Many of the works on the list below have been stolen.
Others destroyed by man or nature and, of others, their final destination is simply not exactly known. The reasons why these treasures were lost are different, but in all cases there is a common culprit: the human being.
No.1 The Colossus of Rhodes
One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, The Colossus of Rhodes was a massive bronze statue of the sun god, Helios, that towered over the Greek city of Rhodes. The statue was located next to the city's port since 280 BC, being one of the most important commercial ports in the ancient Mediterranean.
Helios was a descendant of the Titans Hyperion and Theia. One place where Helios was particularly adored was Rhodes, the largest of the Dodecanese islands in the eastern Mediterranean. Rhodes was a Polis, or city-state, and generated a lot of money from its lucrative control of trade. There seemed to be no better way to celebrate its commercial status than to commission a massive statue in honor of the city's god, a move that celebrated the island's won freedom.
The original giant statue was 33 meters tall and, according to ancient reports, it took sculptor Chares de Lindos a full 12 years to complete. Although the Colossus surely proved to be an incredible sight for visitors to the city's bustling port, sadly, the giant Helios barely lasted 56 years.
Knocked down by an earthquake in 228 or 226 BC, its broken pieces littered the docks of Rhodes for a millennium before melting into scrap metal in the mid-7th century. No drawing of the Colossus of Rhodes survives to this day, but ancient sources note that Helios was depicted standing with a torch held in his outstretched hand. These descriptions later served as inspiration for the design of the Statue of Liberty.
No.2 The Shield of Medusa - Leonardo da Vinci
The Shield of Medusa was lost to time, but it is one of those mysterious works by Leonardo da Vinci with a high level of spirit and debate.
According to a 1550 account by the art historian Giorgio Vasari, the face was painted on a wooden shield cut from fig trees, as a favor to a peasant friend of his who designed the shield. Leonardo in his experimental style took the shield and heated it with fire and softened it.
According to the story, when his father, Ser Piero, came to see the shield and knocked on the door, Leonardo told him to wait. He took the painting and set it near a window with soft light peeking through. Ser Piero entered and glanced at the painting and stepped back with a cry.
Leonardo then said: “This work serves the purpose for which it was made; pick it up and take it away, for this is the effect it was meant to produce."
The painting ended up being so realistic that it initially frightened Leonardo's father, who considered it a somewhat macabre masterpiece and secretly sold it to a group of Florentine merchants.
The Shield of Medusa was meant to be one of those stories from Leonardo's youth, so it could be in Vinci (in Tuscany, where Leonardo was born), or it could be in Florence.
The shield has long since disappeared, and some modern experts now argue that Vasari's story may have been little more than a myth, urban legend of his day.
No.3 The Stone Breakers - Gustave Courbet
Realism and pure reality in a single work.
If we look closely at Courbet's painting, The Stone Breakers, the artist's concern for the plight of the poor was evident.
The Stone Breakers, painted in 1849, depicts two common peasant workers. Courbet painted without any apparent feeling; instead, he let the image of the two men, one too young for hard labor and the other too old, express the feelings of hardship and exhaustion he was trying to portray. Courbet shows sympathy for the workers and disgust for the upper class by painting these men with dignity of their own.
Inspired by a chance meeting with two downtrodden workers, Courbet deliberately broke with the convention of the day, capturing the men in gritty detail, from their taut muscles to their tattered and dirty clothes.
Traditionally, an artist spent most of their time on hands, faces, and close-ups. This was not the case with Courbet. If you look closely, you will notice that he tries to be unbiased, attending to faces and rock alike, leaving aside the glamor that most French painters at the time added to their works. Because of this, Courbet became known as the leader of the royalist movement.
While the painting helped launch Courbet's artistic career, "The Stone Breakers" was ultimately doomed to become one of the many cultural casualties of World War II. In 1945, the painting was destroyed during an Allied bombing raid near the city of Dresden, Germany.
No.4 The man at the crossroads - Diego Rivera
Diego Rivera painted many populist murals and frescoes, but his most famous work might be the one that no longer exists. In 1932, the Mexican artist was commissioned by John D. Rockefeller to create a mural for the walls of Rockefeller Center in New York.
The artist was given the theme: "the man at the crossroads looking with hope and high vision to choose a new and better future."
Rockefeller wanted the painting to make people stop and think. Rivera was to be paid $21,000 for the job. It was officially commissioned by Todd-Robertson-Todd Engineering, the building's development agents. The full commission envisioned three murals. The man at the Crossroads would be in the center. It would be flanked by The Frontier of Ethical Evolution and The Frontier of Material Development. The central composition was intended to contrast capitalism and socialism. This basic compositional idea was approved by Rockefeller.
