1. Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Harvesters, 1565
Bruegel's fanfare for the common man is considered one of the defining works of Western art, but it wasn't always so. Sought out by patrons in his own lifetime, Bruegel emphasized the ordinary in a way that made him seem old-fashioned in the years following his death; his reputation remained in eclipse until 20th-century tastes revived his quotidian subject matter and vast, cinematic vistas. This composition was one of six created on the theme of the seasons. The time is probably early September: A group of peasants on the left cut and bundle ripened wheat, while the ones on the right take their midday meal. They're eating bread and drinking bowls of milk; one guy is sacked out with the top of his pants unbuttoned. This attention to detail continues throughout the painting, a procession of ever-granular observations receding into space. It was extraordinary for a time when landscapes served mostly as backdrops for religious paintings. Instead, Bruegel articulates a humanistic vision in which the ordinary outshines the divine.