Art of the Northern Renaissance

Course No. 7170
Professor Catherine B. Scallen, Ph.D.
Case Western Reserve University
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Course No. 7170
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Course Overview

What does is it mean to see a painting—and is seeing it the same thing as understanding it? Hieronymus Bosch's monumental Garden of Earthly Delights is instantly recognizable to most lovers of Renaissance art, and as Professor Catherine B. Scallen explains, it has been admired, looked on with shock, and puzzled over for 500 years. In its own time it was copied and even made into tapestries. It has been owned by a deeply devout Catholic king of Spain—and in the 1900s was cited by various scholars as representing the lost golden age of humanity, symbolizing the coded language of the alchemist, or even proving its creator's belief in sexual license. In the turbulent 1960s its images were common in dormitory rooms, delighting students eager to accept its joyful, frolicking nudes in their fantasy landscape as a proclamation of freedom and self-indulgence.

Although critics and scholars differ on what Hieronymus Bosch depicted in the Garden of Earthly Delights, it was definitely not a paean to self-indulgence or drugs. The work is one of a long line of fantastic images left by an artist who was known for moralizing on the consequences of sin and folly.

Bosch's world-view clearly intrigued his contemporaries, whether or not they understood his art better than we do. You will meet many such unique figures throughout the 36 lectures of The Art of the Northern Renaissance, as Professor Scallen guides you through 200 years of remarkable art and artists.

Although the term "the Renaissance" is most commonly associated with an era of artistic bounty in Italy, the massive cultural transformations that were remaking the world were having as significant an impact on art throughout northern Europe as well, and both traditions were highly admired at the time, with significant contact between the two. Italian artists were aware of Northern innovations. Northern artists increasingly traveled to Italy where they were exposed to the art of antiquity as well as the art of Renaissance Italy.

A Brilliant Time and Place in Art History

Using more than 300 images—paintings, woodcuts, engravings, etchings, sculptures, drawings—by well-known artists Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden, Albrecht Dürer, Hans Holbein, Hieronymus Bosch, and Pieter Bruegel, along with others who may be less familiar but deserve to be better known, Professor Scallen leads an intensely visual exploration of the glorious art that resulted. She explains devotional paintings, brilliantly illuminated copies of the medieval prayer book known as the Book of Hours, and triptychs—massive three-panel works that often served as church altarpieces.

She shows you how artists such as Albrecht Altdorfer could make landscapes serve as themes of their own. She reveals how portraits evolved from representations of the rich and powerful to a far more inclusive medium, and she decodes the surprising amount of information skilled painters would convey in their compositions, colors, and textures.

As Professor Scallen guides you through these wonderful works of art, she also takes you beyond their beauty and dramatic impact and places them in their social and artistic context as well, exploring a wide range of issues:

  • How did changes in society—religious, political, economic, or cultural—transform the role of art from serving religious needs and political requirements to providing status, decoration, entertainment, instruction, and the preservation of memories?
  • What was the impact of one particular artist's innovation on those who followed?
  • How did patrons, whether commissioning a work or buying it ready-made, influence the artists of this time? How did the expansion of patronage beyond the high nobility and Christian Church affect how artists worked, or their choice of subjects?
  • What factors influenced the evolution of artists' stature, as artists began to perceive themselves as figures of importance, worthy of respect and admiration?

Beyond the art itself, you'll also learn how the art world of the time worked and how artists functioned.

For instance, have you ever wondered how artists trained and what was required of them in order to become official "masters"? What their workshops were like, or what their personal involvement might have been in the art produced by those workshops and bearing their name? Or the vital professional roles played by their guilds, or the religious service organizations known as confraternities?

Learn How Great Artists Worked

And what of the works of art themselves? How were they made? What were the mechanics of painting and the various forms of printmaking—woodcuts, engravings, and etchings? How was art bought and sold, and how did the open art market, one of the Northern Renaissance's most significant contributions, evolve?

Wonderful nuggets of information are constantly surfacing during these lectures. You'll learn, for example, that the word "masterpiece" derives, literally, from "master piece"—the single example of mastery that an experienced journeyman painter would have to provide to his guild as part of his application to become an official "master," who could then take on apprentices and journeymen in a workshop of his own.

You'll discover that much of the reason for Pieter Bruegel the Elder's remarkable productivity during a relatively short career—40 highly detailed paintings of substantial size—lay in his style. He painted in very thin layers, foregoing the thick layers of time-consuming glazing used by his Netherlandish predecessors.

And you'll see that the faces of the devout worshipers featured in the wings of a triptych were often the faces of donors whose patronage had made the work possible. Or how modern technologies—x-radiography and infrared reflectography—can reveal the preparatory drawings beneath the layers of paint, enabling modern scholars to understand the work processes of early Netherlandish painters as never before and showing how original ideas and compositions were altered en route to the finished work.

But beyond the opportunities Professor Scallen gives you to understand wondrous works of art and follow their creators' careers and sources of inspiration, the lectures offer an additional benefit.

The art you will see was created during a time of extraordinary cultural transformation, by artists who spent their lives observing their culture and pouring what they saw and understood into their art. To learn how to "read" the content beneath a work's surface beauty or stark drama is a way to understand that transformation in deep and meaningful ways, making this a course whose benefits span both art and history.

