Museum Masterpieces: The Louvre

Course No. 7175
Professor Richard Brettell, Ph.D.
The University of Texas, Dallas
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Course No. 7175
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Course Overview

Do you dream of exploring the masterpieces of the Louvre Museum in Paris? Whether you're planning your first visit to this world-class museum, returning for a second look, or simply playing the role of armchair art critic, you'll enjoy the pleasures that await you in this tour of France's greatest treasures.

In Museum Masterpieces: The Louvre, expert art critic and historian Richard Brettell takes you on an unforgettable journey through one of the world's greatest museums. This 12-lecture series begins with an overview of the Louvre's colorful history as royal palace, art academy, and national showcase. Then you'll explore some of the most beautiful and renowned examples from the museum's remarkable collection of European paintings from the late medieval period through the early 19th century, including masterworks by Raphael, Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci, Watteau, Rubens and Vermeer.

Guided by Professor Brettell's expert commentary, you'll browse world-famous masterpieces and hidden gems as they come alive in luminous, full-color illustrations. What is the mystery behind Mona Lisa's smile? What does Jusepe Ribera's painting of the Clubfooted Boy seem to say about the proper subject of art? From the art novice to the expert, everyone will find something to enlighten and surprise.

You'll also retrace the steps of aristocrats and artisans who over eight centuries have come to this beautiful structure for inspiration. See how succeeding generations built on the aesthetic foundation of those who came before, and forged new styles and forms out of the works of the past.

Whether you're new to the world of art, or a long-time admirer of the masters of European painting, you'll be inspired and enchanted by Museum Masterpieces.

A Fascinating Façade

Your journey begins with a tour of the Louvre itself. A famously massive structure, the Louvre can be intimidating to a first-time visitor—and even to those who have already walked its many halls and corridors.

Professor Brettell offers an overview of this complicated structure, highlighting the most popular galleries and departments. You'll also get a guided tour of the building's colorful past as it has grown and changed from a palace to an art academy to a public museum over the course of its 800-year history. Here's a sampling of the fascinating facts you'll learn:

  • The original building that stood on the site of the modern Louvre was constructed as a walled defensive castle in the 12th century.
  • France's King Henry IV linked the original Louvre with the Tuileries, the palace of Catherine de Medici.
  • Many of the treasures of the Louvre's collection of ancient art can be traced from Napoleon's conquests.

You'll also learn about the most recent development in the Louvre's construction, which transformed these sprawling buildings into a unified museum and included the addition of the famous pyramid entrance designed by acclaimed American architect I. M. Pei.

With the aspiring traveler in mind, Professor Brettell provides practical tips designed to bring this spectacular showcase within reach—from the best times to visit the most popular galleries to commonsense strategies for avoiding "museum fatigue."

Every Picture Tells a Story

After the introductory lecture, Professor Brettell offers a selective sampling of the grand masterpieces and lesser known gems that make up the museum's collection of European paintings, including religious artwork, portraits, landscapes, still lifes, and scenes of everyday life. From beggars to kings, merchants to goddesses, miniature treasures to massive altarpieces, you'll sample the full range of the Louvre's rich collection of paintings and portraiture.

Professor Brettell provides a helpful framework for understanding and appreciating this rich collection by focusing on different time periods, schools, or regions in each lecture. Explore the influence of Italian art on French sensibilities, then sample the museum's remarkable holdings in Spanish, Flemish, Dutch, and German paintings. The latter half of the course focuses on French painters, tracing their development from the 17th century through the French Revolution, the Napoleonic era, and the early 19th century.

Each lecture opens with a featured work, a representative masterpiece that serves as an anchor for the discussion to follow. Through these featured works, Professor Brettell introduces many of the relevant themes and historical issues that will dominate each lecture, and demonstrates how close observation of an artist's techniques and compositional style can enhance our enjoyment of these paintings. From there, Professor Brettell expands on these themes and topics by exploring other key works from the same period or region. The lectures also serve as an introduction to art appreciation, as Professor Brettell demonstrates some of the most rewarding methods for examining these masterworks.

