Great Paintings in Times of Social Upheaval

Ref: C2343963

A look at paintings that depict important historical events or simply reveal fascinating aspects of contemporary society. This is a history course rather than an art history course but art is very much at its centre. We will look at the Dutch Golden Age centred on Amsterdam and the great works of Rembrandt and other artists working there. We will also examine Renaissance Italy, the driving forces behind it, the rivalries and even wars between city states, and the paintings of Botticelli, Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, Titian and others who flourished as artists at this time. We'll also look at American art from 1850 to 1950, a period during which the United States moved on from the devastating Civil War, when it was still largely a rural country, to being an industrial giant with a predominantly urbanised population.

Course aim

To look at history through paintings: sometimes great historical events but also simpler, more everyday aspects of contemporary society; and the backgrounds and motives of the artists.

Do I need any particular skills or experience?

  • You will need your own personal email address so that you’re able to login to the WEA’s digital learning platform: WEA Canvas. You will need to be able to understand how to follow URL links to pages on the internet. If you want to understand more about Canvas please visit:
  • You will need to be able to follow links to join our WEA live video learning platform: WEA Zoom. If you’d like to understand more about our video learning platform, Zoom please visit: and
  • No skills or experience needed
  • This course is suitable for beginners and improvers

By the end of the course I should be able to:

  • Summarise the differences between Rembrandt's The Night Watch and similar group portraits.
  • Outline the reasons for Amsterdam's prosperity in the 17th century
  • Give examples of some of the strange theories that have been aroused by Leonardo's The Last Supper
  • Discuss why Raphael was so revered in his lifetime and for centuries afterwards
  • Identify some American artists who highlighted divisions in society

How will I be taught?

  • The WEA’s digital learning platform, Canvas, will be used to provide resources or to support lessons, and for other activities for individuals away from the course. If you want to understand more about our digital learning platform please visit: http://bit.

What kind of feedback can I expect?

  • You will have opportunities to discuss your progress with your tutor
  • Examination of reproductions of paintings in slides will be used to encourage informal discussion.

What else do I need to know?

  • Some method of taking notes would be useful.

Pre-course work, reading and information sources

  • No pre reading or pre course work is required

What can I do next?

  • Progress to another WEA course
  • Progress to a course with another provider
  • Become involved with the WEA in a range of voluntary work and other activities including campaigning as a WEA member
  • Become involved as a volunteer for a WEA partner or another organisation
  • Access the WEA What Next? booklet here

Download full course information sheet

Great Paintings in Times of Social Upheaval

Enrolment Conditions

As a registered charity, and to meet our funders’ requirements, we need to check a few things with you before you enrol. Please check the details below to ensure you meet the basic eligibility critiera:

  • You are paying the standard fee (with a credit or debit card) or you are on any of the qualifying benefits
  • You have a valid email address so that you can receive confirmation of your booking
  • You have been resident in the UK, EU or EEA for the last 3 years
  • You are aged 19 years or older on 1st September 2020
  • You have read and accept our standard terms and conditions

Not sure or have further questions? Contact

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