See an Era through Its Greatest Art

Professor Scallen's lectures will enhance your understanding of art itself—sharpening your ability to notice the significance of content and detail, and showing you how artists drew from and influenced the work of others—making your next trip to the museum or time spent looking at art in other ways more pleasurable and enriching.

The lectures offer visual evidence of what viewpoints were socially acceptable or popular, for example, or what other views needed to be presented subtly by being "coded" into the content. You'll learn about the artistic "statements" that were requested by an evolving universe of patrons, from the most religiously, politically, or economically powerful to those less influential, but perhaps more representative of a wider range of society.

By the time these 36 lectures are concluded, you may well have found a new artist to add to your own list of favorites. Moreover, you'll do so with a substantial understanding of exactly why you feel as you do—your appreciation enhanced by the questions you know to ask, by the ability to see something different and surprising at each viewing of a work, and by the ever-increasing knowledge imparted in a course such as The Art of the Northern Renaissance.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    What Was the Northern Renaissance?
    Professor Scallen introduces the course by explaining the idea of the Renaissance, exploring the kinds of art we will be studying, and taking a first look at the questions of patronage and artistic origin. x
  • 2
    The Burgundian Netherlands
    The Dukes of Burgundy were among the wealthiest and most influential rulers of their day, and several of them were also important art patrons. This lecture looks at some of the art made for the first Valois Duke of Burgundy, Philip the Bold, including architectural and sculpted monuments and illuminated manuscripts. x
  • 3
    Panel Painters from c. 1400–c. 1435
    This lecture examines the art form of panel painting, including the ways it was affected by changes introduced in both sculpture and manuscript illumination, and introduces the work of Robert Campin, one of the first painters to draw on all these influences. x
  • 4
    Van Eycks and the Ghent Altarpiece
    We devote an entire lecture to the famed polyptych—or many-paneled painting—known as the Ghent Altarpiece, painted by the brothers Hubert and Jan van Eyck for the Church of St. John in the Belgian town of Ghent. Completed in 1432, this complex representation of the Adoration of the Lamb served as a Christian meditation on sin and a celebration of salvation. x
  • 5
    Jan van Eyck's Religious Paintings
    We continue to look at the theme of religious painting, in particular, the work of Jan van Eyck, whose paintings, whether for memorial, devotional, or liturgical use, exemplified the pervasive role of religion in Northern Renaissance culture. x
  • 6
    Jan van Eyck's Portraits
    An essential development of Renaissance culture is the rise of interest in the individual. One manifestation is the growth of portraiture, and in the work of Jan van Eyck, his scrutiny of every facial detail convinces us that what we see is truth itself, rather than its translation into paint. x
  • 7
    Rogier—Religious Paintings
    We begin our study of Rogier van der Weyden—he and Van Eyck were two of the most influential northern artists of the 15th century—by focusing on his explorations of the psychological and emotional implications of Jesus as a figure both human and divine. x
  • 8
    Rogier—Devotional Paintings and Portraits
    Rogier's devotional paintings and portraits, although smaller in scale and private in function, still had much in common with his larger altarpieces, especially in his emphasis on emotional impact in his religious paintings and his use of sculpture-like compositions, as in the arches used to frame small groupings of subjects in the Miraflores Altarpiece. x
  • 9
    Petrus Christus—Heir to Van Eyck and Rogier
    The work of Petrus Christus demonstrates how important Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Wyden were to the next generation of artists in the Netherlands. Christus found inspiration in both Van Eyck's serenity and Rogier's ideas of composition, the latter apparent in his Lamentation, which draws from Rogier's Deposition in its emphasis on the use of poses to express emotion. x
  • 10
    Hugo van der Goes
    The haunting yet often lyrical expressiveness of Hugo's religious art set him apart from his contemporaries, and his compositions would provide stimulus for many later painters. His Portinari Altarpiece in Florence had a nearly immediate impact on Florentine artists. x
  • 11
    Dieric Bouts and Geertgen tot Sint Jans
    Bouts and Geertgen both worked in interesting ways to synthesize portrait and landscape, integrating, with varying degrees of naturalism, group portraits into biblical and historical scenes and often using landscapes that contributed to the emotional tenor of the scene. x
  • 12
    Hans Memling
    Like his predecessors from Bruges, Jan van Eyck and Petrus Christus, Hans Memling was drawn to a town rich with potential patrons; their commissions could provide a good living for an artist as sought after for portraits as for religious subjects. x
  • 13
    Practices in the Painter's Workshop
    This lecture considers the artist's workshop, describing the nuts-and-bolts of daily operations and the larger social history of painters, their patrons, and their practices. x
  • 14
    The Veronica Master, Lochner, Schongauer
    By the 15th century, art in the German-speaking lands was moving from an artistic tradition dominated by architecture, sculpture, and manuscript illumination to one of innovation in panel painting, much of it featuring a "sweet style" most evident in its characteristic faces—small, rounded, and almost childlike. x
  • 15
    15th-Century Prints
    One of the most important developments in European culture in the 15th century was the rise of prints and printmaking. Woodcuts and engravings contributed to the expansion of the arts into a range of European societies and to the development and circulation of secular subjects that had been rarely depicted in painting. x
  • 16
    Albrecht Dürer's Early Career
    In the first of three lectures on an extraordinary artist, we consider a man who would become the most renowned artist of his northern European generation. Dürer's character and his documentary approach to his work reflected both a Humanist awareness of his status as an individual and artist, and an insistence on the enduring value of his profession. x
  • 17
    Albrecht Dürer's Mature Career
    In the years 1500–1515, Dürer experienced the period of his full maturity as an artist, participating deeply in Humanist as well as artistic culture. During his second trip to Italy, he extended his interest in rationally created art and his international fame. x
