Tag: Da Vinci

Who’s the Greatest Artist? The Story so Far


Blogging can be a tricky business at best, coming up with engaging content is not always easy. Sometimes you have to set yourself a challenge to get the juices flowing. Any regular readers of this blog will have noticed an irregular set of posts entitled Who’s the Greatest Artist? What I thought would be a quick summer series has now stretched out over two years. I hadn’t really appreciated the scope of the project when I started down this road, but I would have to say it being one of the most enjoyable to research and write. Close to 14 000 words later and here we are. As I approach writing the final four face-offs: Picasso vs Van Gogh and Da Vinci vs Michelangelo, I thought I would compile the story so far.

Who's the greatest artist

Here’s the one that started it all and explains the premise – Who’s the Greatest Artist?

picasso vs rembrandt

I didn’t want to make it easy on myself so I intentionally tried to create difficult match-ups – Picasso vs Rembrandt

goya vs rothko

I liked the idea of using the artist’s likenesses in the banner for each piece – Goya vs Rothko

dali vs warhol

In my mind the outcome of some match-ups were more obvious than others – Dali vs Warhol

Da Vinci vs Duchamp

I liked this one because it pits two very intellectual artists against one another – Da Vinci vs Duchamp

bacon vs basquiat

As I went along, it was increasingly enjoyable to find the parallels between the two – Bacon vs Basquiat

cezanne vs kandinsky

This may have been one of the more difficult one’s to decide – Cezanne vs Kandinsky 

Velazquez vs Van Goght

Sometimes the two artists couldn’t be more unalike if you tried –Velazquez vs Van Gogh

michelangelo vs matisse

This was a tough one because whoever got eliminated could easily have gone on to the top of the bracket –

Michelangelo vs Matisse

That was the first round, now I had the daunting task of writing about some of the same artists all over again but try to keep it fresh. In my mind I knew I had to pace myself and if I knew a particular artist might advance I had to keep some interesting information for later. Some pairings really helped to inform the direction the piece would take. Now on to the quarter-finals.

picasso vs warhol

I made sure I found pictures where they are both wearing their ‘trademark’ striped shirts – Warhol vs Picasso

bacon vs van gogh

This one was probably the most lopsided of the bunch – Bacon vs Van Gogh

da vinci vs goya

I had to eliminate one of my all time favourites, which is always a bit difficult – Da Vinci vs Goya

michelangelo vs cezanne

David and the Giant Peach – Michelangelo vs Cezanne

This brings us up to date and soon the semi-finals. At this point, I’m still not sure who is going to take this thing and that’s part of the enjoyment. I hope you have had a fraction of the amount of pleasure reading these things as I have had writing them.

W.T.G.A.: Da Vinci vs Duchamp

Da Vinci vs DuchampBoth Leonardo and Marcel could be considered the elder statesmen of art. They are a thinking person’s artist. Their ideas transcended their products. As it turns out, the world has a scarce amount of products from the both of them to ogle at in our cultural institutions. In the case of Leonardo he only completed 15-16 paintings over the course of his life. I find it funny that not even art historians can agree on the exact number, as well it seems  lost Da Vincis keep resurfacing all the time.  Duchamp’s output  was minimal as well because he divided his time between art production and chess. He famously turned the game into  performance art on a lecture circuit with his friend Man Ray. We are only left with a handful of pieces, but oh what a handful. They both had too much to think about, rather than spending all their time fabricating. When they did make things, their touch was masterful. Both of them changed art forever; not just the process of making art but nothing short of the idea of art all together. But who is the greater artist?

da Vinci  The Virigin of the Rocks (detail) 1486

Leonardo da Vinci  The Virigin of the Rocks (detail) 1486

He was born out of wedlock, as a young man he was arrested for sodomy and as an old man died in the arms of a king: Leonardo da Vinci is probably the most recognized artist in the history of mankind. He is definitely the author of its most famous painting. But why that painting? A more appropriate question might be: why not that painting? Of the 15-16 paintings he completed over the course of his lifetime is it even his best? Does the most famous painting in history have to be the best painting in history? Is there any way to actually quantify that or who the greatest artist of all time is for that matter? (Probably not… but let’s crack on shall we.)

Duchamp Fountain 1917

Duchamp Fountain 1917

If Leonardo’s Mona Lisa is the world’s most famous piece of art than Marcel’s  Fountain would be the world’s most infamous. Almost a hundred years old and it can still offend and infuriate. So called art lovers will throw their hands up in disgust. This is the ultimate ready-made: a urinal tipped on its side signed by the fictitious R. Mutt. Duchamp didn’t even make it, he didn’t have to, but his power as an artist made it art. The role of the artist was irrevocably changed . He had turned lead into gold.

