Understanding Art: Hidden Lives of Masterpieces (DVD)

Masterworks under the microscope.

I can’t summarize Understanding Art: Hidden Lives of Masterpieces better than the opening narration:

“Choose one of the masters from among the collections at the Louvre. Remove all their works from the wall. De-frame them. Position them on easels at eye level. Place them all together in the same room. Add curators, historians, restorers, scientists, and the most eminent specialists of the artist’s work from all over the world, and keep them in the room with the paintings for two whole days. Leave them to study and discuss the works in total freedom. Sample and enjoy the study days.”

The masters discussed during this series are: Raphael, Rembrandt, Poussin, Watteau, and Leonardo. Those who, like me, were hoping for an exploration of all the artists who loaned their names to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will sadly have to look elsewhere.

This is the kind of set I would expect to see during an Art History 101 course, and it really is as simple as the narration makes it seem. Yes, there are occasional formal interviews in front of the camera but mostly it’s a group of people who are really passionate about the artist in question discussing that artist and their works. We come in and out of conversations and it’s like being at a gallery walking around eavesdropping.

It’s very educational and the chance to see these masterpieces displayed in a way they haven’t been for centuries is a rare treat, especially when you consider how unlikely it is any of us will be able to repeat the experience in person. Understanding Art: Hidden Lives of Masterpieces is best watched one episode at a time to better capture the feeling of spending an hour at the Louvre. I can recommend it for anyone who’s interested in the artists profiled.

The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen video palette is akin to that used in BBC news footage, a rather desaturated pale look which mimics video straight from the camera with little or no color timing employed. The blacks betrayed the most need for some correction, especially during the interview segments. However I fully understand why this palette was used: in order to portray the masterpieces as close to how they look to the naked eye as possible. So I can forgive what I would consider flaws elsewhere. The Dolby 2.0 Stereo track is perfect, but seeing as there’s virtually no music and only a vocal track to worry about it betrays no flaws.

Bonus features include a booklet which details some of the terms the experts use, and the artists’ biographies.

If you’re an art buff, the historic views of the masterpieces in Understanding Art: Hidden Lives of Masterpieces will beckon to you. However, if you’re a novice to the art world, the in-depth exploration of each artist may seem overwhelming. Let your interest in the subject matter be your guide, but if you can catch this streaming or on television, I’d recommend a viewing.

THE VERDICT

Not guilty.

86
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