Ten Renaissance masterpieces

Published 17 April 2013

To celebrate the birthday of Leonardo da Vinci, we've chosen ten of the greatest Renaissance paintings on display across Britain.

1. Leonardo da Vinci, Virgin of the Rocks, 1495–1508
The National Gallery, London

Leonardo painted two versions of this magnificent altarpiece, and the National Gallery's Virgin of the Rocks is the later, more idealised of the two. In contrast to the warmer version in the Louvre, the painting is illuminated with a cold, almost other-worldly light, with a fantastical landscape visible through a gap in the rocks that frame the group.

2. Sandro Botticelli, The Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Christ Child, c. 1490
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh

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.

3. Titian, Tarquin and Lucretia, 1571
The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

A violent masterpiece by the Venetian school's leading 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.

4. Cima da Conegliano, Virgin and Child, 1500
National Museum Cardiff

Cima da Conegliano made a name for himself as a painter working in Venice, before returning to his native Conegliano to continue his career. Also known as Giovannia Battista Cima, he was famous for his religious paintings which suggested holy grace through the gentle, undramatic symmetry of their compositions.

5. Jan Gossaert, Hercules and Deianira, 1517
The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham

The Flemish painter Gossaert (sometimes called Mabuse, after his birthplace, Maubeuge) brought a distinctive, physical style to the era, becoming one of the leading artists of the Northern Renaissance. His portrayal of Hercules and Deianira is typically erotic, their bodies contoured like marble sculptures.

6. Giovanni Bellini, Madonna and Child, c. 1485–1488
The Burrell Collection, Glasgow

The son of Jacopo Bellini and brother of Gentile Bellini, Giovanni Bellini hailed from a family of painters. He created many images of the Madonna and Child, and the marble balustrade running across the lower edge of this painting establishes a respectful distance between the figures and the viewer.

7. Lucas Cranach the Elder, Adam and Eve, 1526
The Courtauld Gallery, London

Cranach's vision of paradise is full of inventive details, from the roe-buck capturing its reflection in the foreground to the bewildered look on Adam's face as he scratches his head contemplating the apple. A close friend of Martin Luther, Cranach was a pivotal figure in the German Renaissance and an ardent supporter of the Protestant Reformation.

8. Raphael, The Holy Family with a Palm Tree, 1506
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh

Raphael is synonymous with idealised beauty, and nowhere is that more evident than in his paintings of the holy family. This circular panel (or 'tondo') features Christ at its centre, flanked by the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph, perfectly balanced to capture the harmonious relationship of the holy family.

9. Piero di Cosimo, Portrait of a Young Man, c. 1500
Dulwich Picture Gallery, London

Piero di Cosimo was known as a notorious eccentric – scared of fire to the point that he avoided cooking food, and living on a diet of boiled eggs which he prepared in batches of 50 – yet his reputation as a portrait painter was exceptional. This striking painting of a young man shows Piero at his best.

10. Paolo Uccello, Hunt in the Forest, c. 1470
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

This forest scene is both the last painting Uccello created, and the oldest work on our list. One of the pioneers of perspective – evident in the groups of hunters receding into the background – the 15th-century master is best known for his painting Saint George and the Dragon in the National Gallery.

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