Art History Course

Like most people, I’m getting a little weary about the endless lockdowns at the moment. I still miss the big picture things like family, friends, and travelling, but I’m really starting to miss the simpler things like spending the afternoon squirrelled away in a cinema or a museum too. Thankfully, a lot of museums have virtual tours and digital collections (something I discovered last year when I virtually visited the Louvre), and every now and again I like to peruse the website of one of the largest art museums in Germany, the Städel. During my most recent trip, I was happy to find they’ve added another component to their online offerings and created an art history course in both English and German, something I couldn’t wait to dive right in to.

Photo by Andrew Neel on

I am an art admirer but I am far from knowledgeable on the subject. I can tell a Matisse from a Van Gogh but I’ve long been curious to know more about the whys and the whens, and to recognise different styles. The Städel has a long history of teaching art, the renowned Städelschule was founded in 1817 and is still going today, so I was confident the course was going to be of value, but the best thing of all is that it’s completely free!

A screenshot of the menu page.
Each art work contained in the course is placed on a timeline which allows the student to see it in the context of the different movements that were happening.

The course is spread out over five modules, and judging by the few hours it took me to go through the first module and a half, it is absolutely jam-packed with information. The first module looks at the different things to consider when looking at a piece of art. Not just viewing it on the surface, but understanding the relation of objects within the piece and its wider context. If that all sounds a bit dry, rest assured, that is me and not the course. So far it has been full of interesting facts (did you know the average museum go-er views a piece of art for just 11 seconds?) amusing videos, and little quizzes and games to put your new-found knowledge into practice. On top of that, every single piece of art that is used as an example or teaching point has an information page detailing everything about the piece from the artist and it’s history, to the size of it and materials used.

The results of my attempt at recreating the image on the right after viewing it for 20 seconds.

I spent a very enjoyable afternoon leisurely making my way through this. It is so well designed and thought out, it is really a pleasure to use and I can’t believe it’s free! I really feel like I’ve found a hidden gem. It’s not the same as being in a museum, nothing is, but it will give me some new-found appreciation of the art next time I can visit one.

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