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Museum Masterpieces: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Go on a trip to one of the world’s great art museums without leaving the comfort of your own home, with this brilliant and spellbinding tour of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Museum Masterpieces: The Metropolitan Museum of Art is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 85.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fabulous Lecture 1 (=L1) opens with Brettell's view that the Met is a kind of time machine. L2: adds that the US, when founded, "fervently believed it was the successor to Rome” (This view is reinforced by TGC's “The Great Debate by Pangle.) Thus, the course follows the Met’s departments historically instead of concentrating on paintings. Indeed, the museum’s first piece (in 1871) was a Roman sarcophagus. L2 also describes a modern appearing ancient 3rd century BC harp, a 530 BC Greek grave stele, and so on ...up to the 270 AD Phrygian marble sarcophagus of a wealthy Roman. L3 on the Department of Egyptian Art includes a rare 3200 Predynastic comb with rows of animals. However, while Egyptian art “does not change very much over 3000 years" he reminds us that the Egyptians innovations had preceded the Greek by 1000 years. Thus, the collection includes include ceramics from the 1300s BC, the earliest surviving chair from 1450 BC, and art suggestive of “modern” Art Nouveau from 1466 BC. L4 has an interesting section on India’s objects post-dating Alexander the Great’s conquests. L5 describes Islam controlling an area larger than the Roman Empire. (See also Great Courses, such as Harl’s “Ottoman Empire”, that describe the horrific Islamic conquests after 700 AD). Brettell describes the “radical transformation of the arts under Islam" during the ensuing 1000 years. He describes Islamic artistic changes via two ewers: one 6th century Greco-Roman and the other a 7th century Islamic. Islamic art avoids any image that could conceivably be worshipped. Its art became "abstract and based on plant life" or patterns. The beautiful Qur'an from conquered Spanish territories, however, is described as “pure ornamentation”. L6-10 describes the Met's European collections (these add to Brettell’s Louvre course). L11 points out that only American museums have important photography collections. The photographic methods he portrays are quite interesting. A trick by Paul Strand is ingenious: since people defer being photographed if the camera is pointed at them, Strand created a camera that took pictures out its side. L12: The Met contains entire European rooms suggesting their “elite’s” tendency towards obsessive-compulsive luxury. The Parisian “Boiserie" room excess was created just 20 years before the French Revolution. Brettell describes the 1867 Diehl/Brandely armoire as “unbelievable vulgarity”. Though its scene of Merovech’s defeat of Attila sounded interesting, its visual excess seemed to prove Brettell correct. L16's pistol of Charles V suggests similar excess. L13’s bust of Prince de’ Medici really does seem to be "in the midst of a rustling wind". Also presented is one of the earliest child sculptures: the tiny “Sabine Houdon” painting and an Edgar Degas wax sculpture that is the Guide’s Frontispiece. As a miniature painter, my puny efforts caused me to agree with Brettell: an “individual in sculptural form can be more powerful than any painting." In L14, however, his opinion over crude Africa/Oceanic objects seemed more palavering than believable. CROSS COURSE STUDIES: L15 on pre-European American art is spot on, but its Olmec artifacts are best understood in the context of the ‘‘fanged deity’' motif presented in Barnhart's Great Course: "Lost Worlds S. America". L15's Mayan writing, signed pots, Colombian hallucinogenic pots and “Roman-like" Aztecs also reinforce Barnhart. Regarding the Met’s textile objects: crediting a simple stamped shirt with pompon shoulders as "incredible refinement" seems a nod to the weird more than the clever. That America’s elite collections are the very equal of French elite vulgarity is demonstrated in L19. The Great Course "Masterworks of American Art" (Kloss: L1, L19) increases appreciation of this course’s (L19) painting “Max Schmitt in a Single Scull". Kloss’ L23 amplifies the terror felt in Homer’s "The Gulf Stream" (this course, L19). Behind Brettell’s (L19) description of "The Cup of Tea” featuring Mary Cassatt’s sister Lydia is a touching story of her early death in another Brettell Great Course: "From Monet to Van Gogh" (L16). L23 contains the masterful “Studies of a Young Woman" from about 1870 that anyone whoever touches a brush needs to see: it’s “a sheet of two heads, one against the light and one facing the light." Study it if you ever want to master lighting. FINAL THOUGHT: If you love modern “art”, L20-21 won’t disappoint and I have a kindergarten painting by my grandson that I’ll reluctantly sell you at Met prices. Its bold black-line figure on a yellow ochre/titanium-white palette background has all of the marvelous incongruent color vulgarity and stick figure simplicity of Picasso’s "The Scream". Though lost in thought (and therefore walking mid-air), Stickman’s hat (his mind) has his sister's name written within…a “modern art" equivalent of Cassatt's "The Cup of Tea”! Make checks out to…
Date published: 2023-03-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Full of engaging detail Very much enjoying this course with fascinating insight from the Lecturer . Wonderful artworks presented with interesting history of the artists and their styles relating to their time period .
Date published: 2022-01-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from An exhaustive and informative trip I bought this course during COVID lockdown to imagine being somewhere else other than home. Now, I just can't wait to get to New York again to go back to the Met! This is an exhaustive tour of the Met. Each department is visited and explored. Surprisingly, the Departments I like best in actuality were the lectures I found least interesting (all the more reason to go BACK). The lecturer grew on me. I could have gone without the pictures of him walking through the Met or looking at the art work, but by the end of the course I really enjoyed his passion and obvious love of the Met.
Date published: 2021-11-27
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Missing episode It does seem to be a very good series, and we like this professor, but the entire first lecture was missing!
Date published: 2021-09-23
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Bright but boring instructor The instructor is obviously very bright and knowledgeable. But his delivery style is boring (at least to me) and I fell asleep in the middle of quite a few lectures.
Date published: 2021-08-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Take A Trip and Never Leave the Farm! In these days of travel restrictions and pandemics it is a real treat to find someone to lead the novice on a personal tour! ....and not only lead...but to introduce one to the history and founding of the Met. I suspect the professor has a bit of Italian blood in his he is active and excited and instead of the stodgy professors from school of years gone by...his animation and fervor comes through like a refreshing spring rain!'s almost like you were there right beside him! QWell worth it!!!
Date published: 2021-08-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Delightful Delivery I’m thoroughly enjoying Dr. Brettell ‘s lectures on The Masterpieces at the Met. I find that his delivery holds my interest and his insight into the works is inspiring. I’ve visited the museum only once when my son lived in Manhattan many years ago. I wish I’d been able to take this course prior to my visit back then. His tips on the most pleasurable way to see the museum makes perfect sense in hindsight, and I love that he shows photos of the piece as it is displayed, giving us the benefit of its actual size. His enthusiasm for the pieces being described is infectious. And for those anticipating a trip to the museum soon, I feel that his diagrams showing the placement of the various departments would be indispensable. Because I’ve had the privilege to travel extensively, I’ve been to many of the museums he mentions during the course of his lectures, such as the Neues in Berlin, the Rijksmuseum, the Cairo Museum, and the Louvre in Paris, as well as the Chicago Art Institute and the Nelson in Kansas City, and I can appreciate his comparisons. Needless to say, I find myself looking forward with much anticipation to each lecture in the series. I would absolutely recommend this lecture series to anyone who appreciates art in any form. It’s very likely that I will subscribe to another of his art museum lecture series.
Date published: 2021-08-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Really interesting I feel like I am there in the museum, and I love museums. Very thorough discussion of some of the best items on display, and background on each also helps me understand the progresion of art thourgh the ages. Can't make it to this museum but next best thing to being there.
Date published: 2020-04-24
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No other museum covers the history of humanity and its achievements as thoroughly as The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. In these 24 visually rich, half-hour lectures, Professor Richard Brettell takes you through The Metropolitan Museum of Art from front to back, from bottom to top, introducing practically every department in the museum. Each is a museum unto its own, representing one of the world’s finest collections in its field. You will see an astonishing number of works—more than 400 in all.


