Debra N. Mancoff
What makes a work of art a masterpiece? Discover the answers in the fascinating stories of how these artworks came to be and the circumstances of their long-lasting impact on the world.
Beginning with Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, we travel through time and a range of styles and stories – including theft, scandal, artistic reputation, politics and power – to Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans, challenging the idea of what a masterpiece can be, and arriving in the twenty-first century with Amy Sherald’s portrait of Michelle Obama, a modern-day masterpiece still to be tested by time.
Each artwork has a tale that reveals making a masterpiece often involves much more than just a demonstration of artistic skill: their path to fame is only fully disclosed by looking beyond what the eye can see. Rather than trying to describe the elements of greatness, Making a Masterpiece takes account of the circumstances outside the frame that contribute to the perception of greatness and reveals that the journey from the easel to popular acclaim can be as compelling as the masterpiece itself.
Birth of Venus, Sandro Botticelli
Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci
Judith Beheading Holofernes, Artemisia Gentileschi
Girl with a Pearl Earring, Johannes Vermeer
Under the Wave off Kanagawa, Katsushika Hokusai
Fifteen Sunflowers, Vincent van Gogh
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (Woman in Gold, Gustav Klimt
American Gothic, Grant Wood
Guernica, Pablo Picasso
Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, Frida Kahlo
Campbell’s Soup Cans, Andy Warhol
Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama, Amy Sherald
DEBRA N. MANCOFF is an art historian and the author of more than twenty books on European and American art and culture. She lectures regularly at many of the major museums in the United States and United Kingdom. Based in Chicago, she is a Scholar-in-Residence at the Newberry Library.