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The World's Greatest Paintings

Enjoy an unforgettable encounter with daring and sublime works of art in this compelling tour of some of the most significant paintings ever produced.

The World's Greatest Paintings is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 147.
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Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting Selection, Very Good Instruction. One of first things the instructor discussed was how to go about viewing art work, i.e. when approaching a painting recognize your feelings, your first impressions, the initial impact, the emotional and intellectual resonance. “Look and read the art work.” These were wonderful suggestions; so, I wrote them on a note card for reference as each painting was presented. Sadly, the lesson didn’t allow for the opportunity to exercise the techniques by allowing for a bit of silence. The first view of the painting was small and couldn’t be enlarged on my IPad. While describing the background of the artist, the camera could have focused much more on the art work than on the instructor. Once he began the elements to look for in the painting, I appreciated his lecture and the expanses view of the painting. In the last lecture, began to ask and to answer question that developed as a result of the course. What is art? I think it is the result of an individual’s vision, movement and expression on some medium. Art appreciation is trying to understand an artist’s vision even when I don’t prefer the style. Overall, this was an excellent course. I’m looking forward to visiting an art museum.
Date published: 2023-07-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fabulous overview of art in the western world I've taken art history and appreciation courses back in my college years long ago and more recently out of sheer interest. I found the explanations of each piece of painting covered to be more enlightening and informative than any other instruction that I've received previously. The instructor also incorporated history of the time or artist into his discussion of paintings, which aided in better understanding that moment in time, transferred to canvas.
Date published: 2023-03-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent presentation William Kloss is a wealth of information. His enthusiasm is contagious and his presentation of the works of art deeply satisfying.
Date published: 2022-12-19
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Course Has Not Been Delivered Yet I ordered the World's Greatest Paintings course on DVD on Dec. 2, 2022. Today is Dec. 16, 2022. I have not received it in the mail yet.
Date published: 2022-12-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fascinating selection of great art While many of the paintings chosen by the presenter are well-known in the art world, some are surprising. An outstanding presentation of art criticism, if a bit formal and conservative in style.
Date published: 2022-12-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course! I have just finished the course. Some 3 paintings are analyzed in each lesson. Of course the choice of paintings is subjective, as the lecturer readily acknowledges. But each painting is amazing, there were some that I knew well, others that I vaguely remembered, and others that I did not know at all. The professor always made me find features I had not noticed, even in the paintings I knew well. A short biography of each painter is given before each painting. Prof. Kloss is soft spoken but passionate. I have greatly enjoyed this course.
Date published: 2022-08-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course, Excellent professor This course was thoroughly enjoyable. I never took an art class during college and had always regretted that decision. The Great Courses has given me the opportunity to correct that error and provided a most excellent teacher. Professor Kloss is such a wealth of information with regard to the techniques and styles of painting. However, I was most grateful for the contextual information regarding the historical, political, and personal layers he added to his discussion of each painting on his list. And what a wonderful list it is! I didn't like all the paintings explored in this course, but as he explained, this is his list and he gave such a detailed explanation of each painting and why it was included that I found myself captivated by the stories and inspiration of the artists featured. After this course I will look much differently at the artwork I see and in fact, am quite sure I never truly appreciated the paintings I have seen. The professor provided concrete advice on how to best observe paintings. I am eager to use this approach when I revisit favorite paintings as well as those less appreciated, and more fully enjoy those I've not yet explored.
Date published: 2022-05-06
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Lecturer is effete I'm not enjoying this. Lecturer tries to hard to impress with his ridiculous vocabulary and affected style. His interpretations are difficult to understand. He really takes some big leaps when he is discussing the content and symbology of each painting.
Date published: 2022-04-11
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Embark on a compelling tour of some of the most significant paintings in Western art with the 24 richly illustrated lectures of The World's Greatest Paintings. Distinguished art historian and Professor William Kloss reveals a group of works that span the 14th century to the 20th and that—in his expert judgment—rank among the greatest paintings ever made. As you explore one of the supreme legacies of human life, you'll enjoy an unforgettable encounter with daring and sublime works of art.


William Kloss

Standards of beauty are seemingly endless and contradictory, which is why the rather hopeless phrase 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder' was coined.


Independent Art Historian

Professor William Kloss is an independent art historian and scholar who lectures and writes about a wide range of European and American art. He was educated at Oberlin College, where he earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in Art History. He continued his postgraduate work on a teaching fellowship at the University of Michigan and was then awarded a Fulbright Fellowship for two years of study in Rome. As Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of Virginia, he taught 17th- and 18th-century European art and 19th-century French art. Professor Kloss has enjoyed a long association with the Smithsonian Institution, presenting more than 150 courses in the United States and abroad on subjects ranging from ancient Greek art to Impressionism to the works of Winslow Homer. He has also been a featured lecturer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation and for The Art Institute of Chicago. Professor Kloss serves on the Committee for the Preservation of the White House, a presidential appointment he has held since 1990. He is the author of several books, including Art in the White House: A Nation's Pride (2nd edition), which won the 2009 National Indie Excellence Award in the Art Category, as well as a 2009 USABookNews award for Best Book in Art. Most recently, he coauthored the United States Senate Catalogue of Fine Art. He also has written articles published in Winterthur Portfolio, The Magazine Antiques, American Arts Quarterly, and Antiques & Fine Art.

