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12 Highly Relatable Art History Memes

I don’t usually have guest submissions, but when I do, it’s because I think it is really worthwhile or just really entertaining.  I think you will really enjoy these art history memes from Invaluable (a gallery/art auction site).

12 Highly Relatable Art History Memes

Joseph Ducreux, “Self-portrait of the artist in the guise of a mocker,” 1793. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Recently, art history has collided with the world of internet memes, resulting in a wave of articles and blogs around the web solely devoted to reimagining the meaning of a work of art in amusing ways. Whether you are a museum visitor, an art historian, or someone who simply enjoys a funny visual, these art history memes offer a satirical look at the art world and provide unique insight into the creative choices of some of our favorite artists.

To celebrate this trend, we’ve compiled works of art from 500 years of art history to create memes that mix the artists’ original intent with a modern context. Explore the significance of each work and the circumstances under which it was originally conceived, along with a suggested (and highly relatable) reinterpretation.


Michelangelo, “The Last Judgment” (detail), 1536–1541. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

“The Last Judgment” was created by Michelangelo in the 16th century. The monumental work depicts over 300 figures, including the image of Damned Man, pictured above. The full work portrays the Second Coming of Christ and God’s judgment on humanity. The painting was inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy.


Leonardo da Vinci, “Lady with an Ermine,” 1489–1490. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Lady with an Ermine is one of only four portraits of women painted by Leonardo da Vinci. The subject of the work is Cecilia Gallerani, and the piece was painted when she was the mistress of Leonardo’s employer, Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan. The ermine in the portrait has symbolic significance, as many believe is it meant to signify purity.


John Everett Millais, “Ophelia,” 1851–52. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

In this painting, John Everett Millais depicts a scene from Act IV, Scene vii of “Hamlet” in which Ophelia is driven mad when her father is murdered by Hamlet. Millais created this painting with a focus on the landscape at first, a decision that is in line with the stylistic choices of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. He later decided to add the figure of Ophelia to the image. Today, this image is commonly used in memes that celebrate both art and literature.


Jacques-Louis David, “The Death of Marat,” 1793. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

This painting depicts the death of Jean-Paul Marat, a French revolutionary leader who was murdered during the rebellion. Due to the nature of Marat’s death, a realistic depiction was impossible, which explains why this painting features somewhat idealized imagery. Jacques-Louis David was highly sympathetic with the revolutionary cause, and his works are hailed by many as demands for political action during this time period.


Raphael, “Joanna of Aragon,” 1518. Image via Wiki Art.

This portrait features a woman who was previously identified as Joanna of Aragon, but who we now know to be Doña Isabel de Requesens y Enrìques de Cardona-Anglesola. The work has been attributed to multiple artists, including the School of Raphael. Most believe that the work was executed by Giulio Romano based on a sketch that Raphael created.


Henry Fuseli, “The Nightmare,” 1781. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Henry Fuseli’s image of a woman in the grips of a nightmare is filled with mystery and intrigue, yet the emotions portrayed feel uncomfortably relatable to the viewer. Many disagree on the artist’s intended message. Some believe that the painting’s aim is to portray the emotions that the woman experiences during a night terror.


Sandro Botticelli, “Pallas and the Centaur” (detail), 1445–1510. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Some scholars believe that this painting is meant to be a companion to Primavera, one of Botticelli’s most famous works. Pallas and the Centaur was lost for centuries but was rediscovered towards the end of the 20th century. Historians suggest that the woman featured in the image may represent an Amazon warrior known as Camille, who was described by Virgil in the Aeneid as powerful and pure.


Caravaggio, “Boy with a Basket of Fruit,” 1593. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Caravaggio created this painting when he was still relatively unknown. This work is a powerful example of his ability to paint his subjects exactly as he saw them, without idealizing their form. The level of detail of the leaves and fruit is so realistic that horticultural scientists have been able to accurately determine each individual cultivar simply by analyzing the image.


Gustave Courbet, “The Desperate Man,” 1844–1845. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

This image is a self-portrait of the artist, Gustave Courbet. The painting perfectly captures his feelings of melancholy and disillusionment by depicting a facial expression appears both fearful and deranged. The painting confronts the viewer with an intensity and inescapability rarely seen in arts and speaks to the artist’s struggle to find his voice and create art that truly represented himself.


Lorenzo Lotto, “Husband and Wife,” 1523. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

The painting was created by Russian artist Lorenzo Lotto in the 16th century and is rich with symbolic meaning. The woman is holding a dog, a symbol of fidelity, to show her devotion to her husband, while he holds a paper with the Latin words for “man, never” to show that he will also stay faithful to her. The work was created a few years after the patron’s wife passed away, which may explain why the artist chose to give her a delicate, heavenly expression and an angelic glow.


Joseph Ducreux, “Self-portrait of the Artist in the Guise of a Mocker,” 1793. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Joseph Ducreux was a French nobel and portrait painter who created portraits at the court of Louis XVI, including the king’s last portrait before his execution. His self-portrait, in which he imitates the expression of a mocker, has become a popular internet meme.


Sandro Botticelli, “Primavera,” late 1470s or early 1480s. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Sandro Botticelli’s painting Primavera highlights a group of figures dancing in an orange grove. While Primavera means “spring,” the exact meaning of this work is unknown. The three women featured in the picture are meant to represent The Three Graces, perceived feminine virtues of chastity, love, and beauty.

The recent popularity of art history memes has provided a fun way to reimagine the intent behind some of the most iconic paintings in art history and reflect on the legacy of beloved creators.

Sources: Bored Panda | List25 | Huffington Post | Italian Renaissance Art | Florence InfernoEuropeana | Research Gate | New Scientist | Dia | Tate | Getty | Providr | Totally History | British Museum | Leonardo da Vinci | William Bouguereau | VG Gallery | Italian RenaissanceStudy | Museo del Prado | BC Edu | Fine Art Connoisseur | Artble | Caravaggio | Wikiart

The list is changed slightly from the original list from Invaluable.  There are others which contain more graphic artworks, which you should only click on if you are over 18 years or with your parent’s approval first.  The original list is at the Invaluable website here.

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About Marcia Beckett

Marcia is an elementary art teacher and loves painting, drawing, sculpture, art journaling and clay. Her blog, Art is Basic, features many exciting art projects for kids.

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