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COURSE NAME: "Foundations in Ancient Art"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2023

EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: TTH 1:30-2:45 PM

The course addresses the skills, methods and issues essential to building the future Art Historian’s tool kit. To this end, it develops simultaneously on three levels: immersing students in progressively complex assignments and exams; getting students to practice art history as an issue-based analysis of objects; providing students with the historical and methodological frameworks specific to the field. The course lays the foundation for looking at, understanding and working in the visual arts. The material corpus that the course draws on is primarily the Ancient Mediterranean and Near East, across a period roughly between 2500 BC-AD 300.

The course is structured with a fundamentally chronological approach. This provides a framing ‘scaffold’ to facilitate careful engagement with material across a vast time-span, and establishes a ‘global Mediterranean’ approach as investigative practice.

This allows the course to ask fundamental questions regarding the interconnected character of the ancient Mediterranean and Near East – and how this changes over time, as well as to engage with the abundance of theoretical approaches and critical debates that are essential to understanding artistic practices of the ancient worlds.

The course is organized in four overarching issues, each of which frame a different way to approach art and archaeology: Art in Context, Viewing as process, Art as performer, Art as local and global. As well as providing avenues of in-depth analysis pertinent to the works examined, these issues engage with the theoretical approaches and methods that characterize the analysis of ancient art.

Coursework assignments assist in the analysis and research on works. However, their primary objective is the development of skills essential for working with visual material through lenses such as objects, space, viewership, participation, criticism and reception, and across a variety of media and display conditions. The requirements of formal analysis, of contextual and issue-based analysis, of research, and the relationship between these are addressed in assignments that progressively increase in complexity and train students in the attainment and effective application of art-historical techniques and tools.



•       Recognize key works and issues in ancient art

•       Develop an understanding of the chronology and developments of art and material culture within the arch of the timespan of the course

•       Exercise critical thinking while looking, reading, writing and speaking about ancient art

•       Identify, analyze and interpret significant aspects and themes in the histories of ancient of art within different social, historical and critical contexts

•       Evaluate the ways that art is shaped by dynamic social and cultural interactions

•       Recognize and reason about key contributions and approaches to the field of ancient art

•       Formulate an analytical argument and draw out observations on the cultural outlook, norms, and histories that influenced the production, creation and reception of the works under discussion


•       Develop technical vocabulary appropriate to the fields of art history, communication, studio art and, more generally, to our image-based culture

•       Develop an aptitude at visual analysis and the contextualization of works in different critical frameworks

•       Learn to visually analyze works in relation to other genres and other bodies of knowledge — archaeological, political, economic, historical

•       Formulate and develop critical and rigorous arguments, especially through assignments; find and evaluate pertinent, high-quality sources and information.

•       Structure and effectively communicate ideas and information orally and in writing; understand how ideas and information may be conveyed visually

Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberCommentsFormatLocal BookstoreOnline Purchase
Egyptian Art in the Days of the Pharaohs Aldred, C. Thames and Hudson (1980) .N5350.A25 Available on-line via Internet ArchiveEbook  
The Art and Archaeology of Ancient Greece Barringer, J. Cambridge University Press (2014) .N5630.B27  Hard Copy  
The Middle East Bourke, S. Thames and Hudson (2008) .DS62.2.M53 2008 Available online via Internet ArchiveEbook  
A History of Roman Art Tuck, S. Wiley-Blackwell (2015).eBook Ebook  
Mesopotamia. Ancient Art and ArchitectureBahrani, Z.Thames and Hudson (2017).N5370.B28.2017Italian-language version available via Internet ArchiveHard Copy  

Visual Analysis1. image and full caption (list of essential data to identify the work) 2. visual analysis, maximum 500 words 5%
Contextual analysis and significance1. image and full caption 2. visual analysis, maximum 500 words 3. context and significance, maximum 500 words 10%
Compare and contrast analysis1. images and full captions for the two works 2. bullet points of main issues in maximum 250 words 15%
Midterm ExamThree compare and contrast essays. No guiding question is provided 20%
Research paperApproximately 1500 words. Students are free to choose the work they want from the list provided; all works are on display in situ or in museums in Rome. The choice of work and research question must be submitted for Professor approval 25%
Final exam1. One compare and contrast essay. No guiding question is provided 2. Two essays.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 are expected to attend all scheduled classes. Absences and late arrival will be noted and may affect your final grade. Three late arrivals count as an absence; three absences will result in the drop of a letter grade

On-line attendance is permissible only by prior approval. If you join the class on-line you are expected to be present by having your camera on

You are expected to have dealt with food, drink and bathroom needs before class. Please do not leave the classroom except for emergencies.

Use of electronic media (computers, phones, etc.) are not permitted in the class and must be stored in your bag during class time.

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


Absences from class due to the observance of a religious holiday will normally be excused. Students 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.


A major exam (midterm or final) cannot be made up 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.

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.




