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COURSE NAME: "Introduction to Art Historical Thinking"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2020

EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: TTH 9:55-11:15 AM

What questions do art historians ask, and how do they justify their answers? This introductory course introduces basic components of the discipline of art history: its diversity and art-historical language, its technical terminology, and basic research skills. The course discusses different types of approaches and methodologies to analyze and think about visual evidence. It does so by addressing both the history of the study of art and the emergence of the specific discipline of art history, and by considering recent developments.

The course is an engagement with art history as an academic discipline. It will discuss the study of art across the traditional period categories of ancient, medieval, and early modern and modern art. It will consider the historical development of the field as well as some of the directions within the field since the mid-20th century.


The first half of the course follows a chronological framework and considers individuals and methods that informed the field; that is, it structured as a historiographic investigation. The second half of the course is structured around a series of thematic aspects that throw light on current methodological approaches to the study of art across the various period categories.


Throughout, the aim is two-fold: Firstly, to gain insight into the development of the field of Art History: how this was shaped by contemporary historical concerns, and how theories – also from outside the discipline – affected the methodological approaches. Secondly, to gain an awareness of how this was not necessarily a uniform development: how the nature of the material studied conditioned the methods used, and how the perception of this material influenced the questions asked of the material.


The aim of the course is to build up a well-rounded understanding of art historical traditions and the methodologies of the field; that is, the aspects that have formed and hindered the study of art. The course will also provide good insight into current approaches to art historical investigation and the methods being adopted and explored in the 21st century.

Understanding of the historiographical study of Art History as a field
     •   Significant individuals and theories that have shaped the field
     •   The historical and cultural context that shaped these
Understanding of key art historical methodologies
     •   The character of their theoretical/practical basis
     •   Their advantages and limitation
Understanding of material- and period-specific methodologies
     •   The impact of context (material and cultural) for interpretation
     •   The impact of terminology and expectation
Understanding of current approaches
     •   Exploring how the material can frame new research questions
     •   Impact of new finds and findings

Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberCommentsFormatLocal BookstoreOnline Purchase
There is no set text-book for the course -See the list of Set Reading works below - especially D'Alleva 2012, Hatt and Klonk 2006, and Preziosi 2009-All works are available in electronic formats    
Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
A full bibliography for the course will be provided at the start of the course -For bibliographic details of Set Reading works, see below -- 

Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
Further reading suggestions for the course will be provided at the start of the course ---All works are available in electronic formats 
Group-led summaries presented to classEach group will present the argument in a select text pertaining to the previous class. In this way the summaries develop overview of class content, prepare for the midterm exam, and provide training for the critical reviews15%
Midterm examShort answer questions concerning the material discussed in the first half of the course. 20%
Academic participationActive participation in the academic milieu of the class 10%
Three short Critical ReviewsEach critical review will concern the academic argument presented in one article or book chapter. They are designed to assess ability to identify key issues raised by an author and capacity for analysis of the framework or context (methodologies)30%
Paper presentationThe paper is a max. 10-minute presentation (with 3 minutes discussion) to class. It is based on a c. 1500 word critical review and contextual discussion paper related to a particular topic that may be seen as a critical term for Art History 25%

ASuperior work directly addresses the question or problem raised; provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information; demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory; and has an element of originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading beyond the required assignments.
BGood work is highly competent; directly addresses the question or problem raised; demonstrates some ability to critically evaluate theory and concepts and relate them to practice; and discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture and reference material. The work provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments.
CSatisfactory work provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings only; it may have some significant structural flaw, absence of information or research background, or too casual and imprecise a treatment, or contain only a minimum of interpretation.
DPoor work lacks a coherent grasp of the material; fails to support its argument with sufficient evidence; indicates a hasty or unconsidered preparation, and/or fails to fulfill the assignment in some way; omits important information and includes irrelevant points.
FFailure 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. 

Attendance requirements

•   You are expected to participate in all scheduled classes. Absences and late arrival will be noted and may affect your grade.

•   You are expected to have dealt with food, drink and bathroom needs before class.

