“Great Artists of the Italian Renaissance” Course

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One of "The Great Courses" by The Teaching Company is on "Great Artists of the Italian Renaissance." It is taught by Professor William Kloss, an independent art historian for the Smithsonian Association.

The course, appropriate for mature learners, is similar to a college course, allowing the student to listen to a professor give 36 lectures. However, The Teaching Company offers these lectures on DVD, with shots of Kloss teaching in a classroom and shots of the art he discusses. It is professionally done with effective close-ups of the parts of the art Kloss is talking about.

Mr. Kloss was an excellent choice of professor for this course in that he is not only enthusiastic and easy to understand, but he has quite a background. He is now an independent lecturer of and writer on European and American art. He began his studies at Oberlin College and earned his B.A. in English, and he later earned an M.A. in art history. After graduation, he held a teaching fellowship at the University of Michigan and was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship for study in Rome. Then, he was an assistant professor of art history at the University of Virginia. With the Smithsonian Institution, he has presented more than 100 courses for the institution and has lectured for its seminar and travel programs.

Prof. Kloss teaches the course by going through one work of art at a time, works of art that were important to the Italian Renaissance. He is thorough in his explanations, covering the historical backdrop, explaining why the art was created and for whom. This often is important to the understanding of the art and shows the motivation that the artist had for creating the art.

As an art historian, he often gives his opinion of the art, telling what he likes about the art and how it makes him feel, allowing the student to learn how to draw his or her own conclusions about the art. When a student understands why someone, learned in art, forms certain opinions of art, he or she is better able to learn what is important in art, enhancing his or her development of a critical eye for artistic works.

Also, he establishes the tone for the art. He does this by telling the story that the artist is trying to express. Often, when an observer looks at the art, without a background on the characters, he or she will not understand why someone appears to be happy or angry. Knowing the story behind the piece and the tone of the art gives it much more value than it would otherwise have to the viewer.

All of this art is beautiful to look at, but knowing its deeper background allows the observer to have more appreciation for it. For example, Kloss shows Raphael’s painting of Pope Julius II and explains why he has a beard and why Pope Julius II decided to keep it. A casual observer wouldn’t know that there was anything special about his beard or that he was the first pope to have a beard.

Kloss knows enormous amounts of information about these pieces of art, explaining the postures of the characters, the fabric of their clothes and why the characters are positioned the way they are. His thoroughness in explaining and examining leaves the student feeling like s/he, too, fully understands the piece of art.

Renaissance art is so much more than beautiful paintings. Kloss shows students another dimension to this period of art and how these important works either tell a story about history or how that work of art had an effect on history. Sometimes we forget when we’re walking through a museum that this art was created by someone and that many of the characters and settings are real people and places.

Prof. Kloss offers one piece of notable information after another. One of the benefits of this course is that the notes are already taken for the student, so he or she can just listen, instead of frantically trying to record each point Kloss makes. The Teaching Company offers a lecture transcript and course guide for each of the DVDs. This way, a student can follow the transcript as Kloss lectures. Also, the student can read the "scope" of the lectures before viewing them so that s/he can fully listen to the lectures and gain a deeper understanding of the issues as Kloss presents them. If the student does not need that much supplemental material, he or she can still use the course guidebook that comes in the DVD case with two of the six DVDs. This small book offers a "scope" on each lecture also, and offers an outline of the lectures but does not offer the transcripts, which may be just as satisfactory for a student’s success in the course.

"Great Artists of the Italian Renaissance" is an extremely interesting course and offers more information about these beautiful works of art than I could have ever expected. -- Reviewed by Moriah Harris Rodger.

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