Throughout, the discussion is enlivened by fascinating anecdotes about the world of art captured in the Louvre's collection:

  • You'll learn about the Caravaggio masterpiece, The Death of the Virgin, which was commissioned for the Roman Church of Santa Maria della Scala a Trastevere, but was rejected by the clergy because the model for Mary was identified as a prostitute.
  • You'll examine the frenetic work of Jean-Honoré Fragonard, and hear how he boasted of painting a master work in only one hour.
  • You'll hear how Jacques-Louis David's rendition of a scene from classical Roman history helped spur the French Revolution.
  • You'll ponder the implications of Jean-Antoine Watteau's portrait of the clown character Pierrot, and consider the theory that the painting was actually the artist's melancholy self-portrait.

From engaging stories such as these, to insights into the techniques and methods of bygone masters, Museum Masterpieces: The Louvre offers an intriguing introduction to one of the world's finest museums.

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12 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    Palace to Museum—The Story of the Louvre
    This lecture provides an overview of the history of the Louvre, describes the layout of the building, and offers tips and strategies for making the most of a visit to this remarkable museum. x
  • 2
    Leonardo and the Origins of the Collection
    Francis I sparked an artistic revolution in the 16th century by attracting Leonardo da Vinci to France and creating a rivalry between French and Italian art. Leonardo's La Joconde (The Mona Lisa) serves as the anchor for a lecture exploring works by Italian painters, including Raphael, as well as earlier French painters. x
  • 3
    Italian Renaissance and Baroque Painting
    This lecture explores the Louvre's immense collection of Italian painting dating from the medieval period through the early 17th century. Featured works include altarpieces and portraits by masters of the High Renaissance and Baroque era in Italy including Raphael, Giorgione, Titian, Veronese, Tintoretto, and Andrea Mantegna, as well as the religious and secular works by the mercurial Caravaggio. x
  • 4
    Spanish School of Painting
    The Louvre's collection of Spanish paintings is small but contains some fine examples that were highly influential on later French painting. Jusepe Ribera's Clubfooted Boy serves as the featured masterpiece for the lecture, leading to a discussion of selected Spanish painters from the deeply religious images of El Greco to the court portraits of Goya. x
  • 5
    Rubens and Flemish Painting; Early German
    From the Rubens's immense canvas of The Apotheosis of Henry IV to Quentin Metsys's precise, quotidian portrait, The Moneylender and His Wife, this lecture surveys the Louvre's remarkable collection of paintings by Flemish and German artists. x
  • 6
    Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Dutch Painting
    This lecture discusses the major paintings in the collection by the three greatest Dutch artists of the 17th century—Rembrandt, Hals, and Vermeer—and explores the French interest in miniature Dutch cabinet pictures (Little Masters). x
  • 7
    De La Tour, Le Nain, and 17th-century Painting
    This lecture initiates a broad survey of French painters that serves as the focus for the remainder of the course. De la Tour and the Le Nain brothers represent an original and indigenous style of French painting, which is contrasted to contemporary artists trained in Italy and the north. x
  • 8
    Claude and Poussin—French Painters in Rome
    The Grand Siécle (great century) of French painting—the 17th century—is represented by the works of two startlingly different artists: the intellectual painter Nicolas Poussin and the artist of tranquil landscapes, Claude Lorrain. x
  • 9
    Watteau and Chardin
    This lecture explores the state of French painting at the end of the reign of Louis XIV by contrasting the styles of two geniuses: the delicate, melancholy of Jean-Antoine Watteau and the earthy clarity of Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin. x
  • 10
    Boucher, Fragonard, and the Rococo in France
    Jean-Honoré Fragonard's vigorous operatic painting and Boucher's delicate sensuality offer two versions of French Rococo painting and are contrasted to the classically inspired moralism of Greuze and their contemporaries. x
  • 11
    Jacques-Louis David and His School
    As a painter who started his career in the final salons of the Ancien Regime to become the premier artist of the French Revolution, Jacque-Louis David embodied the social and political transformations of his time. x
  • 12
    Delacroix and Ingres—The Great Dialectic
    The course concludes with an examination of two contrasting style of early 19th-century art, as seen in the works of Eugène Delacroix and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. x

Lecture Titles

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What's Included

What Does Each Format Include?

