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A History of European Art

A History of European Art

Professor William Kloss M.A.
Independent Art Historian
Course No.  7100
Course No.  7100
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Course Overview

About This Course

48 lectures  |  30 minutes per lecture

The development of the arts in Europe from the Middle Ages to the modern era is an astonishing record of cultural achievement, from the breathtaking architecture of Gothic cathedrals to the daring visual experiments of the Cubist painters.

We all have our favorite artists, periods, or styles from this immensely rich tradition, but how many of us truly know the full sweep of European art? How many of us can connect the dots of influences and inspiration that link the Renaissance with Mannerism, or that tie the paintings of the creator of modern art, Edouard Manet, to masterpieces from centuries earlier?

A History of European Art is your gateway to this visually stunning story. In 48 beautifully illustrated lectures you will encounter all the landmarks you would expect to find in a comprehensive survey of Western art since the Middle Ages. Works such as Giotto's Arena Chapel, Van Eyck's

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The development of the arts in Europe from the Middle Ages to the modern era is an astonishing record of cultural achievement, from the breathtaking architecture of Gothic cathedrals to the daring visual experiments of the Cubist painters.

We all have our favorite artists, periods, or styles from this immensely rich tradition, but how many of us truly know the full sweep of European art? How many of us can connect the dots of influences and inspiration that link the Renaissance with Mannerism, or that tie the paintings of the creator of modern art, Edouard Manet, to masterpieces from centuries earlier?

A History of European Art is your gateway to this visually stunning story. In 48 beautifully illustrated lectures you will encounter all the landmarks you would expect to find in a comprehensive survey of Western art since the Middle Ages. Works such as Giotto's Arena Chapel, Van Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece, Leonardo's The Last Supper, Michelangelo's David, Vermeer's View of Delft, Van Gogh's The Starry Night, Picasso's Guernica, and hundreds more.

You will also find works that are completely new to you. Plus you'll be introduced to lesser-known artists—perhaps names you've heard but never connected to specific works—and you'll understand why they deserve to be classed among the great masters.

An Unrivalled Collection of Masterpieces

Your guide to this unrivalled collection of paintings, sculptures, architecture, drawings, and other media, created over a span of more than a thousand years, is Professor William Kloss, an independent art historian long connected with the seminar and tour programs of the Smithsonian Associates at the Smithsonian Institution.

Praised by Library Journal for his "perceptive 'readings'" of masterworks in his previous course for The Teaching Company, Great Artists of the Italian Renaissance, Professor Kloss once again gives intriguing insights into great works, including:

  • Mona Lisa: The famous smile in Leonardo's painting may be a pun on the sitter's married name, which means "joyous" in Italian. Renaissance ideals of decorum could also have influenced the expression. A 16th-century Italian writer suggested that a fashionable woman should smile "as if you were smiling secretly... not in an artificial manner, but as though unconsciously ... and accompanied by ... certain movements of the eyes."
  • Garden of Earthly Delights: Hieronymus Bosch's surreal triptych depicting scenes of the Garden of Eden, an earthly bacchanal, and Hell was probably painted for the private enjoyment of a nobleman, as a moralizing commentary on the relations between the sexes. It has been suggested that the work might have been commissioned on the occasion of a wedding. "One can only hope that it was a happy marriage," says Professor Kloss.
  • Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande Jatte: Professor Kloss shows how this celebrated late 19th-century painting by Georges Seurat was influenced by the 15th-century works of Piero della Francesca, who was still relatively unknown in Seurat's day. Both artists imbue nearly immobile figures with stoic dignity and hints of otherworldliness. In fact, it is not just Piero but the entire monumental Italian tradition from Giotto to Masaccio to Piero that Seurat has revisited.

What You Will Learn

You begin by exploring the artistic riches of the Middle Ages, from the early architectural monuments of the Carolingian Empire to the massive cathedrals and exquisite sculpture of the French Gothic style. Then you move into the Renaissance by examining Giotto's approach to the illusionistic creation of space and tracing this accomplishment through the works of some of the greatest artists in history, from Masaccio and Donatello to the geniuses of the High Renaissance, including Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, Bellini, and Titian. You also study the magnificent architecture of the period, and you address the Renaissance in the north through the art of Jan van Eyck, Dürer, Bosch, and Bruegel, among others.

Next, you investigate the evolution of Baroque style in the works of Caravaggio and the Bolognese Carracci family. You focus in particular on the Baroque sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini. You continue beyond Italy to Velázquez in Spain, to Rubens and Rembrandt in the Netherlands, and to Versailles and the court of Louis XIV in France. Then you cover reactions to the Baroque in the Rococo style of Watteau, Boucher, and Fragonard.

