30 Masterpieces of the Ancient World Series

The Great Courses
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36 episodes in this series

Episode 1 Where Do We Come From?
What are the common themes of ancient art? Why is ancient art relevant today? What makes a masterpiece? Before you begin your journey through the world of ancient art, consider…
Episode 2 Ancient Cave Art—Chauvet, France
Step back more than 30,000 years as you view some of the earliest known art in the world-- a fabulous gallery of animals painted on the cave walls at Chauvet.…
Episode 3 The Uruk Vase—Vision of an Ordered World
In Mesopotamia, writing was developed 5,000 years ago, alongside the first narrative art, which set the stage for everything that followed in the Western art historical tradition. The registers on…
Episode 4 The Standard of Ur—Role of the King
Turn to the masterpieces of the ancient Sumerians in the city of Ur, the "Cradle of Civilization." No one knows whether the mysterious Royal Standard of Ur is actually a…
Episode 5 “Ram Caught in a Thicket”
Explore the fertility theme in the first 3-D sculpture of the course. "Ram Caught in a Thicket" was excavated from the Great Death Pit at Ur. In addition to telling…
Episode 6 Great Ziggurat at Ur—Ancient Architecture
With the magnificent ziggurats, ancient people reached for the sky, which was the domain of the deities. Learn about Nanna, the Sumerian moon god, and experience the architectural grandeur at…
Episode 7 Victory Stela of Naram-Sin of Akkad
What makes a king a god? Ponder the visual propaganda behind Naram-Sin's victory stela. After learning the story of this Akkadian king, you'll study this monument's artistic innovation--its realism, its…
Episode 8 Neo-Assyrian Palace Reliefs
Jump to the 1st millennium B.C. and the mighty Assyrian Empire. The palace reliefs reveal a warlike society in which the king reinforces order, as revealed in the famous Lion…
Episode 9 “Queen of the Night”—Babylonian Goddess
Cursed in the Bible as "the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth," Babylon is much more fascinating and strange than you might think. Examine the "Queen of the…
Episode 10 Ishtar Gate and Processional Way
Continue your study of ancient Babylon by reflecting on Nebuchadnezzar's city gates and processional way. These impressive feats of architecture and engineering inspire awe through their sheer size. The animals…
Episode 11 The Ancient City of Persepolis
Turn to the Persian Empire, one of the grandest civilizations in the ancient world. Survey the history of Persia from King Cyrus to Alexander the Great, then study the city…
Episode 12 Palette of Narmer—The Conquering King
To maintain social cohesion, ancient kings had to justify their power through ideological control, and no culture was better than Egypt at creating art to establish the underpinnings of kingship.…
Episode 13 Statue of Khafre—Rebirth of a King
Why did the Egyptians go to such great lengths to prepare bodies after death? They loved life, and the grand tombs and sculptures were a way to capture the soul…
Episode 14 Tutankhamun’s Mask
You've no doubt seen images of King Tut's mask, but what does it represent? Why is it such a magnificent work of art? Unpack the secrets of Egypt's famous boy…
Episode 15 Tomb Painting of Nefertari
Look at a masterpiece of painting that lay hidden for more than 3,000 years and was never meant to be seen by human eyes again. Queen Nefertari was one of…
Episode 16 Kritios Boy—Idealized Athletic Youth
Travel to ancient Greece and trace the development of realism in sculpture through the Archaic period. The "Kritios Boy" represents a leap forward and seems more "alive" than Egyptian sculptures,…
Episode 17 Discobolus—Motion in Sculpture
Go back to a time when the Olympic Games were a sacred event. The famous discus thrower represents a new development in the history of sculpture because of the way…
Episode 18 Parthenon Marbles—Metopes and Frieze
Plunge into the mythological battles of the Parthenon in Athens. The metopes, pediment sculptures, and frieze dramatize Greek myths, narrate battles, and are sublimely beautiful examples of Greek sculpture. Professor…
Episode 19 Greek Vase Painting—“Death of Sarpedon”
Visit the fields of Troy as phalanxes of Greeks advance upon the Trojans. There, according to the Iliad, Sarpedon was killed by Patroclus, a scene memorialized in Euphronios's red-figure vase…
Episode 20 Aphrodite of Knidos
The Greeks offered more than just action and warfare in their art. This episode examines the first female nude in the tradition, a sculpture of Aphrodite, the femme fatale of…
Episode 21 Laocoön—Three-Dimensional Narrative
Contemplate one of the most mesmerizing sculptures in the world. Beyond the emotional expressiveness, the writhing snakes, and the doomed children, "Laocoon" has a complicated history that reflects its importance…
Episode 22 Column of Trajan
This stunning 125-foot-high monument is truly a marvel, combining a feat of engineering with the skill of sculptors who crafted a 650-foot-long story that spirals upward from the base. The…
Episode 23 Bronzes of Ancient China
Move east to the Shang and Chou dynasties in ancient China, where bronze vessels cast with astonishing technical skill and artistry are the defining artifact. Excavated in 1976, the royal…
Episode 24 Great Stupa at Sanchi
Delve into the world of Buddhism and the Great Stupa at Sanchi, the most ancient stone structure in India and the only one that supposedly houses the ashes of Buddha.…
Episode 25 Borobudur—Ancient Buddhist Stupa
Continue your investigation of Buddhism by turning to the largest Buddhist monument in the world, Borobudur. As you study the terraces of this "cosmic mountain," you'll see superb carved reliefs…
Episode 26 Colossal Olmec Heads
Next, your journey takes you halfway around the world to Mesoamerica to explore the unusual Olmec culture. Here in the low-lying Gulf Coast of Mexico, 17 colossal heads offer a…
Episode 27 Sarcophagus Cover of Pakal at Palenque
Nestled in the foothills of southern Mexico is one of the most magical and hauntingly beautiful archaeological sites in the world. Here, one of the richest tombs in the New…
Episode 28 Carved Stone Lintels of Yaxchilán
Blood sacrifices. Sacred visions. Poisonous animals. Artwork from the Maya kingdom of Yaxchilan may shock us, but the visceral and expressive detail carved into these stones is unlike anything in…
Episode 29 Teotihuacán—Temple of the Feathered Serpent
Venture north to the city of Teotihuacan, the "place of the gods." Here, the Temple of the Feathered Serpent is a mysterious pyramid that may contain a royal grave. You'll…
Episode 30 Colossal Stone Statue of Coatlicue
Aztec art has some of the most skilled, complex stone carvings in the world, yet it is difficult to understand. Professor McDonald explains the significance of the colossal sculpture of…
Episode 31 Aztec Calendar Stone
Many people are familiar with the iconic Aztec calendar stone, but few understand what it means. Discover the story of one of the most famous excavated objects from the ancient…
Episode 32 Moche Earspools—Miniature Masterpieces
Go inside the Moche society in ancient Peru and marvel at the beautiful metal jewelry discovered in the Sipan tombs. Beyond the beauty and the sophisticated metalwork of the Moche…
Episode 33 Ancient Andean Ceramics
Many societies in this course have used art to communicate ideas, especially state propaganda. But Andean elites took a different approach. Rather than creating massive stone sculptures, artists made usable,…
Episode 34 Ancient Andean Textiles
Shift your attention to Andean textiles. These masterpieces combined amazing technical virtuosity with supreme aesthetic taste. You'll be amazed by the labor that went into these luxurious pieces, yet what's…
Episode 35 What Can We Learn from Ancient Art?
What can ancient art teach us about our place in the cosmos? What do we find so beautiful about ancient art? And how does it compare to contemporary art? Does…
Episode 36 How Ancient Art Reverberates
Revisit some of the masterpieces you have seen in this course, compare them to contemporary works that draw from ancient sources, and review some of the universal themes you have…

