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COURSE NAME: "Early Italian Renaissance Art"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Spring 2019

INSTRUCTOR: Carolyn Smyth
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: TTH 11:30-12:45 PM
PREREQUISITES: Partially on-site; mandatory 3-day trip to Florence

The first half of a two-part study of art and architecture in central Italy (Rome, Florence, and Siena) covering the period from the 14th to the mid-15th century. While attention is given to the ambience from which Giotto developed in the Trecento, and to the International Gothic style at the turn of the Quattrocento, major consideration is given to the momentous changes brought about in the first half of the Quattrocento by Brunelleschi, Alberti, Donatello, Ghiberti, Masaccio, and others. Numerous on-site visits in Rome and a trip to Florence are an essential part of the course. Mandatory  field trip may require fees.

            In Early Renaissance Italy, a new type of art emerged that was to change the concept of looking and representation, and the relationships between artist and patron, viewer and artwork. Beginning with the revolutionary vision of such artists and architects as Donatello, Ghiberti, Masaccio and Brunelleschi in the early 15thC, and concluding with the flourishing of art and architecture in Florence under Cosimo de’Medici, this course will investigate the culture and accomplishments of a period of creativity which lay the critical groundwork for Western art until the later 19thC.


            A basically chronological exploration of works of painting, sculpture and architecture in, especially, Florence, Siena and Rome will present a consideration of major art historical issues concerning this period. Students should gain familiarity not only with the selected artworks themselves, but also with the historical, religious and social context in which they were produced, and debates concerning style, patronage, function, iconography and meaning. Other topics will include art and the role of women, family identity, monastic life, the miraculous image, and other recent fields of inquiry.


Investigation will include: the Renaissance “rediscovery” and reinterpretation of antiquity; the relationship of humanist study to art;  the social and economic structures of art patronage; observation of nature and artistic convention; narrative and “istoria”; the effects of religious thought and practice on the devotional image; portraiture and social identity; civic pride and self-imaging in Florentine art; the “renovatio” of Rome under the Quattrocento popes; perspective as science and as symbolic space.


            An important aspect of the course will be on-site study, in Rome (for your Journals) and, especially, in Florence.  These experiences will give students the opportunity to examine works of the Early Renaissance in person, and often in their original context. Though the “start-up” of the Renaissance was slow in Rome, and few monuments from the early 15C survive, you will be visiting museums and sites relevant for the course as well.


Textbook and Readings:


Frederick Hartt and David Wilkins, History of Renaissance Art. Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, Lawrence King Publishing, 2011, 7th ed.

Several supplementary readings will be required for each lesson, including writings from Renaissance sources such as Alberti and Vasari, plus selections chosen from the work of a variety of modern scholars, to introduce you to some different methods, views and approaches. Recommended articles and book chapters will also be suggested.


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


-       A familiarity with period and individual styles of Late Gothic and Early Renaissance art through a study of major works. Ready recognition of selected works, and knowledge of relevant factual information. 


-      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 and views of the period through selected readings by major scholars in the field 


-       A familiarity with some contemporary sources and writings on Early Renaissance art. 


-       A basic understanding of the historical, political and social context in which this 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 the JCU library (and ideally, others in Rome), Jstor, and use of bibliographical sources, published and electronic.


-      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.

Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
History of Italian Renaissance ArtFrederick Hartt and David WilkinsPearson Prentice HallXXXXXXX  
Italian Renaissance ArtStephen Campbell and Michael ColeThames and HudsonN6915.C35  
Painting and Experience in 15C ItalyMichael BaxandallOxford ND615.B32  
The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and Modern OblivionLeo SteinbergChicago UPN8050.S74  
The Renaissance in RomeCharles StingerIndiana UPDG812.1.S75  
Cosimo de'Medici and the Florentine RenaissanceDale KentYale UP 2000NX701.2M43K46  
Engaging Symbols; Gender, Politics and Public Art in 15C FlorenceAdrian RandolphYale UP 2002N6921.F7R32 2002  
The Miraculous Image in Renaissance FlorenceMegan HolmesYale UPN7952.F57 H652013  
And more titlesof Required Reading andSuggested Readingare Forthcoming  

Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
Fra Filippo Lippi the Carmelite PainterMegan HolmesYale UP 1999ND623.L7H65  
FlorenceFrancis Ames-Lewis, ed.Cambridge UP 2012N6921.F7 F692012  
Only Connect. Art and the Spectator in the Italian RenaissanceJohn ShearmanPrinceton UP 1992N6915.S54  
Fra Angelico at S. MarcoWilliam HoodYale UPND623F5H66  
Midterm examination 15% (percentages may be adjusted in next version!)
final examination 25%
Oral Research Presentation 20%
Research Summary of 3 Sources (previous to Presentation) 10%
Participation 15%
JournalVisual analyses to be written on-site, in a notebook, on works of Early Renaissance art studied in Rome and other locations.15%

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 ____________
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.