  • 18
    Albrecht Dürer's Later Career
    The final lecture on Dürer considers his trip to the bustling Netherlands, where he met the young Lucas van Leyden, the Humanist Erasmus, and other important patrons. We also consider his later art, which reflects the Protestant Reformation and Dürer's hopes and anxieties concerning it. x
  • 19
    Lucas Cranach as a Painter
    Lucas Cranach was a prolific and versatile artist, with a large workshop that was active for nearly half a century. Equally at ease with mythological stories, portraits, and religious subjects—and able to satisfy both Catholic and Lutheran clients—Cranach also dealt with new secular themes and stories that allowed him to emphasize landscape. x
  • 20
    Grünewald and Altdorfer
    The works of Matthias Grünewald and Albrecht Altdorfer portray deeply personal visions. The high point of Grünewald's career, the Isenheim Altarpiece, holds images of a grisly Crucifixion, a beatific Virgin and Christ Child scene, and a Resurrection that seems explosive in its sense of movement. x
  • 21
    16th-Century German Woodcuts
    Dürer's renovation of the woodcut into a more technically and aesthetically sophisticated medium helped spark widespread interest. A number of artists, many of whom were primarily painters such as Cranach and Altdorfer, began employing the form in remarkably inventive ways, such as the chiaroscuro woodcut. x
  • 22
    16th-Century Intaglio Prints
    Prints made with metal plates also proved to be a form ripe for artistic innovation. Several artists worked with the etching medium because it allowed greater freedom in line work than engraving and required less exacting technical proficiency in designing the image. x
  • 23
    Holbein the Younger in Switzerland
    We begin a two-lecture consideration of Hans Holbein the Younger, an artist who attempted to promote his career as a painter of religious history but instead achieved fame as a portraitist, with patrons who included Sir Thomas More, England's Henry VIII and his court, and other important political figures of the time. x
  • 24
    Holbein the Younger in England, 1532–1543
    Despite the need to change patrons after More's resignation (and execution), Holbein rose to the occasion, producing highly realistic portraits for which he is most remembered, as well as The Ambassadors, a double portrait filled with symbols that is a dazzling display of his talents in illusion and naturalism. x
  • 25
    David and the Master of Mary of Burgundy
    This lecture examines the Bruges career of Gerard David, whose use of landscape and experimentation with sacred and secular images of domesticity closed one era and pointed to another. We also look at one of the most talented illuminators of the era, the Master of the Mary of Burgundy. x
  • 26
    Hieronymus Bosch
    Although Bosch is by reputation the most famous Northern Renaissance painter, he is also the most widely misinterpreted. While introducing new secular subjects into the realm of high art, often using fantastic imagery, he did so in contexts entirely in keeping with traditional moral values. x
  • 27
    Two Bosch Triptychs
    No Netherlandish artist since Jan van Eyck so clearly calls for detailed investigation of his themes and imagery as Bosch. We consider closely the Haywain Triptych and Garden of Earthly Delights to see how Bosch adapted this traditional format to fulfill his own vision of religious art, and how his audiences might have perceived the messages so often misconstrued by college students in the 20th century. x
  • 28
    Lucas van Leyden
    A talented engraver and woodcut artist before taking up painting, Lucas put his hometown of Leiden "on the map," lending freshness of line, vivacity of characterization, and psychological complexity to familiar biblical depictions and scenes from everyday life. x
  • 29
    Patinir, Massys, and Van Cleve
    In looking at the careers of three of Antwerp's 16th-century artists, we see the city—already its nation's leading commercial center—begin to emerge as a great art center. Antwerp's artists adapted their careers to an ever-wider range of subjects and markets. x
  • 30
    The Rise of Antwerp
    The pioneering changes in Antwerp included larger workshops, collaborations between masters, and a rapidly expanding art market of both foreign and local citizens. Europe's first open art market flourished with ready-made paintings for sale, and the range and variety of popular subjects expanded. x
  • 31
    Internationalism and Northern Artists
    Jan Gossaert, Jan van Scorel, and Antonis Mor were Netherlandish artists who spent time in Italy, then worked as court artists. Gossaert and Van Scorel brought elements of Italian Renaissance and Classical art back with them, while continuing to assert certain Netherlandish traditions of composition and painting. x
  • 32
    Maarten van Heemskerck
    By spending the balance of his professional life in Haarlem, Van Heemskerck's career epitomizes the rise of new artistic centers. Although Italianate details, from classical architecture to the monumentality of form, appear in his work, he was distinctly Netherlandish in his religious symbolism, his concern with domestic portraiture, and his innovations with prototypical still lifes. x
  • 33
    Pieter Bruegel—Religious Subjects
    Bruegel is often considered a painter of peasant subjects, often in humorous contexts, but he probably thought of himself differently. This first of three lectures considers his religious art, including his inventive portrayal of The Tower of Babel and the grim and grisly images of Triumph of Death. x
  • 34
    Pieter Bruegel—Folk Culture and Traditions
    Bruegel's 1566 Wedding Dance, like his other peasant scenes, depicts peasant life with quotidian detail and an utterly convincing earthiness. Some scholars suggest that Bruegel and members of his Humanist circle had a judgmental attitude toward the less-educated members of their society; others detect affection and even respect in Bruegel's colorful renderings. x
  • 35
    Pieter Bruegel—The Land and the Peasant
    Many of Bruegel's most beloved images concerned the relationship of peasants with the land, as in his monumental series, Seasons. Such works reflected his career-long interest in landscape, which played an ever-more crucial role in northern art. x
  • 36
    Iconoclasm, War, and Signs of Revival
    This final lecture takes a close look at the tumultuous events that would reshape the Low Countries into two nations, and examines the career of an artist who stands as a major transitional figure between the 16th and 17th centuries and between the southern and northern Netherlands. Hendrick Goltzius was a virtuoso engraver and woodcut designer who acknowledged a debt to Dürer and other masters but confidently contributed to the art of a new era in Haarlem. x