Richard Brettell

Great works of art communicate across time.


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 the French Regional and American Museum Exchange, designed to promote the exchange of art and information between regional museums in France and the United States. He served as the McDermott Director of the Dallas Museum of Art and advised and consulted for museums such as the Portland Museum of Art and the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. His museum exhibition work included Monet in Normandy (for the de Young Museum in San Francisco) and The Impressionist in the City: Pissarro’s Series (for the Dallas Museum of Art). He gave scholarly lectures at numerous museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art, and he wrote more than 25 books, including Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century European Drawings in the Robert Lehman Collection and Impression: Painting Quickly in France, 1860–1890.

By This Professor

Museum Masterpieces: The Louvre
The Making of the Museum

01: The Making of the Museum

Using maps, charts, photographs, paintings, and prints, this lecture provides a historical portrait of New York City and the circumstances that spawned its greatest museum.

32 min
The Art of Ancient Greece and Rome

02: The Art of Ancient Greece and Rome

We begin our tour of The Metropolitan in the Classical collection, which occupies large spaces of a grandeur suited to Greco-Roman art.

32 min
Ancient Egyptian Art

03: Ancient Egyptian Art

The Egyptian collection ranges from entire tombs and temples to tiny objects of gold, glass, and ceramic, with particularly rich holdings in "the art of the afterlife."