Sequence of Classes


A specific schedule is forthcoming; due the double class period, several sections below will, of course, be combined in one class.

TBA: Due dates of assignments, examinations, Florence trip; additional readings


I)  Introduction


II)  Art in Italy in the 14C. 

Byzantine, Gothic, Antique currents and changing attitudes to nature in painting, sculpture and architecture. The rise of the mendicant orders and a new emphasis on the substance of the eucharist brought changes to ways of representing religious subjects.

Reading: Hartt and Wilkins


III)  Late Gothic painting in Tuscany, especially Florence: elaboration and reaction to Giotto’s heritage; theories on the influence (or not) of the Black Death on art

Reading: HW,  Chapter 5, pp 137-148

              Millard Meiss, Painting in Florence and Siena after the Black Death, Chapter I, “The New Form and Content”

            Recommended: Maginnis, Chapter VIII: The Mid-Century and the Mannered Style         

IV) Brunelleschi: Antique and medieval models, rationality and measure, and the synthesis toward a new ideal of architecture

Reading: HW, Chapter 6

The Cupola of Florence Cathedral; The development of one-point perspective.

Readings – Vasari, “Life of Brunelleschi” in Lives of the Artists

              Recommended: Ross King, Brunelleschi’s Dome (readable account of the construction of the cupola, though extremely dependent on an earlier, more scholarly publication!)


V) – Sculpture in Early 15thC Florence: politics, society and public art projects; the competition panels for the Baptistery Doors; Ghiberti’s reliefs for the North Doors of the Baptistery

Works for the Cathedral and Orsanmichele; Ghiberti, Nanni di Banco, and early Donatello

Continuation of discussion of public sculpture in Florence and notions of civic identity; discussion of Vasari’s conception of art history

Reading: HW, Chapter 7 

             Accounts of the Competition by Renaissance writers, in Krautheimer, Lorenzo Ghiberti

             Vasari, Preface II


VI) – Introduction to new trends in Renaissance painting: Gentile da Fabriano and the courtly style; Masaccio’s style of imposing simplicity; concepts of “naturalism” in early 15thC Florence; two currents of naturalism in Florence and elsewhere.

Fra Angelico: painting and piety in the work of a Domenican artist; Altarpieces; his work at S. Marco


Readings: HW, Chapters 8 and 9 

                Steinberg, Sexuality of Christ, selections

               Recommended: Keith Christianson, Gentile da Fabriano, chapter on the Adoration of the Magi

 Recommended: William Hood, Fra Angelico at S. Marco


VII) – Fra Filippo Lippi, iconographical invention and stylistic elaboration

Reading:  Baxandall, Painting and Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy

                Chapter II, “The Period Eye,” pp 29-108 

                Vasari, Lives of Fra Angelico and Fra Filippo Lippi

Recommended: Megan Holmes, Fra Filippo Lippi the Carmelite Painter, selections



VIII)  – Leon Battista Alberti. Humanism and the theory of art and architecture: Perspective and “istoria;” Ghiberti’s “Gates of Paradise”

Alberti’s architecture: Architectural theory and practice

Reading: HW, Chapter 10 

               Alberti, On Painting, selection

              John Summerson, The Classical Language of Architecture, pp 7-20




The Papacy established in Rome: Florentine artists and first Renaissance developments in the renovation of the papal city in the early 15thC

Art and Architecture in early Quattrocento Rome

Reading: Loren Partridge, The Renaissance in Rome 1400-1600, 1996, selections: Chapter One – to p 24; Chapter Two – 46-79; Chapter Three – 61-68; Chapter Four – 79-83; Chapter Five – 110-115

               Recommended: Meredith Gill, “The 14th and 15thCenturies,”in M. Hall, ed., Rome

              Stinger, The Renaissance in Rome, Chapter II, esp. pp 49-79


X) – The later work of Donatello in Florence and Padua. Tomb sculpture and funerary chapels in mid-15thC Florence. 

Reading: HW, Chapter 12, pp 299-311

             Recommended:  Start reading Kent, below


XI) – Paolo Uccello, Domenico Veneziano,  Andrea del Castagno: “La dolce prospettiva”- spatial formula, ambiguities, and manipulations; devotion and diversion. Medici Patronage examined. Civic responsibility or propaganda in building projects, sculpture and painting commissions.

Reading: HW, Chapter 11, pp 265-281

               Recommended: Dale Kent, Cosimo de’Medici and the Florentine Renaissance, Chapter XI, pp 217-238;  Chapter XII, pp 239-291 


XII) – Piero della Francesca: Ideal geometry and problems of interpretation. The frescoes of the Legend of the True Cross in Arezzo

Readings: HW, Chapter 11, pp 281 - 297

                 Verdon, “The Spiritual World of Piero’s Art,”in Cambridge Companion to Piero della  Francesca

                 Recommended: Jeraldyne Wood, chapter on Legend of the True Crossin Cambridge Companion to Piero della Francesca