Medieval and Renaissance Art

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Course Level:
Course Length:
15 weeks

Required Texts

  • E. Gombrich. The Story of Art.
  • J. Benton. Art of the Medieval World
  • F. Hartt. History of Italian Renaissance Art, 4th ed. (there are 10 reading copies of these in the library)
  • Vasari. Lives of the Artists. Oxford.
  • Course Packet

Course Description

In this course we have the daunting task of covering over 1,000 years of art, produced from Ireland to Serbia, from northern Germany to western Spain, from southeastern France to the world’s navel, Rome. Other difficulties, in addition to those posed by this great expanse of time and stretch of geography, come from the fact that an originally united empire is split first into Latin and Greek, but then cut up into pieces by Goths, Visigoths, Vandals, Burgundians, Vikings, Normans, and Muslims. When the pieces are reunited, Europe enjoys an astonishing cosmopolitan prosperity, in which Mosan artists work in France, Byzantine mosaicists travel to Sicily, and German Ottonians take inspiration from Rome herself. But then (!) a new style, a self-consciously emulative style, is born in Italy and spreads to rest of Europe. This, in turn, provokes responses from Flanders, Germany, and Venice.

We will begin with trying to define what the Middle Ages were. We will trace the various “Renaissances” (Carolingian, Ottonian, 12th Century/Monastic Revival) which took place before the Italian Renaissance. With this as our background, we will be able to consider those innovative aspects of Quattrocento Florence. We will witness the full bloom in the High Renaissance, consider its wane in Mannerism, and deal briefly with the succeeding period of the Baroque. We will then attempt to apply our knowledge to discussions about art in the modern world. Throughout this course, we will be considering a number of sub-themes to be explained on the first day of class.

Student Outcomes

By means of the readings, class discussions, and other coursework, at the end of the semester students will be able to:

  • Identify a great number of artistic works;
  • Categorize those works within their stylistic period and geographical location;
  • To philosophize with a greater ability, being aware of how art serves reason as her handmaiden;
  • To deal with the question of how it is that works composed according to different aesthetic systems can be beautiful
  • To respond to a work of art with confidence and eloquence;
  • Visit Europe, as a pilgrim or tourist, with sensitivity and appreciation;
  • “read” a painting by an Old Master in a gallery;
  • Be prepared to be a sophisticated patron of the arts, for the betterment of the Church.

Required Coursework

To obtain these outcomes, students must:

  • Prepare for class by doing the assignments carefully; this means, not only doing the reading, but also spending ample time (at least 60 seconds per picture) studying, that is, reading, the images in the books. It will be noticed that the “readings” in Hartt are meant to supplement those in Gombrich. Assignments in Hartt, are for looking at images.
  • Attend every class on time, as per the Academic Policies.  If you have missed a class for an excusable reason, you mustspeak with your professor in person (a message conveyed by another student is not sufficient), otherwise the absence will be marked unexcused.  Three unexcused absences will cause a grade to drop one whole letter; for each subsequent absence, by one notch.
  • Participate in class.  The most important measures of your participation will be the class discussions (as labeled on the syllabus) and presentations. The presentations will be 12 to 15 minutes in length (with penalties for temporal aberrations), that is, approximately 7 pages, double-spaced. In your presentation, you will present an artist to the class. This artist will otherwise not be mentioned. Your information will be based on a book the instructor will assign you. Your manner of presentation will be professional, your language elegant, and your visual examples (no fewer than 10) appropriately selected.
  • Write the essay.  The essay will be an elaboration of the presentation. Its main focus will be producing a good “reading” of a work by your artist. If the presentation is meant to supply the general background of the artist, the additional 3 pages will be devoted to reading a work of that artist you found particularly arresting, using your knowledge of the artist’s background and, most importantly ,your comparison of the exemplum with the artist’s other works. In other words, as much as possible, you will let the master guide you in your reading of your exemplum. Especially high marks will be awarded to those who address in their papers the philosophical sub-themes of the course. NB: Four students will not be required to write the final paper. In place of the final paper, they will write and deliver remarks for the final debate. The students who will debate Kandinsky, will be required to present on Antonio Gaudi, the question of the Renaissance, and planning a Renaissance.
  • Write the final examination.  A study guide will be distributed that offers students an opportunity to review the images viewed over the semester. Students will be required to identify 50 artistic pieces, name their creators, styles, and geographical origins. 20 short answer questions will follow, for which students will have to explain the historical significance of the work of art. Finally, one long essay (selected randomly from pre-announced pool) will be written.

Evaluation Process

Three forms of assessment will be used:

  • Class participation, in the form of thoughtful questions and answers, throughout the year but especially in the class discussions, reveals the level of engagement with the reading assignments and topics under discussion (see below for grading criteria);
  • The paper evidences the student’s ability to form the results of the same study and discussions into a well-ordered presentation indicative of a sustained intellectual engagement;
  • A final examination indicates how well students have retained materials from the entire semester and how well they have grasped the unity of the material covered.


The final grade is composed of:

  • Participation—30%
  • Paper—35%
  • Final examination—35%


Class Participation Rubric

By an ‘A’ in class participation is meant that a student is clearly attentive and spontaneously contributes excellent comments that significantly promote the good of the class and allow the instructor to readily assess how well the material is grasped.

