JCU Logo


COURSE NAME: "Special Topics in Early Modern Art: The Making of a Capital"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2023

INSTRUCTOR: Laura Foster
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: TH10:00 AM 12:45 PM

Specialized courses offered periodically on specific aspects of the art of the early modern world. Courses are normally research-led topics on an area of current academic concern.
May be taken more than once for credit with different topics.

With its domed churches, its grand squares decorated with fountains, and its monumental palaces, much of what characterizes Rome as a city today was constructed in the early modern era when the papacy occupied a dual role as religious authority and secular ruler. Conscious of its inheritance of an ancient imperial capital, over the course of four centuries individual popes would oversee the construction of a new Christian capital. This course examines the transformation of Rome between the return of the papacy from Avignon in 1421 to its conversion as the capital of the newly united Italian state in 1870. Major works by architects Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Francesco Borromini, and Gian Lorenzo Bernini will be a special focus of study.

The course poses two central questions: 1) What does it mean for a city to look like a capital? 2) How are cities invested in the representation of institutional power? The exploration of these questions regarding the development of early modern Rome requires the direct observation of architectural works and urban spaces, making use of the concept of an urban image. Lectures will meet primarily on site, with walks and site visits that are organized chronologically according to specific periods in city planning and the programs of individual popes. The site visits will include historical explanations of monuments and spaces as well as the analysis of design. Assigned readings provide the historical overview for each period under consideration, while the direct in-depth examination of buildings and urban spaces will stimulate students to investigate the different ideas popes and architects had about giving Rome a new identity as a capital. Through on-site presentations, students will apply skills of architectural and urban analysis using the appropriate technical and historical terminology.

·       the ability to discuss the formal quality of buildings and urban spaces using appropriate architectural terminology

·       an understanding of the early modern period from both aesthetic and historical perspectives grounded in the context of Rome as papal capital.

·       an ability to read the transformation of architecture and urban space through first-hand examination and analysis of historical images.

·       close familiarity with Rome’s historic center and the ability to navigate it using historical and contemporary maps

Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
Rome: An Urban History from Antiquity to the PresentRabun Taylor, Katherine Rinne and Spiro KostofCambridge University Press9781139012911  
The Architecture of MichelangeloJames AckermanPenguin9780140211849NA1123.B9A63 
The Rome of Alexander VII, 1655-1667Richard KrautheimerPrinceton University Press9780691002774NA9204.R7K7 
High Renaissance Art in St. Peter's and the Vatican: An Interpretive GuideGeorge HerseyUniversity of Chicago Press9780226327822N6920.H45 

Test of architectural terminologyNear the beginning of the semester, students will be tested on their knowledge of critical architectural terminology in order to enable the correct formal analysis of buildings. 15%
On-site class presentationStudents will present to the class an analysis of a monument, making use of plans, reconstruction drawings, and historical images (such as engravings) in order to explain the development and transformation of the site.15%
Midterm ExaminationThrough image identifications, short answer questions and short essays, students will demonstrate their ability to recognize monuments, identify their function, and discuss their significance in the time of their construction and in the ways they shaped the urban environment.20%
Research PaperStudents have the opportunity to explore a specific moment in Rome’s development through the examination of either a building or an architectural program, such as those of Popes Sixtus IV, Julius II, Paul III, and Alexander VII. 25%
Final examinationThe format of the exam follows that of the midterm, with the addition of a final essay that is cumulative in its scope.25%

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.
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.


The following schedule is provisional and subject to change. A final syllabus with required readings, meeting points for lectures, and assignment due dates will be available on the course Moodle page before the first day of class.


Week 1. Course introduction and site walk: the medieval city and ancient substructure

The introduction lecture and site walk will offer a vision Rome as it appeared around 1420 through the architecture in the Trastevere neighborhood.  It will examine elements of the ancient infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, that were still in use, and explore sacred sites and pilgrimage paths.

Week 2: Recuperating Rome, from Martin V to Sixtus IV

The lecture looks at projects for the reconstruction of Rome during the 15th-century. Starting in the Borgo neighborhood, the class will study the papacy’s different strategies for repairing roads and encouraging construction. Sites include the Hospital of Santo Spirito in Sassia, Castel S. Angelo and its bridge; via Papale (now via dei Banchi/via del Governo Vecchio) and its palaces.