Related videos

Colossal Stone Statue of Coatlicue
Aztec art has some of the most skilled, complex stone carvings in the world, yet it is difficult to understand. Professor McDonald explains the significance of the colossal sculpture of Coatlicue, the goddess known as Serpent Skirt. Find out what art historians think this terrifying sculpture means and how it…
The Standard of Ur—Role of the King
Turn to the masterpieces of the ancient Sumerians in the city of Ur, the "Cradle of Civilization." No one knows whether the mysterious Royal Standard of Ur is actually a standard--or even royal--but it tells us a great deal about the technology, social structure, and the dazzling riches of this…
Great Stupa at Sanchi
Delve into the world of Buddhism and the Great Stupa at Sanchi, the most ancient stone structure in India and the only one that supposedly houses the ashes of Buddha. Take a tour of a spiritual monument, protected by impressive gates, and see how the sculptural reliefs and pilgrimage instruct…
The Ancient City of Persepolis
Turn to the Persian Empire, one of the grandest civilizations in the ancient world. Survey the history of Persia from King Cyrus to Alexander the Great, then study the city of Persepolis. Its construction, its palaces, and its many relief sculptures all showed the breadth and power of the king.
Victory Stela of Naram-Sin of Akkad
What makes a king a god? Ponder the visual propaganda behind Naram-Sin's victory stela. After learning the story of this Akkadian king, you'll study this monument's artistic innovation--its realism, its unified composition, and its new approach to narrative. Additional Akkadian art provides perspective on this era's radical artistic changes.
How Ancient Art Reverberates
Revisit some of the masterpieces you have seen in this course, compare them to contemporary works that draw from ancient sources, and review some of the universal themes you have explored--especially animals, fertility, death, and rulership. These themes bind humans in nearly every civilization, and the themes are reflected in…
Ancient Andean Textiles
Shift your attention to Andean textiles. These masterpieces combined amazing technical virtuosity with supreme aesthetic taste. You'll be amazed by the labor that went into these luxurious pieces, yet what's most striking here is that abstract art--a modern innovation in Western art--was developed in the Andes more than 1,000 years…
“Ram Caught in a Thicket”
Explore the fertility theme in the first 3-D sculpture of the course. "Ram Caught in a Thicket" was excavated from the Great Death Pit at Ur. In addition to telling us about royal burials, the sculpture tells us about the society's wealth, its relationship with animals, and the religious role…
Ancient Andean Ceramics
Many societies in this course have used art to communicate ideas, especially state propaganda. But Andean elites took a different approach. Rather than creating massive stone sculptures, artists made usable, practical objects. This episodes hows you some of the beautiful pots created in a culture isolated from the Western tradition.
Statue of Khafre—Rebirth of a King
Why did the Egyptians go to such great lengths to prepare bodies after death? They loved life, and the grand tombs and sculptures were a way to capture the soul for eternal life. Reflect on the statue of King Khafre, which communicates strength and power--and signifies so much more than…
Neo-Assyrian Palace Reliefs
Jump to the 1st millennium B.C. and the mighty Assyrian Empire. The palace reliefs reveal a warlike society in which the king reinforces order, as revealed in the famous Lion Hunt scenes. As he battles the lions, the king proves he is greater in power than the threatening beast and…
Palette of Narmer—The Conquering King
To maintain social cohesion, ancient kings had to justify their power through ideological control, and no culture was better than Egypt at creating art to establish the underpinnings of kingship. This first episode on Egypt considers the Palette of Narmer, a superb carving that embodies the unification of the state…