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Museum Masterpieces: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Museum Masterpieces: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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

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Museum Masterpieces: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Museum Masterpieces: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Professor Richard Brettell Ph.D.
The University of Texas, Dallas
Course No.  7510
Course No.  7510
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Course Overview

About This Course

24 lectures  |  31 minutes per lecture

Where else can you find masterpieces extending from the dawn of civilization to today; or encyclopedic holdings from all the major cultures on earth; or genres ranging from paintings to period rooms, sculpture to suits of armor, metalwork to musical instruments—all situated in a palatial building beside one of the world's most magnificent parks?

No other museum covers the history of humanity and its achievements as thoroughly as The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Professor Richard Brettell believes that The Metropolitan Museum of Art is not just the greatest art museum in America, but that it is also the most complete encyclopedic art museum on the planet, rivaled only by the Louvre in Paris and the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg, whose collections have significant gaps by comparison.

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Where else can you find masterpieces extending from the dawn of civilization to today; or encyclopedic holdings from all the major cultures on earth; or genres ranging from paintings to period rooms, sculpture to suits of armor, metalwork to musical instruments—all situated in a palatial building beside one of the world's most magnificent parks?

No other museum covers the history of humanity and its achievements as thoroughly as The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Professor Richard Brettell believes that The Metropolitan Museum of Art is not just the greatest art museum in America, but that it is also the most complete encyclopedic art museum on the planet, rivaled only by the Louvre in Paris and the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg, whose collections have significant gaps by comparison.

A Consummate Guide

Professor Brettell is a scholar, an author, a teacher, and a former museum director, known to many Teaching Company customers for his dazzling investigation of a much-loved period in From Monet to Van Gogh: A History of Impressionism and his overview of a legendary cultural icon in Museum Masterpieces: The Louvre. Above all, he is a consummate guide who delights in selecting superb works of art and then exploring their resonance with other works. For example, in this course he exploits The Metropolitan Museum of Art's wide-ranging holdings to draw your attention to masterpieces that share intriguing similarities, linking different cultures, genres, and periods:

  • Two noble countenances: Auguste Rodin's lifelike portrait bust of Honoré de Balzac from 1891 evokes, in its realistic power, the remarkable 4,000-year-old copper head of a ruler in the museum's Ancient Near Eastern Art collection.
  • A study in forms: The overlapping abstract forms of Willem de Kooning's 1949 painting Attic strikingly recall the figures crowded onto the surface of Roman funerary sarcophagi or the swarming melee in Nicolas Poussin's The Abduction of the Sabine Women.
  • Mother and child: Every culture uses art to depict the bond between mother and child. Professor Brettell chooses four paradigmatic examples: an early Italian painting by Berlinghiero, a 14th-century Indian copper sculpture, a pre-Hispanic Olmec figurine, and a Renaissance relief by Andrea della Robbia.

Many Museums under One Roof

In these 24 visually rich, half-hour lectures, Professor Brettell takes you through The Metropolitan Museum of Art from front to back, from bottom to top, introducing practically every department in the museum. Each is a museum unto its own, representing one of the world's finest collections in its field. You will see an astonishing number of works—more than 400 in all—focusing on Professor Brettell's favorites, and in the process touching on virtually all of the best-known pieces in the museum, and many more besides. His is a personal tour, driven by his enthusiasm and a ceaseless curiosity to see riches of The Metropolitan Museum of Art unknown even to him.

Your journey begins in Lecture 1 with a brief history of the museum, Central Park, and the city itself. Then you proceed up the broad steps facing Fifth Avenue and into the museum's Great Hall. Lectures 2–5 take you to the complex of galleries at the front of the building, dealing with the civilizations of ancient Greece and Rome, ancient Egypt, Asia, the ancient Near East, and the Islamic world.

Then in Lectures 6–9 you return to the Great Hall and ascend the grand staircase to The Metropolitan Museum of Art's outstanding collection of European paintings, covering the Renaissance to the 19th century. Here you find masterpieces by Giotto, Raphael, Dürer, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Gogh, and many others. Lectures 10 and 11 cover the nearby Department of Drawings and Prints, which has the largest holdings in the museum, plus the Department of Photographs; these collections are largely in storage, and you will see treasures that are normally not on display.

