The 12 Most Famous Artworks at The Philadelphia Museum of Art

Located on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is renowned for its impressive collection of artwork from around the world. The museum holds over 240,000 objects, spanning centuries and encompassing various artistic styles and genres. Within this vast expanse, there are several notable and celebrated artworks that have captured the hearts and minds of visitors for generations. Here, we will explore the 12 most famous artworks housed in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, uncovering their dimensions, location, creation date, genre, medium, and periods.

1. The Annunciation

The Annunciation

  • Dimensions: 58 7/8 x 37 5/8in. (149.5 x 95.6cm)
  • Location: European Painting Galleries, 241
  • Created: 1434–1436
  • Genre: Religious
  • Medium: Oil on wood
  • Period: Early Renaissance

One of the museum’s most treasured pieces is the panel painting “The Annunciation” by Jan van Eyck. This masterpiece is a perfect example of 15th-century Flemish religious art. The artist’s incredible attention to detail is evident in the richly textured surfaces, vibrant colors, and refined precision of the work. Visitors are often drawn to the stunning depiction of the angel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary, illuminated by divine light streaming in through a wondrously painted window. “The Annunciation” stands as a testament to van Eyck’s mastery and continues to inspire awe and wonder among all who encounter it.

2. The Gross Clinic

The Gross Clinic

  • Dimensions: 96 x 78 in. (243.8 x 198.1cm)
  • Location: American Art Galleries, 230
  • Created: 1875
  • Genre: Historical, Realism
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Period: 19th century

One of America’s most iconic paintings, “The Gross Clinic” by Thomas Eakins graces the walls of the museum’s American art galleries. This monumental work portrays Dr. Samuel D. Gross, a renowned Philadelphia surgeon, delivering a lecture to his medical students. The painting captures the intensity and seriousness of the surgical theater, with Eakins’ meticulous attention to detail evident in the rendering of surgical instruments and the anatomical knowledge displayed by Dr. Gross. Despite initial controversy due to its realistic depiction of blood and gore, “The Gross Clinic” has come to be recognized as a triumph of American realism, reflecting both Eakins’ technical mastery and his dedication to capturing the true essence of American life.

3. The Bathers

The Bathers

  • Dimensions: 38 7/8 x 32in. (98.7 x 81.3cm)
  • Location: Modern and Contemporary Art Galleries, 182
  • Created: 1903–1906
  • Genre: Figurative
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Period: Early 20th century

A prominent work within the museum’s modern and contemporary art galleries, “The Bathers” by French artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir showcases his skill in capturing the subtleties of human form and light. The painting depicts a group of young women bathing in a natural setting, illuminated by dappled sunlight filtering through the trees. Renoir’s loose brushwork, delicate pastel colors, and emphasis on the interplay of light and shade make this piece a quintessential example of impressionism. “The Bathers” invites viewers to immerse themselves in the idyllic scene and experience the enchanting beauty of Renoir’s vision.

4. The Crucifixion

The Crucifixion

  • Dimensions: 17 1/4 x 12 5/8in. (43.8 x 32.1cm)
  • Location: Medieval and Early Renaissance Galleries, 227
  • Created: Late 13th century
  • Genre: Religious
  • Medium: Tempera, gold leaf, and ink on parchment
  • Period: Gothic

An exquisite example of medieval religious art, “The Crucifixion” is a small-scale illuminated manuscript page that captures the intensity and emotion of Christ’s crucifixion. This delicate work of art, created during the late 13th century, intricately depicts Christ being nailed to the cross while Mary Magdalene mourns at the foot. The use of gold leaf and vivid colors adds a sense of transcendence to the scene, emphasizing the divine nature of the moment. Nestled within the museum’s Medieval and Early Renaissance Galleries, this remarkable piece draws visitors into the medieval world and showcases the talent and devotion of the anonymous illuminator who brought it to life.

5. Chinese Daoist Sculpture: Gilt Bronze Wuxing Fudō

Gilt Bronze Wuxing Fudō

  • Dimensions: 43 1/4 x 35 1/2 x 23 1/2in. (109.9 x 90.2 x 59.7cm)
  • Location: Asian Art Galleries, 231
  • Created: Late 13th–early 14th century
  • Genre: Sculpture
  • Medium: Gilt copper alloy
  • Period: Yuan dynasty

Among the many treasures from across the globe in the museum’s Asian Art Galleries is the Gilt Bronze Wuxing Fudō. This remarkable Chinese sculpture crafted during the Yuan dynasty represents Wuxing Fudō, the wrathful guardian deity of Buddhism. The sculpture stands at an impressive height, its dynamic posture conveying a powerful and awe-inspiring presence. The sculpture’s intricate details, superb craftsmanship, and gilded finish reflect the craftsmanship of artisans during this period in Chinese history. The Gilt Bronze Wuxing Fudō stands as a testament to the rich religious and artistic traditions of ancient China.

6. The Liberation of Saint Peter

The Liberation of Saint Peter

  • Dimensions: 36 3/8 x 34 1/2in. (92.4 x 87.6cm)
  • Location: European Painting Galleries, 243
  • Created: 1639
  • Genre: Religious, Baroque
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Period: Baroque

Caravaggio’s masterpiece “The Liberation of Saint Peter” graces the European Painting Galleries of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Painted in 1639, the piece depicts the biblical scene in which an angel rescues Saint Peter from imprisonment. Caravaggio’s use of chiaroscuro, a dramatic contrast between light and dark, adds intensity to the scene, making the angelic intervention even more striking. The composition’s dynamism and the artist’s keen attention to the human form highlight Caravaggio’s unrivaled talent as a Baroque painter. “The Liberation of Saint Peter” continues to captivate viewers with its masterful execution and evocative portrayal of spiritual liberation.

7. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon

  • Dimensions: 8 x 7 ft 8 in. (243.9 x 233.7cm)
  • Location: Modern and Contemporary Art Galleries, 180
  • Created: 1907
  • Genre: Cubist, Proto-Cubist
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Period: Early 20th century

Pablo Picasso’s groundbreaking painting “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” is a defining work of modern art. Housed in the Modern and Contemporary Art Galleries, this large-scale canvas showcases the emergence of cubism and represents a turning point in artistic expression. Painted in 1907, the work depicts five female figures in a brothel, their faces and bodies fragmented and distorted, challenging traditional notions of perspective and form. Picasso’s bold exploration of multiple viewpoints and his radical departure from naturalistic representation foreshadow the transformative nature of modern art. “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” remains an icon of artistic innovation and continues to influence the course of art history.

8. The Japanese Footbridge and the Water Lily Pool, Giverny

The Japanese Footbridge and the Water Lily Pool, Giverny

  • Dimensions: 32 x 40in. (81.3 x 101.6cm)
  • Location: Impressionist Galleries, 178
  • Created: 1899
  • Genre: Landscapes
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Period: Late 19th–early 20th century

Among the museum’s collection of impressionist masterpieces, Claude Monet’s “The Japanese Footbridge and the Water Lily Pool, Giverny” stands out for its serene beauty. Created in 1899, this painting transports viewers to Monet’s iconic garden at Giverny, where he spent the latter part of his life. The vibrant colors, bold brushstrokes, and the artist’s emphasis on capturing the changing qualities of light immerse the viewer in a realm of tranquility and natural splendor. Through this masterpiece, Monet invites the viewer to experience the fleeting magic of a peaceful moment in his beloved garden.

9. The Veiled Rebecca

The Veiled Rebecca

  • Dimensions: 25 3/4 x 16 1/8 x 13 3/8in. (65.4 x 41 x 34cm)
  • Location: South Asia Galleries, 212
  • Created: Late 19th century
  • Genre: Sculpture
  • Medium: Marble
  • Period: Colonial period

The South Asia Galleries of the Philadelphia Museum of Art house an exquisite marble sculpture known as “The Veiled Rebecca.” Created in the late 19th century, this masterpiece by Indian sculptor Raphael Monti portrays a veiled woman’s face emerging from a translucent marble shroud. The intricately carved veil gives the illusion of a thin, delicate fabric, enveloping the figure with an ethereal quality. Monti’s exceptional skill in rendering the nuances of drapery brings the sculpture to life, evoking a sense of fragility and mystery. “The Veiled Rebecca” serves as a testament to the artistry and craftsmanship of Indian sculptors during the colonial era.

10. Off the Delaware Capes

Off the Delaware Capes

  • Dimensions: 34 x 48in. (86.4 x 121.9cm)
  • Location: American Art Galleries, 231
  • Created: 1885
  • Genre: Marine
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Period: Late 19th–early 20th century

“Off the Delaware Capes,” a mesmerizing seascape painted by American artist Edward Moran, is a highlight of the American Art Galleries. Completed in 1885, the painting captures the tumultuous power and beauty of the sea. Moran’s masterful brushwork and attention to detail bring the choppy waters and stormy sky to life, while the grandeur of the tall ship in the foreground adds a sense of scale and drama to the composition. “Off the Delaware Capes” serves as a testament to Moran’s skill in capturing the sublime majesty of the natural world and remains an enduring favorite among visitors to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

11. The Virgin and Child Enthroned with Saints: The Altenberg Altar

The Altenberg Altar

  • Dimensions: 13 ft 6 in. x 10 ft 8 5/8in. (412.8 x 327.7cm)
  • Location: Medieval and Early Renaissance Galleries, 226
  • Created: 1310–1325
  • Genre: Religious
  • Medium: Tempera and gold leaf on wood
  • Period: Gothic

The immense and visually striking “The Virgin and Child Enthroned with Saints: The Altenberg Altar” is a centerpiece of the museum’s Medieval and Early Renaissance Galleries. Created between 1310 and 1325, this monumental altar painting stands at an impressive height of over 13 feet. The artwork showcases Mary seated on a magnificent throne, accompanied by various saints and angels. The intricate details of the gold leaf background and the vibrancy of the tempera pigments highlight the artistry and craftsmanship of the unknown artist. This Gothic masterpiece not only represents a pinnacle of medieval art but also offers valuable insight into the spirituality and devotional practices of the time.

12. Japanese Armor

Japanese Armor

  • Dimensions: Variable dimensions
  • Location: Asian Art Galleries, 234
  • Created: 18th–19th century
  • Genre: Armor
  • Medium: Several materials, such as iron, lacquer, silk, and gilt copper
  • Period: Edo to Meiji period

A fascinating piece within the Asian Art Galleries is the collection of Japanese armor. Spanning the 18th and 19th centuries, these intricately crafted armors reflect the craftsmanship and martial heritage of feudal Japan. The armors are made from various materials, including iron, lacquer, silk, and gilt copper, and demonstrate the aesthetic refinement and technical skill of Japanese armorers. Whether adorned with detailed motifs or displaying a more minimalist design, these pieces provide valuable insights into the samurai culture and the artistry that surrounded it. The Japanese armor collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is a testament to the enduring legacy of Japan’s warrior class.

As you explore the Philadelphia Museum of Art, these 12 famous artworks undoubtedly stand out among the vast array of masterpieces. From religious panels and sculptures to dramatic historical scenes and revolutionary modern works, they represent the rich tapestry of artistic expression throughout history. These treasured pieces continue to captivate and inspire visitors, bringing joy, contemplation, and awe to all who have the privilege of encountering them.