In the last section of the course, you examine the beginnings of modern European art with the work of David, which defined the Neoclassical style. Then you explore the paintings of the great Romantic artists Goya, Géricault, and Delacroix. These styles gave way to the Realism of Courbet and Manet, which in turn, led to the Impressionist achievements of Degas and Monet. You study the reactions to Impressionism in the work of Gauguin, Van Gogh, and Seurat, and trace the influential contributions of Cézanne and Rodin. You conclude with a consideration of the early movements of the 20th century, including Fauvism, Cubism, German Expressionism, Dada, and Surrealism, and the pivotal role of the two towering geniuses of early modern art, Picasso and Matisse.

A Guide to Looking

Professor Kloss wants you to learn to see deeply into a work of art. To achieve this goal, he has designed the course to be more than a recitation of masterpieces and their makers, dates, materials, and history. He has created a guide to looking—an engaging demonstration of how you can view art with understanding and pleasure.

How should you look at art? Professor Kloss recommends that you focus on five elements:

  • Subject: Every work of art has a subject. Very often this is the story that the work tells, as in Titian's great painting Bacchus and Ariadne, which plunges the viewer into a joyous love story drawn from ancient mythology. One can simply revel in the physical beauty of such a work, but a much richer experience is available if one takes the trouble to understand what it is about.
  • Interpretation: The way a subject is expressed in art is the artist's interpretation. Professor Kloss explores this theme by looking at three different versions of St. Matthew writing his gospel: one by an unknown artist from the 9th century, and two radically different interpretations by Caravaggio, painted in the 17th century. Caravaggio had to do a second version because his client was offended by the first!
  • Style: The artistic means of interpretation is the artist's style. This distinction is evident in a comparison between Rogier van der Weyden's Deposition from the 15th century and Rubens's treatment of the same subject in the 17th century. Both paintings depict the lowering of the dead Christ from the cross, but in markedly different styles with respect to setting, arrangement of figures, treatment of space, color, and so forth.
  • Context: The context can be related to a personal moment, to contemporary political events, to a historical period, or to a long-term cultural influence. An appreciation of the great palace at Versailles, for example, requires an understanding of the context from which it emerged—namely, the opulent, absolute monarchy of the "Sun King," Louis XIV.
  • Emotion: Emotion is a major factor both in the artist's creation of a work and in the viewer's response to it. These are not necessarily the same emotion, but sometimes they coincide in a magical way, as in Renoir's festive Luncheon of the Boating Party, which evokes a pleasure that comes from Renoir's joy in the scene and his artistic mastery that convinces us that we, too, are included in this long-ago gathering of friends.

Above all, you must give a work of art time. Savor it. Study it. Try to see it with fresh eyes. You will learn more than you imagine. Professor Kloss's gift for pulling you into an artistic work to show you what makes it function at different levels will make you want to give this course more of your own time through repeated viewings. And you will find yourself looking at all art with new appreciation.

