Detail of Holbein's painting The Ambassadors

"Holbein's portraiture remains unsurpassed for sureness and economy of statement, penetration into character, and a combined richness and purity of style." - Ellis Waterhouse

At a Glance

  • Live online course
  • 2 hours a week
  • Fridays 18:00 - 20:00
  • 10 weeks: April to June
  • Tutor: Leslie Primo
  • Fees from £120 to £205
  • Official course title: 'Understanding Art'
  • Imperial College attendance certificate (T&Cs apply)
  • Book from 1 March 2021
Booking link

This course will take us from medieval Germany to modern Germany and along the way the country as we now know it will emerge.

In this history of art from Germany course, we will take a snapshot across history of the variety of artists that would come to be a major influence not just on Northern art but also on Italian Renaissance art and ultimately European art. The chronological survey will begin in the 1460s along the way demonstrating the interconnectivity of German artists through their itinerancy, their ingenuity, and rigorous work ethic.

The scope of these lessons and the images that will be shown will demonstrate the changes in style of German art and how this art reflected the wider goings on in European art.

To this end, each of the 10 weekly lessons will take a look at German art through the lens of an individual artist, and in doing so take us from the medieval wood carvings of Tilman Riemenschneider, through to the Renaissance art of Lucas Cranach the Elder and Hans Holbein the Younger, to the Baroque art of Adam Elsheimer, from Neo-Classicism to Romanticism and finally culminating in the German art of the nineteenth century with the impact of German modern art on French Impressionism.

Course Information

Course Programme

Session 1 – Tue 12th May 2020: Tilman Riemenschneider (c. 1460 – 1531)

There is no precise recording of when Tilman Riemenschneider was born, but it was probably around 1460 at Heiligenstadt im Eichsfeld in present-day Thuringia.  Principally a wood carver this lesson will be looking at the various output by Riemenschneider and his workshop; the variety of subjects and the preferred types of wood in this process and why they were chosen.  This lesson will also look at Riemenschneider’s arrival in Würzburg for the first time at the age of 18 in 1478/9 His itinerant lifestyle, and how he came to the trade of sculpting and woodcarving. There is scant evidence regarding some periods of his life, however, this lesson  will look at likely contact and influence of another German artist on his work - Martin Schöngauer, whose copper engravings served him later as examples to base his wood carvings on.  This will naturally lead us into lesson 2 next week on Martin Schöngauer.

Session 2 – Tue 19th June 2020: Martin Schöngauer (active 1469; died 1491)

Martin Schöngauer like many Italian Renaissance artists had a background in goldsmith trade, which came from his father the goldsmith Caspar Schöngauer a citizen of Colmar. Although there is no precise recording of when he was born He is recorded as living in Colmar in 1469 thus we will begin his life from that point.  Martin Schöngauer was principally famous as an engraver and this lesson will look at his most famous engravings along with his paintings and those of his workshop, examining the dissemination of these and their wider impact on German art.

Session 3 – Tue 26th June 2020: Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528)

This lesson charts the rise of the precocious youth that was Albrecht Dürer was born in Nuremberg in the Holy Roman Empire on 21st May 1471.  It will explore his early life and works, and also the long lasting influence that Dürer had on the Italian Renaissance, not mention the influence that the Italian Renaissance had on Dürer.  The years following the early Renaissance in Europe opened up a world of cultural, artistic and intellectual exchange for the gifted and the curious. The map of Europe at that time was determined by the reach of the Holy Roman Empire and the countries that we know of today as Germany and Italy did not exist as such but were groups of city states which shared aspects of language and culture.  Trade between all parts of the Empire was the norm, allowing for the spread of goods and ideas to flourish and.  It was into this world that Albrecht Dürer was born.

He left a vast body of autobiographical writings with the understanding that posterity would want to know about him, his art and his life.  He was one of the very first artists to write about themselves, if not the first.  He also wrote extensively on art practice including treatises on measurement and human proportion in order to educate future German artists, as he was determined to counter the Southern European view of Germans as being ‘a race of savage drunkards from a wild country with a poor climate, responsible for the destruction of ancient Rome’.

Session 4 – Tue 2nd June 2020: Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553)

Cranach was one of the leading German painters and printmakers of the early 16th century with an incredibly successful workshop. As court painter of the Elector of Saxony, the patron of Luther, Cranach is remembered as the official portraitist of Martin Luther, painting the Protestant reformer and his wife as well as being the chief artist of the Reformation. In this lesson I will look at Cranach’s output, style of painting and how that style changed in line with him becoming more and more involved with the cause of Reformation. I will look at his altarpieces, Lutheran subject pictures, portraits, as well as mythological works and nudes. This lesson will examine the success of Cranach among Humanist scholars, rulers, religious leaders and the controversy that is still surrounds some of his works.  

