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COURSE NAME: "Age of Giotto"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2018

INSTRUCTOR: Carolyn Smyth
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: MW 6:00-7:15 PM
PREREQUISITES: Prerequisite: One previous course in Art History or permission of the instructor; mandatory 3-day trip to Florence

This course will address the development of painting, sculpture and architecture in the churches, civic halls, palaces and homes of the great republics and courts of 14th century Italy. The rise of the city states, the new mendicant orders, the visions of Dante and Petrarch, and the brief flourishing of papal Rome encouraged a new interest in nature and human experience which was explored in the beginning of the century by Giotto, Duccio, and others. Around the time of the “Black Death” (1348), painting and sculpture takes on different and often harsher formal qualities and content. Through examination of key monuments and consideration of the social and religious context in which they were created, students will investigate this art-historical moment sometimes called the “proto-Renaissance.” Mandatory field trip may have a fee.

            “No short history of art can give more than an inkling of the rumbustious, ant-heap turmoil of the fourteenth century in Italy. The pullulation of ideas and works of art, the surge and sway of populations, classes, factions, systems, the cost in failure for the glories shining from a seething cut-throat vital age are hard to recapture.” – John White, Art and Architecture in Italy 1250-1300

            This “vital age,” the very brink of the Early Modern period, presents both delight and challenge to the art historian. The accomplishments of artists and architects of the Trecento spring from upheaval and change, and from the world of Petrarch and Dante. This course will address the development of the arts in the churches, civic halls, palaces and homes of the great republics and courts of 14C Italy.

            With the rise of the city states in central Italy, the economic prosperity of the towns, the success of the new mendicant orders, and the brief flourishing of papal Rome in the later 13C,  Italian artists and their patrons began to cast off earlier medieval ways until at the turn of the century, Giotto and Duccio invented a fresh mode of visual representation. Civic pride and wealth gave birth to the great churches and public buildings that still host some of the most remarkable painted and sculptural programs in Italy.

            Centers in southern and northern Italy, throughout the century, were dominated by powerful lords such as the Angevins in Naples and the Visconti in Milan. Here, distinctly courtly styles flourished. The artists and architects of the republic of Venice, long attached to Byzantine models, were beginning to create a rich Gothic tradition of their own.

            Scholars still debate whether the plague (the “Black Death”) of 1348, which decimated over a third of the population of Europe, may have had a direct effect on the shift in Tuscan art to follow, but painting and sculpture after mid-century takes on different forms. A harsher, less naturalistic style might signal a reaction to the mid-century trauma, or be an expressive development at deliberate variance with the more solid and warmly communicative art of the first part of the century – arguments still continue.

            The course will investigate various selected monuments of Trecento Italy through a consideration also of the political, religious, and social context which formed them. We will be reading the often contrasting views of selected scholars in order not only to understand Trecento art, but to examine different art historical approaches and methods as well. Through lecture and discussion, readings, and on-site study, students will be introduced to some of the most significant works of the period, and issues of looking, thinking, and interpretation.

Saturday Visits outside of Rome:

-          One-day visit of Trecento Siena

-          One-day visit of Trecento Florence

Dates to be announced – Entrances paid by JCU; Transport by students


Could students please write me – this summer - at my JCU e-mail address to inform of Saturdays that would NOT be possible? If I can plan the Saturdays BEFORE classes start – that would be convenient for all!



There is no required textbook for the course, since readings will be drawn from a variety of sources – on reserve, and on-line.

Should the student like a useful handbook, just as a back-up for images and basic background, I recommend the still very engaging classic by John White (quoted above): Art and Architecture in Italy 1250-1400 (Pelican History of Art, first edition 1966), New Haven and London, Yale UP, 1993/ 1995 eds. Some of this intelligent study has been superseded by new documents and methods, and White’s stylistic approach is now considered old-fashioned; it however remains worth reading, necessarily accompanied with the more recent texts to be assigned (schedule forthcoming).

            The research assignments will require bibliography and reading beyond on-line investigation. While JStor and other reputable scholarly sources are of course a must, the student is expected to make use of print sources in the JCU library, and also the holdings of the Art History Library (BIASA) in the Palazzo Venezia. A bibliography will be supplied; further discovery of relevant specialized books and articles are required for the research assignments.


Students will be expected to develop, in the course of the semester, the following:

-          A familiarity with period and individual styles of Late Gothic art through a study of major works. Ready recognition of selected works, and knowledge of basic facts related to them.

-          Command of problems of interpretation, in relation to the study of selected works; basic familiarity with subject matter and iconography, function, patronage and purpose.

-          An understanding of different art historical methodologies through reading of a variety of approaches by major scholars in the field.

-          A basic understanding of the historical, political and social context in which Late Gothic art and architecture was produced and in which artists and architects were formed.

-          Development of critical thinking about art and art history through course readings, assignments and class discussion.

-          Improved research skills through use of not simply electronic sources, but also use of print sources in the JCU Library, and several visits to the Art History Library (BIASA) in the Palazzo Venezia.

-          Furthering of writing skills: declaration and development of a clearly stated theme, organization, discussion of distinctive views and approaches, written expression and structure.

-          Furthering of oral communication skills, through class discussion and oral presentation.

Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
Art and Architecture in Italy 1250-1400John WhitePelicanXXXXXXX  
Many More Books Will Appear Here!Forthcoming SOONXXXXXXXXXXXXX  

Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
FOr example: Anne Derbes, Mark SandonaThe Usurer's Heart - Giotto, Scrovegni and the Arena ChapelPenn State UP 2008XXXXXX  
Laura Jacobus Giotto and the Arena ChapelLondon: Harvey Milleron order 2008  
Gulian GardnerGiotto and His PublicsVilla I Tatti, Harvard UP2011  
James StubblebineGiotto: the Arena ChapelAnthology of classic essaysX  
Donal Cooper, Janet Robson The Making of Assisi: The Pope, the Franciscans, and the Painting of the BasilicaON ORDERX  
Joanna CannonReligious Poverty, Visual RichesYale UP2014  
ParticipationParticipation means active involvement in class discussion, engagement in the issues being presented, and contribution to the understanding of the art and the readings under review. (NB: not merely attendance). Students are expected to arrive having completed the assigned readings for each lesson, and with observations, questions, and even points of informed dispute. Attendance is naturally a requirement of the course (see above, "Attendance"), since much material will be presented in lectures and discussion which is not available in the readings. Active participation is not only beneficial for your personal grade, but makes the class more interesting and lively for all of us. 10%
Midterm ExaminationIn class, one hour 10 minutes. You will be asked (Part I) to identify slides, and then (Part II) to write comparative essays on pairs of slides, In addition, (Part III), you will be shown a work probably not familiar to you, to analyze and to compare to known works. A "Monument List" will be given to you in anticipation of the examination, as well as more detailed instructions. 15%
On-site Journal writing, basic research, and short oral presentationThere are several notable Late Gothic works in museums and churches in Rome (an in other nearby cities) for you to examine immediately at the beginning of the course. From a list given to you (or a work approved by the instructor), study two works of painting, mosaic, sculpture, minor arts or architecture from our period (ca. 1260-1400) that can be examined on-site, in person, in a formal analysis. This should be done in a notebook that you will also carry to the Saturday visits to Siena and Florence. 1) 5%: Examine each work on-site and write several pages of art-historical observations - analysis and questions. Though your "on the spot" writing will be informal, your looking and thinking should be engaged. 2) Pick one of the two works and perform basic research on the work - using not only internet, but bibliography from real books in the JCU library, as well as scholarly on-line articles relating to your object. You should be conversant with at least four specialized articles, catalogue entries, book chapters, etc. by reputable authorities in the field, in order to understand basic facts and controversies concerning: artist / date / patron / iconography. Submit bibliography at the time of the mini-presentation (3, below) 3) Now that you have examined the work in person carefully, taking notes on it (and gone back to do this again), and done some basic research: write a one-page formal analysis of the work (two or three healthy paragraphs). Emphasis here is on Seeing - and communicating what you see, in solid accurate descriptive prose - a visual description informed by some knowledge of the work (informed by above reading). This will be read to the class from your short written text, with an image of the work in a simple power-point (details, comparative works, kept to a minimum) This presentation should not go beyond five minutes. Discussion: 10 minutes or more. 15%
Critical Review of a Scholarly TextYou will receive a list of possible texts for this assignment - in the course bibliography (more extensive one to be received first day of class), or may analyze a text found on your own, and approved by the professor. Write a dense and succinct page and a half review of the article, catalogue essay, or book chapter, assessing the approach, methods, evidence employed, scholarly context, etc. of the author and findings. More (as above) guidelines forthcoming. 10%
Big Research Project: Research Diary, Oral Presentation, PaperThis is your Magnum Opus for the course. (Translation: "Art Historians Got Talent!") and should be conceived and commenced absolutely in the second week of the semester - no exceptions! And continued each week, gradually but with intense dedication, throughout the Fall, with visits to me (and also colleagues) and libraries and other interesting places. This truly vibrant assignment is so crucial for each student and for the exciting exchanges we will enjoy - for our inquiry of art of this period - and for learning about friars, papal banking politics, plague, civic order and disorder, concepts of government, ideals of beauty, the efficacy of saints, images of heaven and hell, what palaces and kitchens might have looked like - and about Late Medieval concepts and images of holiness and money, even of music, women and wine.... That you will have to wait until the class to know the details of the semester-long project that awaits you. Just for now: Grade will be divided between: 1) Research excellence 2) Quality of Oral Presentation for Contribution to Class 3) 8-10 page paper30%
Final ExaminationThe first part of the Final Examination will replicate the format of the Midterm: Fart I) Identifications (only those after the Midterm) DO NOTE that the rest of the examination is cumulative, covering material from the entire semester: Part II) Again, two pairs of slides in two separate comparative essay questions Part III) One or maybe two "unknowns," see above. The last hour of the examination will consist of an essay concerning a overarching theme, a question that calls into play a major historical/visual current of our period, close to the heart of the discussions and readings for the semester. Possibilities for this essay: a choice of three; or perhaps, one essay question given in advance, for anticipatory preparation, but written in the last hour of the exam period without notes. 20%

AWork of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading beyond that required for the course.
BThis is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised.There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluatetheory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture andreference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments.
CThis is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
DThis level of performances demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material.Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included.In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.

You cannot make-up a major exam (midterm or final) without the permission of the Dean’s Office. The Dean’s Office will grant such permission only when the absence was caused by a serious impediment, such as a documented illness, hospitalization or death in the immediate family (in which you must attend the funeral) or other situations of similar gravity. Absences due to other meaningful conflicts, such as job interviews, family celebrations, travel difficulties, student misunderstandings or personal convenience, will not be excused. Students who will be absent from a major exam must notify the Dean’s Office prior to that exam. Absences from class due to the observance of a religious holiday will normally be excused. Individual students who will have to miss class to observe a religious holiday should notify the instructor by the end of the Add/Drop period to make prior arrangements for making up any work that will be missed. The final exam period runs until December 14.
As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.


Schedule Forthcoming Very Soon!