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris. Raw, searing images of Christ.

* The Ghent Altar. St. Bavo Cathedral. Ghent. 1432. By Jan van Eyck, helped, possibly, by his brother Hubert. Although seemingly painted in oil by a single sable brush the details in this enormous altarpiece do not submerge the majesty or the monumentality of the work. The details are so fine that one can see, in some of the seed pearls that adorn the crown of God the father, the reflections of objects in the van Eyck studio.

* Resurrection. Piero della Francesca. Borgo San Sepolchro. Municipal Museum. 1453. One of the most vivid depictions of Christ as cruel avenger ever portrayed in Christian art. The first time I saw it I thought seriously about converting.

* The Garden of Earthly Delights. Prado. Hieronymus Bosch. 1503. From left to right: the Garden of Eden, Earthly Paradise, and Hell. Google Earth has just posted this amazing painting with such a dense bunch of pixels that you can walk around this picture zooming in until you can see the tears in the eyes of the damned, who are being tortured in incredibly inventive –- at times amusing -- ways. Now you can get as close to this masterpiece as can a conservator in the Prado.

* The Isenheim Altar. Matthias Grunewald. 1512. Unterlinden Museum in Colmar, Alsace. Originally in the chapel of the hospital for incurable diseases in the monastery of Saint Anthony. The brilliant altar is one of the most complex structures ever created in western religious art. It has two sets of painted folding wings, which, when opened, reveal three carved wooden and gilded statues of saints. There are also two side panels and a predella. The Crucifixion is horrifying. Christ looks not just beaten and tortured but diseased. In the Resurrection He is an unearthly radiant white. At the lower left of the Resurrection sits a naked man whose body is covered with running sores. He is one of the patients in the hospital, afflicted with syphilis, who gazes upon the pure white Christ knowing that in death he will become radiant and also cured. Being cured of human diseases through a devotion of the suffering Christ is the fundamental story of this great work of art.

THE RENAISSANCE
* Leonardo da Vinci. Woman with an Ermine. 1483-90. Krakow. Czartoryski Museum. This lovely, placid young woman, so wondrously painted, has been identified as Cecilia Gallerani, the mistress of Lodovico Sforza, "Ludovico il Moro", Duke of Milan. Yet, I believe, she may be the evil Poppaea, emperor Nero’s wicked sister. This is because of that curious, diaphanous veil, which appears on several images of Poppaea, who was gorgeous on the outside but evil within. Because of that stark black background, which is original, the picture is unique among Italian Renaissance works. I’m tempted to believe Leonardo used this typical northern Renaissance background in honor of the painter he revered, Albrecht Dürer.

* Albrecht Dürer. Self-portrait at 28. Munich. Alte Pinakothek. He’s shown himself as Christ blessing the world. Durer’s motto was "als ich kann," "as I can." He managed pretty well.

* Jupiter and Io. Antonio da Correggio. 1530. Vienna. Kunsthistorisches Museum. Jupiter comes after Io in the form of a rain cloud. Sexy, thrilling, dramatic.

* Michelangelo. David. 1504. Florence. Galleria dell’Accademia. Not since the Parthenon has there been such a divine figure of a male youth. But here, there’s a drama that the Greeks couldn’t create -- this is a thoroughly human youngster looking at his approaching enemy with confidence and some anxiety, too.

* Michelangelo. Adam. The Sistine Ceiling. 1508-12. This is the most gripping and unforgettable image ever produced in the western world.

* Pieter Breughel the Elder. Hunters in the Snow. 1565. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Icy. Splendidly grim. The hunters have found only a rabbit or two after a full day of searching. I think the most compelling portrayal of winter ever created.

* Ivory Mask. Benin. 16th century. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Rockefeller Wing. Majestic. The living proof that gifted artists from Africa, once called "primitive," could equal the works of the ancient world and the Renaissance as well.

* Titian. Rape of Europa. 1559-62. Boston. Isabella Gardner Museum. This, to me, is the single finest Old Master in America. Lissome, painterly beyond belief, possessing thousands of hues and colors in infinite glazes, Europa is a superior masterwork.

* Young Man among Roses. Sometimes called the Dandy. Nicholas Hilliard. 1585-95, London. Victoria and Albert. Perhaps the Earl of Essex. The most memorable dude in western art.

