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Museum Masterpieces: The Louvre

Museum Masterpieces: The Louvre

Professor Richard Brettell Ph.D.
The University of Texas, Dallas
Course No.  7175
Course No.  7175
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Course Overview

About This Course

12 lectures  |  31 minutes per lecture

Do you dream of exploring the masterpieces of the Louvre Museum in Paris? Whether you're planning your first visit to this world-class museum, returning for a second look, or simply playing the role of armchair art critic, you'll enjoy the pleasures that await you in this tour of France's greatest treasures.

In Museum Masterpieces: The Louvre, expert art critic and historian Richard Brettell takes you on an unforgettable journey through one of the world's greatest museums. This 12-lecture series begins with an overview of the Louvre's colorful history as royal palace, art academy, and national showcase. Then you'll explore some of the most beautiful and renowned examples from the museum's remarkable collection of European paintings from the late medieval period through the early 19th century, including masterworks by Raphael, Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci, Watteau, Rubens and Vermeer.

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Do you dream of exploring the masterpieces of the Louvre Museum in Paris? Whether you're planning your first visit to this world-class museum, returning for a second look, or simply playing the role of armchair art critic, you'll enjoy the pleasures that await you in this tour of France's greatest treasures.

In Museum Masterpieces: The Louvre, expert art critic and historian Richard Brettell takes you on an unforgettable journey through one of the world's greatest museums. This 12-lecture series begins with an overview of the Louvre's colorful history as royal palace, art academy, and national showcase. Then you'll explore some of the most beautiful and renowned examples from the museum's remarkable collection of European paintings from the late medieval period through the early 19th century, including masterworks by Raphael, Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci, Watteau, Rubens and Vermeer.

Guided by Professor Brettell's expert commentary, you'll browse world-famous masterpieces and hidden gems as they come alive in luminous, full-color illustrations. What is the mystery behind Mona Lisa's smile? What does Jusepe Ribera's painting of the Clubfooted Boy seem to say about the proper subject of art? From the art novice to the expert, everyone will find something to enlighten and surprise.

You'll also retrace the steps of aristocrats and artisans who over eight centuries have come to this beautiful structure for inspiration. See how succeeding generations built on the aesthetic foundation of those who came before, and forged new styles and forms out of the works of the past.

Whether you're new to the world of art, or a long-time admirer of the masters of European painting, you'll be inspired and enchanted by Museum Masterpieces.

A Fascinating Façade

Your journey begins with a tour of the Louvre itself. A famously massive structure, the Louvre can be intimidating to a first-time visitor—and even to those who have already walked its many halls and corridors.

Professor Brettell offers an overview of this complicated structure, highlighting the most popular galleries and departments. You'll also get a guided tour of the building's colorful past as it has grown and changed from a palace to an art academy to a public museum over the course of its 800-year history. Here's a sampling of the fascinating facts you'll learn:

  • The original building that stood on the site of the modern Louvre was constructed as a walled defensive castle in the 12th century.
  • France's King Henry IV linked the original Louvre with the Tuileries, the palace of Catherine de Medici.
  • Many of the treasures of the Louvre's collection of ancient art can be traced from Napoleon's conquests.

You'll also learn about the most recent development in the Louvre's construction, which transformed these sprawling buildings into a unified museum and included the addition of the famous pyramid entrance designed by acclaimed American architect I. M. Pei.

With the aspiring traveler in mind, Professor Brettell provides practical tips designed to bring this spectacular showcase within reach—from the best times to visit the most popular galleries to commonsense strategies for avoiding "museum fatigue."

Every Picture Tells a Story

After the introductory lecture, Professor Brettell offers a selective sampling of the grand masterpieces and lesser known gems that make up the museum's collection of European paintings, including religious artwork, portraits, landscapes, still lifes, and scenes of everyday life. From beggars to kings, merchants to goddesses, miniature treasures to massive altarpieces, you'll sample the full range of the Louvre's rich collection of paintings and portraiture.

