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Painting is an art technique that dates back more than 40,000 years ago. Over the past couple of millennia, we have moved away from cave paintings and have created more elaborate and detailed pieces of art. Thousands of paintings have been created throughout the course of time, but a few pieces stand out more than others.

Mona Lisa, Leonardo Da Vinci, 1503-1519

The Mona Lisa is one the best known, most visited, and most written about work of art in the entire world. The piece took Da Vinci over ten years to finish, but it was well worth the wait. When admiring the Mona Lisa, onlookers always have two questions; who is she and why is she smiling. A few working theories of who this mysterious woman may include the wife of the Florentine merchant Francesco di Bartolomeo del Giocondo or Da Vinci mother.

A Starry Night, Vincent Van Gogh, 1889

A Starry Night has been seen everywhere and on anything, from mugs to t-shirts to towels to magnets. Vincent Van Gogh painted Starry Night while staying at the asylum of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole near Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in 1889. Diagnosed with epileptic fits, Van Gogh suffered from hallucinations and plunged into a deep depression. His transition to darker blue colors in his paintings was a tonal indication of mental state. Although the meaning behind Starry Night is quite melancholic, you can’t deny that the painting is captivating.

Girl With a Pearl Earring, Johannes Vermeer, 1665

Due to how modern the painting appears, there has been some debate whether or not Johannes Vermeer captured this image with a pre-photographic device known as a camera obscura. The subject of the painting is unknown, but there is some suspicion that she may be one of Vermeer’s maid. As she gazes over her shoulder, her eyes lock with a viewer to establish an intimate century.

The Birth of Venus, Sandro Botticelli, 1484-1486

The woman pictured in Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus is claimed to be the Goddess of Love. The woman is modeled after Simonetta Cattaneo Vespucci, an Italian noblewoman. As one of the first non-religious nudes, the painting caused some uproar.

The Dominican monk, Savonarola, cracked down on the secular tastes of the Florentines, and in 1497, he leads a “Bonfire of the Vanities.” Along with other “profane” objects—cosmetics, artworks, books The Birth of Venus was scheduled for incineration, but it miraculously avoided the flames. Shaken up by the incident, Botticelli gave up painting for quite some time.