Museum Masterpieces: The National Gallery, London

Course No. 7544
Professor Catherine B. Scallen, Ph.D.
Case Western Reserve University
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Course No. 7544
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Course Overview

Of all the world's great art museums, the National Gallery, London is the only place where you can truly grasp the breathtaking scope of European painting between 1200 and 1900. Established in 1824, the National Gallery was commissioned as the people's museum—a cultural institution meant to reflect the artistic legacy both of Great Britain and of the European continent. Inside its halls are more than 2,500 European paintings by some of Western civilization's greatest masters, including Titian, Rubens, and Rembrandt.

Today, the National Gallery is one of the top five tourist attractions in the United Kingdom. Each year, more than 5 million people explore the gallery's impressive collections, including its renowned and respected holdings in Italian Renaissance art and 17th-century Dutch and Flemish painting. To browse through the hallways and wings of the National Gallery is to witness the powerful evolution both of European painting and the European history that it represents.

Now you can take a virtual tour of this world-class collection through Museum Masterpieces: The National Gallery, London. In 24 fascinating lectures, Professor Catherine B. Scallen, a noted art scholar at Case Western Reserve University, offers a memorable introduction to this remarkable artistic institution and its rich collection of masterworks.

But this is more than just a gallery tour. This course also offers a breathtaking and comprehensive overview of the history of European painting. The National Gallery holds one of the finest collections of European painting from the late medieval period to the beginning of the 20th century. Raphael and Titian, Rembrandt and Rubens, Poussin and Claude, Velazquez and Goya, Gainsborough and Turner—these are just a few of the great masters whose works are represented in the National Gallery's outstanding collection.

Britain's National Treasure

Your tour begins with an introduction that highlights the gallery's unique history, cultural mission, and aesthetic focus. Unlike many national art collections, which developed according to the whims of the ruling monarch, the National Gallery was established and planned with a clear strategy: to amass a sumptuous collection of art that celebrates the zenith of achievement in European painting.

In the first lecture, you gain an appreciation for the careful forethought and commitment to public art that has informed the development of this exceptional collection and has preserved it as a national treasure for the British people.

You hear, for example, the story of how, during World War II, the entire collection was transported to Wales to ensure its safety. Between 1939 and 1946, a single painting from the collection was returned to London for display each month as a patriotic reminder of the nation's great cultural heritage.

Professor Scallen uses the special access she was given to the gallery to guide you through the physical layout of this grand institution, including an exclusive peek into its many supporting departments, such as these:

  • The Framing Department, where experts choose antique frames to accent these masterpieces
  • The Scientific Department, where scientists study pigments and other media used by the masters
  • The Conservation Department, where the collection's paintings undergo routine cleaning and repair

700 Years of European Masterpieces

Because of its history and mission, the National Gallery is able to offer something truly unique: a collection of paintings that represents the "best of the best" of European art. To walk its galleries is to sample nearly seven centuries of famed masterworks and lesser-known but equally beautiful treasures.

Here are just a few of the works Professor Scallen has selected for your consideration:

  • Leonardo da Vinci's full-scale preparatory drawing of Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and Saint John the Baptist, the only such preparatory drawing by Leonardo to survive
  • Hans Holbein's The Ambassadors, a masterpiece that juxtaposes a vision of Renaissance achievement with a distorted image of a skull—a reminder of the fleeting nature of worldly accomplishments
  • Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder's Flowers in a Vase, in which the artist brings together flowers that bloom in different seasons in an idealized vision of floral splendor
  • A remarkable comparison of self-portraits of Rembrandt in youth and old age—an exploration of the trajectory of the master's growth as an artist and as a human being
  • Van Gogh's A Wheatfield, with Cypresses, painted during his stay in a mental institution, in which he used the flow of paint and pattern to capture the sense of nature as well as his own response to it

View These Masterworks from All Angles

As you encounter each of these great paintings, you gain an appreciation not only for this collection but also for the art of painting itself through fascinating facts and anecdotes:

