Art across the Ages

Course No. 7150
Professor Ori Z. Soltes, Ph.D.
Georgetown University
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Course No. 7150
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Course Overview

Have you ever regretted not having the time to take an art appreciation or survey course in college and wished you could somehow gain the knowledge you missed? Or found yourself wondering, even if you did take that course when you were younger, how much more your years of experience and maturity would have added to your appreciation of art's creative wonders? Or have you simply wished to indulge yourself in a feast for the eyes and mind, enjoying more than 800 images of the Western world's glorious heritage of painting, sculpture, architecture, and other examples of art's constantly evolving definition?

In Art across the Ages, Professor Ori Z. Soltes has crafted a course in Western visual art that serves as both a mind-broadening survey and an essential introduction. It is designed to give anyone interested in Western art a firm familiarity with its basics, acquainting you with major artists and styles in various media and providing a broad foundation for deeper exploration.

By giving you a ready grasp of the substance and significance of a vast range of artists and their work, along with a solid knowledge of how those artists and their work fit within art's continuum, this course will add immeasurably to your next visit to a museum or exhibition or simply enhance your pleasure in the art you encounter in your life.

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48 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Continuity and Transformation—What Is Art?
    This lecture considers two sides of a fundamental issue in examining what art is, observing how art reflects on its own forms across history in a constantly changing dialogue involving style, form, and symbol. x
  • 2
    Art as the Offspring of Religion
    We turn to a second discussion of what art is and does, drawing on two Latin terms—sacer: the unknown, death, divinity, and profanus: life, the familiar, the human—to help us understand how visual art has served religion since as far back as both can be traced. x
  • 3
    Preclassical Greek Art
    Having arrived in the previous lecture at a discussion of how the Greeks absorbed, emulated, and developed long-held architectural ideas, we turn to some of the specifics of early Greek statuary and vase painting. x
  • 4
    Toward the Classical Athenian Moment
    Stepping between vase painting and sculpture to the beginnings of the Classical period, this lecture discusses some of the important characteristics encountered in the development of Classical Greek art, including ethos, symmetria, and pathos. x
  • 5
    Beyond the Borders of Classical Greek Art
    Beginning with a discussion of the brevity of Athenian supremacy and the visual reflection of this by Athenian artists and the contrasts and tensions that show up in their work, we arrive at a depiction of Alexander the Great and consider briefly how Indian art may have been influenced by the Greeks. x
  • 6
    The Birth of the New—Hellenistic Art
    We consider the period after Alexander's death when the Greek sense of the world expanded and the modes and media of visual expression further diversified. Ultimately, we explore the question of where to draw the line between Hellenistic and Roman art. x
  • 7
    Hellenistic, Etruscan, and Early Roman Art
    An exploration of the relationship between Roman and Greek art leads to the question of the relationship between Roman and Etruscan art and culture, ultimately bringing us to a focus on the evolution of a distinctly Roman imprint in art, from portraiture and political propaganda to architectural innovation. x
  • 8
    Roman and Judaean Art
    Just as Roman art and architecture were influenced by the Greeks, Etruscans, and Egyptians, so were Judaean art and architecture influenced by the Hellenistic and Roman worlds. In this lecture, a detail of the Arch of Titus leads us to a discussion of the building of the Second Temple in Jerusalem and other Judaean structures followed by a study of Roman wall painting and finally a look at innovations in Roman architecture and equestrian portraiture. x
  • 9
    Early Christian Art and Its Progeny
    In exploring the evolution of Christian art, moving both backward and forward in time, we arrive at a familiar point transformed: the relationship among art, religion, and politics, as the last image offers a Christian political leader, Otto II, in a representation that evokes Christ's enthroned image. x
  • 10
    The Beginnings of Jewish Art
    The transformation of Western art into distinctly Christian art evokes, among other questions, that of "Jewish" art: Where does it fit in, and how is it to be understood—as an art of style, symbols, content, and purpose, made by or for Jews? x
  • 11
    Christian Medieval Art and Architecture
    In expanding on earlier issues, we discuss the post-Roman evolution of the dome and the arch; the post-synagogue evolution of the Torah niche as church apse; and the expanding use of the cross as a symbol, concluding with a look at the idea of and relationship between the cross and other symbols of life. x