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48 Lectures
  • 1
    Approaches to European Art
    Professor Kloss introduces the course and outlines its content. His goal is to encourage viewers to develop habits that will enhance their enjoyment of art. To appreciate a work of art, one must look at it patiently, considering qualities such as subject, interpretation, style, context, and emotion. x
  • 2
    Carolingian and Ottonian Art
    Beginning with the year A.D. 800, you study illuminated manuscripts produced by Irish monks. Then you compare an example of early Byzantine church architecture with Charlemagne's Palatine Chapel. The lecture closes with two masterpieces of narrative art, including the famous Bayeux Tapestry. x
  • 3
    Romanesque Sculpture and Architecture
    This lecture explores examples of the Romanesque style such as the churches of St. Etienne and St. Trophîme. You also examine various sculptures found in churches across France, and you close with a look at the role of the pilgrimage roads in the establishment of Romanesque-style churches throughout France. x
  • 4
    Gothic Art in France
    After examining the evolution of the Gothic style, you look at such examples as Notre-Dame de Paris, Chartres Cathedral, Rouen Cathedral, and Saint-Maclou. x
  • 5
    Gothic Art in Germany and Italy
    Continuing the study of Gothic art forms and styles, you look at a famous sculpture on the Strasbourg Cathedral, then move to Italy to examine relief carvings in Pisa, and compare three paintings by Cimabue, Duccio, and Giotto of the Madonna enthroned with the Christ Child. x
  • 6
    Giotto and the Arena Chapel—Part I
    Giotto's frescos for the Arena Chapel in Padua are one of the supreme achievements of Western European art. After discussing the history of the chapel and highlighting the methods of fresco, the lecture focuses on several scenes that depict the life of the Virgin and the life of Christ. x
  • 7
    Giotto and the Arena Chapel—Part II
    You return to the Arena Chapel to study scenes from the life of Christ, noting Giotto's powerful renditions of Christian themes. Before Giotto, most artists were anonymous craftsmen. With Giotto, a new phenomenon arose: From this point on, the history of art is also the history of great artists. x
  • 8
    Duccio and the Maestà
    In this lecture, you focus on Duccio's unquestioned masterpiece, the Maestà, which means "majesty," viewing its different parts including the altar and scenes from the pinnacles and predella. You also see how Duccio and his contemporary, Giotto, compare in terms of reputation and technique. x
  • 9
    Sienese Art in the 14th Century
    You explore the historical influence of the Italian city-state. Then you learn about some of Duccio's successors: Simone Martini, Pietro Lorenzetti, and Ambrogio Lorenzetti. Finally, you examine the Palazzo Pubblico, a civic building in Siena and a significant monument of the Italian Gothic. x
  • 10
    The Black Death and the International Style
    This lecture describes the effects on art of the bubonic plague of the mid-14th century by comparing the same subject from works before and after the plague. You then follow the rise of the International Gothic style, which laid the foundation for the Italian Renaissance of the 15th century. x
  • 11
    Early Renaissance Sculpture in Florence
    Why did sculpture rather than painting lead to the development of the Renaissance style? You probe this question by looking at works by several great sculptors of the early 15th century, including Brunelleschi, Ghiberti, Donatello, and Luca della Robbia. x
  • 12
    Early Renaissance Architecture in Florence
    You examine some spectacular and influential 15th-century architecture in Florence, focusing on buildings by Brunelleschi and Alberti. Looking closely, you can see how they solved major construction problems with new methods and inventions, which then changed the practice of architecture. x
  • 13
    Masaccio and Early Renaissance Painting
    You continue your study of Renaissance art by looking at paintings influenced by Brunelleschi's linear perspective method. This lecture focuses on Masaccio, who applied the principles of perspective brilliantly in frescos for the Brancacci Chapel and Santa Maria Novella, both in Florence. x
  • 14
    Jan van Eyck and Northern Renaissance Art
    Turning to northern Europe, you focus on Jan van Eyck and his Arnolfini Wedding Portrait and Ghent Altarpiece. In addition, you note the major differences between the Italian Renaissance and Northern Renaissance. x
  • 15
    Northern Renaissance Altarpieces
    Continuing the study of Northern Renaissance painting, you look at five altarpieces and one portrait by three artists: Robert Campin, Rogier van der Weyden, and Hugo van der Goes. You explore the symbolism and uncover various elements of Renaissance style and technique in these works. x
  • 16
    Piero della Francesca in Arezzo
    You study two single works and a fresco cycle by a Renaissance painter whose fame did not become widespread until the 20th century, Piero della Francesca. You look at his The Baptism of Christ, the Resurrection, and the chapel with the Legend of the True Cross, exploring his geometrically defined style and his artistic influences. x
  • 17
    Sandro Botticelli
    With a lyrical style joined to innovative religious and allegorical subject matter, Botticelli is one of the best-known painters of the Renaissance. You explore the full span of his work, from the sensual rendition of Mars and Venus to interpretations of Christian themes such as the tragic Lamentation. x
  • 18
    Andrea Mantegna and Giovanni Bellini
    In this lecture, you focus on two artists in northern Italy, Mantegna and Bellini. Looking at Mantegna's famous frescoes in the Ducal Palace in Mantua, you can see the striking illusionism that influenced artists such as Bellini, whose work you compare and contrast with Mantegna's. x