30 min
Asian Art

04: Asian Art

These galleries contain masterpieces from Tibet, India, Cambodia, Korea, China, and Japan. Especially notable is the Astor Court, which is modeled on a Ming dynasty scholar's courtyard.

32 min
The Ancient Near East and Islamic Art

05: The Ancient Near East and Islamic Art

Extending from Bronze Age objects to a glorious room from an Islamic palace, these collections show the mastery of glass, ceramic, stone carving, and bronze in successive urban cultures.

30 min
European Painting I—The Renaissance

06: European Painting I—The Renaissance

The Metropolitan is famous for its Department of European Painting. We investigate the development of figural illusionism in works by Giotto, Fra Angelico, and others.

29 min
European Painting II—16th–17th Centuries

07: European Painting II—16th–17th Centuries

Covering the High Renaissance and the extraordinary profusion of painting in Europe for the next two centuries, this lecture includes works by Raphael, Vermeer, El Greco, Velázquez, and Rembrandt.

31 min
European Painting III—18th Century

08: European Painting III—18th Century

Works examined include Italian paintings by Tiepolo and Canelletto, French Rococo oils by Watteau and Boucher, and British portraits by Reynolds and Gainsborough.

32 min
European Painting IV—19th Century

09: European Painting IV—19th Century

The Metropolitan has perhaps the most balanced collection of French painting from 1830 to 1900 in any universal art museum. We look at works by Monet, Cézanne, and Gauguin, among others.

32 min
Drawings and Prints

10: Drawings and Prints

We sample some of the more than 1.5 million objects in the Department of Drawings and Prints, which includes the entire range of drawing styles and materials from the Late Middle Ages to the present.

31 min

11: Photographs

Photography, the most pervasive of modern media, is well represented at The Metropolitan, with a collection extending back to the earliest experiments in the early 19th century.

31 min
European Decorative Arts

12: European Decorative Arts

In an exercise of time travel, we visit luxuriously appointed period rooms representing high European culture from an Italian Renaissance "studiola" to an 18th-century Parisian grand salon.

31 min
European Sculpture

13: European Sculpture

The Metropolitan's European sculpture collection includes Renaissance works in stone, bronze, and terra-cotta, and masterpieces by artists such as Bernini and Canova.

31 min
The Arts of Africa and Oceania

14: The Arts of Africa and Oceania

The intricately crafted objects in this lecture include a feather box, a ceremonial shield, and a painted wooden skull rack from Oceania, as well as powerful masks and sculpted figures from Africa.

31 min
The Ancient New World

15: The Ancient New World

We survey a collection of materials from the rich cultures of the Americas before European colonization, the most comprehensive display of ancient New World Art in any universal art museum.

31 min
Musical Instruments and Arms and Armor

16: Musical Instruments and Arms and Armor

This lecture looks at major masterpieces in the arts of making music and war. The Departments of Musical Instruments and Arms and Armor both feature stunning examples from the histories of their fields.

30 min
Costumes and Textiles

17: Costumes and Textiles

New York's preeminence as a fashion center led The Metropolitan to create the Costume Institute and the Antonio Ratti Textile Center to study collections of historical fashions and fabrics.

32 min
American Art 1650–1865

18: American Art 1650–1865

Starting in period rooms from the colonial era, we explore the development of a distinctive American art up to the Civil War through works by Revere, Stuart, Copley, Hicks, Cole, Church, and others.

32 min
American Art 1865–1900

19: American Art 1865–1900

America entered an industrial boom after the Civil War that created a new demand for art in a wide range of genres. We sample pieces by Tiffany, Saint-Gaudens, Eakins, and Sargent, among others.

31 min
20th-Century Art—Before World War II

20: 20th-Century Art—Before World War II

The Metropolitan's encyclopedic holdings allow comparisons between its 20th-century collection and its other works - for example, a Brancusi sculpture and an archaic Greek figure.

30 min
20th-Century Art—After World War II

21: 20th-Century Art—After World War II

We explore The Metropolitan's post World War II art, including abstract expressionists such as Pollock, Rothko, de Kooning, and David Smith, as well as Pop, Op, and other movements.

31 min
The Robert Lehman Collection 1400–1800

22: The Robert Lehman Collection 1400–1800

A remarkable private collection kept intact after its donation to The Metropolitan, the Lehman Collection is rich in old master paintings and drawings. We sample its holdings up to 1800.

31 min
The Robert Lehman Collection 1800–1960

23: The Robert Lehman Collection 1800–1960

The Lehman Collection has important works from the 19th and 20th centuries. We examine paintings by Ingres, Corot, Monet, Renoir, Matisse, Derain, Bonnard, and Balthus, as well as works on paper.

31 min
The People of the Museum

24: The People of the Museum

The Metropolitan has been built by farsighted directors and generous donors. We look at some of the most remarkable of these.

35 min