A painting showing a late renaissance scene of the Roman god Jupiter holding his infant son Hercules to his wife Juno's breast.

Jacopo Tintoretto, The Origin of the Milky Way, c. 1575

Look at how the figures create a sense of action. Here the Roman god Jupiter takes his mortal son Hercules to suckle at his wife Juno’s breast while she sleeps, so he becomes immortal. Waking up, Juno knocks the baby away, her breast milk squirting upwards to create a constellation of stars.

Think about how people throughout history have tried to understand the skies. Tintoretto’s The Origin of the Milky Way predates Galileo’s discovery that the galaxy is made up of stars by 100 years.

A painting of a seated woman holding an infant in her lap as two children climb around her shoulders, they are accompanied by a tropical parrot.

Sir Joshua Reynolds, Lady Cockburn and her three eldest sons, 1773

Look at all the elements and action in Reynolds’ busy painting of Lady Cockburn and her Three Eldest Sons. Write a list of everything you can see.

Think about how Reynolds has turned a family portrait into one of grandeur. Within the scene, there is a macaw parrot. Where do these parrots come from? How did it come to be in England in the late 18th century?

Oil painting of a man wearing military garb and medals.

Francisco de Goya, The Duke of Wellington, 1812–14

Look at how black the background is in this Goya portrait. There is nothing to distract the eye from the Duke of Wellington.

The Duke of Wellington won a sea battle against Napoleon and altered the outcome of the Napoleonic Wars. Think about how war must change people. Look closely at the Duke’s face and describe what emotions you see.

Oil painting of two ancient-greek boats off a coastline with the sun rising over the sea on the horizon

Joseph Mallord William Turner, Ulysses deriding Polyphemus – Homer’s Odyssey, 1829

Look how Turner has captured a scene from the Roman epic The Odyssey. See if you can find the man-eating cyclops Polyphemus, partly hidden by the craggy cliff in the back, preparing to hurl a boulder on the ship.

Think about how Turner merged a painting of a classical legend with an expression of nature’s dramas of light and energy and colour.

An oil painting of a bridge over a pond covered in water lilies.

Claude Monet, The Water-Lily Pond, 1899

Look at Monet’s painting of a Japanese bridge in the garden he built in France. Can you decide what Monet is primarily interested in? Is it the scene in front of him or light and colour?

Think about what sort of brushstrokes Monet used to create the image. What words would you use to describe those brushstrokes?