  • A description of standard techniques such as undermodelling—the underlying layer of paint used by medieval artists to provide a unifying tone and define shadows
  • An analysis of a wide variety of painting styles, such as Leonardo's use of sfumato ("smoky" blended edges); Titian's use of his fingers to blend paint; and Velázquez's heavily textured use of impasto (small raised areas of paint)
  • An explanation of the painters' materials, such as the difference between oil and tempera paints, and the lavish use of ultramarine, an expensive pigment made with lapis lazuli
  • The use of cutting-edge technology by modern art historians to shed light on the artistic process, as seen in Raphael's Madonna and Child with the Infant Baptist (studied with infrared reflectography) and Titian's Noli Me Tangere (analyzed using x-radiography)

Professor Scallen also tells stories of the artists' lives and times to broaden your understanding of the place of art in history. For example, you learn how the dreaded Black Death suppressed artistic development during the Middle Ages; how the iconoclasm of Calvinism helped create a new market for painting; and how Degas' declining eyesight may have contributed to his signature style.

The Finest of European Painting—in One Museum

Whether you're planning a trip to London or simply want to enjoy the best of European painting, Museum Masterpieces: The National Gallery, London offers a breathtaking introduction to this institution and its many treasures.

And, as you find, Professor Scallen is the perfect guide. Listening to her explicate these great works is like having a very smart friend, who also happens to be an expert in art, take you on a stroll through the gallery. Deeply learned, passionate about her subject, she has a rare gift for communicating the power of these great works, even if this is your first foray into the world of European painting. And if you already know and love these masterworks, Professor Scallen will surprise you with unexpected insights and keen observations that will help you see them with new eyes.