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Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 36 lectures on 6 DVDs
  • 272-page printed course guidebook

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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 272-page printed course guidebook
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider
  • Timeline

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Your professor

Catherine B. Scallen

About Your Professor

Catherine B. Scallen, Ph.D.
Case Western Reserve University
Dr. Catherine B. Scallen is Associate Professor of Art History at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, where she has been teaching for more than 10 years. She earned her undergraduate degree in history from Wellesley College as a Wellesley Scholar. She went on to earn her M.A. with honors from the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art and her Ph.D. in Art History from Princeton University....
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Art of the Northern Renaissance is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 58.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Slow start then picks up fast ... Very thorough, I'm learning tons AND I'm having fun. Only wish the maps were better and when the professor refers to a church or Abbey or Monastery that the organizers would show a photo of the place.
Date published: 2017-07-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Impressive! Extremely knowledgeable professor. Detailed and well organized coverage. I am very pleased and learned a lot!
Date published: 2017-04-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Uncomfortable History Lesson Although this professor really, really knows her stuff, there isn't much even she can do to make this subject exciting and satisfying to the point where someone would seek out, stop, and want to spend much time in this section of the art museum. 36 lectures on heavy, depressing, religious art is a bit much - unless you are a serious, older, Roman Catholic. It is only one reviewer's opinion, mind you, but all I could think was: "What a waste that so many great artists of the 1500's and 1600's in Northern Europe were prevented from depicting anything outside the realm permitted by church-sponsored Inquisition thugs - so sad." At least now I know there were some very great artists during this period and they did what they could. Still, this is subject matter from a time period that serious art history students, as well as human beings in general, really should know and never forget.
Date published: 2016-12-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Northern Art in Unsettling 15th & 16th Centuries I started out with little appreciation for the upheavals during this period and found it very informative to receive all the background information that Professor Scallen offered. I deeply appreciated her scholarly approach to the art she discussed and showed. It was magnificent. If you are also interested in history and wish to understand the context for artistic changes you will not be disappointed in this series of lectures.
Date published: 2016-11-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Wonderful Course I feel more confident in art history after taking this course. I will be visiting Europe next year for five months and planning to visit the art museums in London and Paris. I will be taking the Course Guidebook with me. Professor Catherine B. Scallen presents an excellent learning environment for everyone.
Date published: 2016-11-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very helpful My MFA is in this area ; still I learned a lot or perhaps it's just that I have been updated since I studied it. I first got it from my local library before I bought it for my own library.
Date published: 2016-08-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good, lucid history of the art history in this era Course content is solid, lectures very professional, but I wanted to take a hand and brush that strand of hair off the front of her glasses! She should pin it back or put it behind her ears. She knows her material and presents it well, but again, I wanted more close ups of the art slides, more time to roam around the picture with the camera, emphasizing the high points of each, and I also thought she was rather cold in her descriptions. Wm. Kloss is willing to invest something of his own enthusiasm for each picture, whether they are his personal favorites or not, showing why others valued the work so much in its day and/or currently. Other than that, she is very thorough and I am learning a lot.
Date published: 2016-06-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful! Nothing to add to the many thoughtful reviews; just reinforcing a few main points: - The art is, of course, absolutely magnificent. Whether you are familiar with these works or not, this is a wonderful overview of extraordinary art. The genius and mastery of the artists ("talent" seems far too small a word) is close to literally incredible. - The visuals are plentiful and very well done, as one would expect. - Professor Scallen, as all seem to agree, is deeply knowledgeable, articulate, and well-organized. There is also agreement that her lecture style is serious and scholarly. Some appreciate this, as being preferable to over-enthusiasm. Most seem to find it too "wooden" and tending, often, towards a monotone. I was so taken with the art and the fascinating history, that, while I would have wished for more enthusiasm and vocal modulation, this bothered me very little. - She did a fine job, in my view, of balancing discussion of the individual works with reviewing the artists' biographies and the relevant history. - The Course Guidebook is well-written, reasonably complete, and quite helpful, and includes a timeline, a glossary, biographical notes, and an annotated bibliography. (I have almost given up begging TGC to include these in new courses. If you feel as I do about this, please let your voice be heard on their Facebook page!) So - A truly wonderful course, despite some variable responses to the lecture style. Highly recommended for any with an interest in the area. -
Date published: 2016-05-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Comprehensive course but very dry I liked this course overall but it was very dry towards the 2nd half of it. For some reason the professor seemed to be reading her notes a lot and the earlier excitement she showed slowly drained away. Everything was very matter-of-fact and it distracted from the course. This overview is however very comprehensive and provided a really good foundation for students interested in Northern Renaissance art.