Session 5 – Tue 9th June 2020: Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/8 - 1543)

This lesson will look at Hans Holbein one of the most accomplished portraitists of the 16th century. He was born in Augsburg in southern Germany in the winter of 1497-8. He was taught by his father, Hans Holbein the Elder, and spent two periods of his life in England (1526-8 and 1532-43), portraying the nobility of the Tudor court.  This lesson will look at the work from these periods including his most famous portraits such as his portrait of Henry VIII (London, National Portrait Gallery) and his iconic image of 'The Ambassadors', which this lesson will examining in detail.  The enigmatic full-length double portrait is a political statement as much as it is a record of two friends meeting in England. It was painted in 1533, at the height of Holbein’s fame as the court painter to Henry VIII. He was recommended to the court of Henry VIII. By the humanist Erasmus Desiderius (whom he had painted ten years earlier in 1523) Holbein would go on to give us the definitive image that we all know when we think of Henry VIII. As I mentioned previously this is a record of two friends, Jean de Dinteville, here pictured on the right and his friend Georges de Selve, the Bishop of Lavaur on the left. Jean de Dinteville was visiting England on an unofficial ambassadorial mission in 1533 in a time of turmoil and upheaval in the court of Henry VIII, indeed it was during this time that Henry is seeking to divorce Catherine of Aragon in order to re-marry Anne Boleyn.

Session 6 – Tue 16th June 2020: Adam Elsheimer (1578-1610)

In this lesson I will look at a painter who is often left out of the historical canon of art history or when included is often difficult to place within historical canon of art history.  Adam Elsheimer was born and trained in Frankfurt and almost exclusively not only worked on a very small scale in regards to the physical size of his works, but also painted almost exclusively in oil on copper. In this lesson I shall look at his itinerancy as an artist, his visits to Munich, Venice and Rome.  Although his output was small I will also look at the influence of these works on much more well known artists such as, Rubens, Rembrandt and Claude and the influence Renaissance Venetian artist on him such as, Tintoretto and Veronese; concentrating on his landscapes, religious works and the dynamic compositions and spectacular lighting effects that he learned from the work of the aforementioned Venetian artists.

Session 7 – Tue 23rd June 2020: Anton Raphael Mengs (1728 - 1779)

This lesson will trace the life of the Neo-classical painter Anton Raphael Mengs was Born in Bohemia and specialized in pastel portraits and was trained by his father Ismael Mengs who was the Dresden Court Painter. Mengs senior was obsessed with Italian Renaissance art and in particular two artist whom he named his son Anton after (after Correggio) and Raffael (= Raphael). This lesson  will look at his journey from child prodigy, to Italy as the principle of Accademia di S. Luca, to Pompeii and Herculaneum, and to Spain as court painter in the service of Charles III of Spain, eventually moving back to Germany to take on the same post as his father once held that of Court Painter at Dresden.

Session 8 – Tue 30th June 2020: Angelica Kauffmann (1741-1807) and England’s obsession with Portraiture

This lesson will look at Britain’s obsession with art of portraiture and how it consumed artists in Britain through the experience of the reputation the artist Angelica Kauffmann.  Although she was born in Switzerland, Kauffmann went on to become a great British Neo-Classical artist, with a reputation equal to her male contemporaries in an age that rarely recognised women in this field.

This lesson will not only look at her training and early paintings, but also the influence on Kauffman of Italian painting and the great Renaissance masters, not to mention Dutch painting.  The lesson will also chart Kauffman’s rise to fame on the Continent, along with her association with the most famous figures of the age including Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 –1832) and Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) to name but a few.

Session 9 – Tue 7th July 2020: Caspar David Friedrich (1774 - 1840)

In this penultimate lesson we emerge into a period of romantic painting seen through the work of Caspar David Friedrich.  This German romantic painter was actually born in Pomerania, then part of Sweden, but he eventually settled in Dresden where he nurtured a close associated with its circle of Romantic scholars and poets.  Friedrich is principally famous for his lone figures in the landscape, and symbolic and imaginary images of the forest He often visited his homeland and toured Germany.  This lesson will examine his romantic and symbolic vision of a united Germany through his iconic landscapes and Neo-Gothic sensibility. 

Session 10 – Tue 14th July 2020: Adolph Menzel (1815 - 1905)

In this final lesson it seems appropriate that we should end in the world of modern art as we move into the late 19th century with the life and work of Adolph Menzel the leading German artist of the second half of the 19th century. Born in 1815, he was first active first as a printmaker, and then a draftsman, before eventually turning to oil painting only after the age of 30. Nevertheless he went on to have a prolific career, indeed his technical virtuosity and skill at capturing quickly the effects of real life with an almost photographic accuracy would eventually pre-empt the work of the French Impressionism by 30 years. He would eventually visit Paris and meet Edgar Degas, and become known as the unparalleled chronicler of Berlin life.

Additional Reading

There is no compulsory reading required for this course, and there is no set course text.

About Your Tutor

Photograph of Leslie Primo

Your tutor for this course will be Leslie Primo. Leslie is a highly experienced and well-known art historian who has appeared on television & radio and who has also lectured at organisations including the National Gallery in London and Wallace Collection.

You can read more about your tutor at: Leslie Primo's website

Twitter: artfirstprimo     

Blog: artfirstprimo

Course Delivery

All our online courses are taught live which means you will be taught alongside other students on the course by a tutor at a specific time. To take part in the course you must be able to attend the online session at the time stated for the course description.

All times stated are British Standard Time.