•   No electronic devices are permitted to be used in class except when specified by the instructor.

•   Make-up work is not offered, except in exceptional circumstances and after consultation with the Dean of Academic Affairs.

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.


Details of further reading suggestions as well as a relevant bibliography for the course will be provided at the start of the semester.

Bibliographic works referred to as Set Reading:

D'Alleva, A. (2012). Methods and Theories of Art History. London, Laurence King Publishing.

Dyson, S.L. (2006) In pursuit of ancient pasts a history of classical archaeology in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Yale University Press.

Haskell, F. and Penny, N. (1982) Taste and the antique: the lure of classical sculpture 1500-1900. Yale University Press. NB85.H34

Hatt, M. and C. Klonk (2006). Art History. A Critical Introduction to its Methods. Manchester, Manchester University Press.

Preziosi, D. (ed.) (2009) The Art of Art History. A Critical Anthology. Oxford University Press: 13-21; 22-26

Rudolph, C. (2019) Introduction. A sense of loss: An overview of the historiography of the Romanesque and Gothic. In C. Rudolph (ed.), A Companion to Medieval Art: Romanesque and Gothic in Northern Europe (2nd ed.): 1-44. Blackwell.


Course schedule

 Please note make-up classes on Friday Oct. 9, Oct. 16 and Nov. 13



Week 1 - Introduction

1. Tues. Sept. 22 Introduction to the course

Core reading       Hatt and Klonk 2006: 1-6 (introduction)


2. Thurs. Sept. 24 Introduction to art historical thinking

Core reading       D'Alleva 2012: 5-10 (thinking about theory); Preziosi 2009: 7-11 (Art History: Making the visible legible)


Part 1: Monocausal approaches / the historiography of art history

Week 2: Art as history (16th-17th cent.)

3. Tues. Sept. 29 The first art historian (Vasari).

Renaissance tools and rules of representation (Alberti, Ripa). Institutions and canon-formation (Zuccari, Félibien, Le Brun).

Set reading: Preziosi 2009: 22-26 (Vasari: Preface to third part)



4. Thurs. Oct. 1 Rules and canons; discovery and invention

Renaissance tools and rules of representation (Alberti, Ripa). Institutions and canon-formation (Zuccari, Félibien, Le Brun). Reformation and Counter reformation; antiquarians and nationalists of medieval art

Set reading: Rudolph 2019: 4-16 (historiography of western Medieval art)


Week 3: Taste and knowledge (18th- early 19th c.)

5. Tues. Oct. 6 The father of classical archaeology: Winckelmann

Art history beyond biography and style. Enlightenment and Grand Tour (collectors and collecting; excavation and restoration)

Set reading: Dyson 2006: 1-6 (Winckelmann; Grand Tour)


6. Thurs. Oct. 8 Grand Tour and art criticism

Enlightenment aesthetics between knowledge and taste (Kant, Diderot); birth of art criticism; subjective vs. objective data (Empiricism, Positivism); history vs context? (Zeitgeist; Historicism).

Set reading: Haskell and Penny 1982: 37-52, 79-91 (early antiquarians, casts and copies)


7. Fri. Oct. 9 Aesthetics: Hegel and Kant / Discussion of critical review format

Aesthetics and sensory knowledge; Hegel (dialectics of history, Zeitgeist and Volksgeist)

Set reading: Hatt and Klonk 2006: 21-38 (Hegel);


Week 4 – Connoisseurs and big systems (late 19th/early 20th cent.)

8. Tues. Oct. 13 International ‘cultural heritage’ – ancient art (19th cent.)

Scientific study of ancient art; art and nationalism (big digs, international academies, and national collections); Greek art, Roman art, and the ancient artist; Furtwängler (Kopienkritik and connoisseurship)

Set reading: Dyson 2006: 157-59 (Furtwängler)


9. Thurs. Oct. 15 Connoisseurship

Photography and academia. Taxonomies / classifications in ancient art (new media, new patrons, new approaches?), Morelli and Beazley (taxonomies of art and artists, connoisseurship)

Set reading: Hatt and Klonk 2006: 40-42, 48-50 (connoisseurship, Morelli)


10. Fri. Oct. 16 International ‘cultural heritage’ – medieval art

19th-early 20th century concepts about the art and architecture of a ‘Middle Age’; western concepts of Islamic art; Nationalism; Collections and Exhibitions; Riegl, Wickhoff, Rivoria, Berenson, Strzygowski

Set reading: D'Alleva 2012: 16-19 (Formalism)


Week 5 – Formalism (late 19th/early 20th cent.)