Join Professor Scallen and see why the National Gallery, London is not only the pride of Great Britain, it's a treasure trove to be savored by anyone who appreciates fine art.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    The Story of the National Gallery, London
    The history of the National Gallery is nearly as intriguing as its masterpieces. In your introduction to this great collection, you learn the story behind its founding, take a quick tour of the galleries' floor plan, and get a sneak peek behind the scenes to see how these masterpieces are preserved and exhibited. x
  • 2
    Late Medieval Painting
    You begin your tour in the Sainsbury wing, which displays the gallery's European paintings from 1250 to 1500. This lecture examines the late medieval "Italo-Byzantine" style, in which artists borrowed techniques from the art of the eastern Roman Empire to depict religious topics. x
  • 3
    Early Renaissance Italian Painting
    Moving into the 15th century, you witness a shift from a medieval Gothic-inspired aesthetic to the more naturalistic approach to art that was pioneered in the Renaissance. Masterpieces such as Uccello's Battle of San Romano reflect a new interest in secular topics and the development of more convincing perspective systems. x
  • 4
    Netherlandish Portraits and Devotional Images
    Netherlandish painters of the 15th century were also interested in a more naturalistic style, but they pursued that aim through a detailed optical illusionism rather than the use of linear perspective. The works of Jan Van Eyck and Geertgen tot sint Jans demonstrate the achievements of this tradition. x
  • 5
    Florence—Center of 15th-Century Italian Art
    The art of Florence represents a high point in Renaissance painting. Here, you examine works of some of the most accomplished artists of this region, including Sandro Botticelli, Piero di Cosimo, and the Netherlandish transplant to Italy, Justus of Ghent. x
  • 6
    15th-Century Venetian Art
    From about 1440 onward, elements of the new Renaissance artistic style began to appear in the art of northern Italy. Great artists of this tradition, including Andrea Mantegna and Antonello da Messina, adapted Florentine innovations, creating a new style that emphasized color and light. x
  • 7
    The High Renaissance in Central Italy
    The National Gallery's collection of paintings from the High Renaissance includes some of the most renowned artists of the period, including Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael. Glimpse their masterpieces as well as works by lesser-known but still quite remarkable artists of the period. x
  • 8
    Titian and His Venetian Contemporaries
    The National Gallery has an unsurpassed group of paintings by Renaissance master Titian that represents his great achievements from 1510 to the 1570s. Here, you examine some of Titian's masterworks alongside paintings by two of his early contemporaries. x
  • 9
    Venetian Masters—Tintoretto and Veronese
    While Titian was the dominant figure in 16th-century Venice, many other fine painters flourished there as well, including Tintoretto and Veronese. Their works, such as Tintoretto's Saint George and the Dragon, demonstrate these artists' masterful use of rich brushwork, light, and color. x
  • 10
    Painting for the Courts, c. 1515–1575
    Mannerism began to develop out of the High Renaissance style around 1520; it emphasized above all the virtuosity of the artist. View some of the finest examples of this style, including Correggio's The School of Love and Barocci's The Madonna and Child with Saint Joseph and the Infant Baptist. x
  • 11
    Northern European Masters—Bosch to Bruegel
    Northern European painters of the 16th century were no less innovative than their Italian counterparts. From the psychological intensity of Bosch's Christ Mocked (The Crowning with Thorns) to Hans Holbein's remarkable portraits of the English court, you examine this rich tradition. x
  • 12
    The Innovation of Carracci and Caravaggio
    By the beginning of the 17th century, great artists such as Annibale Carracci and Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio initiated an artistic revival in the Eternal City after a century of strife. Examine some of the National Gallery's greatest examples from this period, including Caravaggio's Supper at Emmaus. x
  • 13
    The Rise of French Art—Poussin and Claude
    The 17th century was a golden age for French painting. You study the achievements of two revered painters of this period, Poussin and Claude Lorrain, both of whom combined history subjects with landscape in inventive ways. x
  • 14
    Flemish Masters—Rubens and Van Dyck
    The National Gallery offers the rare opportunity to examine the careers of two major 17th-century Flemish painters, Rubens and Van Dyck, as seen in a range of great paintings, including Rubens's Samson and Delilah and The Judgment of Paris and Van Dyck's Equestrian Portrait of Charles I. x
  • 15
    A Golden Age of Spanish Painting
    The intensity found in the art of El Greco, a native of Crete whose career flourished in the 16th century, set the stage for huge developments in 17th-century Spanish art. Explore the National Gallery's remarkable collection of Spanish masters, such as Zurbarán, Velázquez, and Murillo. x
  • 16
    Dutch History, Portraiture, Genre Scenes
    In this first of three lectures on 17th-century Dutch painting, you take a close look at a selection of Dutch history paintings, portraits, and scenes of daily life and see how these works reflected the larger commercial market for art during this period. x
  • 17
    Dutch Still Lifes, Townscapes, Landscapes
    Next, you turn from the human figure to the depiction of objects, buildings, and scenery in Dutch painting, exemplified in such masterworks as Hobbema's Avenue at Middelharnis and Cuyp's River Landscape with Horsemen and Peasants. x
  • 18
    The Genius of Rembrandt
    Unlike most Dutch artists of his time, Rembrandt did not specialize in one kind of subject, instead producing masterful portraits, religious scenes, and scenes of life. Trace the career of this most famous 17th-century Dutch artist from his first years of success in Amsterdam through his full maturity. x
  • 19
    Venetian and Spanish Masters, c. 1740–1820
    Starting with Giovanni Antonio Canal ("Canaletto"), you enter a new artistic world as seen in the grand decorative and history paintings of 18th-century Venice, while in the collection of Spanish paintings you encounter the dramatic still lifes of Melendez and striking portraits by Goya. x
  • 20
    The Charms of 18th-Century French Painting
    With its light-hearted subject matter, French painting of the 18th century contrasts strongly with the works of the previous century. Examine key examples of this charming era, including Lancret's Lady in a Garden Taking Coffee and Boucher's Pan and Syrinx, as well as a fascinating series of portraits. x
  • 21
    British Painting Comes of Age
    British painting first flourished as an independent school in the 18th century. From William Hogarth's seriocomic Marriage A-la-Mode to the astonishing full-scale portrait of a horse by George Stubbs, Whistlejacket, you view breathtaking instances of British innovation. x
  • 22
    British and French Masters, c. 1785–1860
    Nature became the focus of painters in the late 18th- and early 19th-centuries, as British artists such as Gainsborough and Constable produced remarkable landscapes. Nature studies also dominated the work of French artists, as seen in Géricault's Horse Frightened by Lightning and Courbet's Young Ladies on the Banks of the Seine. x
  • 23
    Impressionism in France
    Here, you explore the radical shift in vision undertaken by the Impressionists, represented in the National Gallery collection by some of the greatest masters, including Manet (Music in the Tuileries Gardens), Monet (The ater-Lily Pond), and Renoir (At the Theater). x
  • 24
    Following an examination of the National Gallery's remarkable collection of works by Degas, you conclude your tour with a selection of paintings by some of the most renowned Post-Impressionists. Highlights include Van Gogh's Sunflowers and striking works by Seurat and Rousseau. x

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  • Download 24 video lectures to your computer or mobile app
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  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
  • 200-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?