Video DVD
Instant Video Includes:
  • Download 12 video lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 12 lectures on 2 DVDs
  • 120-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

Video DVD
Course Guidebook Details:
  • 120-page printed course guidebook
  • List of works discussed
  • Photos & illustrations
  • Suggested readings

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Your professor

Richard Brettell

About Your Professor

Richard Brettell, Ph.D.
The University of Texas, Dallas
Richard Brettell (1949–2020) was the Margaret McDermott Distinguished Professor of Art and Aesthetics at The University of Texas at Dallas. He earned his BA, MA, and PhD from Yale University. Prior to joining The University of Texas at Dallas, Professor Brettell taught at Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, Yale University, and Harvard University. Professor Brettell was the founding American director of...
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Museum Masterpieces: The Louvre is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 120.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent instructor I have not finished this course yet but already am really impressed with the instructors knowledge I really enjoyed him telling of his personal experiences in the Louve as well Gave it a personal touch
Date published: 2019-04-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Museum Masterpieces: The Louvre Marvelous lectures. Really enjoying it and learning a lot.
Date published: 2019-03-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Although I have degrees in Art & have been teaching it for many years. This course refreshes it all in my mind as well as seeing it all with renewed interest
Date published: 2019-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great viewing tips I am getting ready to visit the Louvre and found this examination of some of the great masterworks likely to improve my viewing pleasure. The instructor blends art history and regional history in his explanation of how each artist developed and refined his/her techniques. Get the video as there are pics of the artwork throughout the video.
Date published: 2019-01-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good title, but not all major art works discussed. Good review of many of the major pieces displayed at the Louvre; however, may have been too focused and overly wordy on a few of his favorite paintings and sculptures and not discussing more of the many others fabulous works there.
Date published: 2018-06-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Love the Louvre I really enjoy the lecturer. It covers a lot of material well, and explains when he has to shorten/not cover something. Excellent intro to the Louvre (to be followed with a more in-depth course!)
Date published: 2018-04-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding features presented Masterfully I 'am very pleased with the production of this course as well as the masterful presentation by the Instructor. Very high quality product, recommend highly
Date published: 2018-04-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from For probable visitors with modest backgrounds Got it after enjoying (even more--5 stars) his IMPRESSIONISTS video. Excellent mixture of some art history, some focused painting appreciation, and the French cultural history of why it got there. No fluff, only modest repetition ("as we concluded he last lecture...."), no war stories, and a good grasp of how one would make points memorable. The high video quality makes this far better than a paper guidebook.
Date published: 2018-03-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Like a self guided tour of Louvre! Watching these lectures of Masterpieces in the Louvre Museum are like actually taking a college level course from a prominent professor. So well researched & so interestingly presented. Great!
Date published: 2018-03-10
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Well worth the $20 sale price On the down side, video resolution is poor (standard resolution, not hi def), so the images of the great works discussed are not very impressive.
Date published: 2018-03-03
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointed I had to return this purchase because it would not download properly.
Date published: 2018-02-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Great Museum Visit Prof. Brettell is an excellent, enthusiastic lecturer. These 12 lectures cover paintings in the Louvre, interwoven with splashes of history of the palace, painters, French kings, royal chateaux, and more.
Date published: 2018-01-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent framework for visiting the Louvre In anticipation of a trip to Paris and another visit to the Louvre, I purchased this course and found myself eagerly looking forward to viewing sessions each morning. The presentation is well organized, the lecture delivery is engaging, and the information has sparked interest in exploring additional sections of the Louvre on my next visit. If there are other courses by this instructor, I would immediately immerse myself in them - his was one of the best Great Courses programs I have purchased.
