Welcome to part two of my four-part series on Learning Art History with Amazon Prime Video! In this four-part article series, I’ve assembled an organized guide to art history videos available for free viewing for Amazon Prime members. In this part of the series, we’ll look at resources available on Amazon Prime Video for learning about pre-1850 European Art History.
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This period of art history is a time when art was of both rich cultural and historical importance. In the pre-photography era, art was a tool of propaganda, and even a tool of diplomacy. The images left to history by great court painters like Holbein still shape our images 500 years later of generations European monarchs.
It was also a period of dynamism and great change. The Renaissance brought massive leaps forward to the arts and sciences, and in the eras that followed, artistic expression increasingly reflected the world around the artists. And in virtually every great historic building across Europe – church, castle or palace – you can find evidence of decorative work performed by artists both famous and unknown.
If you’re a traveler, you’ll find masterpieces from this time period in great museums like the Louvre in Paris, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna, and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. In London, you’ll find beautiful art from the Renaissance, Baroque and Neo-Classical periods in a huge selection of museums – at the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, The Wallace Collection, The Tate, The Courtauld, and The Queen’s Gallery (among others).
With these guides you’ll be able to select just the content that you are looking for. Work your way through each section in chronological order, or go straight to a specific topic or artist. Simply find the era you want to learn about and then select either a general educational resource, or for more detail select an artist from the alphabetical listing.
[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.]
This pre-Renaissance period of art was based in Tuscany and (like the Renaissance that followed) largely centered around Florence. Prominent painters of the period included Cimabue and Duccio, but the most prominent was Giotto, who was a student of Cimabue. Art of this period was almost exclusively religious, consisting of altarpieces, frescoes and other decoration for Catholic churches.
Giotto di Bondone (1266-1337)
Little is known about this Italian artist – including for certain his birth date – who created frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua around 1305. Art historians have battled for years about whether to also attribute the frescoes in the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi to Giotto as well. Few of Giotto’s works survive, but in the Louvre visitors can find the “Stigmatization of St Francis” on display. In Florence, one of Giotto’s altarpieces is available for viewing at the Uffizi gallery, along with surviving frescoes that can be seen in several churches.
Great Artists with Tim Marlow (Season 1 – Episode 1)
The Renaissance, lasting approximately from the 14th to 17th centuries, was a time of great revolution in art, science, literature, politics, and architecture. Florence, Italy was the heart and origin of the Renaissance, and from there the movement spread across Europe to Spain, France, Germany, England, the Netherlands, and the rest of Europe. Humanism, with a focus on classical antiquity and creating an educated citizenry, was central to the Renaissance. This vibrant period of history gave us philosophers and artists that are still considered today some of the greatest in history – like Michelangelo and Da Vinci – and some of the world’s great architectural masterpieces such as the Vatican and its Sistine Chapel.
Renaissance Unchained: Over four one-hour episodes, British art critic Waldemar Januszczak explores the origin and development of the Renaissance. Through artists like Leonardo, Van Eyck, Durer, 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.
ReArt: Renaissance: Jan van Eyck, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Raphael Sanzio, Sandro Botticelli, Titian
Italian Renaissance Artists
Italy was the the genesis and heart of the Renaissance, and home to some of its most legendary artists. The list below is alphabetical and may be missing artists of note because they do not have free content on Amazon Prime Video.
Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510)
Unlike most of his contemporaries, Botticelli’s most iconic works are not based on religious themes. His masterworks “The Birth of Venus” and “Primavera” – both of which hang in Florence’s Uffizi gallery today – instead draw on themes from classical mythology. However, his work wasn’t entirely secular in theme. Visitors to the Uffizi can also see his famous “Adoration of the Magi”, and he completed three frescoes for the Sistine Chapel in the 1480’s.
ReArt: Renaissance (Episode 5 – Sandro Botticelli:”Madonna of the Sea”)
Paintings of the World (Season 1 – Episode 16)
Leonardo DaVinci (1452-1519)
Heralded by many as the greatest mind in human history, Da Vinci is renowned as an artist, inventor, mathematician, architect, scientist, and more. Over 7 million people per year visit Da Vinci’s iconic “Mona Lisa” masterpiece at the Louvre, and his long-lost “Salvator Mundi” painting recently became the most expensive painting in history by selling at auction for $450 million. Da Vinci’s mural “The Last Supper” for the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan is famous to the point of entering pop culture: the image is frequently parodied and imitated, and it features prominently in Dan Brown’s book “The Da Vinci Code”.
The Secrets Behind Leonardo DaVinci: A 7 part series with episodes of varying lengths, this documentary pieces together the history and few remaining works of the man who is arguably history’s most brilliant painter and the creator of the world’s most iconic painting: Mona Lisa. (1452-1519)
The Life of Leonardo DaVinci: A quite old public television docu-series that has been cut into 5 parts for streaming, this traces the life and work of Leonardo DaVinci.
The DaVinci Machines Exhibition Tour: Learn about the inventions of Leonardo DaVinci in this tour through an exhibition of recreations of machines he designed.
The Secret of Mona Lisa: Who was the woman behind the art world’s most iconic painting? This 52-minute documentary attempts to uncover the identity of the Louvre’s most famous beauty.
Leonardo DaVinci: The Mystery of the Vitruvian Man: A look at the meaning and origin of one of DaVinci’s most famous creations – the drawing of Vitruvian Man.
Great Artists with Tim Marlow (Season 1 – Episode 2)
ReArt: Renaissance (Episode 2 – Leonardo da Vinci:”The Lady with an Ermine”)
Masterworks from Great Museums of the World (Season 6 – Episode 6 – Leonardo DaVinci – Portrait fo Ginevra de’ Benci)
Exhibition on Screen (Season 1 – Episode 1 – Leonardo)
Biography (Season 2 – Episode 1 – Leonardo Da Vinci)
Piero Della Francesca (1416-1492)
Only eight paintings of this Tuscan artist remain in existence, hanging in galleries like London’s National Gallery, and Florence’s Uffizi. Like other artists of the period, some of his works were in fresco form to decorate churches, and several survive in the churches in the vicinity of his hometown of Sansepolcro. Piero Della Francesca’s series of frescoes titled “The History of the True Cross” for the basillica of San Francesco in Arezzo are considered by many to be one of the masterworks of the Renaissance.
Great Artists with Tim Marlow (Season 2 – Episode 1)
A rival of Da Vinci’s during both their lifetimes, Michelangelo is widely recognized as an artist, sculptor, and architect, and especially for his portrayal of the human form. Michelangelo’s marble masterpiece “David”, which is displayed today in the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, is arguably the world’s most famous sculptures. Another of his sculptural masterpieces, the “Pieta”, can be seen at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. Visitors to the Vatican can also see Michelangelo’s legendary ceiling paintings in the Sistine Chapel, which took four years to complete.
Michelangelo: Self Portrait: This 82-minute documentary tells Michelangelo’s story in his own words, through his letters and diaries.
Great Artists with Tim Marlow (Season 1 – Episode 4)
ReArt: Renaissance (Episode 3 -Michelangelo Buonarroti:”Sistine Chapel Ceiling: Sibyl Erithraean”)
Biography (Season 2 – Episode 3 – Michelangelo)
Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino (aka Raphael) (1483-1520)
Raphael is considered, along with DaVinci and Michelangelo, to be the greatest master of the Renaissance. Like many other contemporary High Renaissance masters, Raphael worked extensively on decorating the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel. The Raphael painting “Portrait of a Young Man”, with an estimated value of over $100 million today, is widely considered to be the most valuable piece of art still missing from Nazi art looting during World War II.
Great Artists with Tim Marlow (Season 1 – Episode 5)
ReArt: Renaissance (Episode 4 – Raphael Sanzio:”The Three Graces”)
Masterworks from Great Museums of the World (Season 6 – Episode 8 – Raphael – Portrait of Bindo Altoviti)
Biography (Season 2 – Episode 6 – Raphael)
Paintings of the World (Episode 14)
Tiziano Vecelli (aka Titian) (1488-1576)
This Venetian painter was known for his use of color, and for his versatility in skill painting a wide range of subjects. Titian’s name is known to many today for the term “Titian hair”, referring to a particular shade of reddish-brown hair that appeared frequently in Titian’s work. At the Uffizi gallery, visitors can see Titian’s 1534 masterpiece “Venus of Urbino”, which is the basis for Edouard Manet’s masterwork “Olympia” that hangs today at the Musée D’Orsay in Paris.
Great Artists with Tim Marlow (Season 1 – Episode 6)
ReArt: Renaissance (Episode 6 – Titian:”Penitent St. Mary Magdalene”)
Masterworks from Great Museums of the World (Season 1 – Episode 8 – Tizian – Bacchanal)
Paintings of the World (Season 1 – Episode 18)
Paolo Veronese (1528-1588)
Known for his wall-size paintings featuring detailed scenes, Veronese was influenced by artists like Titian, Raphael, and Tintoretto. His work can be seen in many buildings in the Venice area, such as San Sebastiano, National Library of St Mark, and the Doge’s Palace. Veronese’s massive masterwork “The Feast at Cana”, painted for a Venetian monastery, hangs today in the Louvre in Paris on the wall opposite DaVinci’s iconic Mona Lisa.
Masterworks from Great Museums of the World (Season 11 – Episode 2 – Paolo Veronese – The Marriage at Cana)
Northern & Spanish Renaissance Artists
Although the Renaissance began in Italy, it soon spread to the rest of Europe. Artists in Spain, France, the Netherlands, Germany and England, many of whom studied in Italy, interpreted the Renaissance in their work in their own countries.
The list below is alphabetical and may be missing artists of note because they do not have free content on Amazon Prime Video.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525-1569)
Unlike other Renaissance artists, this Flemish painter and printmaker did not paint portraits – instead, Bruegel was known for his landscapes and scenes of peasant life. One of Bruegel’s most notable works was a series of six paintings themed on the months of the years. The most famous of these, “The Hunters in the Snow” is on display in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.
Great Artists with Tim Marlow (Season 1 – Episode 7)
Masterworks from Great Museums of the World (Season 22 – Episode 1 – Pieter Bruegel the Elder – The Triumph of Death)
Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528)
Dürer is known for his paintings, engravings, and theoretical writings, but is best-known for his detailed woodcut prints. Although he worked primarily in Nuremberg where he was born, Dürer undertook two residencies in Venice during which he painted several alter pieces and other works and took in influences of Italian artists that greatly affected his later work. Among Dürer’s most famous works are an engraving and subsequent pair of paintings featuring Adam and Eve; the engraving is currently in the collection of Frankfurt’s Städel Museum, and the paintings are at Museo del Prado in Madrid.
Great Artists with Tim Marlow (Season 1 – Episode 3)
Masterworks from Great Museums of the World (Season 6 – Episode 9 – Albrecht Dürer – Portrait of an Unknown Cleric)
Paintings of the World (Season 1 – Episode 2)
Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553)
In addition to his paintings, Cranach was a prolific producer of woodcuts and engravings like his contemporary Dürer. For most of his career Cranach was the court painter to the Electors of Saxony, painting portraits and decorating their palaces. Several famous portraits of Protestant reformer Martin Luther were painted by Cranach, a close friend of Luther’s.
Paintings of the World (Episode 13)
Masterworks from Great Museums of the World (Season 10 – Episode 1 – Lucas Cranach the Elder – Adam and Eve in Paradise)
Doménikos Theotokópoulos (aka El Greco) (1541-1614)
Born in what is now modern-day Greece, El Greco worked in Venice and Rome before settling in Toledo, Spain and becoming an influential master in the Spanish Renaissance. Although a greatly respected painter is his own lifetime, his work later fell out of favor with critics. Artists, however, continued to revere his work, with his influence being seen in the work of artists as diverse as Manet, Picasso, Jackson Pollock, and Delacroix.
Great Artists with Tim Marlow (Season 1 – Episode 8)
Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543)
This German Renaissance painter is best known for the work he did in England serving the court of Henry VIII. Thanks to Holbein’s portraits – praised for their accuracy in his day – modern day historians know what Henry VIII and many of the prominent people in his court looked like. Holbein’s “Portrait of Henry VIII”, the image most associated with the much-married king today, can be seen at Palazzo Barberini in Rome.
Holbein: Eye of the Tudors: In an hour long biography of the painter, Waldmar Januszczak explores Hans Holbein’s impact on British history – and on our perception of it.
Great Artists with Tim Marlow (Season 2 – Episode 2)
Masterworks from Great Museums of the World (Season 12 – Episode 2 – Hans Holbein “Portrait of the Artists Wife with Katharina and Phillip”)
Jan van Eyck (c.1390-1441)
Only around 20 painting by this Flemish artist are still in existence, but his artistic legacy is far larger. A court painter who was a renowned portraitist in his time, Van Eyck was also known for his religious art featuring the Madonna. Van Eyck’s most famous work is “The Arnolfini Portrait”, which can be seen at London’s National Gallery, and is considered revolutionary for its use of iconography and space.
ReArt: Renaissance (Episode 1 – Jan van Eyck:”The Ince Hall Madonna (The Virgin and Child Reading)”)
The Baroque period that followed the Renaissance was all about drama artistically: ornate detail, high contrast, primary colors. The drama also extended to the subjects, with paintings and sculptures offering emotional and realistic portrayals of dramatic events. The term “chiaroscuro” is used to refer to a common Baroque painting technique where birghter areas are used in a dark painting to create drama and contrast, and to highlight the important action in the scene.
ReArt: Baroque: Caravaggio, Diego Velazquez, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrandt van Rijn (1593-1897)
Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio (1571-1610)
Caravaggio’s life and art are both known to art historians for being infused with drama. A volatile man, he fled Rome for Naples after being sentenced to death for a murder committed during a brawl. Another violent incident in Naples years later left him disfigured, and he died a short time later under mysterious circumstances. Caravaggio’s art, much like his life, was full of intense emotion and extreme contrasts of dark shadows and bright light, an effect called chiaroscuro.
The Caravaggio Affair: A 52 minute look at the work and life of Caravaggio, particularly the allegations he committed murder and his mysterious death.
Great Artists with Tim Marlow (Season 2 – Episode 3)
ReArt: Baroque (Episode 1 – Caravaggio:”Young Sick Bacchus”)
William Dobson (1611-1646)
Dobson, considered one of the first great English artists, painted mostly portraits. Dobson’s career rose – and fell – with the fortunes of his patrons in the court of King Charles I during the English Civil War. Late in his short career, probably due to a war time shortage of paint materials, Dobson started using only a a very thin coat of paint on his canvases.
William Dobson: The Lost Genius of Baroque: This hour long documentary by Waldemar Januszczak tries to shed light on the life and work of the mysterious but great British artist William Dobson.
Brushstrokes: Every Picture Tells A Story (Season 1 – Episode 4 – Portrait of an Old and a Younger Man by William Dobson)
Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669)
Rembrandt is considered to be not just the greatest of the Dutch masters of the Dutch Golden Age, but among the greatest artists of all time. The artist’s work is known for it’s use of realism and emphasized contrast of light and dark. Rembrandt’s most famous painting “The Night Watch”, a group portrait of a local militia, is on display at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam along with a large collection of Rembrandt’s work.
Rembrandt: This 99-minute documentary explores the life of Rembrandt van Rijn (partially through dramatization) the life and work of the most iconic Dutch master of the 17th century.
The Painting Life of Rembrandt van Rijn: Travel to explore the art of Rembrandt van Rijn through the places that the 17th century Dutch master painted, and see how they looked then and today.
Great Artists with Tim Marlow (Season 1 – Episode 11)
ReArt: Baroque (Episode 5 – Rembrandt van Rijn:”Danae”)
Masterworks from Great Museums of the World (Season 1 – Episode 10 – Rembrandt – The Return of the Prodigal Son)
Exhibition on Screen (Season 2 – Episode 3 – Rembrandt)
Art of the Heist (Episode 1 – The Big Sting)
Art of the Heist (Episode 2 – The World’s Biggest Heist)
Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)
Rubens was a painter and diplomat who is widely regarded as the leading Flemish Baroque painter. Many of the artist’s paintings of women (especially his famous nudes) featured full-figured women, which is where the term “Rubenesque” to describe women with fuller figures originates from. Over 1400 paintings are know to have been created by Rubens in his lifetime, so art lovers seeking to enjoy his work can find it in many museums across Europe and elsewhere.
Rubens: An Extra Large Story: Waldmar Januszczak digs past the famous “Rubenesque” women to show viewers what’s really big about Rubens’ place in art history.
Great Artists with Tim Marlow (Season 1 – Episode 9)
ReArt: Baroque (Episode 4 – Peter Paul Rubens:”Equestrian Portrait of the Duke of Lerma”)
Masterworks from Great Museums of the World (Season 22 – Episode 2 – Peter Paul Rubens – The Garden of Love)
Diego Velázquez (1599-1660)
Considered one of the greatest artists of the Spanish Golden Age, Velázquez later influenced the work of modern artists like Picasso, Manet and Dali. Velázquez was court painter to Phillip IV of Spain for most of his career, and befriended Rubens during Rubens’ time at the Spanish court as a diplomat. By far the largest collection of Velázquez’s work can be found at Museo del Prado in Madrid, where visitors can admire 62 pieces of his work including the famous paintings “The Crucified Christ” and “Las Meninas”.
Great Artists with Tim Marlow (Season 1 – Episode 10)
ReArt: Baroque (Episode 2 – Diego Velázquez: “Portrait of the Infanta Margarita Aged Five”)
Masterworks from Great Museums of the World (Season 22 – Episode 3 – Diego Velázquez – Las Meninas)
Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675)
Vermeer is considered one of the greatest painters of the Dutch Golden Age, although only a few dozen of his known works exist. He’s known for his lavish use of the expensive pigment natural ultramarine, such as in his famous works “The Milkmaid” and “The Girl With The Pearl Earring”. Some art historians believe that Vermeer used a camera obscura to create perfect perspective and mirror reflections in at least some of his works.
Vermeer: Beyond Time: This 86 minute documentary about Dutch master Johannes Vermeer covers both his work and his personal life.
Great Artists with Tim Marlow (Season 1 – Episode 12)
Exhibition on Screen (Season 1 – Episode 4 – Vermeer)
Exhibition on Screen (Season 2 – Episode 2 – Girl With A Pearl Earring)
Art of the Heist (Episode 2 – The World’s Biggest Heist)
Often referred to as “Late Baroque”, Rococo features extravagantly detailed scenes, pastel colors, and lots of curving lines. Subjects are often mythological but love and nature are also frequently seen during this period. The style originated in France under Louis XV but was perfected in Germany and other northern European countries by painters like Watteau and Boucher.
Rococo: Before Bedtime: British 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.
Francisco Goya (1746-1828)
Goya is a pivotal figure in European art history, considered both the last of the Old Masters and the first modern artist. Early in his career he worked for the Spanish royal court, painting mostly portraits. After he went deaf from an unknown illness midway through his art career, Goya’s artistic style shifted to become very dark and disturbing.
Great Artists with Tim Marlow (Season 2 – Episode 5)
Masterworks from Great Museums of the World (Season 22 – Episode 4 – Francisco de Goya – The Colossus)
Exhibition on Screen: History’s Greatest Artists (Season 3 – Episode 1)
The rediscovery in the mid-18th century of the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum in Italy led to a rising interest in the classical periods of history. This, along with the rationally-driven Enlightenment, sparked the Neoclassical period. Paintings of this period are characterized by their smooth surfaces with no visible brush strokes, clear forms, linear composition, and mythological subject matter.
ReArt: Classicism: Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, and Karl Bryullov 1775/1780/1827
Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825)
This French artist is considered the greatest of the Neoclassical painters, as exemplified by his famous painting “Oath of the Horatii” that hangs in the Louvre. David was an avid supporter of the French Revolution and Napoleon, and chronicled both with his art. He provided history the final image of Queen Marie-Antoinette before her death by sketching her as she passed by in a cart on the way to the guillotine. Most of the iconic images of Napoleon are by David, including the massive “The Coronation of Napoleon” that is considered among the Louvre’s greatest treasures.
Great Artists with Tim Marlow (Season 2 – Episode 6)
All the rationalism of the Enlightenment led to an artistic backlash: Romanticism. This artistic period was characterized by emotional themes, especially emotional depictions of nature. Large scale canvases of historic events were also common during this period. The brushstroke and impasto (that disappeared during the Neoclassical period) returned.
ReArt: Romanticism: Ivan Aivazovsky, Mykola Pymonenko
John Constable (1776-1837)
Although never a true commercial success in his own lifetime, Constable is considered today to be the quintessential English landscape painter. He is known particularly for painting the landscape around his home in Dedham Vale (earning the area the nickname “Constable Country”). Constable did find some limited success selling paintings in France after Théodore Géricault saw his work in London and spoke of him in Paris. The masterpiece that Géricault saw, “The Hay Wain”, is now in the collection of the National Gallery in London.
Constable: A Country Rebel: An hour long program by art critic Alistair Sooke looks behind the placid landscapes of English painter John Constable to find the rebel lurking within.
Great Artists with Tim Marlow (Season 2 – Episode 7)
Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863)
Delacroix was a French Romantic painter and lithographer whose work laid the groundwork for the Impressionist movement. His most iconic painting, “Liberty Leading the People” commemorates the 1830 revolution against King Charles X with an image of a tri-color flag-waving Marianne leading the charge over a revolutionary barricade. The painting can be viewed at the Louvre in Paris, along with Delacroix’s other masterpiece “The Barque of Dante” and many other Delacroix works.
Great Artists with Tim Marlow (Season 2 – Episode 8)
Théodore Géricault 1791-1824
A pioneer of the Romantic movement, Géricault learned his skills by studying at the Louvre and copying the Old Masters. Géricault’s first major painting, “The Charging Chasseur” (which now hangs at the Louvre) reflects the classical influence of Rubens that Géricault learned at the Louvre. His later masterpiece “The Raft of the Medusa” (which also hangs at the Louvre) is much more romantic in style and depicts the aftermath of a contemporary French shipwreck.
Masterworks from Great Museums of the World (Season 11 – Episode 1 -Théodore Géricault – The Raft of Medusa)
George Stubbs (1724-1826)
This English painter is best known for his expertise at painting the most English of subjects: horses. Art historians credit art collector Paul Mellon with getting Stubbs renown in the mid-twentieth century. Mellon accumulated the largest collection of paintings by Stubbs, and then donated them to Yale as part of his founding of the Yale Center for British Art.
Great Artists with Tim Marlow (Season 2 – Episode 4)
J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851)
Turner is held as one of the masters of English landscape painting, and his landscapes later influenced the work of Impressionists Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro, as well as abstract painter Mark Rothko. Upon his death, Turner left a large collection of work to the British nation, with the instruction that a gallery be built for them to be displayed together. Since 1987, most of these paintings have been displayed together in the Clore Gallery at the Tate Britain. Turner’s portrait will appear on the £20 note starting in 2020.
Great Artists with Tim Marlow (Season 1 – Episode 13)
Don’t miss the other parts of this four part series on learning art history with Amazon Prime Video: