The Arts Portal



The arts refers to the theory and physical expression of creativity found in human cultures and societies. Major constituents of the arts include visual arts (including architecture, ceramics, drawing, filmmaking, painting, photography, and sculpting), literature (including fiction, drama, poetry, and prose), and performing arts (including dance, music, and theatre).

Some art forms combine a visual element with performance (e.g. cinematography), or artwork with the written word (e.g. comics). From prehistoric cave paintings to modern-day films, art serves as a vessel for storytelling and conveying humankind's relationship with the environment.

Featured article

The Magdalen Reading
The Magdalen Reading is one of three surviving fragments of a large mid-15th century oil-on-oak altarpiece by the early Netherlandish painter Rogier van der Weyden. Completed some time between 1435 and 1438, it has been in the National Gallery, London since 1860. It shows a woman with the pale skin, high cheek bones and oval eyebrows typical of the idealised portraits of noble women of the period. The woman is identifiable as the Magdalen from the jar of ointment placed in the foreground, which, according to the Gospels, she used to clean Christ's feet.

The background of the painting had been overpainted with a thick layer of brown paint. A cleaning between 1955 and 1956 revealed the figure standing behind the Magdalen and the kneeling figure with bare feet protruding in front of her, with a landscape visible through a window. The original altarpiece was a sacra conversazione known only through a drawing, Virgin and Child with Saints.

The panel was purchased by the National Gallery from a collector in Paris. It is described by art historian Lorne Campbell as "one of the great masterpieces of 15th-century art and among van der Weyden's most important early works."

Featured picture

Slave ceremony in SurinameCredit: Artist: Théodore Bray; Restoration: Lise Broer

A colored lithograph showing a funeral ceremony among slaves in Suriname in the mid-19th century. Attendees wear white as two men carry a wooden coffin. A small boy is blindfolded, which was a common practice during this time and place although the reason is unknown. Slavery was introduced with the English settlers in the 17th century and was not abolished until 200 years later.

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Portrait of Caspar Friedrich by Gerhard von Kügelgen
Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840) was a 19th-century German Romantic landscape painter, generally considered the most important of the movement. He is best known for his mid-period allegorical landscapes, which typically feature contemplative figures silhouetted against night skies, morning mists, barren trees or Gothic ruins. His primary interest as an artist was the contemplation of nature, and his often symbolic and anti-classical work seeks to convey a subjective, emotional response to the natural world. Friedrich's work characteristically sets the human element in diminished perspective amid expansive landscapes, reducing the figures to a scale that, according to the art historian Christopher John Murray, directs "the viewer's gaze towards their metaphysical dimension". Friedrich was born in the Swedish Pomeranian town of Greifswald, where he began his studies in art as a youth. Later, he studied in Copenhagen until 1798, before settling in Dresden. Friedrich's work brought him renown early in his career, and contemporaries such as the French sculptor David d'Angers (1788–1856) spoke of him as a man who had discovered "the tragedy of landscape". However, his work fell from favour during his later years, and he died in obscurity. By the 1920s his paintings had been discovered by the Expressionists, and in the 1930s and early 1940s Surrealists and Existentialists frequently drew ideas from his work.

Featured audio

Frank C. Stanley's 1910 performance of Robert Burns' Auld Lang Syne. Contains the first and last verse.

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