Date published: 2015-10-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Worthwhile Examination of Northern Art and Artists I thoroughly enjoyed the course and learned more about artists with whom I was familiar (e.g., Bruegel, Durer) and was introduced to some outstanding artists and works new to me. Professor Scallen's expertise in the field is obvious, and I found her lectures interesting and her presentation clear. It is true that, compared to Professor Kloss (my favorite Great Courses instructor), her style is rather dry and academic; however, taken on its own terms, Professor Scallen's lecture style is perfectly fine and in no way detracted from my enjoyment or my learning experience.
Date published: 2015-04-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A detailed exploration of Northern Art I recently completed this course for the first time, and I must say that it took me a long time to make it all the way through the course. I would watch a series of lectures, then set it aside for a few weeks or even a few months. But ultimately I made it all the way through all 36 lectures and I will return to some of them again and again. I was tempted to title my review "Worthwhile even if you only watch the lectures about Albrecht Durer" but that would sell the entire series short. This is a detailed exploration of the art of the Northern Renaissance, and coverage of minor artists complements coverage of the greatest artists of this time and place. Professor Scallen, as other reviews have noted, is dry. Her lectures provide very little humor, we learn almost nothing about her own emotional response to this art. Professor Scallen is a distinguished scholar, however, and she provides great detail about the artists and the subjects they present. I'm sure that Professor Scallen is every bit as dynamic as the other Great Courses lecturers, but she seems restrained, and in many ways her almost somber demeanor fits well with the religious art about which she lectures. As I made my way through the course, my fifth or sixth of the Great Courses about art, I thought about what makes an art history course good. I can summarize my thoughts in one sentence: Show many paintings, and talk about the paintings. For the most part Professor Scallen succeeds at doing this, though there were times toward the end of the series when I felt like I was being given considerably more background information than I needed to understand, evaluate or appreciate the paintings. In this course, the gravity of the art compensates for the dryness of the lecturer. Like other viewers, I will return to this course again and again, to revisit the series of lectures about Durer, or take a deeper look at the Ghent Altarpiece or the Garden of Earthly Delights. The success of this course may best manifest itself in that as a result of taking this course, the next time I visit the Louvre, I will spend more time in the rooms that cover the Northern Renaissance!
Date published: 2015-04-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Class I purchased this class a number of years ago, and just finished watching it all the way through for the 3rd time. I fully expect to go back to it again. I am an artist who discovered my love of the Northern Renaissance painters and printmakers in art school in the 1970s. Professor Scallen has added great detail and depth to what I already knew about this period. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2014-07-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Needs More Enthusiasm Choice of specific works - good Organization of lectures - great Lecturer's technical expertise - great Lecturer's presentation - fair (lacking in personality, humour, and 'heart' - rather didactic and flat)
Date published: 2014-05-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Eye Opener I have just completed this course, watching one lecture a day as time permitted. It really opened my eyes to the art of this time and place. My only regret is watching it on a laptop instead of a large screen, for the art work was marvelous, and quite intricate. After all here was Bosch, and here was Breugel. I now have a sense of the development of the art in style and content, and the reasons for the development, which makes it so much more meaningful to me. Many of the paintings must have been restored, as the colors are bold and the details visible, bringing these works to life. It is a Great Course, and I'm happy to have watched it, and to have it to watch again as life goes on.
Date published: 2014-05-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great visuals and explanations DVD review Dr Catherine Scallen's THE ART OF THE NORTHERN RENAISSANCE is an outstanding course in many respects. ____________________ PROS — She limits herself to painting and prints, topics she can cover in reasonable detail in 36 courses. — Most of the images are presented whole then in close-up shots while her explanations are provided in voice over. The effect is to provide a small portable museum with expert commentary. — Since these images are filled with common objects, animals and references to popular sayings as well as the Bible, her detailed commentary plays a crucial role. These works of art display a growing interest in nature and human psychology — Renaissance themes. But they also still make use of medieval conventions whereby every object carries symbolic meaning — connections with unseen, spiritual forces. — Although a wide selection of minor artists are covered, much of the course is supported by 5 "tent poles" : Jan van Eyck, Albrecht Dűrer, Holbein the Younger, Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel. She is particularly good in explaining their sensibilities and strengths. — The courses on the various forms of printing — woodblock, engraving, etching, etc. — are explained through actual physical demonstrations. — Maps are also well used to explain places of birth, political territories, and shifts in art patronage. _______________________ CONS — Compared to some other teachers, her speaking style is a bit monotone. This did not bother me, as so many wonderful images are presented in detail with her information in voice over. — Unless you have a high tolerance for religious art, 36 courses filled with Annunciations, Visitations, Nativity scenes, Flights to Egypt, Baptisms, Last Suppers, Flagellations, Roads to Calvary, Crucifixions, Depositions, Lamentations, Resurrections and Last Judgments, to name