Magnum opus

What does it mean?


‘Magnum opus’ is the name given to the most renowned or best work of an artist. It has also become common to use it in reference to any well-known or exceptionally good work by an artist, even if it’s not known as the best.


Magnum opus is a Latin term meaning ‘great work.’ It is believed to have originated in the late 18th century.

Improper Use

‘Magnum opuses,’ although now generally accepted for us, is technically incorrect. The real plural of ‘magnum opus’ is actually ‘magnum opera.’

Proper Use

Magnum opus is classically only used to describe what is widely considered the best work by an artist, but as mentioned, the term has recently been used more loosely. The examples below reflect all popular usages of the term.

‘Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa was his magnum opus.’
‘Bob thought it was the band’s magnum opus.’
‘What was widely considered her magnum opus was not her most popular work.’