Professor Brettell provides a helpful framework for understanding and appreciating this rich collection by focusing on different time periods, schools, or regions in each lecture. Explore the influence of Italian art on French sensibilities, then sample the museum's remarkable holdings in Spanish, Flemish, Dutch, and German paintings. The latter half of the course focuses on French painters, tracing their development from the 17th century through the French Revolution, the Napoleonic era, and the early 19th century.

Each lecture opens with a featured work, a representative masterpiece that serves as an anchor for the discussion to follow. Through these featured works, Professor Brettell introduces many of the relevant themes and historical issues that will dominate each lecture, and demonstrates how close observation of an artist's techniques and compositional style can enhance our enjoyment of these paintings. From there, Professor Brettell expands on these themes and topics by exploring other key works from the same period or region. The lectures also serve as an introduction to art appreciation, as Professor Brettell demonstrates some of the most rewarding methods for examining these masterworks.

Throughout, the discussion is enlivened by fascinating anecdotes about the world of art captured in the Louvre's collection:

  • You'll learn about the Caravaggio masterpiece, The Death of the Virgin, which was commissioned for the Roman Church of Santa Maria della Scala a Trastevere, but was rejected by the clergy because the model for Mary was identified as a prostitute.
  • You'll examine the frenetic work of Jean-Honoré Fragonard, and hear how he boasted of painting a master work in only one hour.
  • You'll hear how Jacques-Louis David's rendition of a scene from classical Roman history helped spur the French Revolution.
  • You'll ponder the implications of Jean-Antoine Watteau's portrait of the clown character Pierrot, and consider the theory that the painting was actually the artist's melancholy self-portrait.

From engaging stories such as these, to insights into the techniques and methods of bygone masters, Museum Masterpieces: The Louvre offers an intriguing introduction to one of the world's finest museums.

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12 Lectures
  • 1
    Palace to Museum—The Story of the Louvre
    This lecture provides an overview of the history of the Louvre, describes the layout of the building, and offers tips and strategies for making the most of a visit to this remarkable museum. x
  • 2
    Leonardo and the Origins of the Collection
    Francis I sparked an artistic revolution in the 16th century by attracting Leonardo da Vinci to France and creating a rivalry between French and Italian art. Leonardo's La Joconde (The Mona Lisa) serves as the anchor for a lecture exploring works by Italian painters, including Raphael, as well as earlier French painters. x
  • 3
    Italian Renaissance and Baroque Painting
    This lecture explores the Louvre's immense collection of Italian painting dating from the medieval period through the early 17th century. Featured works include altarpieces and portraits by masters of the High Renaissance and Baroque era in Italy including Raphael, Giorgione, Titian, Veronese, Tintoretto, and Andrea Mantegna, as well as the religious and secular works by the mercurial Caravaggio. x
  • 4
    Spanish School of Painting
    The Louvre's collection of Spanish paintings is small but contains some fine examples that were highly influential on later French painting. Jusepe Ribera's Clubfooted Boy serves as the featured masterpiece for the lecture, leading to a discussion of selected Spanish painters from the deeply religious images of El Greco to the court portraits of Goya. x
  • 5
    Rubens and Flemish Painting; Early German
    From the Rubens's immense canvas of The Apotheosis of Henry IV to Quentin Metsys's precise, quotidian portrait, The Moneylender and His Wife, this lecture surveys the Louvre's remarkable collection of paintings by Flemish and German artists. x
  • 6
    Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Dutch Painting
    This lecture discusses the major paintings in the collection by the three greatest Dutch artists of the 17th century—Rembrandt, Hals, and Vermeer—and explores the French interest in miniature Dutch cabinet pictures (Little Masters). x
  • 7
    De La Tour, Le Nain, and 17th-century Painting
    This lecture initiates a broad survey of French painters that serves as the focus for the remainder of the course. De la Tour and the Le Nain brothers represent an original and indigenous style of French painting, which is contrasted to contemporary artists trained in Italy and the north. x
  • 8
    Claude and Poussin—French Painters in Rome
    The Grand Siécle (great century) of French painting—the 17th century—is represented by the works of two startlingly different artists: the intellectual painter Nicolas Poussin and the artist of tranquil landscapes, Claude Lorrain. x
  • 9
    Watteau and Chardin
    This lecture explores the state of French painting at the end of the reign of Louis XIV by contrasting the styles of two geniuses: the delicate, melancholy of Jean-Antoine Watteau and the earthy clarity of Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin. x
  • 10
    Boucher, Fragonard, and the Rococo in France
    Jean-Honoré Fragonard's vigorous operatic painting and Boucher's delicate sensuality offer two versions of French Rococo painting and are contrasted to the classically inspired moralism of Greuze and their contemporaries. x
  • 11
    Jacques-Louis David and His School
    As a painter who started his career in the final salons of the Ancien Regime to become the premier artist of the French Revolution, Jacque-Louis David embodied the social and political transformations of his time. x
  • 12
    Delacroix and Ingres—The Great Dialectic
    The course concludes with an examination of two contrasting style of early 19th-century art, as seen in the works of Eugène Delacroix and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. x