just a few popular scenes, might get on your nerves. So many geniuses; so few options. It sometimes feels like the Three Stooges rushing for a narrow door. — Since Hell, Divine Judgement as well as Lucifer and his minions have virtually disappeared from America's most popular forms of Christianity, a lecture on Northern European religiosity and political repression during the 15th-16th Century might have been useful. The Netherlands were governed by "foreigners" — Burgundy, The Holy Roman Empire, Spain — during much of this period, with plenty of revolts and armed repressions. The Inquisition was also active. Finally, torture — exquisitely drawn out for public edification — was taken for granted. It is no surprise, therefore that their version of Christianity, Catholic or Protestant, assumed God was no better. Their art is filled with such rough divine justice. A little explaining would have helped viewers place themselves in a different time with different values. ________________ All in all, a very good course IF art history and European intellectual history is your thing. Strongly recommended.
Date published: 2014-01-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Artist's History of Art I bought this course because it was on sale, despite noticing a prevalence of negative proffessor-related reviews. The northern artists of the renaissance have always held greater appeal to me than the more widely discussed southern artists, and since classes dedicated solely to this group are rare to come by, it was the topic of this class combined with the price which clinched the purchase for me. Based on the reviews I'd read, I expected I'd have to put up with a poor presentation in order to glean whatever information I could from Professor Scallen. Nothing could have been further from the truth. As a practicing artist, my interest in paintings has a lot to do with trying to understand how other artists manage to convey rich emotional sensations through the medium of a simulated imaginary world. Back in art school, I found it to be the case that my art professors focused almost entirely on compositional elements when presenting pictures, in a way that either ignored or undervalued a picture's literal content. Professor Scallen, on the other hand, first presents the painted, simulated world as something to sort of imaginatively enter, then asks how it is that the picture possesses the moody sense of atmosphere it has, answering the question by showing how the artist composed the pictorial world. In other words, she discusses composition not simply as though visual organization was always effective in the same way regardless of what information it was ordering. She talks about composition in relation to the specific information being composed. For example, when discussing Hugo van der Goes' Adoration of the Magi, after she talks about the dramatic action happening among the human characters, she points out a slightly open space inhabited only by the figure of a little squirrel. She mentions that, on one hand, the squirrel spatially balances out an area that, without it, would have organizationally felt empty. On the other hand, it also provides a feeling of emotional repose, as the human drama is quieted for an instant while the viewer becomes aware of the animal carrying on in its typical way, oblivious to the event taking place below. In discussing Dieric Bouts, she calls attention to the variety of lighting strategies he employed to create a sense of mood, despite the slightly flat-lined expressions his characters wear. It's ordinary for Professor Scallen to discuss composition in this way--as though it were synonymous with visual storytelling (which I feel, at least in narrative painting, is exactly the way to talk about it.) My own paintings have already benefited from this course, as has my ability to look at and imaginatively engage other art in general, and, in particular, art from this magical northern renaissance era. As far as Professor Scallen's presentation style goes, she is no William Kloss, for sure. Kloss is passionate, has somewhat of a dramatic flair, and is very affable. Scallen, on the other hand, is more calm and measured. Some reviewers seem to feel that her disposition is a weakness, but I think it is perfectly suited to the quiet, subtle enchantment the northern art tends to cast upon its viewers. Also, information selection needs to be considered when assessing a presentation, and, as I implied earlier, Scallen selects all the best information for somebody interested in how vividly emotional painted worlds are made.
Date published: 2013-01-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disservice to an important subject So much more could have been done with the enormous accomplishments that could have been encompassed in this subject. Instead of starting in the 12th century with the spectacular emergence of architecture that transcended everything before it, and recognizing the other art that followed, this professor instead narrowed her field in her introduction by way of some discredited analogies to the "Renaissance" in Italy. The art of the North was a progressive development assisted through advances in technology, not a rebirth, or nostalgia movement, as the term "Renaissance" is used. In adopting the term "Renaissance" she does a disservice to the art of the North - her subject. Her introductory defense of the term "Renaissance" and submissive analogizing to the "Italian Renaissance" doom her course to being a perpetuation of old stereotypes. The advances in the North were not a backward looking rebirth like in Italy. The history of art and architecture in the North is one of linear growth. In contrast, as the term "Italian Renaissance" suggests, Italy did look back to Roman examples for inspiration. Perhaps related to this, Italy did not significantly benefit from the technical advances in the North. Thus, while the North looked to the future, Italy looked to the past, and accordingly recreated buildings with round arches, thick walls with little windows, and dark interiors decorated with frescoes. The soaring, light filled cathedrals of the North and the art they inspired were modern developments without the regressive nostalgia inherent in what has come to be known as the "Renaissance." Far from speaking on this obvious point, this professor, in her introduction, inexplicably states that few buildings have survived in the North, while many beautiful buildings have survived in Italy. It is more accurate to say that, judged by any standard, only a building or two from the Italian Renaissance can begin to rival the best of the many surviving cathedrals and other great 12th - 16th century structures in the North. Perhaps Susan Nash would be willing to lecture on the subject. Nash documents the fact that disproportionately Northern art has been destroyed or displaced, but she nonetheless sees and describes the the greatness of the subject and the problems with old stereotypes. Notwithstanding the above criticisms, it should be noted that this professor's demeanor has been unfairly criticized in other reviews. It is not her emotion or intonation that is lacking. Instead, it seems that it is her lack of confidence in her subject. Her introducing van Eyck as if no one had ever heard of him before is further, and telling, evidence of her lack of confidence in the great art and architecture she is presenting.
