A picture is worth a thousand words, and like texts, art is often meant to be “read” through critical deconstruction. Paintings can be much more complicated than they appear at first glance and difficult to decipher if the viewer does not speak the same language. Iconography – the symbolic language of a given work of art – can be sophisticated and complex, reflecting collective consciousness or drawn from the personal experience of the artist. Why would anyone avoid the written word in favor of paint and canvas? 20th-century American artist Edward Hopper seems to have had the answer. “If I could say it in words,” he said, “there would be no point in painting.”
The stories told by works of art – and about them – are, literally, the stuff of novels. Johannes Vermeer’s “Girl with the Pearl Earring” inspired the novel of the same name by author Tracy Chevalier. The book was then made into a movie starring Scarlett Johansson. Almost 40 years after Irving Stone wrote his Biographical Account of the Life of Michelangelo, Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci Code’ turned the life and work of the Renaissance master into an adventure through the previous millennia.
September 13, 2019 marks the film release of the last representative of the genre: “The Goldfinch”, based on the novel by Donna Tartt, winner of the Pulitzer Prize. The book focuses on the fictional theft of the eponymous painting by Dutch artist Carel Fabritius after an explosion rocked the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Ironically, Fabritius died in a devastating explosion of gunpowder in 1654, shortly after completing his most memorable work. The success of Tartt’s book elevated “The Goldfinch” to rockstar, overwhelmed by the crowd determined to catch a glimpse of the little bird tied with a delicate chain. [Note: Fabritius’ painting is not featured in Stacker’s gallery.]
Stacker has curated this list of some of the world’s most famous images and the fascinating stories behind them. Scroll down and find out which paintings scandalized Paris, were looted by the Nazis, and inspired a hit Broadway musical.
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