Date published: 2017-11-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from you don’t need to go to the louvre to enjoy this despite what you might assume, this is a good course for anyone who just feels like enjoying some great art. i did it in preparation for an actual trip to the louvre, but i soon realized that i would have enjoyed it regardless. the professor is a likable guy and a good speaker, and he does a good job of simultaneously grounding works in their historical context while also bringing out what makes them special. he thankfully avoids a lot of speculative interpretation, and he’s also not afraid to tell us what we don’t know, which often makes a work even more intriguing. furthermore even though the course isn’t trying to be a history of the whole of western art, it does touch on a surprising amount of it, so by the end you do feel like you’ve taken a satisfying journey—if perhaps one that’s far too brief. if you *are* going to the louvre on the other hand, definitely take this course. i was so grateful to myself for having done so. the louvre’s collection is so vast that i really cannot overstate the benefit of being armed with at least a few works that you already know. you’re less overwhelmed by all that’s new when every now and then there’s something familiar. it also has the effect of turning your visit into a bit of a treasure hunt, because while you’re highly likely to stumble across the paintings by david, others you really have to seek out. and even the discussions of the building itself are surprisingly useful in helping you orient yourself in the maze of wings and chambers, while also providing one more source of thrills when you realize, hey, i’m actually in the grande galerie! one minor observation: this course is very much a product of the male gaze. female nudes abound, described in loving, almost uncomfortable detail, but very little attempt is made to strike a gender balance. this has the potential to repeatedly alienate some viewers since the main appeal of such works comes from an erotic appreciation of the female body. one can’t fault the professor for having his own personal tastes, but in indulging them he is perhaps making an unconscious assumption about his audience which, one suspects, might actually be the reverse of the truth. finally, note that the guidebook often includes a considerable amount of extra material not discussed in the lectures themselves, so if you’re looking to get the most out of this course, do take the time to review the summaries.
Date published: 2017-10-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Just like you are there I wished, I had ordered this course BEFORE I went to the Louvre last summer. I did watch "From Monet to Van Gogh" and that REALLY helped. Professor Brettell was knowledgeable, as alway, AND entertaining. Whether you are going to the Louvre or just want to know about the art in the Louvre, get this course!
Date published: 2017-05-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very interesting I have wanted to take a course in art history ever since I traveled to Europe and this is a great way to do it. I went to the Louvre so I was especially interested in the first course of the series.
Date published: 2017-05-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very worthwhile but too short The presenter did a fine job conveying insight and enthusiasm about the collection. Two improvements are called for when this subject is redone. First, we get much too much "talking head". When a specific picture is being discussed there is no need to alternate between the presenter and the picture. Just stay with the picture, so we can see what is being discussed. Second, six hours is way too short for this subject, causing our presenter to give very light treatment to many masterpieces. This product should be 12 hours at a minimum
Date published: 2017-04-30
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not what I expected I expected a relatively rapid fire review of numerous paintings, giving some description of the subject matter, why it is important, what the story of the picture is, what the painter was trying to tell us, why he painted it, in other words give us a tour of the gallery and bring the paintings to life. Unfortunately there are very few paintings discussed per session, and a lot of boring background given such as whether the painter ever traveled to Italy or who his friends were or where he studied, often five minutes of lecture between even showing paintings.
Date published: 2017-04-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent content presented extremely well. The only thing that could have made me happier is if the course had a few more lectures. Really enjoyed it.
Date published: 2017-03-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved Every Minute This was a wonderful course, especially the history of the Louvre itself. If only we had watched it BEFORE we went to Paris, we would have enjoyed the museum even more. If Prof. Brettell ever wants to lead a trip to this or any museum, sign us up!
Date published: 2017-02-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Louvre I bought this about a month ago and I am enjoying it far more than I thought I would. I am learning a lot of art history and then some.
Date published: 2017-02-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Masterpieces at the Louvre An excellent resource for those who are unable to visit the museum. I have benefitted enormously from the commentary. This has enhanced my understanding of the exhibits featured and I would highly recommend this course to anyone seeking an understanding of the art world in your own home.
Date published: 2017-01-15
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Presentation was distracting due to speech habit of the excessive use of "um".
Date published: 2016-10-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Art Courses Need Hi Definition Unlike other courses, art courses must be in high definition. The impact of great works of art can not be appreciated in low definition. Modern ultra high definition players and screens see much more of great art than older technology. If the main content is visual, then all visual arts courses must be rerecorded to reflect the capabilities of modern visual technology. The visual renderings of art in this course was was very low tech!