Date published: 2012-12-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Art, Yes, but Much More Professor Scallen is one of the most skilled presenters in the many Great Courses which I have enjoyed in recent years and, given the very high quality of your offerings, this is a high compliment, indeed. She was able to weave into each enjoyable lecture, a number of important and interrelated facts -- such as biographical data about the artist being studied, familial and business relationships, and the social, economic and political setting of the time -- in a most informative, rich, and understandable manner. Thus she both reminds us that artists -- like we who live today -- are both of the world, inevitably shaped and buffeted by it, and unique personalities with their own visions and interests. It was fun to discover how individual artists both borrowed from the past -- and, sometimes, from others working in their own time but perhaps in different countries -- as well as contributed unique perspectives or even new expansions into that same tradition. This course made excellent use of the wonderful ability of modern video cameras to zoom into significant portions of a particular art work. I particularly appreciated Professor Scallen's "uncovering" so much of symbolic meaning in the works being studied, particularly helpful in those of Bosch. Her enthusiasm, healthy sense of humor, and great love for her subject matter was infectious. Lastly, it was very helpful and highly interesting that she chose to illustrate how various printing techniques were prepared and used, helping me better understand the skills, patience, and even sheer strength required to pull off woodcuts, engravings, and etchings. Watching a modern artist demonstrate these techniques was fascinating, and only increased by admiration for the skill of the artisans of the Northern Renaissance. A wonderful, enjoyable, and uplifting course!
Date published: 2012-09-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Art in its context I really enjoyed this course because it went well beyond the time-line of the art work presented, to unify two centuries of artistic development into a stream of evolution. I found the lecturer very engaging, with the seriousness and respect appropriate to the material, and very insightful. To my relief, she avoided the role of `entertainer' to stick with the role of the scholar (as do other excellent lecturers such as Mr. Kloss, although with a different personal style); that allowed me to concentrate more on the art work and what was said about it and much less on who was delivering the lecture. I strongly recommend this course, followed by the "Age of Rembrandt" if you would like to get the bigger picture of some of the greatest streams of artistic development in the western world.
Date published: 2012-08-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Objective to a fault I enjoy The Teaching Company's efforts because, at their best, they bring more to the table than just dry facts coupled with names & dates. Watch anything by Bill Kloss (History Of European Art) and you will be hypnotized by his obviously deep appreciation for art, or watch Dick Brettell and see his manic mannerisms guide you through the chaos of French Impressionism. But watching Catherine B. Scallen brings all enthusiasm and excitement to a halt, and in their place there is a very tedious professorial decorum & excessively notes-based progression of names & dates. This series seriously lacks passion & as a result you honestly may be better off reading a book (which happens sometimes, as slides are presented which Scallen reads, word-for-word, as if you couldn't do that yourself.) Some people may like such a stilted, classroom-bound approach, but after the wonder that instructors like Bill Kloss inspire, this was a let-down. The content is redeemable in itself, but unfortunately you will find yourself yawning through most of it. I also agree that this course, with this instructor, would have been better (and more mercifully) shortened to 24 lectures, rather than 36.
Date published: 2012-07-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A feast for the eyes I became a fan of Northern Renaissance art thanks to a college art course 30+ years ago, but I really only knew some of the biggest names: Van Eyck, van der Weyden, Memling, Bruegel. This comprehensive course filled in all the blanks for me and helped me put both major and minor masters in perspective, both chronologically and stylistically. Not only will you learn about the lives and works of individual artists, but also their techniques and how artists functioned in society. The professor's vocal delivery is fine, although she seems a bit awed by the studio, the shifting cameras, etc. Note how as the series progresses, the camera closes in on her almost to the point of claustrophobia. There are also some visible edits where they've patched in new audio. But most importantly, P:rofessor Scallen knows and loves her subject and that comes across clearly in every lecture. She also speaks knowledgeably about the religious aspects of the sacred paintings. By far the most impressive aspect of this course is the visual. You will be treated to full-size and "detail" shots of hundreds of works of art that it would take a lifetime to visit in person. The director and camera operators are to be commended for providing shots that follow right along with the lecture, sometimes even providing split-screen views to allow comparisons between artists. There are also many useful maps and other visual notes. I enjoyed this course thoroughly. This is my first art-related "great course" - I hope the others are as good as this excellent survey.