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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 200-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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Museum Masterpieces: The National Gallery, London is rated 4.0 out of 5 by 50.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Solid Substantive Presentation I found Dr. Catherine Scallen's Art History course on the National Gallery of London to be very well researched and well balanced in terms of selection of paintings, artists, geographic provenance and historical periods. Dr. Scallen is obviously a scholar of the history of European paintings from the High Middle Ages to the Post Impressionist period, and she delivers the substance of the course material with excellence and competence. I appreciated and found valuable her placing each artist in his historical context, and very briefly recounting his biographical information. I also enjoyed her technical explanations and interpretations of the paintings, and frequent reference to "pentimenti" which were uncovered with x-ray technology. As others have noted, Dr. Scallen's presentational style is dry, albeit very clear and erudite. I was not distracted by her hand movements, although her constant head tilting to read her notes from the podium should have been avoided by use of a teleprompter. She was very effective when she made eye contact with the camera, which I would highly encourage her to do, as well as show a bit more of her smile, which is quite engaging. The one observation I would make about her presentation is her heavily anglicized pronunciation of the very many Italian names encountered in many of the lectures. While her pronunciation is almost always correct (except for "Girolamo") (which sadly cannot be said of several other Teaching Company professors), she consistently uses the English pronunciation of vowels, while I would have much preferred her remaining faithful to an Italianate pronunciation. As a very minor observation, she uses the post-classical (Italianate) pronunciation of Latin words and phrases (which is absolutely appropriate in the context of the Medieval and Renaissance eras), whereas curiously she uses the classical pronunciation for the phrase "noli me tangere" (which is probably an innocent oversight). Overall, a solid and most worthwhile effort which would benefit from a easily achievable modification of presentational style.
Date published: 2020-05-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Tells you in a nutshell what to expect This course is chock-a-block full of interesting and informative information. The presentation is good, and the explanations fo style, form, and composition are fully explained.
Date published: 2019-08-03
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not my favorite course! The professor uses constant hand gestures which are quite distracting and has a monotonous style of delivery. She gives lots of dates and facts,but delivers very little passion. I have purchased several courses and enjoyed them all, except this one.
Date published: 2019-07-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Whether you plan to visit the National Gallery or just are interested in art, this is the course for you. Professor Scallen is very knowledgeable and you can learn a lot.
Date published: 2019-06-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course. Professor Scallen is not the most exciting professor. The graphics and production values are not the slickest. But this course is extremely valuable. It lays out the history of art and describes what the artists were trying to do with their art neatly, accurately, and in detail. It briefly describes how art historians think about and analyze art (for instance, how pentimenti can show which version of an artwork was the artist's original conception, and which was a later copy by the same or a different artist). If you want to be entertained by a TED talk lecturer turn somewhere else. If you want to spend some effort to get a firm grasp of the fundamentals, this is the course for you.
Date published: 2019-05-27
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Distracting mannerisms Prof. Scallen's repetitive hand movements, e.g., screwing the fingers of her right hand into the palm of her left and the movement of both her hands up and down as she rapidly reads the script are distracting. Many details concerning the museum's floor plan seemed unnecessary. Why does Prof. Scallen appear in many of the photographs taken within the museum?
Date published: 2019-05-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting and informative I received this as a Valentine's Day gift. The National Gallery is my favourite place in London and I never miss the opportunity to spend time there whenever I am in town. The next time I visit I will be able to view the paintings with a much more informed eye which can only help me to appreciate them even more.
Date published: 2019-03-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comprehensive understanding I used this course to study for National board certification in art history. Consequently I aced the essay questions because of the knowledge I acquired from this course! Thanks!
Date published: 2019-02-03
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