Advantage: Draw

Da Vinci  skull drawing 1489

Da Vinci skull drawing 1489

Leonardo on the other hand had no desire to dabble in the alchemy of the natural world. He believed man could not replicate nature but rather should observe it and possibly create inventions and understandings to better navigate it. His explorations into medical science and aerodynamics among others are centuries ahead of their time. It was his thirst for knowledge and excellence that helped to define the Renaissance. A favourite story I can neither confirm nor deny is:  Leonardo was a workaholic and knew he had too much to do and discover and found sleep just got in the way of this. To prevent himself from sleeping too long he devised a special bed.  The bed was hooked up to large weights on one end that would slowly be filled with water. When the weights were heavy enough they would tip the bed forcing the occupant up and out of it. An ancient alarm clock that delves into the realm of mythology but is aligned with the larger than life persona that is Da Vinci.

Advantage: Leonardo

Duchamp The Large Glass 1923

Duchamp The Large Glass 1923

The illustrations on the The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors Even (The Large Glass) evoke Leonardo’s diagrams for future machines. Duchamp’s machine painted on glass, that runs on love gasoline is planted more in the arena of satire than science. He painted it on glass so it would constantly change depending on what’s on the other side. The glass was broken during transportation in 1927. Instead of discarding the broken piece, Duchamp famously glued it back together claiming the accident had vastly improved it.

Da Vinci The Battle of Anghiari 1505

Da Vinci The Battle of Anghiari 1505

A piece we have lost to time is Leonardo’s Battle of Anghiari. The mural may in fact lie behind another fresco by Giorgio Vasari in the hall of Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio. This is a testimony to Leonardo’s power. Art historians were willing to remove and damage a centuries old masterpiece in the off chance that a Da Vinci lies behind it. The original plan for the hall was to have facing frescoes, one by Leonardo and the other by Michelangelo. That would have been some room, but alas it did not come to pass.

Duchamp L.H.O.O.Q. 1919

Duchamp L.H.O.O.Q. 1919

With no more than a postcard and a pen Duchamp delved into the iconoclastic. By subverting Leonardo he only gave him more power. Dada exclaimed that the artist only need to recognize something as art in order for it to be art. So in this little contest Duchamp himself tips his hat to the victor. Marcel Duchamp’s contribution to art changed the game completely and injected a much needed sense of mirth and play. Marcel elevated art to the heights of what it is capable of being and Leonardo shone a light on what mankind is capable of achieving.

Winner: Leonardo da Vinci

Who’s the Greatest Artist?


An impossible question to answer, a very controversial proposal, a polarizing proposition, a can of worms wrapped in a barrel of monkeys, but why not throw it against the wall to see if it sticks.

Here ladies and gentlemen for your contemplation is the bracket and its combatants. (If you are offended by the premise of pitting our artistic maestros against one another, let me remind you that when it comes to competition; the arena of art is essentially the Colosseum.) Just like the ancient Romans who would throw any two things together to see who would win: bears vs lions, giraffes vs tigers etc, I have assembled a who’s who of radically different styles.

Choosing the artists was a very daunting task. There are some no-brainers along with a few perhaps surprises. I can already hear the criticisms: “How can you include Basquiat and not include Ruebens?” When mining the entirety of art history:  the artists I did not include breaks my heart. People that almost made the cut: Titian, Giotto, Vermeer, Mondrian, Joseph Beuys, Caravaggio  Artemisia Gentileschi, Bridget Riley, Miro and on and on. You’ll notice that the bracket rests heavily on the dead white man western side of things. This aspect I do regret, but I feel history has conspired against us in this regard. We are slowly making amends for this in the twenty first century by broadening our millennial-long narrow mindedness and finally becoming more inclusionary. You will also notice that no living or contemporary artists made the show. I believe time is the greatest critic of art and we haven’t gotten back far enough to see their whole picture yet.

The artists I did choose I believe most people would concede their place here among some of the greatest of all time. (I realize there is noway to satisfy everyone.) I did try to put together some unlikely and highly contested match-ups. It’s really hard to find sparing partners for Da Vinci and Michelangelo; Renoir’s cute flower girls would be no match.

But how to ascertain who is the superior artist, there must be parameters. The artists will be judged on: historical significance, masterpieces, innovation and influence, technique and overall impact.  Over the course of the summer I’ll be weighing the titans of art against one another in a series of posts to eventually crown a winner. Any and all suggestions are welcome in the comments.

This idea was formulated by looking at the search terms on my WordPress dashboard. Last year about this time, I wrote a review comparing the Picasso show at the AGO with the National Gallery’s Van Gogh exhibit. I entitled the piece Van Gogh Vs Picasso, and it was meant to compare the two shows, not the two artists. Over the past year I have noticed quite a few search queries that read Who’s better Van Gogh or Picasso? It is like people out there are asking the great genie that is the internet to tell them who is the greatest artist of them all…..I’m no genie but I know a fun challenge when I see one.


  Related posts:

W.T.G.A.: Picasso vs Rembrandt

W.T.G.A.: Goya vs Rothko

W.T.G.A.: Dali vs Warhol

W.T.G.A.: Da Vinci vs Duchamp

W.T.G.A.: Bacon vs Basquiat

W.T.G.A.: Cezanne vs Kandinsky

W.T.G.A.: Velazquez vs Van Gogh

W.T.G.A.: Michelangelo vs Matisse