Review: Understanding Art: Hidden Lives of Masterpieces

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Understanding Art DVDI jumped at the chance to review a copy of this new DVD from Athena – you know the company that makes all of the really high-quality DVD’s? (Think Bill Moyers.) I pictured my family sitting around watching this, pausing it at certain moments to answer questions from the kids…

Fen grew bored quickly, though. For as amazing as these DVD’s are, I think they’re probably not going to make the cut for anyone below high school age. But you art-interested adults out there will find them fascinating and very watchable. Picture having your favorite giant art coffee table book come to life on your tv.

This one takes place over the course of 2 days in The Louvre. Art specialists from all over the world were invited to come view and discuss masterpieces by: Raphael, Rembrant, Poussin, Watteau, and Leonardo Da Vinci.But get this. The paintings were taken out from behind the glass, out of their frames, and placed at eye level on easels. These people could have licked a Rembrant if they had chosen.

The lighting in the film is gorgeous, and it feels like we’re eavesdropping on the specialists as they try to unravel some mysteries about the paintings. (This inherently makes you listen and pay attention.) They discuss, ask questions, agree, disagree, interpret- we get caught up in their fascination and passion for the subject matter.

Watch this clip:

Dotted throughout are animated shorts that explain art concepts in more detail, and they’re wonderful! Quick enough to hold our diminishing attention spans, and effective, I suppose since they were graphically simple and visual.

For instance, I didn’t realize how many of these paintings had been stretched, cut, added to, etc. over the centuries. And how the way subjects were facing, what they wore, how the direction of their gazes- meant- it’s all significant in Renaissance painting.

Poussin's The Flight Into Egypt - studied in the DVD Hidden Lives of Masterpieces

image courtesy of Wikipaintings

I was particularly interested in seeing how the pros reacted to being with the Mona Lisa- the mood shifted and they all quieted in reverence. One man remarked, “It’s very human. And so we take great pleasure in just being with her in silence.”

Mona Lisa- one of the paintings viewed by a group of art specialists at the Louvre for the documentary "Hidden Lives of Masterpieces"

image courtesy of Wikipaintings

You can buy your own copy of Understanding Art: Hidden Lives of Masterpieces at Amazon or directly at Acorn Online.

Understanding Art: HIdden Lives of Masterpieces



  1. 07/06/2013 / 6:39 pm

    Sounds fascinating! And although it may not be for kids it could probably help us as art educators of kids. I wonder what the artists would say if they could eavesdrop of these experts!

  2. 07/07/2013 / 3:40 pm

    Wow! That looks amazing. I wonder if Fen would like that Sister Wendy instead? She is also amazing at making you see art in a new and human way. I would this DVD collection for myself though!

    • 07/08/2013 / 9:07 am

      It’s funny- we’ve never watched the Sister Wendy stuff; maybe that’s a topic for another post! I’ll be keeping this for her for when she’s a little older- I’m thinking it would appeal to high school age if they’re really into art!

  3. 07/07/2013 / 9:51 pm

    This is so interesting! I’d love to hear what some of these guys think about the art so many of us take for granted.

    As a young college student in the dark ages, I considered becoming an Art History major and spent many hours in darkened seminar halls geeking out to meanings and perspectives in Renaissance masterpieces. I imagined a career of closed-teeth talking to similarly art-crazed people within the historical art society.

    Alas, my capacity for learning dates and techniques was limited and I ended up enjoying the naps in my art history seminars more than learning about the Old Masters.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • 07/08/2013 / 9:04 am

      Ha! I’m sure the naps helped you absorb the information just as well…. The approach to this dvd was just so brilliant, since you sort of feel like you’re in the room with them and so what they’re talking about is naturally more interesting. Plus they’re so fascinated and passionate about it, it’s hard to not get caught up in it.

  4. 08/02/2013 / 9:32 am

    Oh my goodness, this blows my mind. I cant even imagine what it would be like to be that close to those masterpieces. Investigating that book now. Thanks!!!!!

    • 08/02/2013 / 7:30 pm

      I know! Can you imagine? Watching the DVD, you can tell how excited and fascinated they all are to be there.

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