  • 19
    High Renaissance Painting in Venice
    You continue to explore Venetian painting with Bellini, and then move on to his great pupils, Giorgione and Titian. First, you look at a portrait by Bellini and one of his altarpieces. Then you study Giorgione's Pastoral Concert and close with several works by Titian, including his vivid Bacchus and Ariadne. x
  • 20
    The High Renaissance—Leonardo da Vinci
    The quintessential Renaissance man, Leonardo da Vinci was a universal genius in painting, sculpture, architecture, drawing, and the sciences of his day. After studying one of his drawings, you look at the influential innovations in three famous paintings: Madonna of the Rocks, Mona Lisa, and The Last Supper. x
  • 21
    The High Renaissance—Raphael
    Renowned for his many graceful images of the Madonna and his amazingly lifelike portraits, Raphael's larger masterpieces were the frescoes decorating the papal apartments in the Vatican. You study the broad range of his work and the innovations he contributed to Renaissance painting. x
  • 22
    The High Renaissance—Michelangelo
    In this lecture, you study the most famous works from the first half of Michelangelo's career: the Pietà, David, and the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Each displays a different element of his genius, and the stunning scope and brilliant execution of the Sistine Chapel ceiling made him the most influential artist in Europe. x
  • 23
    Albrecht Dürer and German Renaissance Art
    Leaving the Renaissance behind, you explore two northern European artists. First, you look at an engraving by Martin Schongauer. Then you focus on Albrecht Dürer, examining his influences and his original blend of Renaissance and northern European artistic characteristics. x
  • 24
    Riemenschneider and Grünewald
    In this lecture, you explore the work of two more German artists. You look at Riemenschneider's Altarpiece of the Holy Blood and Grünewald's Isenheim Altarpiece, discovering the artists' contrasting styles and approaches to sacred subjects. x
  • 25
    Netherlandish Art in the 16th Century
    You look at four 16th-century artists from the Netherlands: Hieronymus Bosch, Joachim Patinir, Jan Gossaert, and Lucas van Leyden. You focus in particular on Bosch's famous triptych, Garden of Earthly Delights, which may have been commissioned for the private enjoyment of a nobleman. x
  • 26
    Pieter Bruegel the Elder
    You study the diverse and marvelous paintings of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, which range from his imaginative depiction of the Fall of Icarus, to his vast landscape of Hunters in the Snow, to the political The Parable of the Blind Leading the Blind. x
  • 27
    Mannerism and the Late Work of Michelangelo
    You explore Mannerism, which began in 16th-century Italy and spread throughout Europe. The lecture explains the characteristics of Mannerism and looks at representative artists, such as Jacopo Pontormo, Rosso Fiorentino, Parmigianino, and Agnolo Bronzino. You also study the later work of Michelangelo. x
  • 28
    Annibale Carracci and the Reform of Art
    This lecture discusses the reaction against Mannerism exemplified by Antonio Correggio and the Carracci family of Bologna. Correggio is noted for his illusionistic paintings. The Carracci family founded a teaching academy that influenced many artists. In particular, you look at Annibale Carracci's famous decoration of the Farnese Gallery. x
  • 29
    Caravaggio
    You focus on a single artist of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, Caravaggio. Briefly outlining his scandalous life, the lecture shows why critics are confounded by his sexual undertones and profound reverence for sacred subjects. He is also noted for his distinctive treatment of light and dark. x
  • 30
    Italian Baroque Painting in Rome
    Annibale Carracci and Caravaggio, covered in the previous two lectures, formed a bridge from art of the 16th century to the 17th century. They are also considered founders of the 17th-century style called Baroque. You study artists who embraced this style, which exemplifies the artistic revival in Italy after the religious and political disruptions of the 16th century. x
  • 31
    Gian Lorenzo Bernini
    You look at Bernini, the single greatest artist in Rome during the Baroque period. Bernini was a painter, architect, and above all, a sculptor. You focus on his sculptures, including Apollo and Daphne, and marvel at his sweeping piazza in front of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. x
  • 32
    Peter Paul Rubens
    A renowned and astonishingly prolific artist, Peter Paul Rubens painted grand works for patrons in Italy, Flanders, Spain, France, and England. In this lecture, you look at several of the most important, including three huge altarpieces, his Marie de' Medici cycle, and a selection of self-portraits and landscapes. x
  • 33
    Dutch Painting in the 17th Century
    In the northern Netherlands, painting flourished in the open marketplace, where artists specialized in various genres. You look at these specific genres and a group of representative artists: Frans Hals, Jan Steen, Pieter de Hooch, Jan van Goyen, Jacob van Ruisdael, and Johannes Vermeer. x
  • 34
    Rembrandt
    Among the most celebrated names in the history of art is Rembrandt, whose work touched on almost every aspect of human life. You examine his profound religious paintings and his famous portraits and self-portraits. You study the remarkable effects he achieved in the art of etching, in which he has never been surpassed. x
  • 35
    Poussin and Claude—The Allure of Rome
    Rembrandt was deeply influenced by the art of Rome from the High Renaissance. Although he never traveled to Italy, he clearly admired and borrowed from its artists. Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain, too, took inspiration from Rome, and both of these French artists spent most of their lives there. x