By This Professor

A History of European Art
The World's Greatest Paintings


Greatness in Painting

01: Greatness in Painting

What makes a masterpiece? Look at criteria for defining greatness in painting, including a work's uniqueness and the quality of its impact, both immediate and cumulative.

31 min
The Majesty of Duccio and Giotto

02: The Majesty of Duccio and Giotto

Your exploration begins with two composite masterworks of Italian painting. In the "Maestá" altarpiece by Duccio, grasp the elements of the painting's visual impact and spatial carrying power, its dramatic composition and imagery. In the Arena Chapel frescoes by Giotto, study the powerful depictions of devotion and grief in two narrative scenes.

29 min
Acts of Faith—Masaccio, Van Eyck, Van der Weyden

03: Acts of Faith—Masaccio, Van Eyck, Van der Weyden

This lecture traces landmark religious imagery in 15th-century painting. Define Masaccio's narrative ability in two biblical fresco scenes from the Brancacci Chapel. Then discover Jan van Eyck's brilliant melding of realistic portraiture and sacred images in "Madonna of the Canon van der Paele," and the emotional intensity and compositional richness of Rogier van der Weyden's "Deposition of Christ."

32 min
The Diversity of Piero, Mantegna, Botticelli

04: The Diversity of Piero, Mantegna, Botticelli

You now encounter three major painters of the Italian Renaissance. In Piero della Francesca's "Resurrection," reflect on the fresco's commanding image of the risen Christ and its mathematical composition. Later, contemplate Andrea Mantegna's extraordinary innovations in "illusionistic" painting and the luminous mysteries of Botticelli's "Primavera."

31 min
The Devotion of Bellini, Geertgen, Dürer

05: The Devotion of Bellini, Geertgen, Dürer

You continue with three extraordinary evocations of religious devotion. In Bellini's "St. Francis in the Desert," witness the portrayal of the saint's passion for nature by means of divine light. Study the multilayered pictorial details enriching Geertgen's "Madonna with Musical Angels" and the spiritual import in Dürer's monumental "Self-Portrait."

32 min
Masterworks by Leonardo, Raphael, Correggio

06: Masterworks by Leonardo, Raphael, Correggio

Track the dramatic interaction of the human figures in Leonardo's iconic "Last Supper" and the composition's rich theological symbolism. Then define Raphael's embodiment of High Renaissance ideals in "Baldassare Castiglione," and the poetic eroticism of Correggio's illusionistic "Jupiter and Io."

30 min
Great Ensembles—Michelangelo and Grünewald

07: Great Ensembles—Michelangelo and Grünewald

In scenes from Michelangelo's stunning Sistine Chapel ceiling, study the compositional power of "The Creation of Adam" and the weighty emotion of the ominous "Prophet Jeremiah." Continuing with a highly contrasting masterwork of German art, penetrate the mystical evocation of suffering and ecstasy in Matthias Grünewald's "Isenheim Altarpiece."

32 min
Ideal and Real—Giorgione, Titian, Holbein

08: Ideal and Real—Giorgione, Titian, Holbein

You encounter the "Concert Champêtre" (1510–1511), worked on by both Giorgione and Titian, uncovering the enigmatic imagery of its Arcadian scene. Then study Titian's radiant portrayal of the Virgin Mary in the "Assumption" and the richly detailed execution of Holbein's portrait, "Charles de Solier."

30 min
Living and Dying—Bruegel, El Greco, Caravaggio

09: Living and Dying—Bruegel, El Greco, Caravaggio

Explore three contrasting 16th-century masterworks. In Bruegel's "Hunters in the Snow," investigate the artist's layering of descriptive scenes within a vast space. Conclude with the haunting details and symbolic compositions of El Greco's "Burial of Count Orgaz" and Caravaggio's "The Entombment."

30 min
Life Stories by Ter Brugghen, Rubens, Steen

10: Life Stories by Ter Brugghen, Rubens, Steen

Probe Hendrick Ter Brugghen's tender, understated evocation of the healing of St. Sebastian. Then learn about Rubens's ingenuity as a court painter in his operatic "Landing of Marie de Medici in Marseilles," and the masterful organization and roguish imagery of Jan Steen's "The way you hear it, is the way you sing it."

30 min
Inside Vermeer, Velázquez, Rembrandt

11: Inside Vermeer, Velázquez, Rembrandt

Explore three introspective works of genius. In "View of Delft," reflect on Vermeer's purpose in this becalmed, idealized rendering of his city. Also decode the ambiguous, philosophical composition of Velazquez's "Maids of Honor," and Rembrandt's richly costumed, stoic portrayal of himself in his "Self-Portrait" of 1658.

30 min
Spirit and Thought—Hals, Rembrandt, La Tour

12: Spirit and Thought—Hals, Rembrandt, La Tour

Study Hals's penetrating treatment of elderly women in a Haarlem group portrait. Then explore Rembrandt's expression of a couple's deep emotion through an intimate configuration of hands and fabric, and La Tour's evocation of mystical contemplation through a flame.