* El Greco. Burial of Count Orgaz. Toledo. Santo Tome. 1586-88. This huge and glorious painting was commissioned because of a successful lawsuit. In 1312, the Count of Orgaz, a pious native of Toledo, left a bundle of money for the adornment of the church of Santo Tomé in Toledo. But the estate refused to honor the will -- for almost 200 years. That’s when Andrés Núñez, the parish priest of Santo Tomé sued and won. He decided to commission one of his parishioners, the renowned painter el Greco, to make a humongous altarpiece. The subject is singular. According to local 14th-century reports, when Orgaz was buried, persons no less than Saint Stephen and Saint Augustine descended from heaven and with their own hands popped him into his grave. This miraculous event dazzled those present and today el Greco’s wondrous work dazzles us. When you first encounter this enormous picture you cannot suppress a cry of joy. At least I didn’t.

* Caravaggio. The Calling of Saint Matthew, in the Contarelli Chapel, San Luigi dei Francesi, in Rome. 1599-1600. This and the nearby Martyrdom of Matthew stand as the finest Baroque paintings ever conceived. In this theatric work Caravaggio has borrowed nicely from Michelangelo’s Adam but, typically, has injected a vivid sense of the street in the work. Those bravos counting out their gambling winnings don’t even sense that Christ is upon them. They will pay.

* Rubens. The Little Fur. 1638. Vienna. Kunssthistorisches Museum. Beyond sexy. The story goes that Rubens painted this portrait of his second wife, Helen Fourment, and placed it in his house so that visitors thought for a blissful moment they were seeing the beauteous Helen walking from her bedroom to her bath. Of course she’s really entering Rubens’ bedroom after her bath.

* Rembrandt. Sure, I adore the Jewish Bride. Yes, I admire the so-called Night Watch (really a Day Watch). For certain, I thrill at Bathsheba in the Louvre. Of course, I am in awe at the genius of Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer at the Met in New York. But, still, to me, the best of this unparalleled master is the spooky, unspeakably moving Return of the Prodigal Son of 1662. In the Hermitage.

* The Ecstasy of St. Teresa. Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Rome. Santa Maria della Vittoria. Cornaro Chapel. 1647-1652. For architecture, interior décor and sculpture this flamboyant chapel is the epitome of the swirling, emotional, tumultuous and engaging Baroque. I doubt if there’s a more captivating image of a woman transfixed in the moment of religious ecstasy than this. I once spent a night in the chapel and didn’t sleep a wink.

* Las Meninas by Diego Velazquez. The Prado. 1656. In my book this is the number two best work in all of western civilization. Cleaned perfectly by John Brealey in the 1980s, this monumental study of humanity --  and royalty -- is unsurpassed. I think I have even figured out what is happening. There’s Velazquez, wearing the new ceremonial duds that go along with the honor that the king had recently bestowed upon him, working on a canvas the size of Las Meninas showing the king and queen who are reflected in the far-off mirror. The Infanta and her handlers, her dwarf and her dog are watching the royal pair standing rather stiffly for yet another official portrait. The Infanta is being gussied up to join her father and mother. This is so real that you can feel the temperature of the room.

* For the exuberant, colorful 18th century, my picks are the enchanting frescos of the Archbishop’s Palace in Wurzburg, Germany, painted by Gianbattista Tiepolo (helped by his sons Domenico and Lorenzo), 1751-53. The highpoint is the Allegory of the Planets and Continents, depicting Apollo embarking on his sunny rounds. On the cornice various allegorical figures symbolize the four continents, including America.

* Goya. The Third of May 1808. Painted in 1814. The Prado. Of the hundreds of thousands of works of art dealing with the horrors of war, none beat this magnificent testimony. What I especially like is that he’s shown the French soldiers wearing their packs while they slaughter the peasants -- the soldiers know they’ll have to run fast as soon as they can.

IMPRESSIONISM AND BEYOND
* I’m not much of a fan of Pierre-Auguste Renoir (in fact I think he’s a mediocre painter), but the Luncheon of the Boating Party of 1881 in the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., is a world masterpiece. It’s amusing to hang out in the gallery where it dwells and watch the faces of the visitors break out into broad smiles when they see it.

* Seurat. Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grande Jatte. 1884-86. Art Institute of Chicago. I look upon this painting and Seurat as the 19th-century Piero della Francesca. Weird, impossible, but it works. Transforms human beings and animals into objects, which are more compelling and real than actual humans and animals. I want a monkey like this one. I recall the jubilation I felt when I learned that the Grande Jatte had been successfully hoisted out of the Museum of Modern Art during the disastrous fire in the 1960s.

