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COURSE NAME: "Age of Giotto"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Spring 2021

INSTRUCTOR: Carolyn Smyth
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: TTH 3:00 PM 4:15 PM
PREREQUISITES: Prerequisite: One previous course in Art History or permission of the instructor; mandatory 3-day trip to Florence
OFFICE HOURS: To be announced, and by appointment, remote contact also

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.


Description of the Course


            “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.



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 assigned on the Schedule and supplemented by the Bibliography.


            The readings and research assignments will require bibliography from JStor, other scholarly sources on-line, and reading from JStor and other reputable scholarly sources are of course a must. The student is expected to create a list of needs for research sources in the JCU library, Interlibrary Loan, etc – if scans are required, given in a reasonable time of anticipation. Required and recommended readings for each lesson will be either indicated if on-line sources, or scanned on Moodle for access.


Goals of the Course: 


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. 


Grading Policy and Assessment:


            Attendance and participation: Students are expected to attend all classes, with assigned reading completed. More than two undocumented absences from class will result in a lower letter grade for the final assessment. Active participation and contribution to class discussion, beyond mere attendance, is expected, and a quotient of the grade. On-site visits, the two Saturday trips to Siena and Florence, are an essential part of the course, and not optional. In addition: note-taking is demanded for all classes, including those on-site.



Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
The readings are indicated in the Syllabusand in the ScheduleThere will be a quite detailed list of required, recommended andhelpful research sources.  
Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
Pay attention to the readings already listed int eh ScheduleBasics, but adjustmentsforthcoming.xxxxx  

Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
The reading list is quite specificThis module is not adjusted forour type of course, plusnew exciting readings - occur, and also - Library open to new orders, that is nice! 
Midterm ExaminationThe Assignments need to be contemplated - for remote teaching, and difficulties for deep research, and to adjust for the number of students enrolled. This entry and the below are temporary ideas about assignments, but will include: Midterm, Final. An Oral Presention, brief, for the class, with you the teacher for (depends on number of students) a time in the course. Journal entries based on good reproductions; Critical reviews, and a research paper. More forthcoming!ca. 15
Final Examination 20%
Critical Review (s) - probably 2 ca. 20
JournalOnce an on-site assignment, this will now be acceptable, of course, if done with high.quality reproductions. More instructions to follow. Depending on the health situation, whereas group visits are probably not going to be possible, perhaps one visit per student? (more later, depending)15%
PariticipationNot easy to judge, until some technical issues are resolved. My goal personally as an instructor is to achieve some ability to both show the powerpoint clearly on a shared screen, and also somehow - to have more contact both with students as a group, and individually in informal meetings. Need some instruction, not yet achieved, but hope to have mastery of the remote technology, for you, for the course! more forthcoming.ca. 10%

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.
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