  • 36
    Baroque Painting in Spain
    In this lecture, you look at four painters living and working in Spain in the "golden age" of Spanish art during the late 16th and 17th centuries. You examine the expressive distortions of form of El Greco, the powerful light-dark contrasts of Francisco de Zurbaran, the affecting painting of Murillo, and the brilliant illusionism of Velázquez. x
  • 37
    Louis XIV and Versailles
    You tour the architecture and gardens of the palace at Versailles and learn how these elements reinforced Louis XIV's self image as the "Sun King." Then you study the work of Watteau to appreciate the pervading sense of nostalgia in the transition from the Baroque to the Rococo. x
  • 38
    French Art in the 18th Century
    After Watteau, French art reflected the much-changed atmosphere of the court of Louis XV and the increasing importance of the middle class. You look at variations to be found within this century, including the supreme still lifes and restrained genre pictures of Chardin, the moral sentiment of Greuze, and the Rococo frivolity of Boucher and Fragonard. x
  • 39
    Neoclassicism and the Birth of Romanticism
    Artistic tastes veered into a more severe mode in the late 1700s, and the resulting style was called Neoclassicism. You study examples by the greatest sculptor of the day, Jean-Antoine Houdon, and by the painters Jacques-Louis David and Francisco Goya, who made realistic, sometimes horrific images. x
  • 40
    Romanticism in the 19th Century
    You now turn to Romanticism—an outlook that can be expressed in more than one artistic style. You examine several artists' "brands" of Romanticism, including those of Théodore Géricault, Eugène Delacroix, John Constable, and William Turner. x
  • 41
    Realism—From Daumier to Courbet
    In this lecture, you look at three of Realism's practitioners: Honoré Daumier, Jean François Millet, and Gustave Courbet. You see their unrelenting depictions of the changes then taking place in France and across Europe. x
  • 42
    Manet and Monet—The Birth of Impressionism
    In this lecture, you look at two French artists: Manet, who has been seen as the wellspring of Modernism, and Monet, whose Impression: Sunrise gave the name to the new style. You examine elements in their paintings that point to a radical break with art of the past. x
  • 43
    Monet and Degas
    You continue your study of Monet with his sequence of paintings of Rouen Cathedral and his water-lily series. Then you follow the career of Edgar Degas, one of the great draftsmen of the 19th century, who depicted contemporary scenes of the circus, ballet, and café life. x
  • 44
    Renoir, Pissarro, and Cézanne
    You review the characteristics of Impressionism, with the caution that you must see what an artist actually does, rather than look for the acting out of a theory. Then you study the careers of Renoir, Pissarro, and Cézanne, examining in detail a few representative masterpieces. x
  • 45
    Beyond Impressionism—From Seurat to Matisse
    The ambiguity of the term Impressionism applies even more to the style called Post-Impressionism, which is not strictly speaking "after" Impressionism. You look at the careers and works of three of these artists, Seurat, Gauguin, and Van Gogh, who paved the way for the revolutionary style of Matisse. x
  • 46
    Cubism and Early Modern Painting
    This lecture covers the innovations of Picasso, Braque, and Matisse in the first two decades of the 20th century. In a period that was rich in artistic exploration, these pioneers produced works that had immense influence on other artists. x
  • 47
    Modern Sculpture—Rodin and Brancusi
    Turning to modern sculpture, you focus primarily on the works of Rodin. A lifelong student of the art of Michelangelo, Rodin developed an expressive style that influenced his more radical and minimalist successors, such as Brancusi and Naum Gabo, who you also explore in this lecture. x
  • 48
    Art between Two Wars—Kandinsky to Picasso
    You look at a series of works influenced by events of the 20th century between the two world wars, including such styles as German Expressionism, Futurism, Dada, and Surrealism. x

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William Kloss
M.A. William Kloss
Independent Art Historian

Professor William Kloss is an independent art historian and scholar who lectures and writes about a wide range of European and American art. He was educated at Oberlin College, where he earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in Art History. He continued his postgraduate work on a teaching fellowship at the University of Michigan and was then awarded a Fulbright Fellowship for two years of study in Rome. As Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of Virginia, he taught 17th- and 18th-century European art and 19th-century French art. Professor Kloss has enjoyed a long association with the Smithsonian Institution, presenting more than 150 courses in the United States and abroad on subjects ranging from ancient Greek art to Impressionism to the works of Winslow Homer. He has also been a featured lecturer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation and for The Art Institute of Chicago. Professor Kloss serves on the Committee for the Preservation of the White House, a presidential appointment he has held since 1990. He is the author of several books, including Art in the White House: A Nation's Pride (2nd edition), which won the 2009 National Indie Excellence Award in the Art Category, as well as a 2009 USABookNews award for Best Book in Art. Most recently, he coauthored the United States Senate Catalogue of Fine Art. He also has written articles published in Winterthur Portfolio, The Magazine Antiques, American Arts Quarterly, and Antiques & Fine Art.

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