* Édouard Manet. I was going to pick his Bar at the Folies-Bergère. The Courtauld Institute. London. 1882. But then I remembered the delicious nakedness and universal feminine coquetry of Olympia and picked it instead. Paris. Musée d’Orsay. 1863. Every time I look at Olympia I get a hard on. That hand! That black ribbon around her neck! That unabashed expression on her face! Funny, but the Metropolitan had a chance at acquiring this masterpiece, but the Havemeyers lost their nerve and decided not to buy it and give it to the Met -- too, too shocking, dear. Still is!

* I love Cézanne for a year for his daring images and then another year I hate him for his crude and ungainly images. This year I love him and the picture I truly love is The Black Clock. 1870. Private collection. This is, I think, the most powerful still-life ever painted. Yes, ever! It’s as if the shell and the drapery and that mysterious black clock symbolized the mountains and valleys of the entire globe.

* Van Gogh. Starry Night. Museum of Modern Art. June 1889. It’s said that van Gogh made a cardboard and canvas machine armed with a lamp, which he placed over his head at night so he could record the wondrous effects of a phantasmagorically illuminated full-moon night. Anyway, he has summed up the Milky Way Galaxy and seversl thousands beyond, and religious fervor and the sensibility of all human beings.

* Picasso. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. 1907. MoMa. Gnarly, undisciplined, outrageous. When Picasso showed it for the first time during a four-day drunk in his tattered studio, his "wife," Georges Braque, exclaimed, "After this we’ll have to drink gasoline!" The ugliest beautiful painting of all.

* Matisse. The Red Studio. MoMA. 1911. He once said he wanted to paint such lush works that tired businessmen would feel relaxed and refreshed before them. He succeeded perfectly in this giant canvas.

* George Bellows. North River. 1908. Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. The most poetic depiction of the dead of winter since Pieter Breughel the Elder (see above). The work is alive and the paint seems to be glistening as vibrantly as it was 100 years ago.

* Norman Rockwell. Saying Grace. Private collection. 1951. Don’t get huffy, the true connoisseur (like me) can also appreciate genius in the way-off-beat styles. No, it’s not sentimental -- some Americans did believe in the Almighty and were brought up to praise Him at every meal. This is devastatingly real. The still-life on the lazy Susan is a great American still-life.

* Pollock. Blue Poles, Number 11, 1952. To me, this is even more powerful than his glorious Autumn Rhythm at the Met. It’s said that Pollock in his underpainting for this grandiose work laid in eight human figures, one for each pole -- for human scale. But I’m delighted that there’s no subject matter visible here; the point is the untrammeled excitement of the doing of the work -- these splendid thrums of paint coursing in a highly logical way, like the forces of nature. Wild and unscheduled.

* The Rose. Jay Defeo. 1958-66. The Whitney. A burst of Galactic energy from which all life emerges.

* Andrew Wyeth. Wolf Moon. Wyeth collection. 1975. Wyeth was wandering around the Kuerner Farm in Chadds Ford one night and heard this strange chunk, chunk, chunk sound. He saw Anna Kuerner in the woodshed, in her late 70s, chopping the kindling for the fire to make the hot water for her husband Karl’s dawn bath. The combination of the weird light from the woodshed and the moon illuminating the half-melted snow banks on Kuerner’s hill makes this one of the finest watercolors ever produced in America.

* What about a living artist? My vote is Anselm Kiefer. I’d pick the Breaking of the Vessels, 1990, in the Saint Louis Art Museum. Nerve-shattering and profound. The shattered glass on the floor of the gallery at once draws your eye to the 17-foot high Breaking of the Vessels. The strong, steel framework is weighted own with 41 elephant-folio-sized lead books. These books are decorated with broken pieces of glass, which merge with the dangerous glass on the floor. A pair of lead books on the top shelf seem ready to fall and crush you. Already you are drained.

Kiefer based this powerful work on the mysteries of the Kabbalah, which states that during the creation of the world certain sacred vessels weren’t strong enough to contain the Divine essence, and broke into into bad spheres of being. This emblematic "breaking of the vessels" represents the introduction of evil and the human condition into the universe. Kiefer’s huge sculpture is a metaphor of the human tragedy and the cycle of rebirth and regeneration. He has also made indelible reference to the Holocaust and Kristallnacht the shattering of Jewish shopkeepers' windows by the Nazis on November 1938.

* Which work do I think is the best of the best in 50 centuries of western civilization? No hesitation, no doubt, it’s Matthias Grunewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece.

What’s your pick?


THOMAS HOVING is author of Master Pieces: The Curator’s Game (2005). He is former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.



 



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