On April 24, 1933, the New York World-Telegram newspaper published an article attacking the mural as anti-capitalist propaganda. A few days later, Rivera added the portrait of Lenin to the work. The leader appeared in the front, on the right. There Lenin is seen holding hands with a group of multiracial workers.
Soldiers and the war machine occupied the top left above the women of society, and a Russian May Day rally was seen with red flags on the right, above Lenin. For Rivera, this represented contrasting social visions: the "depraved rich" watched by the unemployed as war rages, while a socialist utopia is ushered in by Lenin.
Of the hundreds of characters in The Man at the Crossroads, Lenin produced the most debate. An April 24 New York World-Telegram headline declared "Rivera Perpetuates Scenes of Communist Activity for RCA Walls, and Rockefeller, Jr. Foots Bill." Ten days later, Nelson Rockefeller, Rivera's patron and a member of a famous and wealthy family, asked the artist to eliminate Lenin. When Rivera refused, the artist was paid in full for his work and fired. The murals were covered over and then destroyed, as Rivera's supporters rallied to save the work.
Concerned that Rockefeller would destroy the work, Rivera had asked an assistant, Lucienne Bloch, to take photos of the mural before it was destroyed. Using them as a reference, Rivera painted the mural again, albeit on a smaller scale, at the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City, where it was renamed Man, Controller of the Universe. The composition was nearly identical, the main difference being that the central figure was moved slightly to align with the support mast of the cylindrical telescope above it. The new version featured a portrait of Leon Trotsky alongside Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels on the right, and others, including Charles Darwin, on the left, and Nelson Rockefeller's father, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., a teetotaler from all life, drinking in a nightclub with a woman. Above their heads the artist arranged a plate of syphilis bacteria.
No.5 Portrait of Sir Winston Churchill - Graham Sutherland
In 1954, members of the British Parliament commissioned a portrait by the artist Graham Sutherland and presented it to Winston Churchill as an 80th birthday present.
Graham continues to be remembered, above all, as the artist whose portrait of Sir Winston Churchill so offended the venerable figure that he destroyed it.
While claiming to be honored by the gesture, Churchill was not a fan of Sutherland's realistic portrayal, which he thought captured him in an unflattering pose. In fact, the prime minister detested the portrait so much that he considered not attending the unveiling ceremony, even writing Sutherland a letter personally expressing his disappointment.
It was not that the portrait was deliberately "modern" in style, or even poorly executed. Rather, it was a frankly honest and straightforward portrait of a man who was, after all, in his early 80s, frail and physically exhausted. However, the portrait was also a comprehensive study that succeeded in conveying the seriousness of the sitter while revealing her vulnerability. However, this reality collided spectacularly with the image that Churchill liked to project of himself to British society, that of the man of action, the unassuming and indomitable leader in times of war.
Given the bold candor and honesty of the image, Churchill's reaction was perhaps inevitable.
Churchill and his wife refused all requests to publicly display the painting, and the work effectively disappeared from public view for several years. Following the leader's death in 1977, it was finally revealed that Lady Churchill had personally vandalized and burned the hated portrait less than a year after it was unveiled.
In retrospect, the entire "Churchill portrait controversy" proved to be a double-edged sword for Sutherland. On the one hand, it was a testament to the power of his portrait. But on the other hand, the painting brought him a great deal of unwanted and unwarranted notoriety, especially in the popular press. This was particularly galling for Sutherland, because he was a serious artist who was deeply committed to his profession.
No.6 The Buddhas of Bamiyan
Image of the Buddhas of Bamiyan before its destruction.
Built sometime in the 6th century, this legendary pair of stone Buddhas stood for 1,500 years before falling victim to a cultural purge by the Taliban. The 41- and 53-meter-high carvings were originally created directly from a sandstone cliff, and served as Bamiyan's most spectacular monument during a time when the city flourished as a Silk Road trading hub.
Before its destruction, two monumental Buddha sculptures could be seen carved into the cliff facing the valley. The larger of the two figures was located at the western end. Art historian Susan Huntington has argued that it represented Vairochana Buddha. The smaller of the two monumental statues, located to the east, represented Shakyamuni Buddha.
Like many of the world's great ancient monuments, little is known about who commissioned the Buddhas from the sculptors who carved them. However, its very existence points to the importance of the Buddhist faith and the Bamiyan Valley during this period.
