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 Art of the Northern Renaissance Professor Catherine B. Scallen's lectures provide a knowledgeable and thorough treatment on the subject. Her selection of art works as examples of the lecture she delivers is both appropriate and very eye appealing. She appears to be conscientious and thorough in her research. Her delivery is articulate and relaxed and is very accessible.
Date published: 2020-07-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautiful art in it's historical context. If you are interested in art, art history, or the Renaissance, this is an excellent course. Prof. Scallen describes the context of each piece, that is, the patron and the artist and their lives, the role of each painting in church or society, and sometimes the history of the piece up to the present. She is thorough but economical; a large part of each lecture is on the art itself: artistic influences, technique, how the artist used composition to convey meaning, and, very importantly, the message meant to be conveyed by the various elements in each work and how they relate to each other. Her presentation is good. She appears to be largely lecturing from written notes, but then we get to view the art for much of each lecture.
Date published: 2020-07-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very good overview I thoroughly enjoyed the course. I liked prof Scaller's balance between general history, the painters' biographies and the works of art themselves. I disagree with those who find her presentations too cold. I found her to the point. Obviously, she has a different style from the more regular TTC lecturer William Kloss, who tends to be more emotional and grandiose, and I think TTC would benefit to alternate more between these styles in its Art Courses. BTW, I may be wrong, but I think it is lacking in the catalog a course on the Flemish Painters (Rubens, Van Dyck etc) to complement this Course and professor Kloss' The Dutch Masters.
Date published: 2020-05-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So much information - so many amazing paintings! Enjoyed everything and am so happy I've added this title to my library!
Date published: 2019-11-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course As a painter with a pretty good grounding in Art History, I found Professor Scallen to be extremely well versed in her subject and quite detailed in her presentation. I personally find the Northern Style so very beautiful and interesting; and her enthusiasm for the subject was obvious.
Date published: 2019-10-02
Rated 2 out of 5 by from More art! More art please. Less talking head. Need close up on the art. No one can appreciate them from the distance.
Date published: 2019-09-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I thought this was a great course. I know a little about art, but I've never taken an art history class before, so it was wonderful to have a professor who not only showed the work but also pointed out details in the work and in the method. I've heard of artist's workshops before, but didn't realize how they worked, so that was eye-opening. I also appreciated learning about etchings, engravings, underdrawings, silverpoint (and so much more) - both how they are done and what the visual effects are of each. She also covered the historical changes over the two hundred years of the Renaissance - from religious images, to the addition of nature in the paintings, to patronage changes, to portraits, to landscapes. She really covered a lot and did it very well. She's a very good lecturer, especially as the course progressed.
Date published: 2019-04-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautiful Illustrations This is the first DVD course I've bought from Great Courses, and I'm very happy with it. The lectures are well illustrated with art from the period and the works are well explained. Professor Scallen gives both background and relevant details about trends and artists. Moreover, her delivery is enjoyable; she clearly loves her subject. I especially liked the lecture about the artist's workshop and how it functioned in thisi time period.
Date published: 2018-03-14
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