  • 12
    The Language of Romanesque and Gothic Art
    This lecture picks up with the last theme in the previous lecture: the symbolism of the cross. Against the backdrop of traumatic events in medieval Christian history, the discussion moves from architectural symbolism in its various aspects, concluding with a look at the expansive vocabulary of figurative representation in Christian art. x
  • 13
    Islamic Art from Abstract to Figurative
    We explore some of Islamic art's major forms of expression—including the free-standing dome, mosque niche, the prayer rug, mosque lamps, and calligraphy—before moving to figurative imagery in Muslim art and to Muslim contact with Christian Renaissance art. x
  • 14
    Jewish Medieval Art and Architecture
    The thread of Jewish art is further unraveled in this lecture, interwoven with aspects of connection to Muslim and Christian art. We learn about the complicated positioning of various elements within the interior of a number of famous European synagogues, and we come to understand why Torah scrolls, which must be free of adornment, still glorify God with their beauty. x
  • 15
    Early Renaissance Painting in Central Italy
    We return to our discussion of Christian art, including the evolution in the styles of depicting key Christian symbols: the cross as variously styled crucifixions; an ethereal Virgin and Child as a flesh-and-blood mother and her infant son; and Christ's presentation as one of us, with less emphasis on his divine aspect. x
  • 16
    15th-Century Italian Renaissance Painting
    This lecture defines the word Renaissance as it carries us fully into the Italian Renaissance of the Florence-dominated 15th century, following the new dynamic tension between a harsh, almost ugly manner of depiction and a poetic sweetness. All this is intertwined with an intensified focus on landscape and dramatic perspective. x
  • 17
    Renaissance Painting beyond the Alps
    We move our attention to northern Europe and the countries associated with the Northern Renaissance. The range of subjects, both secular and religious, is as rich and varied as the range of emotions and moods conveyed. In addition, we find an emphasis on carefully articulated details, jewel-like tones, and, linear surfaces. x
  • 18
    Renaissance Sculpture—Toward Florence
    This lecture backtracks chronologically to accompany sculpture on a path that parallels the chronology and the conceptual developments encompassed by the previous three lectures on painting. Among the trends we observe are a slow stylistic shift between Gothic and reborn Classical styles, a move in sculptural aesthetics toward a humanistic fleshiness, and the beginning of a growing dynamism. x
  • 19
    Toward High Renaissance in Central Italy
    This lecture continues to follow the extraordinary role of Florence in producing and attracting artists—both painters and sculptors—in the second half of the 15th century, beginning with the poetic sensibilities of Botticelli and concluding with the beginning of the career of Leonardo. x
  • 20
    High Renaissance in Central Italy
    Our look at the High Renaissance—beginning with Leonardo, Raphael, and Michelangelo—includes a close examination of Leonardo's Last Supper, which is said to have brought the High Renaissance era into full focus. To better appreciate Leonardo's innovations with this fresco, we compare it with renderings of the same subject by Ghirlandaio and Castagno. x
  • 21
    The Rebirth of Classical Dynamism
    Our discussion of a work by Perugino— Raphael's teacher in Umbria—and a similar work by Raphael himself leads us to a focus on architecture, including Brunelleschi's famous dome in Florence, until we arrive at Michelangelo and his own architecture, sculpture, and painting—including his Sistine Chapel frescoes. x
  • 22
    The Light of the Veneto
    This lecture shifts north to the great Venetian painters of the late 15th through late 16th centuries. The preoccupation with light is of particular note for these artists, in part a result of the unusual effect of light on water and the reflection of both on the majestic city of Venice. x
  • 23
    16th-Century Northern European Painting
    This lecture returns to the Northern Renaissance and its intense and varied productivity in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, examining significant works by giants such as Dürer, Bosch, Cranach the Elder, and Van Leyden. Circling back to Dürer's remarkable self-portrait, we arrive on new ground: the artistic preoccupation with self that will lead toward modernity. x
  • 24
    Transformation of People, Objects, Ideas
    This lecture continues where the previous lecture left off, moving deeper into the 16th century in Northern painting—and artists such as Altdorfer, Holbein the Younger, and Bruegel the Elder—noting that world's growing interest in studies of common people and everyday objects in diverse landscapes and settings. x
  • 25
    The Reformation and the Mannerist Crisis
    Mannerist works of art, especially paintings—with their defining attenuated or distorted physical details and often-shocking colors—seem to represent the tearing apart of Western Christendom by the Protestant Reformation. We look at several examples of the Mannerist crisis in art before coming to the more stable but equally dramatic Baroque style, represented by the Counter-Reformation-era works of Vasari and the Carracci family. x