Date published: 2012-02-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from please redo the series with ms. scanlon i watched this last summer and it took me forever. the history fascinating, the paintings beautiful, yet the lecturer's enthusiasm for the subject didn't come through. i agree, her presentation very wooden. now i know why. despite my reservations, i finally ordered her series on the london national gallery. the first two lectures really fun. yes, she moved her hands a lot, which is not good 'television style.'. and someone jumped all over her for it. this completely subjugated her liveliness and turned her into an automaton. whoever did this deserves more than a rap on the knuckles. to crush someone's spirit like this a directorial crime! i hope she's allowed to redo both programs in her own way, with her own style. she deserves better.
Date published: 2012-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb Course, Superb Lecturer Professor Scallen's coverage of the art of the Northern Renaissance is second to none. It is clear, erudite, well formulated, well written, and presented with integrity. Being British, this is a style I am most comfortable with as opposed to a lecturer who feels the need to sell the subject. It was because of Professor Scallen's excellence that I recommended the Great Courses to others and why I continue to buy - even though some of the other lecturers are a little too showmanlike for my taste - but then we are all different, aren't we? This is a fabulous topic to cover and to learn about and the most astonishing value for money.
Date published: 2011-08-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from excellent material, professor knowledgeable This was an eye-opening course for me. I knew virtually nothing about Northern Renaissance art. I had seen a good deal of it when living in Germany during my 20s, but didn't really appreciate what I had seen. Viewed this course in preparation for another trip to Holland and Germany and hope to visit a number of museums and churches to see the originals. I plan to take the course booklet with me. There are a lot of names I will need to check on. The professor is very thorough. My only negative comment would be that the presentation comes across as a bit "dry," and matter of fact. Art is more than just scholarship. I'd like to see a little more personal opinion and passion.
Date published: 2011-04-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Pretty good - but not great I watched this course following Prof Gloss's Italian Renaissance Art, who is very endearing and effusive about the art. Dr. Scallen's teaching style is more subdued and objective. She talks about the facts of an artwork without necessarily giving an opinion about its beauty. I liked this. One downside for me is that (as she says out the outset) most of it is religious art. After the Italian renaissance course, I was ready to move away from religious art. If you like religious art and don't rely on the obvious enthusiasm of the professor to keep you interested, this is a good course
Date published: 2011-03-17
Rated 1 out of 5 by from great art,poor lecturer I hate to disagree with the many knowledgeable and insightful reviews. The important and wonderful art is a great pleasure to see and the series adds to one's understanding of the era and location. However Dr.Scallen, despite her obvious scholarship and knowledge of the subject, appears to be be overwhelmed by the presentation within the Teaching Company format. Her wooden delivery detracts from this set of DVD's. I hope if this series is redone, the Teaching Company can find someone more comfortable as a lecturer because the art demands it.
Date published: 2010-09-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Art in its Milieu Professor Scallen has constructed an art course that is more than a course on painting. She includes details about the organization of artists’ workshops, the marketing techniques and emergence of art sellers, the processes involved in print making, and the relevant historical and cultural backgrounds surrounding the art. She is especially good at showing how one painter or print-maker influenced another through comparisons of their output. Overall the content of this course is engrossing and clearly detailed. Previously, I had never cared much for prints, but her enthusiasm for that medium has aroused my interest in them I am less enthusiastic about the presentation of this content. Her delivery seemed a product of memorization, slightly robotic, definitely not conversational as it should be. Even more irritating were her pumping hands; I had to cover the bottom of the screen to block them out. For some reason, she appeared nervous until the final lectures, starting at about Lecture 30; in these last lectures, she seemed suddenly more relaxed and even dropped a smile or two! But these problems in delivery were not serious enough to prevent me from taking other courses she has done for The Teaching Company.
Date published: 2010-07-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enjoyable lectures I bought these lectures after watching Professor Scallen's other course on the National Gallery in London. I enjoyed that one so much I decided to get this one. I was not disappointed. I learned much about this period of art history. I would purchase any other art course that Professor Scallen might teach in the future.
Date published: 2010-07-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course Articulate professor gives well balanced presentation of social, cultural, religious, and aesthetic aspects of this subject matter. Beautiful images, fascinating commentary.
Date published: 2009-10-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thoroughly researched... Dr. Scallen's early lectures were a bit on the dry side but she warmed to her subject as her comfort level increased. The content was always excellent. We were fascinated with the selection and her comparisons with other artists to show historical influences . My husband and I felt this course built on the Museum Masterworks courses of the Teaching Company. The graphics were high quality with the sizes and museum listed to give a better sense of what we were seeing. The lectures and art were thoroughly researched. Dr. Scallen is thoughtfully knowledgable about the art and the materials used to create them. She is up front about disclosing claims that a piece might not be accurate and gives different points of views for the pros and cons of the works. We look forward to our next course with Dr. Scallen.
Date published: 2009-07-02
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