Lectures 12–15 take you to galleries in the heart of The Metropolitan Museum of Art on the first floor, devoted to European decorative arts and sculpture, along with the arts of Africa, Oceania, and the ancient New World. These four lectures present a study in contrasts, covering the height of European culture represented by its rooms, furniture, statues, and other objects, followed by a survey of some of the world's most powerful non-European art, including masks, figures, and ritual vessels produced on three continents and countless islands over a span of 3,500 years.

Lecture 16 is a study in contrasts itself, featuring musical instruments, arms, and armor. Then in Lecture 17 you descend to The Metropolitan Museum of Art's ground floor to investigate fashion and fabrics at the Costume Institute and the Antonio Ratti Textile Center, whose extensive holdings are rarely seen by most visitors.

In a great sweep across the back of the museum, you study American art in Lectures 18 and 19; you sample 20th-century art in Lectures 20 and 21; and you tour the Robert Lehman Collection in Lectures 22 and 23, exploring a wing devoted to one of the most extraordinary gifts of art by a single individual. These six lectures feature scores of artists such as Sargent, Whistler, Picasso, Matisse, Goya, and Renoir. Lecture 24 concludes the course with a look at some of The Metropolitan Museum of Art's most illustrious donors and directors.

You would have to move through the museum at superhuman speed to take in all of the works investigated in detail in the 12-hour running time of this course. Yet the experience with Professor Brettell is one of a relaxed stroll with a very knowledgeable, very personable, and ceaselessly curious companion. The course is truly a user-friendly guide to a mammoth institution that has amassed astonishing treasures.

Where Did All These Masterpieces Come From?

One of the fascinating aspects of this course is that Professor Brettell provides insights from the curator's point of view. For instance, he notes that museum directors and curators have an idiosyncratic way of reading labels: They start at the bottom, which lists the donor and year of acquisition. "Those of us in the profession are interested in the stories of the formation of the great American art institutions, which are stories about donors." Some of these stories include:

  • In 1946 Gertrude Stein spurred the museum to start collecting modern art in earnest by bequeathing the famous portrait of her by Picasso.
  • The year 1969 saw the donation of an entire museum by Nelson Rockefeller: The Museum of Primitive Art, which formed the nucleus for the Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas.
  • In 1971 the museum used donated funds to pay a record price for Velázquez's remarkable portrait Juan de Pareja—a likeness "so quiveringly alive," says Professor Brettell, "that you can't believe that the man won't walk out of the picture!"

Feed Your Imagination

A great art collection like The Metropolitan Museum of Art's is a place for dreamers, thinkers, and time travelers. It is a world where you can connect to people and cultures that are long vanished. "Great works of art communicate across time," says Professor Brettell. They evoke distinctive people, ways of life, and points of view that are both familiar and strange, and that put the present into a more universal context. A brooding sculpture, an intricate piece of jewelry, a reconstructed room with meticulous period furnishings, a powerfully painted portrait or landscape—these and other works of human craft and genius feed the imagination and satisfy the soul in ways that are hard to pin down, but that open a limitless vista of learning and enjoyment.