  • 26
    Baroque Shadows—Venice to Madrid to Rome
    This lecture first continues the discussion of Venetian painting in the late 16th century, moving from late Titian to Tintoretto and then Veronese before moving to Spain and a discussion of El Greco and Velázquez, concluding in Rome for an examination of the dramatic work of Caravaggio and his unique mode of chiaroscuro called tenebrism. x
  • 27
    Shadow and Light from Rome to the Lowlands
    Caravaggio's use of light leads us into the further discussion of 17th-century Northern painting, beginning with Rembrandt. We are reminded of how much of that art, from Hals to Vermeer, is purely secular. Even in concluding with images of church interiors, we recognize that the emphasis is on light and symphonic architectural spaces, rather than on Christian spirituality. x
  • 28
    Northern Landscapes and Life Sweeps
    This lecture turns issues raised in the previous several lectures inside-out as we discuss both the growing artistic interest in representing nature as itself, as seen in the works of Van Goyen and Van Ruisdael, and in the inclusion of moral lessons in paintings of human activity, examples of which include the works of Steen and Van Dyck. We conclude with a study of the great Flemish painter, Rubens. x
  • 29
    The Counter-Reformation from Italy Outward
    This lecture begins with sculpture and architecture in continuing the discussion of the Counter-Reformation and its aftermath, including the continued shaping of St. Peter's Church by Bernini. That discussion brings us to a study of the dome as it arrives into the late 18th century and then to interior dome painting. x
  • 30
    Revolutions in Spanish and English Painting
    The intense, ongoing spirituality of 17th-century Spain is conveyed in works by a succession of painters from Zurbarán to Murillo and also by the distinct, flamboyant architectural style of the Churriguera family. By contrast, English painting in the 18th and early 19th centuries, from Hogarth to Turner, yields a range of secular moral messages, sensual landscapes, portraits, and a further interest in the role of light in reshaping the world that we see. x
  • 31
    France's Gold and Silver Ages
    The French ascension to primacy within the art world is symbolized by the rejection of Bernini's brilliant design for Louis XIV's contemplated extension of the new Louvre in favor of a more pedestrian proposal by French architects. As French architecture moves to and through lighter Rococo, Louis XV, and Neoclassical XVI styles, French painting continues to shift toward progressively lighter, love-obsessed fare, until the approaching revolution leads to nightmarish visions. x
  • 32
    Politics and Romanticism
    The degree to which the politics and the Romatic spirit of the onrushing 18th and early 19th centuries are reflected in art is made clear as we look at works by a range of artists including David, Ingres, Canova, Goya, Delacroix, Géricault, Friedrich, Daumier, and Millet. x
  • 33
    From Realism to Impressionism
    The desire to see and represent both nature and life as they are reverberates through the paintings of the Realists. But in the work of Manet and his self-proclaimed disciples—Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Degas, and Seurat—we are offered a far different—revolutionary—way to look at the world. x
  • 34
    From Paris to the East
    In France, Impressionist passion for painting outdoors had an urban manifestation in the works of Caillebotte and Toulouse-Lautrec. But the concerns of Impressionism with regard to brushstroke, light, and color also carry beyond France to Germany and Holland. And further east, in Russia, Impressionist light and Realist brushwork meet when St. Petersburg Academy students rebeled against art tied strictly to mythology and religion and turn to their own Russian landscapes and people as subjects. x
  • 35
    American Romantic Realism and Its Progeny
    This lecture brings us to America through iconic works of the late 18th through mid-19th centuries reflecting the political shaping and natural shape of the New World. In the work of a broad range of artists, from West and Homer to Whistler, Sargent, and Hartley, we see a focus on the inspiring vastness of the continent; an expression of Romantic sensibility in landscapes; as well as a fascination with Europe and its art, with Impressionism embraced by Americans even before it is accepted by the French. x
  • 36
    Fin de Siècle European Art Movements
    In Europe, the turn toward the 20th century is marked by visual ideas that look backward and forward in time, to include both an obsession with the beauty and danger of women and an anticipation of the century's coming horrors. At the same time, architecture transforms internal infrastructure into externalized beauty, and the borders between art forms begin to blur. x
  • 37
    Asia and Africa in the Western Mind
    Fascination with the Asian world as backdrop and inspiration for European visual creativity has a long history. We look at how Japanese and Chinese art influenced Western art, and then shift to a parallel focus on African art, before completing our many-pathed arrival into 20th-century European painting. x