By a ‘B’ is meant all the above, but not as consistently or vigorously: the student contributes less often or with less insight, making it more difficult for the instructor to assess how well the material is grasped; the contributions advance the good of the class but not to the same extent.

By a ‘C’ is meant that a student seems attentive but rarely or never speaks unless called upon, yet is able to give a pertinent answer; as a result, his contribution to the good of the class is negligible and the instructor cannot easily assess how well the material is grasped.

By a ‘D’ is meant that a student is barely fulfilling the requirements of class participation: he does not demonstrate attentiveness, is unwilling to offer answers unless called upon, and, when called upon, makes superficial or marginally relevant remarks.

By an ‘F’ is meant that a student fails to show any significant indications of taking class presence and participation seriously.

Plagiarism Statement

While it is normal for students to offer help to each other or to seek help in their studies, particularly in the brainstorming or reviewing stages, it is a different matter when a student does another student’s work for him or copies another’s work.  Plagiarism is an act of intellectual dishonesty; therefore, it is academically unethical and unacceptable to do any of the following:

  • To submit an essay written in whole or in part by another student as if it  were your own, or to copy another student’s homework and submit the work as if it were the product of your own labor;
  • To download an essay from the internet, then quote or paraphrase from it, in whole or in part, without acknowledging the original source;
  • To restate verbatim or paraphrase another author’s work or to reproduce the substance of an author’s argument without acknowledging the source;
  • To take work originally done for one instructor’s assignment and resubmit it to another teacher;
  • To cheat on tests or quizzes through the use of hidden notes, viewing another student’s paper, revealing the answers on your own paper to another student through verbal or textual communication, sign language, or other means of storing and communicating information;

Committing any of these acts of academic dishonesty entails some form of punishment, such as a failing grade for the assignment or quiz, failure in the class as a whole, or even expulsion from this college.

Assignment Schedule


Subject of Lecture

Assignment Due





Why Art? Why Art Criticism?

Read Benton 20-38;


Toward a Visual Definition of Art: Origins

Read Auerbach 11-64; one page response paper: according to Auerbach, What is the Christian contribution to exegeis?; start reading scholarly book (sb)


Carolingian and Ottonian Revivals: The Dark Age?

Benton 39-54; Drawing Assignment #1: Hiberno-Saxon Illumination; (sb)


The Monastic Revival

Benton 55-81; (sb)


No class; Read SB

Benton 82-104; (sb)


No class; Read SB

Benton 149-176; Voragine on St. James; (sb); Panofsky 1-20;


Romanesque Art: a Pilgrimage; student presentation on Antonio Gaudi

Drawing Assignment #2; Panofsky 21-40


Late Romanesque—Introduction to Gothic


Make up class: Panofsky and Generic Exhaustion; student presentation on Chartres


Panofsky 41-88; deadline for reading of scholarly book: schedule appointment with Professor Baxter to discuss presentation


Protohumanism and Duecento Italy

Bruce Cole xv-xxi; Voragine  on Nativity of Virgin;



Drawing Assignment #3: Enrico Scrovegni Project; Vasari’s Lives of Cimabue and Giotto 7-36


Early Renaissance (Part I): Massaccio, Brunelleschi, Alberti, Fra Angelico; student presentation on Renaissance Siena

Gombrich 155-182; Look at Hartt 187-228


Part II; student presentations (1) Donatello and (2) Lucca della Robbia and Lorenzo Ghiberti

Vasari’s Lives of Massaccio, Brunelleschi, and Ghiberti; Look at Hartt 152-186


Part III; Class Discussion: What is a Renaissance? (Led by student presentation)

Lewis Essay; 1 page position paper


Quattrocento Italy (Piero della Francesca and Sandro Botticelli); student presentation on Mantegna

 Gombrich 183-200; Look at Hartt 252-267; 275-289; 327-344


High Renaissance (Part I): Bramante, Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo; student presentation on Palladio

Gombrich 215-246; Look at Hartt 430-478


High Renaissance: Part II

1st half of Vasari’s Life of Michelangelo; Look at Hartt 479-534


High Renaissance: Part III; class discussion: Can you plan for a Renaissance? (2 student presentations)

2nd half of Vasari’s Life of Michelangelso;  Look at Hartt 535-581


Festive Review

Gombrich 273-292


Responses to the High Renaissance: Mannerism and Venice; student presentation on Bellini

Drawing Assignment # 4; Gombrich 247-256; Look at Hartt 582-630


The Northern Renaissance (Part I)

Read Cusanus


The Northern Renaissance: Part II

Gombrich 201-214 and 257-272


Baroque: Wolflin’s Thesis; student presentations on (1) Caravaggio, (2) Bernini, and (3) Borromini

Gombrich 293-314


And then what? Rookmaaker on Modernism; student presentation on Rembrandt and the Italian Renaissance; class discussion: Rookmaaker vs. Gombrich

Gombrich 411-63; 1 page position paper: does Gombrich think modernism is good?


Kandinsky Debate: 4 student presentations

On the Spiritual in Art