De Panne, Belgium, August 7, 1992, Rineke Dijkstra. The awkwardness of adolescence appears universal in this Dutch photographer's series of teenagers on beaches across Europe and the United States. Dijkstra is part of a new generation of photographers—including Germans Thomas Struth and Andreas Gursky—whose works have the luminosity and compositional acuity of master painters such as Vermeer and Canaletto.
Cycladic terra-cotta kernos, circa 2000 B.C. The rocky Cyclades islands have always been a tough place to eke out a living, and several thousand years ago, gifts to the gods were frequent and plentiful. Flowers and herbs once filled the 16 outer and 9 inner receptacles of this starkly minimalist offering vessel, which was discovered in 1829 by a British military officer on the island of Melos.
Byzantine gold cross, between 1200 and 1400. Tiny but transfixing, this singular filigreed gold cross was worn close to the heart of one of the devout members of Constantinople's elite. Its twisting patterns are as intricately detailed as the exterior brickwork of a Byzantine church.
Madonna and Child, circa 1300, Duccio di Buoninsegna. This small, extravagantly colored gilt portrait by the Sienese master is the centerpiece of the museum's European collection. Alongside Giotto, Duccio was one of the first painters to humanize the saints. Against centuries of tradition, his Madonna—her impossibly long fingers gently holding her child, her gray eyes trained intently on his face—is a mother first, an icon second.
Winter Pool, 1959, Robert Rauschenberg. In the 1950's, the brash young artist invented the three-dimensional collage he calls a combine, a work that is neither sculpture nor painting but an eye-popping mix of the two. This combine is a novel homage to the square: a paint-splattered ladder connects two tall canvases, both filled with a patchwork of paint, cut-out letters, and blocks of fabric. Winter Pool is on view in the artist's retrospective "Combines" through April 2; afterward, it will become part of the museum's permanent collection.
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