To take part you will need a computer, or laptop, or tablet computer, connected to the Internet. The device you use will also need to have a camera, microphone and speakers. Most devices now have these built in, but if not you might have to buy them from a computer shop and to connect them to your device.


This course will use Zoom as its online delivery method. Zoom is very easy to use and you do not need to set up a Zoom account to use it. Near the date of your first online session you will be sent an email with a web address (or URL) that will allow you to access the course. This is called the Course Link. All you need do is click on the Course Link in the email and you will be asked to enter your name. This is the name that will be seen by your tutor and other students in the class.

Once you have entered your name you might be asked to enter a password to enter the class. The password will be included in the email sent to you. Once you enter the password you will either be taken directly into the class, or asked to wait in a virtual waiting room until the tutor is ready to let you into the class.

We have also produced a Handy Guide to Zoom [pdf] which gives you basic information on how to use it.

All courses lasting two hours have a 10 minute break in the middle.  For one hour courses there is no break.

Course Fees and Rate Categories

HoursWeeksStandard RateInternal RateAssociate Rate
20  10  £205 £120 £160
All fee rates quoted are for the whole course     Please note there is no early-bird discount available for the April intake courses

Rate Categories and Discounts

Standard Rate

  • Applicable to all except those who fall under the Internal Rate or Associate Rate category, respectively.

Internal Rate

  • Applies to current Imperial College students and staff (incl. Imperial NHS Trust, Imperial Innovations, ancillary & service staff employed on long-term contracts at Imperial College by third-party contractors).
  • Current Centre for Languages, Culture and Communication (CLCC) staff, current CLCC PhD students, Science Communication (Sci Comm) postgraduate students, and students enrolled on an Imperial College 'Language for Science' degree programme should email before completing the online enrolment form.

Associate Rate

  • Students (non-Imperial College)
  • Alumni of Imperial College and predecessor colleges and institutes
  • City & Guilds College Association members
  • Members of the Friends of Imperial College
  • Francis Crick Institute staff, researchers and students
  • Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council staff
  • Harrods staff
  • Historic Royal Palaces staff
  • Natural History Museum staff
  • Science Museum staff
  • South London Botanical Institute Members
  • Victoria and Albert Museum staff
  • Royal Geographical Society staff
  • Royal College of Art and Royal College of Music tutors and other staff
  • Austrian Cultural Forum staff
  • Staff of Exhibition Road Cultural Group (Discover South Kensington) organisations
  • Lycee Charles de Gaulle staff
  • Tutors and other staff of other universities and higher education institutions
  • Tutors and other staff of institution members of the Association of Colleges
  • Residents of postcodes SW3, SW5, SW7, SW10 and W8
  • Members of the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)
  • Members of the South London Botanical Institute (SLBI)
  • Members of the London Zoological Society
  • Members of the Kennel Club

Late enrolment

It is possible to enrol on many CLCC Evening Class and Lunchtime Learning programmes after the course has started. For non-language courses this is subject entirely to agreement by the tutor. For language courses it is subject to agreement by the language Coordinator conducting level assessment. If you want to join a course late do bear in mind there might be work you will need to catch up on, particularly in language courses.

Applicable terms & conditions

Please read the Terms and Conditions [pdf] before enrolling on any course.

Term Dates

HoursWeeksAutumn termSpring termSummer term
 20  10 n/a n/a w/c 26 Apr - w/e 4 Jul 2021 (10 weeks)

Enrolment Process

Web enrolment starts 1 March 2021

Enrolment and payment run through the Imperial College eStore. Please click on the blue booking link on the relevant course page noting below instructions:

  • Our rate categories are explained on the course page and your applicable rate category must be selected on the eStore
  • First-time eStore users please create an account by entering an email address and password. These credentials should also be used for future bookings. Imperial College users please note the eStore is not a single-signon College system
  • The booking process involves entering payment details before your course choice and applicant details are queried on an in-built questionnnaire which completes the process
  • The following email notifications are sent
What is sentWhen is it sentWhat does it contain
1. Payment confirmation Instantaneously following submission of your online application
  • Confirms payment, payment date, order number and course title
  • Should not be treated as a course-enrolment confirmation which is only sent later
2. Enrolment confirmation Sent in due course but likely not before the end of March. Please treat your payment confirmation as confirmation that your applicant details and payment have been received
  • Re-onfirms your course choice
  • Shows your course's term dates
  • Confirms your course' day of the week & time
3. Programme information Usually sent Friday late afternoon the week before term starts
  • Contains further course details incl. classroom location and teacher contact information
  • Provides further general programme details
If you need further help with the above information please ring 020 7594 8756

Any Questions?

  • Questions regarding the content and teaching of this course should be sent to the course tutor, Mr Leslie Primo,
  • Questions about your enrolment and payment should be sent to the Programme Administrator,

If you have enjoyed this course, why not look at other arts and humanities evening class courses at Imperial College. This includes courses on the history of western art from ancient Greece to the nineteenth century, Understanding Modern and Design, the history of film and cinema and Greek and Roman mythology in art. We also run practical courses in art and photography and creative writing classes, and a growing programme of science based evening classes.