Lecture Titles

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Richard Brettell
Ph.D. Richard Brettell
The University of Texas, Dallas

Dr. Richard Brettell is the Margaret McDermott Distinguished Professor of Art and Aesthetics at The University of Texas at Dallas. He earned his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. from Yale University. Prior to joining The University of Texas at Dallas, Professor Brettell taught at Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, Yale University, and Harvard University. Professor Brettell was the founding American director of the French Regional and American Museum Exchange, designed to promote the exchange of art and information between regional museums in France and the United States. He served as the McDermott Director of the Dallas Museum of Art and has advised and consulted for museums such as the Portland Museum of Art and the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. His museum exhibition work includes Monet in Normandy (for the de Young Museum in San Francisco) and The Impressionist in the City: Pissarro's Series (for the Dallas Museum of Art). He has given scholarly lectures at numerous museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art, and has written over 25 books, including 19th and 20th Century European Drawings in the Robert Lehman Collection and Impression: Painting Quickly in France, 1860-1890.

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Reviews

Rated 4.3 out of 5 by 68 reviewers.
Rated 4 out of 5 by Get this course before your visit to the Louvre All I want to say is that I wished I had this before my visit to the Louvre. I was a student then and I was so excited about being at the Louvre that I did not pay serious attention to those collections inside the museum except for the Mona Lisa, of course. August 3, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by A Minor Quibble As you can tell from my rating, I think this is a great course, taught by a great professor. However, I often notice that he gets details of the paintings wrong. It's probably because he's looking at a miniature reproduction on his computer screen. I use a digital projector to watch the lectures on an old 6 foot by 6 foot slide projector screen. Often, the narrative of the painting seems startlingly different from his version, because he can't see the details clearly enough. For example, he can't tell who is looking at whom; that there's no way Narcissus can still see his reflection from where his head is lying; that some homoerotic flirtation is going on in one painting; that the mythical figures are seemingly invisible to the person who is NOT in fact looking at them; etc. January 11, 2014
Rated 3 out of 5 by Disappointing purchase prior to a Louvre visit The first several lectures are good, focusing on the history of the museum and its Renaissance holdings. Things deteriorated when attention turned to later French artists. It is organized chronologically, but the professor does not attempt to give a history of art big picture overview. It would have been much more helpful to use the less well known French pieces as examples of historical changes in the art world. Professor Kloss' overdone History of European Art is quite flawed but better than this series. Unless you are very interested in later French holdings of the Louvre, I would bypass this course. August 19, 2013
Rated 5 out of 5 by Exciting art course Professor Brettell is a great teacher, very engaging, even exciting. Something about him, his erudition, his experience, his palpable love of his subject, led me to look forward to watching every class. I would love to have heard him continue past the early 19th century. That the course ended with this period is my only disappointment. I highly recommend this course. August 19, 2013
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