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

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

Video DVD
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 56.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Review of Northern Renaissance Art I am about half way throught this course and I would have to say it is an excellent introduction to Northern Renaissance Art. Prof Scallen is excellent on all elements of art. The pictues are well done. I would recommend this course to anyone interested in Renaissnace art/ I also highly recommend the Great Artists of the Italian Renaissance with William Kloss.
Date published: 2009-02-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exceptional Course and Instructor Art of the Northern Renaissance Taught by Catherine B. Scallen 36 lectures on DVD Dr. Scallen has provided an excellent addition to the Teaching Company's Art series.This is a great companion to the Great Artists of the Italian Renaissance set. Just a sample of some of the artists covered are Rogier van der Weyden, Albrecht Dürer, Matthias Grunewald, and Hieronymus Bosch , as well as many other well and lesser known artists of the time. Dr, Scallen is obviously very knowledgeable of the subject matter presented.The lectures are extremely well organized and well presented.She tends to cover a great deal of material in each lecture. It is truly a privilege to be able to view such remarkable works in 36 lectures with such a world class guide. This lecture series will enhance your understanding and appreciation of the Art of the Northern Renaissance .You will also gain an appreciation of the historical context in which these works were created. Like many of the other reviewers, I would look forward to more lecture series by this extraordinary expert.
Date published: 2009-01-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Course Full of Imagery for Many Repeat Viewings I had the pleasure of viewing a test lecture from TTC by Catherine Scallen several years ago on Rembrandt. I evaluated it with high marks and returned it was sure to see a course from her soon. It took a few years, but it finally has now been published in this course "The Art of the Northern Renaissance." Catherine Scallen has begun what we hope is only the first of many Teaching Company courses, with a comprehensive thirty six lecture survey of Northern Renaissance art history. The nature of the subject fits so very well with the Teaching Company format, that thirty six lectures are needed to fully cover such a broad topic. Viewing images of the artwork while an expert guides one through the iconography is the next best thing to being in the gallery itself. Other courses can display a seemingly random image that may or may not have anything to do with the narrative of the lecture. The Art history format shows us exactly what we need to see, while the lecturer is discussing the subject we want to hear, in other words it's a perfect match. One could view it many different times to absorb all the information presented. Of course this means it won't work at all for the commute. An audio version just would not work as intended. Having said that, I will also point out that there were times when it seemed Catherine went from one artist to the next without too much of a difference in their style, at least to my untrained eye. It probably could have been done in twenty four lectures if desired, but personally I do prefer the longest courses possible. It was the type of course one could view over and over, so you do get your money's worth. Catherine is obviously knowledgeable of her subject, but I did not get the feeling she was an absolute expert in the periods covered. Looking at the course guide biography, I see she has published articles and a book on Rembrandt van Rijn. I admit it is nearly impossible to be expert on the many subjects of broad survey course like this, but I can see her giving a course on Rembrandt that would be more natural for her. Perhaps less reading straight from notes or the teleprompter would be required. This could explain why her presentation for most of the course seemed more stiff and formal than the very last several lectures where she explored more questions that viewers would be asking, giving the impression of almost sympathizing with us as we want to learn. I really wished to get more of that from her. Since William Kloss produced a course "Dutch Masters: The Age of Rembrandt" recently, it doesn't seem like Catherine could duplicate that subject. Perhaps his counterparts in Antwerp of Rubens or van Dyck would be a good encore for her. Whichever it is, I sincerely hope we get to learn more from her.
Date published: 2009-01-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent I have a lot of knowledge about art, but not so much about the Northern Renaissance. This course was very thorough, clearly presented and organized, and pleasantly presented in an understandable fashion. After completing it, I watched the entire series again--not because of a lack of understanding, but because I had enjoyed it so much and learned so much that I wanted to imprint it fully in my head. I also followed many of the professor's recommendations about other books to read for more in-depth study, though that is not necessary for the average person. Simply wonderful.
Date published: 2009-01-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I wish more examples were covered ( limited by time possibly) I would pay more to have more artworrks discussed on more cd's. I just would like more of this great product
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This course filled a need in the background of most art lovers.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I now understand the reasoning behind the inclusion of some strange items in the old paintings. Nor had I thought previously about the lack of reproductive capabilities in supple and demand.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Your art courses are stunning in content and visual aids. One can tour the museums of the world without leaving home. I look forward each day to my half hour of artistic inspiration.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Another great art history course but it seems between this course and the Dutch Masters course there should be room to cover Peter Paul Ruebel
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor Scallen gave an excellent and comprehensive course. Much better than a similar course I had taken in person at a nearby university.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Catherine Scallen is an outstanding teacher. I like her pace. The content is nicely balanced- enough for expansion of my learning but not so much to overwhelm.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Catherine Scallen is very articulate and interesting. The course has a good balance between the history of the art and the individual artists.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor's hair style was distracting. However, we look forward to watching or listening to your courses almost every night before bed.
Date published: 2008-10-17
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