Date published: 2016-09-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good job on an impossible task DVD version The Louvre contains more than 35,000 works of art, with more than 7500 painting. To visit each piece of art and understand it's meaning and context would take approximately 13.5 lifetimes (do the math). Professor Brettell does a great job on focusing on a single aspect of the museum...painting. His presentation introduces us to the layout and brief history of the Louvre in the first lecture, then in the following 11 lectures he examines 11 (or so) artists in some detail, with minor mention of other artist of that period. All in all, we get to see about 135 paintings (with a heavy emphasis on French artists...well, it is in Paris). We hear short histories of the lives of the artists and a (very) brief explanation of the painting, in both style and content. You simply cannot expect that a 6 hour set of lectures will adequately suffice for 13.5 lifetimes of in-your-face Louvre. These lectures barely scratch the surface of this wonderful museum...but the lectures do give us a great big 'how' as to how we as visitors should approach our we should examine a we should do our homework before standing in line and paying your euros. I've visited the museum twice for a cumulative 6 hours (try to arrive as early as possible...they will kick you out at closing time, which varies). I like sculpture and Egyptian art, so most of my visit-time was spent there, eschewing my time in the (paint) galleries...I did see the Mona Lisa through heavy is always crowded there. Next visit, I will re-watch these lectures, get there early, buy the darn guidebook (Gallimard Guide to the Louvre) and try to enjoy the Tour de Louvre in a more relaxed fashion. Recommended for those who are planning a visit to Paris. As always, try to get these lectures when they go on sale and you have a significant coupon...better yet have someone buy it for you as a gift.
Date published: 2016-07-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Museum Masterpieces: The Louvre Since I will never be able to visit the Louvre in person, I enjoyed and learned a great deal through the lectures and photos. Thanks!
Date published: 2016-06-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Too much description of the content I was really excited by Brettell's "From Monet to Van Gogh: A History of Impressionism", which blended together discussions of the lives of the artists, contemporary events of the time, and the evolution of painting technique. This course on the Louvre was useful, but not nearly so engaging. There were often long descriptions of the content of the paintings, content clearly visible on the screen. This might be because the content of the painting was more important in earlier eras, Except for the last few lectures, there was not as much discussion of the lives of the artists as I would have liked. Because the Louvre has been publicly accessible for over 200 years, the paintings within have been very influential on other artists. The course does an excellent job of exploring how the paintings were collected and how specific paintings influenced later artists. The course book is notably thorough and readable, and includes useful supplements on "Visiting the Louvre", "Visiting the Galleries of European Paintings", and "Looking at the Mona Lisa".
Date published: 2016-03-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I have visited the Louvre twice in my lifetime, and it is a breathtaking experience. There are so many galleries to see, yet so little time. So in "Museum Masterpieces: The Louvre", professor Brettell takes the viewer on a virtual tour of the museum and analyzes many works of art with the viewer, so it is a great "preview video" for anyone who is interested in visiting the Louvre as well as anyone interested in art.
Date published: 2016-03-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful presentation The level of presentation was perfect for me. I have only been in Paris once, and was not there long enough to visit the Louvre. I did, however, visit other museums, which only made me more anxious to visit the Louvre. The lectures were perfect for me. I appreciate Dr. Brettell's enthusiasm for the complex and the wealth of art it contains. I will continue to listen to his lectures, but, also, to strive to return to Paris and spend as much time as possible in the Louvre. This is my first lecture series with Great Courses. I can't wait to experience more.
Date published: 2016-02-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautiful Works of Art I have never been to the Louvre, and I have no plans to go there in the foreseeable future. The Louvre, though, is so iconic and contains such incredibly important works of art that it is a subject of fascination even for someone like me with no plans to see it in person. This production is about ten years old, so it is not quite as technologically polished as more recent Great Courses. Nevertheless, the age of the course detracts little from the quality and thoughtfulness that clearly went into its production. As an important note, this course, with very few exceptions, focuses exclusively on the paintings in the Louvre, not other media such as sculptures. The professor is well-organized and starts with a lecture discussing the history of the Louvre before beginning a series of lectures targeting the paintings of non-French artists hosted in the Louvre. The course then ends with six lectures focusing on French artists presented in rough chronological order. The professor presents a mix of widely-known works with lesser known pieces (at least lesser known to neophytes like myself). The course is both educational and entertaining and worth the time to watch.
Date published: 2016-02-12
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