28 min
The Serenity of Poussin, Claude, Watteau

13: The Serenity of Poussin, Claude, Watteau

Define the measured grace and brilliant use of color, shape, and gesture in Poussin's "Eliezer and Rebecca." Study the elements of Lorrain's consummate mastery of the landscape, and the dreamlike qualities of Watteau's wistful fantasy, the "Embarkation for Cythera."

31 min
In Contrast—Chardin, Tiepolo, Gainsborough

14: In Contrast—Chardin, Tiepolo, Gainsborough

Three diverse works reveal 18th-century achievements in painting. In a small still life, ponder Chardin's delicate, intimate portrayal of game animals in death. Then discover Tiepolo's apotheosis of fresco painting in "Apollo and the Four Continents," and Gainsborough's ingenious melding of sitter and landscape in his portrait "Mrs. Richard Brinsley Sheridan."

31 min
Dark Images of David, Goya, Friedrich

15: Dark Images of David, Goya, Friedrich

Portrayals of brutality open this lecture. Observe David's merging of idealized presentation and realism in the stark "Death of Marat," and Goya's bitter vision of military retaliation in "Third of May, 1808." Finally, study the Romantic evocation of nature in Friedrich's "Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon."

29 min
The Worlds of Constable, Turner, Delacroix

16: The Worlds of Constable, Turner, Delacroix

Compare the styles and originality of British landscape masters Constable and Turner, highlighting Constable's compositional technique and signature cloud-filled skies, plus Turner's bravura use of color and light. In Delacroix's "Liberty Leading the People," examine the artist's allegorical fusing of symbol and reality in the heat of France's 1830 revolution.

29 min
Dark to Bright—Courbet, Church, Monet

17: Dark to Bright—Courbet, Church, Monet

French and American canvases reveal bold innovations in 19th-century painting. Contemplate the elements of Realism in Gustave Courbet's sprawling, slow-motion composition of a rural funeral, followed by Frederic Church's dynamically original depiction of Niagara Falls. Then study Monet's blaze of sunlight and color on a snowscape in "The Magpie."

30 min
Alone and Together—Whistler, Degas, Renoir

18: Alone and Together—Whistler, Degas, Renoir

In the ever-familiar image of Whistler's mother seated in profile, observe the superlative blending of abstract, formal composition with the intimate portrayal of a living woman. Follow with the pictorial riches and psychological ambiguities of Degas' "In a Café," and the virtuoso staging and color of Renoir's "Luncheon of the Boating Party."

29 min
Unlike Any Other—Sargent, Manet, Seurat

19: Unlike Any Other—Sargent, Manet, Seurat

In John Singer Sargent's elusive portrait of the daughters of a friend, ponder the unusual placement and psychological separation of the subjects. Then, explore the deliberate unreality of Manet's "Bar at the Folies-Bergère," and Seurat's suspended, Pointillist rendering of Parisians in "A Sunday on La Grande Jatte."

31 min
Close Observation—Cézanne, Van Gogh, Homer

20: Close Observation—Cézanne, Van Gogh, Homer

Uncover the structural geometry and unity of focus in Cézanne's "The Card Players," as they create the weighty, timeless concentration of the figures. Also witness the structure and balance of Van Gogh's sun-baked vista in "The Harvest," and Winslow Homer's dramatic merging of self with subject in "Fox Hunt."

30 min
The Human Condition—Munch, Matisse, Schiele

21: The Human Condition—Munch, Matisse, Schiele

Analyze Munch's pictorial composition of "The Scream," as its pulsating visual field embodies the figure's cry of psychic terror. In stunning contrast, study Matisse's lyrical, floating colors and figures in "The Joy of Life," then conclude with Egon Schiele's "The Family" and its bold evocation of his own hopes and fears.

31 min
Art in Time of War—Monet and Picasso

22: Art in Time of War—Monet and Picasso

Two milestones of 20th-century art: Learn about the creation and the architectural display of Monet's transcendent series of water-lilies, parsing his superlative brushwork reflecting sky, clouds, and sunlight on water. Then take apart the writhing, nightmarish images in Picasso's "Guernica," evincing his pained response to the atrocities of war.

31 min
Time and Memory—Magritte, Hopper, Gorky

23: Time and Memory—Magritte, Hopper, Gorky

In Magritte's "Time Transfixed," observe how the artist calmly dislocates our sense of temporal and physical reality. In the famous "Nighthawks," study Hopper's careful, deliberate design evoking the silent separateness of the figures. Finally, trace Gorky's inspired craft in bringing to life the joyful explosion of color in "The Plough and the Song."

31 min
Expressive Abstractions—Pollock and Hofmann

24: Expressive Abstractions—Pollock and Hofmann

Track Jackson Pollock's whole-body approach to putting paint on canvas, and tease out the layered color fields in his elemental force of nature, "Lavender Mist." Then contrast Hans Hofmann's mastery of geometry and color with his brutal, agonized creation, "to JFK." Conclude with reflections on the power of great art.

32 min