Mona Lisa, by Leonardo Da Vinci, c. 1503–1506
David, by Michelangelo, 1504

Masterpiece (or chef d'œuvre) in modern usage refers to a creation that has been given much critical praise, especially one that is considered the greatest work of a person's career or to a work of outstanding creativity, skill or workmanship.

Originally, the term masterpiece referred to a piece of work produced by an apprentice or journeyman aspiring to become a master craftsman in the old European guild system. His fitness to qualify for guild membership was judged partially by the Masterpiece, and if he was successful, it was retained by the guild. Great care was therefore taken to produce a fine piece in whatever the craft was, whether confectionery, painting, goldsmithing, knifemaking, or many other trades. The Royal Academy in London is one institution that has acquired a fine collection of "Diploma works" as a condition of acceptance.

Originally the paper which a student needs to present in order to gain the degree of Master of Arts was also such a "Masterpiece" - i.e. a fine piece of scholarship, the particular craft in which the student sought to be admitted as a master craftsman.

The term probably derives from the Dutch "meesterstuk" (German: Meisterstück), and the form "masterstik" is recorded in English in 1579 (or in Scots, since this was from some Aberdeen guild regulations), whereas "masterpiece" is first found in 1605, already outside a guild context, in a Ben Jonson play.[1]

In modern times it is used for an exceptionally good piece of creative work[2] or the best piece of work of a particular artist or craftsman.[3]

Examples include: Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa, Pablo Picasso's Guernica, Michelangelo's David, Ludwig van Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Don Giovanni, William Shakespeare's Hamlet, The Odyssey of Homer, Luís de Camões Os Lusíadas, Geoffrey Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales", Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy and John Milton's Paradise Lost.

See also


External links

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  • Masterpiece — Mas ter*piece , n. Anything done or made with extraordinary skill; a capital performance; a chef d [oe]uvre; a supreme achievement. [1913 Webster] The top and masterpiece of art. South. [1913 Webster] Dissimulation was his masterpiece. Claredon.… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

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  • masterpiece — (n.) c.1600, from MASTER (Cf. master) (n.) + PIECE (Cf. piece) (n.). A loan translation of Du. meesterstuk work by which a craftsman attains the rank of master (or its German cognate Meisterstück) …   Etymology dictionary

  • masterpiece — [n] respected work of art chef d’oeuvre, classic, cream*, cream of the crop*, flower, gem*, jewel*, magnum opus, masterstroke, master work, model, monument, perfection, pièce de résistance*, prize, showpiece, standard, tour de force*, treasure;… …   New thesaurus

  • masterpiece — ► NOUN ▪ a work of outstanding skill. ORIGIN originally referring to a piece of work by a craftsman accepted as qualification for membership of a guild as an acknowledged master …   English terms dictionary

  • masterpiece — [mas′tər pēs΄] n. [calque of Ger meisterstück] 1. a thing made or done with masterly skill; great work of art or craftsmanship 2. the greatest work made or done by a person or group …   English World dictionary

  • masterpiece — noun ADJECTIVE ▪ great ▪ It s one of the greatest masterpieces of Western art. ▪ acknowledged ▪ The piece ranks with such acknowledged masterpieces as the Mass in G. ▪ minor …   Collocations dictionary

  • masterpiece — [[t]mɑ͟ːstə(r)piːs, mæ̱s [/t]] masterpieces 1) N COUNT A masterpiece is an extremely good painting, novel, film, or other work of art. His book, I must add, is a masterpiece. ...masterpieces by artists like Rembrandt, Raphael and Ingres. 2) N… …   English dictionary

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