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24 Lectures
  • 1
    The Making of the Museum
    Using maps, charts, photographs, paintings, and prints, this lecture provides a historical portrait of New York City and the circumstances that spawned its greatest museum. x
  • 2
    The Art of Ancient Greece and Rome
    We begin our tour of The Metropolitan in the Classical collection, which occupies large spaces of a grandeur suited to Greco-Roman art. x
  • 3
    Ancient Egyptian Art
    The Egyptian collection ranges from entire tombs and temples to tiny objects of gold, glass, and ceramic, with particularly rich holdings in "the art of the afterlife." x
  • 4
    Asian Art
    These galleries contain masterpieces from Tibet, India, Cambodia, Korea, China, and Japan. Especially notable is the Astor Court, which is modeled on a Ming dynasty scholar's courtyard. x
  • 5
    The Ancient Near East and Islamic Art
    Extending from Bronze Age objects to a glorious room from an Islamic palace, these collections show the mastery of glass, ceramic, stone carving, and bronze in successive urban cultures. x
  • 6
    European Painting I—The Renaissance
    The Metropolitan is famous for its Department of European Painting. We investigate the development of figural illusionism in works by Giotto, Fra Angelico, and others. x
  • 7
    European Painting II—16th–17th Centuries
    Covering the High Renaissance and the extraordinary profusion of painting in Europe for the next two centuries, this lecture includes works by Raphael, Vermeer, El Greco, Velázquez, and Rembrandt. x
  • 8
    European Painting III—18th Century
    Works examined include Italian paintings by Tiepolo and Canelletto, French Rococo oils by Watteau and Boucher, and British portraits by Reynolds and Gainsborough. x
  • 9
    European Painting IV—19th Century
    The Metropolitan has perhaps the most balanced collection of French painting from 1830 to 1900 in any universal art museum. We look at works by Monet, Cézanne, and Gauguin, among others. x
  • 10
    Drawings and Prints
    We sample some of the more than 1.5 million objects in the Department of Drawings and Prints, which includes the entire range of drawing styles and materials from the Late Middle Ages to the present. x
  • 11
    Photographs
    Photography, the most pervasive of modern media, is well represented at The Metropolitan, with a collection extending back to the earliest experiments in the early 19th century. x
  • 12
    European Decorative Arts
    In an exercise of time travel, we visit luxuriously appointed period rooms representing high European culture—from an Italian Renaissance studiola to an 18th-century Parisian grand salon. x
  • 13
    European Sculpture
    The Metropolitan's European sculpture collection includes Renaissance works in stone, bronze, and terra-cotta, and masterpieces by artists such as Bernini and Canova. x
  • 14
    The Arts of Africa and Oceania
    The intricately crafted objects in this lecture include a feather box, a ceremonial shield, and a painted wooden skull rack from Oceania, as well as powerful masks and sculpted figures from Africa. x
  • 15
    The Ancient New World
    We survey a collection of materials from the rich cultures of the Americas before European colonization, the most comprehensive display of ancient New World Art in any universal art museum. x
  • 16
    Musical Instruments and Arms and Armor
    This lecture looks at major masterpieces in the arts of making music and war. The Departments of Musical Instruments and Arms and Armor both feature stunning examples from the histories of their fields. x
  • 17
    Costumes and Textiles
    New York's preeminence as a fashion center led The Metropolitan to create the Costume Institute and the Antonio Ratti Textile Center to study collections of historical fashions and fabrics. x
  • 18
    American Art—1650–1865
    Starting in period rooms from the colonial era, we explore the development of a distinctive American art up to the Civil War through works by Revere, Stuart, Copley, Hicks, Cole, Church, and others. x
  • 19
    American Art—1865–1900
    America entered an industrial boom after the Civil War that created a new demand for art in a wide range of genres. We sample pieces by Tiffany, Saint-Gaudens, Eakins, and Sargent, among others. x
  • 20
    20th-Century Art—Before World War II
    The Metropolitan's encyclopedic holdings allow comparisons between its 20th-century collection and its other works—for example, a Brancusi sculpture and an archaic Greek figure. x
  • 21
    20th-Century Art—After World War II
    We explore The Metropolitan's post–World War II art, including abstract expressionists such as Pollock, Rothko, de Kooning, and David Smith, as well as Pop, Op, and other movements. x
  • 22
    The Robert Lehman Collection—1400–1800
    A remarkable private collection kept intact after its donation to The Metropolitan, the Lehman Collection is rich in old master paintings and drawings. We sample its holdings up to 1800. x
  • 23
    The Robert Lehman Collection—1800–1960
    The Lehman Collection has important works from the 19th and 20th centuries. We examine paintings by Ingres, Corot, Monet, Renoir, Matisse, Derain, Bonnard, and Balthus, as well as works on paper. x
  • 24
    The People of the Museum
    The Metropolitan has been built by farsighted directors and generous donors. We look at some of the most remarkable of these. x

Lecture Titles

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Richard Brettell
Richard Brettell, Ph.D.
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 4.5 out of 5 by 56 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by Can't Wait to Visit the Met! I haven't frequented many museums in my life, & I've felt that it was something I'd like to better understand and enjoy. I live pretty close to NYC, so I figured this course would be a great one to watch in order to prepare me for a visit to the Met. I was not disappointed. Professor Brettell did a fantastic job of explaining all areas of the Met, clearly exhibiting a great enthusiasm for his subject matter. He explained the differences between American museums and European museums, holding up the Met as the shining example of the best of the American Museums (while respectfully acknowledging some of the other great museums in the USA), and arguably the best Art museum in the world. In short (no spoilers here), American museums tend to be encyclopedic and will exhibit art from all over the world, all different styles and all different times. While you'll tend to find mostly painting and sculpture in European art museums, American museums will also have ancient carvings, masks, armaments, furniture, photography, costumes, etc. Professor Brettell did a great job of touching on all the collections in the Met without exhaustively explaining any of them. It was enough to get me really excited about a visit, which is actually planned for about a month from now. Whether or not you plan to visit the Met, I strongly recommend this as an overall Art appreciation course as well. I'm now looking forward to some other courses by Professor Brettell. June 13, 2015
Rated 4 out of 5 by My review of "Museum Masterpieces: The Metropolitan Museum of Art" by Richard Brettell: Professor Brettell takes you on a virtual tour guide of the museum. He does an excellent job of taking us to the different wings of the museum, exploring arts of different cultures around the world, exploring the art movements of time periods throughout history, and focusing on aspects of specific works of art. I would recommend this course to anyone interested in art history and the humanities. June 8, 2015
Rated 5 out of 5 by Delightful and engaging. Richard Brettell's enthusiasm for art and the Metropolitan Museum is genuine and catching! I am lucky that I live in New York City, and I have visited the Met many times and this course will enrich future visits and enticed me to focus on areas of the Museum that I have not visited in any depth, The temporary exhibits at the Met are so seductive that it will be hard to see the collections that I am newly aware of, however. The Met will never get old because of the constant exhibits and rotating collections. I plan to let myself have "aha" moments when I come upon works discussed by Prof. Brettell. It should be fun! It always is. The Met is a world I can walk into and feel I have traveled to a distant land. I am grateful for this course and the personal education it provided to me. I feel badly for people who do not live here. I would love for a course to be developed that explored some other great American art museums...especially the Art Institute in Chicago where I once lived...that museum also was like a cathedral to me...it is a spiritual experience to be surrounded by and absorb art in these fabulous great art museums. Add to that Philadelphia, the National Gallery and Boston also...travel the country! April 15, 2015
Rated 5 out of 5 by A Valuable and Enjoyable Guide to the Met From my Manhattan childhood to periodic stays both lengthy and brief in NYC, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has always been my very favorite museum and a must visit. Its distinction as the world’s premier encyclopedic museum is approached only by the Louvre and the Hermitage from the perspective of universal coverage. Though I thought I knew the Met’s permanent collection fairly well, in this instructive and enjoyable course I was introduced to several departments that I had never seen, in particular the fabulous Lehman collection, added in 1975 as its own appendage at the rear of the Met’s main structure facing Central Park. Subject matter coverage of this course offers an excellent survey of art history as a whole, with examples of art objects ranging from paintings and sculptures, to decorative arts and costumes, to artifacts of historical and cultural significance. This display of major works, all the more impressive as they are housed in the same museum, is complemented by detailed explanations and analysis, presented with great enthusiasm by Dr. Brettell, a Yale-trained art historian with extensive museum and academic experience as a curator, scholar and lecturer. He leads his audience through the maze of seemingly endless rooms of this enormous institution by showing a schematic diagram at the beginning of almost every lecture to pinpoint the location of the current subject. All departments are covered, even the few not open to the general public (e.g. drawings, prints, and photographs). Dr. Brettell had literally thousands of objects to choose from in his descriptions and elected to concentrate on a limited number of representative works, treating them in considerable detail. Inevitably this meant skipping many well-known works which may disappoint some viewers, but no one is able to cover everything in a single visit to this unique, all-encompassing museum. With its judicious selections and enlightened narrative, this course is a valuable aid to virtually anyone who plans a serious visit to the Met, whether a tourist, a college student, or a native New Yorker. February 26, 2015
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