11. Tues. Oct. 20 Discipline emerges: systematic art history (late 19th/early 20th cent.)

Form and style (Riegl, Wölfflin); compendium of transcultural forms (Warburg); the iconological method (Panofsky)

Set reading: D'Alleva 2012: 16-19 (Formalism); Hatt and Klonk 2006: 65-70 (Formalism)


12. Thurs. Oct. 22 ‘Scientific’ and interpretative strategies: iconography

The ‘birth’ of late antiquity: Riegl's Kunstwollen; concepts about a ‘Middle Age’: Didron, Viollet-le-Duc, Mâle; keys to interpretation: Panofsky

Set reading: D'Alleva 2012: 19-26 (Panofsky); Hatt and Klonk 2006: 96-108 (Panofsky)


Week 6 – Materialist and psychological perspectives (late 19th/early 20th cent.)

13. Tues. Oct. 27 Marxism and psychoanalysis / Midterm exam format

The start of a social history of art; foundations for reception studies; historical canons as psychological expectations (Gombrich)

Set reading: D'Alleva 2012: 48-58, 88-105



14. Thurs. Oct. 29 Mid-term exam

See details posted on Moodle



Part 2: Approaches since 1960s


Week 7 – New Archaeology

15. Tues. Nov. 3 The contextual turn

New Archaeology (Renfrew, (post)processualism and ‘the great divide’); New Art History (the contextual and historical turn); semiotics

Set reading: D'Alleva 2012: 26-36 (semiotics)


16. Thurs. Nov. 5 Style: Reassessing the ancient and medieval ‘canon’

Style as a bearer of meaning / the iconography of style; semantic systems; Kitzinger, Schapiro, Camille, Hölscher

Set reading: Hatt and Klonk 2006: 212-18 (Schapiro, semiotics)


Week 8 – New Art History

17. Tues. Nov. 10 The “New Art History” and the “New French Thought”

Social art history (Hauser to Clark), from structuralism and semiotics (1960s-1980s) to “New French Thought” (Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard in the 1980s and 1990s)

Set reading: D'Alleva 2012: 126-42 (structuralism, poststructuralism, deconstruction)


18. Thurs. Nov. 12 Artistic ‘Evolution’ between Form and Context

Replacing the notions of style and form with teleological definitions of media (Greenberg); the “period eye” (Baxandall); 1960s-1980s


19. Fri. Nov. 13 Feminism(s) and gender studies

Feminism/feminisms, gender and queer studies

Set reading: D'Alleva 2012: 59-67, 68-74 (feminisms and gender)


Week 9 – Contexts of art

20. Tues. Nov. 17 Visual culture and cultural studies: a crisis in the discipline

Post-colonial and race theory

Set reading: D'Alleva 2012: 75-85 (cultural studies, post-colonial theory)


21. Thurs. Nov. 19          Not context but framing

How may art have agency (Gell); Reception studies; Framing; viewing as process, movement as context; actor network theory; code-switching

Set reading: Bal 2002: 74-76 (framing and the matter with context)


Week 10 – Contexts of art

22. Tues. Nov. 24 Museum studies.

History of history of art vs. traditional historiography; self-reflective disciplinary practice; art exhibitions as narratives

Set reading: D'Alleva 2012: 142-50 (postmodernism)


23. Thurs. Nov. 26 To be confirmed


Week 11 – Presentations

24. Tues. Dec. 1 Presentations to class

25. Thurs. Dec. 3 Presentations to class


Week 12 – Presentations

Tues. Dec. 8 No class

26. Thurs. Dec. 10 Presentations to class

27. Dec. 11-14    Presentations to class