Whether you are a homeschooler or a traveler who wants to understand the museums you will be visiting, you will be surprised to learn how many video resources are available for learning European art history for free with your Amazon Prime membership.
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In this four-part article series, I’ve assembled an organized guide to art history videos available for free viewing for Amazon Prime members. With these guides you’ll be able to select just the content that you are looking for, whether it is about a specific artist or a period of art. Just select your topic, and you’ll have the selection of free Amazon Prime video content at your fingertips!
Included below in part one of the series you’ll find videos that offer a general introduction to European art history, women artists, Christianity in art, art crimes (including Nazi art theft), and other miscellaneous art history topics.
[Content Warning: Some programs in these listings feature art that contains nudity or unvarnished intimate details of artists’ personal lives. I suggest pre-screening content before showing it to children if that concerns you.]
Introduction to European Art History
European art history is a massive topic, spanning hundreds of years and thousands of artists. Whether you are new to art history or looking for a pre-travel brush-up to prep for museum visits, the series listed below are a great place to start to get an overview of important periods and artists.
This British show is hosted by art historian Tim Marlow. The short 23-minute episodes each focus on just a single artist, making them a great starting point for learning the history and biography of an artist.
Season One: Manet, Monet, Renoir, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, Cezanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh.
Two seasons of this sequel to The Impressionists are included with Amazon Prime. Great Artists, hosted by art historian Tim Marlow, follows the same 23-minute per episode format as The Impressionists, only this time around each episode takes on a single artist from various other eras of art history.
Season One: Giotto, Leonardo Da Vinci, Dürer, Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, Bruegel, El Greco, Rubens, Velàzquez, Rembrandt, Vermeer & Turner
Season Two: Piero Della Francesca, Holbein, Caravaggio, Stubbs, Goya, David, Constable, Delacroix, Whistler, Rodin, Cassatt, & Schiele
In this four episode series, British art critic Waldemar Januszczak takes on art history one painting at a time. He examines the painting, and the influences and background of the artist that created it.
Season One: The Vision After the Sermon by Paul Gauguin, Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear by Vincent Van Gogh, The Card Players by Paul Cezanne, Portrait of an Old and a Younger Man by William Dobson
Art critic Waldemar Januszczak’s approach in this series is to tell the story of the Impressionist art movement as a whole, rather than focus solely on individual artists. Over the course of four episodes (each an hour long), he traces the Impressionist movement and its most famous artists, influences and places.
Over four one-hour episodes, art critic Waldemar Januszczak explores the origin and development of the Renaissance. Through artists like Leonardo, Van Eyck, Dürer, Titian, Tintoretto, El Greco and others, he challenges the perception that the Renaissance was solely based in Italy, explores its religious connections, and charts its decline.
Art critic Waldemar Januszczak digs beneath the surface of the frivolous-seeming Rococo era of art in this three episode series. In each one hour segment, he explores a key theme of the period (travel, pleasure, and madness) to unearth the serious nature of the work of artists like Canoletto, Fragonard, Hogarth, Longhi, and Goya.
Miscellaneous Art History
Like some artists, some of the art history programs I found refused to be categorized by a single artist or period. In this category, you’ll find some series that cover a wide range of art and artists, and a few documentaries focusing on select topics within the art world (nudity, the business of art).
Masterworks from the Great Museums of the World: Twenty-one seasons of these 10-minute episodes that focus on an individual work of art are available to Amazon Prime members. Most of the seasons focus on a single museum’s collection, allowing for easy finding and viewing of episodes with similar types of art.
Paintings of the World: These 19 brief (15 minutes each) episodes each focus on the work of a single artist. Some of the artists featured in this series are slightly lesser-known ones that don’t have the level of content available that artists like Monet or Botticelli (who are both covered in this series) do.
Hermitage Masterpieces: This 18-part series examines the art masterpieces by artists like Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Picasso, Matisse, Velasquez, El Greco, Rubens, and Renoir that are housed in Russia’s Hermitage Museum. Each approximately half-hour episode focuses on a different type or period of art. This series was filmed before the fall of the Soviet Union, when the Hermitage was off-limits to Western visitors.
Private Viewing: The Art of Collecting: The history of art is told through the stories of the people who collect it.
The Nude in Art: This 89-minute documentary explores the history of the portrayal of one of the most enduring subjects in art – the nude – from classical to modern times.
Money Art: Explore the intersection of money and art from ancient times to the Renaissance in this 52-minute documentary.
Women are majorly under-represented in the history of art, and unfortunately that translates as well to the resources available on Amazon Prime, where you’ll find only a handful of resources specifically focused on women artists.
Women Painters: French-produced, with subtitles, this 53-minute documentary provides an overview of women artists in the history of art.
Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)
Cassatt, the sole American to exhibit with the Impressionists, lived most of her adult life in France pursuing her art career. Cassatt was mentored by Degas, and is largely known for her portraits. Late in her career she especially focused on portraits featuring mothers with children. In addition to her own creative work, Cassatt’s relationships with American collectors Bertha Palmer and Louise Havemeyer influenced their purchases of Impressionist art that later served as the foundation for the Chicago Institute of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collections, respectively.
Great Artists with Tim Marlow (Season 2 – Episode 11)
Masterworks from Great Museums of the World (Season 20 – Episode 1 – Mary Cassatt – The Bath)
Frieda Kahlo (1907-1954)
Mexican-American painter Kahlo was stricken with polio as a teenager, and then permanently disabled by a car accident at age 18. While recovering from the accident, she began painting. She’s best known for her self-portraits, and for her marriage to fellow artist Diego Rivera. Only 150-200 known paintings are believed to have been created by Kahlo in her painting career. Today, Kahlo is an icon to Mexicans, feminists, and the LGBTQ movement.
Miriam Beerman (1923-)
Beerman, an American artist from Rhode Island, is known for her expressionist style paintings. Her images frequently contain beastly characters and dark themes, such as plague, halocaust, and nuclear war. The 2015 movie by Jonathan Gruber “Expressing the Chaos” chronicles her artistic and personal journey through tragedy.
Christianity in Art
Much of the early European history of art is intertwined with religion. Especially during the Renaissance and earlier periods, the Catholic church was one of the largest source of work for painters, hiring them to create religious art in its churches and cathedrals. This relationship resulted in masterpieces like Michelangelo’s work at the Sistine Chapel and Leonardo DaVinci’s “The Last Supper”.
Scarlet Woman: The True Story of Mary Magdalene: British art critic Waldemar Janusczak explores portrayals of Mary Magdalene in the work of artists including Giotto, Caravaggio, Titian, Cezanne, and Van Gogh.
Art of the Cross: This 54-minute documentary explores the history of the portrayal of the crucifixion of Jesus in art.
Easter in Art: Betrayal, Crucifixion, Resurrection: In this 69-minute documentary, art historian Tim Marlow shows how the story of Easter has been depicted in different ways in different periods of art and by different artists.
Judgement Day: Images of Heaven and Hell: Art historian Tim Marlow explores how heaven and hell have been portrayed in art from classical times to the present in this 65-minute documentary.
Art Crime: Forgery & Theft
Art, like any valuable merchandise, is a target for thieves and counterfeiters. The stories of these crimes aren’t just real life mystery stores. Unraveling the story of an art forger or thief often leads to unexpected lessons in art history along the way.
A Genuine Forger: A profile of notorious art forger Guy Ribes, who passed his own paintings off as works by Matisse, Picasso, and other masters.
Real Fake: An examination of alleged art forger Elmyr de Hory, accused but never convicted of painting thousands of art fakes.
Masterpiece or Forgery: The Story of Elmyr de Hory: Learn about the master forger who painted forged over a thousand post-impressionist paintings – and often faked his own identity too.
Art and Craft: The story of prolific art forger Mark Landis – and the registrar who finally determined to catch him.
A Real Vermeer: How Dutch painter Han van Meegeren became one of history’s most ingenious art forgers. (Dutch with English subtitles.)
Art of the Heist: This six episode series recounts the stories of some of the most notorious art thefts of the 20th and 21st centuries.
Stealing Rodin: A theft of a Rodin sculpture from an exhibit in Santiago turns out to be something more complicated – a stunt coordinated by an art student that prompts a public debate.
Nazi Art Theft
By far the greatest art crime of the 20th century was the systematic looting and destruction of art by Nazis from Jews and from the countries they invaded. These crimes are still being unraveled more than 70 years later, as detectives search for missing art and courts are asked to determine the rightful owners of looted items.
The Liberators: A German art detective searches for a missing Nazi treasure – and his search leads to Texas.
Under the Hammer of the Nazis: A Munich auction house confronts uncomfortable truths about its past after a shocking discovery in its archives.
Nazi Art Thieves: This 54-minute documentary tells the story of Nazi art theft by tracing the paths of three paintings by Schiele, Braque, and Matisse from their theft to eventual restitution. (subtitled)
Nazi Stolen Art: The Final Restitution: This 54-minute documentary tells the story of Nazi art theft by tracing the paths of three paintings by Schiele, Braque, and Matisse from their theft to eventual restitution. (subtitled)
Portrait of Wally: An Egon Schiele painting looted by the Nazis triggered a landmark court case over its ownership after it was discovered hanging in the Museum of Modern Art in 1997.
The Rape of Europa: This 116-minute documentary tells the story of the theft, destruction, and survival of art in Nazi Europe.
Don’t miss the other parts of this four part series on learning art history with Amazon Prime Video: