Art History 101

TED-Ed Blog Vermeer James Earle image

Why is Vermeer’s “Girl with the Pearl Earring” considered a masterpiece? What’s so special about Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man? How did Michelangelo’s statue of David become an icon? If you’re curious about art history, then you’ll love these 6 TED-Ed Lessons by art historian James Earle. Watch the playlist:

1. Why is this painting so captivating?

On first glance, the painting “Las Meninas” (“The Maids of Honor”) might not seem terribly special, but it’s actually one of the most analyzed pieces in the history of art. Why is this painting by Diego Velazquez so captivating? James Earle and Christina Bozsik share the context and complexity behind this work of art. Watch this TED-Ed Lesson below.

2. Why is Vermeer’s “Girl with the Pearl Earring” considered a masterpiece?

Is she turning towards you or away from you? No one can agree. She’s the subject of Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer’s “Girl with the Pearl Earring,” a painting often referred to as the ‘Mona Lisa of the North.’ But what makes this painting so captivating? James Earle explains how this work represents the birth of a modern perspective on economics, politics, and love. Watch this TED-Ed Lesson below.

3. The many meanings of Michelangelo’s Statue of David

We typically experience classic works of art in a museum, stripped of their original contexts, but that serene setting can belie a tumultuous history. Take Michelangelo’s statue of David: devised as a religious symbol, adopted as a political emblem, and later iconized for its aesthetic beauty. James Earle walks us through the statue’s journey, to show how art gains layers of meaning over time. Watch this TED-Ed Lesson below.

4. Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man of math

What’s so special about Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man? With arms outstretched, the man fills the irreconcilable spaces of a circle and a square — symbolizing the Renaissance-era belief in the mutable nature of humankind. James Earle explains the geometric, religious and philosophical significance of this deceptively simple drawing. Watch this TED-Ed Lesson below.

5. Distorting Madonna in Medieval art

After Rome was destroyed, people were wary of attachment to physical beauty. As Christianity gained traction, Romans instead began to focus on the metaphysical beauty of virtue, and art began to follow suit. James Earle discusses how Medieval paintings of Madonna were affected by this shift. Watch this TED-Ed Lesson below.

6. Dissecting Botticelli’s Adoration of the Magi

The scene of the three wise men offering gifts to a newborn Jesus was widely painted during the Renaissance era, so how did painter Sandro Botticelli create a version that’s still well known today? James Earle describes who and what set Botticelli’s Adoration of the Magi apart in the annals of art history. Watch this TED-Ed Lesson below.

For more art history, watch these TED-Ed Lessons. For more ideas from James Earle, check out Amor Sciendi.

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  1. Thank you! A most illuminating and well-told set of lessons on beautiful, eternal art.

  2. will miller

    have just watched the first part of art history101.i think that this will be a great introduction to art history

  3. Anna Meda

    Thank you very interesting

  4. Wonderful summaries of well know art.

  5. Simon

    ¡Muchas gracias!

  6. Rica Cortes Rentzing

    How do I gain access to more art history lessons? What about contemporary and modern art? Thank you.

  7. Elena Flores

    Thank you so much .

  8. everythingbegins

    Big thanks for the fabulous art lessons. Very informative! Keep Sharing!

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