Ten must-see masterpieces

  • 16 February 2012

You don't have to live in London to see fantastic art in Britain. From timeless masterpieces to lesser-known gems, you're never far from a painting to get your pulse racing.

We’ve picked ten of our favourite Old Masters works on show in the UK, from Flemish landscapes to Rembrandt portraits. Best of all, seeing each of our chosen works is free with a National Art Pass.


1. Peter Paul Rubens, Landscape by Moonlight
Courtauld Gallery, free entry with National Art Pass

This enchanting painting is one of the Flemish master's latest landscapes, a moody rural scene bathed in cool nocturnal light. Visitors to the Courtauld can also admire the gallery's impressive collection of Old Masters, spanning from the quattrocento to the Northern Renaissance.

2. Titian, Tarquin and Lucretia
Fitzwilliam Museum, free to all

A violent masterpiece by the Venetian school's greatest artist, Tarquin and Lucretia captures the moment of intense drama as the Roman prince Sextus Tarquinius forces himself upon the married Lucretia. It is one of a number of paintings from the Venetian school in the Fitzwilliam's holdings.

3. Nicolas Poussin, The Finding of Moses
National Museum Cardiff, free to all

ArtFunded for National Museum Cardiff in 1989, The Finding of Moses is one of the greatest achievements of European art. Poussin's mastery of colour and gesture brings the biblical scene to life, making the painting a highlight of any trip to Wales's national art collection.

4. Jan Griffier the Elder, Noah's Ark
Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, free to all

Created three hundred years before David Hockney's Bigger Picture, this 16 square-metre canvas is a celebration of scale and spectacle. Hung among Bristol Museum and Art Gallery's formidable collection of Old Master paintings, Jan Griffier's colourful menagerie holds its own.

5. Rembrandt van Rijn, Girl at a Window
Dulwich Picture Gallery, free entry with National Art Pass

While Dulwich is home to works by Raphael and Veronese, it's this unassuming Rembrand portrait which is "objectively the greatest painting in its collection" according to Jonathan Jones. Delicate lighting, intimacy and seduction combine to make this an unforgettable masterpiece.

6. Piero di Cosimo, The Forest Fire
Ashmolean Museum, 50% off exhibitions with National Art Pass

This quirky piece by the Italian master was gifted to the Ashmolean by the Art Fund in 1933. Designed to be seen from above, the landscape features animals fleeing a burning thicket, some recognisable, others with human faces added by the artist at a late stage.

7. Sandro Botticelli, Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Christ Child
Scottish National Gallery, 50% off exhibitions with National Art Pass

One of the greatest paintings acquired by a British museum since the Second World War, this touching religious scene typifies Botticelli's purity of line and form. The symbolic richness of the thornless roses and rocky outcrop help make this a highlight of the gallery's collection.

8. Nicolas Poussin, A Dance to the Music of Time
Wallace Collection, free to all

Bursting with colour, heavy with allegory, A Dance to the Music of Time has the symphonic complexity that separates merely great paintings from masterpieces. Commissioned by Giulio Rospigliosi, later Pope Clement IX, Poussin's painting is the jewel in the Wallace Collection's crown.

9. Anthony van Dyck, Ecce Homo
Barber Institute of Fine Arts, free to all

Van Dyck's physical, thorn-crowned Christ, draped with a robe of imperial purple in mockery of his title of King of the Jews, is a profound image of sadness and humility. On display with works by Botticelli, Veronese and others, it's a must see for anyone seeking Old Masters in the West Midlands.

10. Rembrandt van Rijn, Self-portrait as a young man
Walker Art Gallery, free to all

This self-portrait was the first of Rembrandt's works to enter a British collection. Created when the artist was as young as 23, the painting is evidence of the Dutch master's early experiments with light and gesture, capturing a key moment in the development of one of the all-time greats.


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Tags: What to see