The Great Museums

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Curious Minds Speaker Series


When you walk into a museum, do you ever wonder how the collections came to be so vast and impressive? In this series from historical educator James Thompson, we will take a lively tour through the world’s great repositories of art and artifacts, from the Uffizi in Florence and Moscow's Hermitage to the Louvre, the MOMA and more. As we examine the masterpieces that make these museums famous, we will explore the creation story of each institutions—the cultures, collectors and creative visions behind their iconic collections.
Led by James Thompson, who has taught for the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies and The LIFE Institute. James has a BA in history from Queen’s University, M.A. in history from Durham University, UK and studied art history at the Courtauld Institute, London, where he first developed his passion for the great museums of Europe and the world.

Course registration: $49 (Hot Docs Members: $33, $27, Free)

Curious Minds Speaker Series sponsored by

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The six lectures in this series are now available to stream. You can access each lecture at your leisure by clicking the "Watch Now" button in your confirmation email, or by visiting your My Shows page. 

Lecture 1: The House of Medici and the Uffizi, Florence: Collecting as Power
The Medici are remembered as the family who ruled Florence in Italy for centuries. The Uffizi Gallery is their legacy. We trace the growth of one of the earliest museums in the world, as well as meet the Medici family members who commissioned masterpieces of art that would live forever in the public museum they later envisioned

Lecture 2: Catherine of Russia lands a Collection and launches The Hermitage
In 1764, Catherine of Russia began to collect art, building a small gallery to impress intimates. Then the Houghton Hall art collection was up for sale in England. Catherine needed art; the Walpoles needed money. We trace the clash between the aesthete Horace Walpole, and the “Tigress” Catherine. The result: Catherine became great as did her Hermitage Museum.

Lecture 3: A Louvre Story: How a Royal Palace became the Largest Museum in the World
The Louvre Museum is two things: a monument to the French monarchy and to the art France has created and collected. In this lecture, we will tour the largest museum in the world, noting such masterpieces as The French Oath of the Horatii and the very un-French Mona Lisa. Acknowledging the kings and curators who built this, we discover the patriotic museum.

Lecture 4: The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum of Boston: A Widow Turned Super Collector
This may be the most outstanding museum from America’s Gilded Age. We will learn about the fabulously wealthy Isabella Stewart-Gardner as we tour Fenway Court, built in romantic tribute to Venice in the Renaissance Era. Mrs. Gardner suffered great loss—a child in birth, a husband’s death—but found comfort in collecting. The greatest tragedy may have been the museum robbery in 1990.
Lecture 5: The Museum of Modern Art: How a New York Museum became the “Citadel of Freedom”
MOMA is the most American of museums because of the principles on which it was founded. The Museum of Modern Art was the brainchild of the Rockefellers, “America’s Medici Family." Explore highlights of its collection, including Van Gogh’s Starry Night, Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie-Woogie as well the museum’s relationship with Picasso’s Guernica. Discover why MOMA was known as the “Citadel of Freedom.”

Lecture 6: Mr. Wen, the Chimei Museum and the Taiwanese Renaissance
We travel to the new Chimei Museum in Taiwan, a house of western art and the largest collection of pianos in the world. Its creator, Wen Long Shi, who was born in poverty, made a fortune to anticipate the collections he would amass. His vision is a “Renaissance of Taiwan”—timely as the future of Taiwan becomes uncertain. 

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