  • 38
    They All Came to Paris
    Paris as a cyclone of early 20th-century art anchors this lecture, which begins with Cézanne and then moves to Picasso and Braque—partners in developing the style that came to be called Cubism—before moving on to works by Duchamp, Matisse, Chagall, and others. x
  • 39
    Revolutions in Early 20th-Century Painting
    We see how varied painting's directions become in the first decades of the century, encompassing the brash colors of the Blue Rider group; Duchamp's tongue-in-cheek revisioning of the most banal of objects into art; the Dadaism of Jean Arp; the Expressionism of Kirchner, Kokoschka, and Schiele; and the Surrealism exemplified by artists from De Chirico to Dalí. x
  • 40
    Figuration and Abstraction—The Struggle
    German-born painter and teacher Hans Hoffmann becomes our starting point for introducing early 20th-century aesthetic issues from Europe to America, where Modernist abstraction pushes up against figurative Representationalism. We examine works by artists from both stylistic sides, including Wood, O'Keeffe, Shahn, Lawrence, Hopper, Wyeth, Pollock, and Rothko. x
  • 41
    Developments in Sculpture—Rodin to Judd
    This lecture steps back to follow sculpture in its twists and turns from the late 19th all the way to the late 20th century. We move from the bold figurative style of Rodin to World War I-era Cubism to the various directions sculptural ideas take in the decades before and the generations after World War II. x
  • 42
    New Worlds of Architecture—Wright to Hadid
    This lecture explores developments in architecture from the beginning of the last century to the present. From Frank Lloyd Wright's originality of vision and insistence on all-encompassing control of the architectural environment, we move to an international array of architectural giants, including Philip Johnson, Mies van der Rohe, Oscar Niemeyer, Eero Saarinen, Moshe Safdie, Jorn Utzon, I. M. Pei, Frank Gehry, Richard Meier, and Zaha Hadid. x
  • 43
    The Edges of West and East
    Diverging from a simple "Western Path," we discuss Central and South American art in its early 20th-century intersections with Euro-American Modernism and the differing visions of art from different parts of the Americas. We also look to Russia and the East and the complicated pathway politics has forced on Russo-Soviet art and its aftermath. x
  • 44
    Art, Trauma, and Politics
    Although we have already studied some of the artists whose works appear in this lecture, our discussion here is unique in that it focuses on a specific, unavoidable theme: the ways so many artists have used their media to respond to a century marked by more mass torture and killing than in all of prior human history. x
  • 45
    Defining Modern Jewish Art
    In a world where, for most of the past 16 centuries, modern Western art has evolved from what is considered Christian art, where do Jewish artists find themselves? Our far-reaching discussion comprises issues of figurative and abstract style, narrative and non-narrative content, and clear and obscure symbolic language. x
  • 46
    The Problem of Categories in Modern Art
    This lecture explores art that defies traditional categorization as painting or sculpture. Beginning with Joseph Cornell and the advent of assemblages as art, we move to Op art and Pop art, examining a number of works that transform preconceived notions of painting and sculpture, "art" and "commerce," and representations of people versus the people themselves. x
  • 47
    The Explosion of Modernist Media
    We look at the long history of expanding the range of artistic media and of blurring the lines among media and between "art" and "craft." It's a narrative recognizing new forms of architecture and sculpture, decorative arts as fine arts, found objects as conceptual and visual statements, collage as painting, stasis and motion in sculpture, the advent of sculpture that blurs the line between art and industry, and the evolution of photography as an art form. x
  • 48
    Art, Politics, and Religion from Era to Era
    This last lecture interweaves two overarching themes within the course: the dynamic tension between continuity and transformation and the consistency with which visual art has variously served or responded to religion and politics. In the end we recognize how art has always been both a reflection of and an essential part of our struggle with our identities as a complex, creative species. x

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Ori Z. Soltes

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Ori Z. Soltes, Ph.D.
Georgetown University
Dr. Ori Z. Soltes is Goldman Professorial Lecturer in Theology and Fine Arts at Georgetown University. He is the former director and curator of the B'nai B'rith Klutznick National Jewish Museum in Washington, DC. He earned his B.A. in Philosophy from Haverford College, his M.A. in Classics from Princeton, and his Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies from Union Institute and University. Professor Soltes is the author of more...
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