Week 3: The Cardinal’s Palace

The lecture is a close analysis of Rome’s first monumental palaces, Palazzo Venezia and Palazzo della Cancelleria, examining the ways in which they transformed urban space and served as emblems of ecclesiastical power. Students will study the reformulation of classical architectural principles in the Renaissance and why it became so important to political and religious representation.

Week 4: From Pilgrimage Route to Princely Avenue: Street building around the turn of the 16th century

The lecture focuses on urban planning strategies under Popes Alexander VI and Julius II with their emphases on creating monumental streets and means of connecting lived areas of the city to important pilgrimage sites. Sites to be visited include Villa Farnesina on via della Lungara, Ponte Sisto and via Giulia.

Week 5: The Rebuilding of St. Peter’s

The lecture is an in-depth examination of the site of St. Peter’s and its history, including the problems involved with the design and construction of the new basilica, spanning 120 years and no fewer than five architects.

Week 6: Looking like a Capital: Buildings and Institutional Power

The lecture focuses on three works commissioned by Pope Paul III and the Farnese family: Palazzo Farnese, the Campidoglio and the church Il Gesù. It explores the relationship between the papacy and other institutions in Rome, including the civic government and the Jesuit order.

Week 7:  Midterm examination

Week 8: The New Jerusalem: Restoration of Pilgrimage Sites in the Counter-Reformation

The lecture examines the city’s most important pilgrimage churches and the ways in which they were manipulated between 1580-1730. Churches visited include the Basilica of S. Maria Maggiore, S. Giovanni in Laterano and S. Croce in Gerusalemme.

Week 9: The Divine Path: via Pia and its churches

The lecture analyzes the Quirinal Hill, which had become the primary site of papal residence by 1600, and the monuments associated with this area. This includes Borromini’s Church of S. Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, Bernini’s Church of S. Andrea al Quirinale, and the Quirinal Palace.

Week 10: The Pamphili Forum: Papal Representation and the Uses of Antiquity

The lecture explores the relationship between architectural design and antique references in church and palace building. Sites visited include Piazza Navona, the Church of S. Ivo alla Sapienza, Borromini’s Oratory and the Chiesa Nuova, and Pietro da Cortona’s Church of S. Maria della Pace.

Week 11: The City as Theater: Rome under Pope Alexander VII

The lecture will discuss the building program of Pope Alexander VII. Often described as having had a vision for Rome, the Pope worked closely with architects to realize a unified and monumental city. The topographical focus is on the area around the via del Corso, between Piazza del Popolo and Piazza Colonna, and the surrounding area.

Week 12: Rome of the Grand Tour

The lecture examines the 18th-century transformation of Rome’s identity as a Christian capital. With the strong foreign interest in the city’s ancient monuments and artifacts, and the development of the first era of modern tourism, the city began to adapt to the tastes and demands of a secular clientele rather than pilgrims. The lecture will consider the Spanish steps, an area filled with coffee houses and artists’ studios, the buildings constructed as houses for rent, such as those at Piazza Ignazio, as well as the construction of the Trevi Fountain.

Week 13: Napoleonic Rome and Its Effects

The lecture explores the impact of the Napoleonic occupation of Rome. Though Napoleon’s armies only occupied the city for a relatively short amount of time, the effect of the French government on the city was enormous. A re-examination of Piazza del Popolo will consider its design under Giuseppe Valadier, and the creation of Rome’s first public park on the Pincian Hill, as well as the creation of archeological parks around the Column of Trajan and the Roman Forum.

Week 14: Meeting Modernity: Urban Development between 1820-1870

The lecture discusses a short but turbulent period in Rome’s history. The development of the city was inconsistent during the first half of the 19th century; however, what was constructed formed the basis for the city’s rapid expansion when it was overtaken by Italian armies in 1870. The lecture concentrates on the space between the Quirinal and Esquiline hills, looking at development of the city’s first train station, the creation of Piazza Esedra (now Piazza della Repubblica) and via Nazionale.

Week 15:  Final examination