The destruction in Bamiyan is the most spectacular attack on Afghanistan's historical and cultural heritage. Its destruction is also unique because of the global mobilization that it aroused, although, unfortunately, it is not the only damage inflicted on the archaeological remains of that country.
While withstanding more than a dozen centuries, various attacks by Muslim emperors and even an invasion by Genghis Kahn, the Buddhas were finally destroyed in March 2001, when the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies issued an order condemning the "idolatrous" images. .
Ignoring widespread calls from the international community, the groups fired at the statues with anti-aircraft weapons before blowing them up with dynamite.
While the destruction of the Buddhas was condemned as a crime against culture, a number of previously hidden cave drawings and texts were discovered in the rubble, and in 2008 archaeologists unearthed a third, previously undiscovered Buddha statue near the ruins, which became a kind of revenge of culture against terror.
No.7 Nativity with Saint Francis and Saint Lawrence - Caravaggio
The Nativity with Saint Francis and Saint Lawrence is the only known work associated with Caravaggio's brief stay in Palermo and is much more traditional than the Adoration of Messina, not only because the Christ Child is alone on the ground while the Virgin sits in a low seat, but equally because of the more conventional poses and well-dressed appearances of the surrounding figures.
The handling of paint is also much more precise and finished than in many of Caravaggio's later photographs. His newfound humility was not entirely lost, however, and the peasant figure of Saint Joseph on the right, with his wide-brimmed hat and brown hands, appears to have been a prototype for many of the similar figures in realistic compositions. popular for the next two centuries.
The image was, according to Bellori, painted for the Oratory of the Compagnia di San Lorenzo.
Since its theft in 1969, Caravaggio's nativity scene has been regarded as one of the most notorious stolen paintings in the history of the art world. The masterpiece has not been seen since it was raised from a chapel in Palermo, Italy, although evidence indicates the Sicilian mafia may have played a role in the heist.
Hopes of solving one of the worst art crimes in history have been revived after Italian investigators announced they had received new information.
In 1996, a mob informant testified that he and several other men had stolen the painting from a private buyer, only to accidentally destroy it while cutting the canvas from its frame. More than a decade later, another former mobster claimed the painting had been hidden in a barn for safekeeping, but was irreparably damaged by rats and pigs before being burned. The fate of the nativity ultimately remains a mystery, but if it still exists, the painting would now be worth at least $40 million.
Palermo Mayor Leoluca Orlando, who helped transform the Sicilian capital from a mafia stronghold into a European capital of culture, said the theft of the painting had dealt a blow to the city at a time when it was dominated by mobsters and godfathers. "Today this city has changed and is demanding that they return everything that the mafia took from them."
"Even recovering a small part of her would be considered a victory," he concluded.
No.8 The Amber Room
Created by sculptor Andreas Schlüter and master amber craftsman Gottfried Wolfram, this impressive chamber took the form of 16 square meters.
The room was covered in ornate gilt panels that shimmered with gold and amber: glittering gemstones and gems from fossilized tree sap with a rich yellow-red color. The amber was backed with gold covers, mirrors cut and fitted into beautiful patterns, it was dazzling to behold. The hall was first built in 1701 and in 1716 the King of Prussia, then Frederick William I, gave it to Peter the Great to help cement an alliance between Prussia and Russia. Often called the "Eighth Wonder of the World," the ornate chamber was considered a masterpiece of Baroque art and would be worth more than $140 million today.
The fate of the room that once symbolized peace became anything but peaceful: The Nazis disassembled the camera, then took it to Königsberg, Germany, where it disappeared near the end of World War II. Most historians believe it was destroyed in an Allied bombing raid in 1944, but there is also evidence to suggest the room was packed up and removed from the city. From there, some theories suggest, it could have been loaded onto a ship that sank in the Baltic Sea or simply hidden in a vault or bunker.
The latest theory states that the Soviets knew that the Amber Room had been destroyed by their own troops in their own invasion of Königsberg.
The story of the new Amber Room, at least, is safe. Every effort was made to create as perfect a reproduction as possible, even to the point of defining 350 different shades of amber. Reconstruction began in 1979 in Tsarskoye Selo and was completed 25 years later at a cost of $11 million.
Dedicated by Russian President Vladimir Putin and then German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, the new room marked St. Petersburg's 300th anniversary in a unifying ceremony that echoed the peaceful sentiment evoked by the original room.
The replica of the room remains on public display in the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Reserve, outside St. Petersburg.
Still, treasure hunters insist that a fabulous golden room still awaits to be found deep within a dark and mysterious cave.
Kuadros, a famous painting on his wall.