1. Introduction to the course

Scope, issues and requirements of the course

Reading: Syllabus



2. Ancient art: basic tools

What makes up a work? How do objects work? Approaches to analysis.

Reading: D’Alleva 2004: 23-24





3. The Ancient Near East: an urban revolution?

Temple structures, votive images

Reading: Bahrani 2017: 41-46, 66-73,89-98 (Sumer: architecture, votives/portraits, royal tombs), 113, 125-6 (Akkadians: royal women); Bourke 2008: 58-59, 68-71 (Sumer: context), 84-86 (Akkadia)


4. Pharaonic representation

Old Kingdom Egypt; ruler depiction and spatial presence. Palette of Narner, King Den’s sandal label, pyramids, statues of Khafra, Menkaura

Reading: Aldred 1980: 32-40 (Egypt: Narmer palette, King Den’s sandal label, mastaba tombs), 69-77 (statuary)


5. Visual Analysis / contextual analysis workshop

Tools, approaches and possibilities

Read: Guidelines for Visual / Contextual Analysis assignments – what are the aspects that form part of a visual analysis?

Watch the Khan Academy video – what is included / not included in a visual analysis? Might certain of these fit certain media better than others?


6. Form and space – painting

Bronze Age Cyclades and Crete

Reading: Barringer 2014: 12-39 (Cyclades and Crete)


7. Pharaonic representation – changing the canon?

New Kingdom and Amarna period Egypt. Hatshepsut: statues and funerary complex; Akhenaten, statues, reliefs

Reading: Aldred 1980: 147-63, 172-86





8. Engaging with form and space: Mycenae and Greek world

Myceneans (c 1500-1000 BC): palace structure, architectural space; ceramic approaches. Geometric-period Greece (c. 1000-900 BC): Polis and peer-polities; votive figurines; Lefkandi heroon; ceramic approaches. Uluburun shipwreck

Reading: Barringer 2014: 39-61 (Myceneans), 62-65, 68-72, 89-92 (Iron age, writing, votives)


9. Engaging with form and style: Greek world

Greece and Magna Grecia (c. 800-600 BC). Polis and peer-polities; writing, technologies, myth; Dipylon krater/amphora; votive figurines; Pithekoussai, Temple of Artemis, Corcyra.

Reading: Barringer 2014: 78-89 (temples), 104-23 (pottery, myths, polis), 134-37 (Corcyra)


10. Hegemony and networks: Assyria and Magna Grecia

Archaic Magna Graecia and Greece (c. 600-500 BC); Poseidonia / Paestum (city and temples). Neo-Assyrian Near East (c. 800-500 BC); Palaces of Ashurnasirpal (Nimrud) and Ashurbanipal (Nineveh); royal ideals: palace structure and decoration

Reading: Barringer 2014: 128-40 (Archaic temples); Bourke 2008: 168-77, 186-89, 192-93 (Assyrian empire)


11. Aristocratic elites: Etruria and the Mediterranean

Orientalizing and Archaic Etruria; International trade and exchange of technology; grave goods assemblages; status of women; rock-cut tombs, Caere; Couple sarcophagi, Caere

Reading: Tuck 2015: 21-27 (introduction to Etruscans)


12. Art and social performance: Etruria

Europe: Archaic and Classical Etruria, Latium and Magna Graecia; Painted tombs, Tarquinia; Pyrgi sanctuary; Portonaccio sanctuary, Veii; Temple of Jupiter, Rome

Reading: Tuck 2015: 27-44 (Veii, Rome, Tarquinia), 49-59 (Poseidonia)


13. Form, technique and representation

Archaic Greece; Kouros and kore figures, tyrannicides, experimentation with movement; Black-figure and Red-figure pottery; ‘hekatompedon temple’

Reading: Barringer 2014: 97-104, 149-59 (Geometric sculpture, kouroi)





14. Composite audiences: Persia and Persepolis

Achaemenid Persia (c. 550-330 BC): Persepolis palace and apadana

Reading: Bourke 2008: 216-19, 228-33, 236-7 (Persia, Persepolis), 240-43 (Persian war with Greece)


15. Architecture in view: Athens

Archaic and Classical Greece: Athens: agora and Hephaisteion; acropolis and Parthenon

Reading: Barringer 2014: 225-48 (Acropolis);


16. Review

Discussion of course material in relation to midterm exam


17. Midterm exam


18. Term paper workshop

How to choose a work, define a research question, obtain quality bibliographical sources and start working


19. Peer-polity relations: Pan-Hellenic sanctuaries

Archaic and Classical Greece; Delphi and Olympia; Siphnian and Athenian Treasuries (Delphi), Temple of Zeus (Olympia)

Reading: Barringer 2014: 143-9 (Delphi), 204-14 (Olympia)


20. Sculpture and portraiture: agency and movement

Classical and Hellenistic Greek world; Doryphoros (Polykleitos); Aphrodite of Knidos (Praxiteles); Apoxyomenos (Lysippos); bronze- and stone working technique; Portrait of Alexander the Great; mausoleum of Mausolos

Reading: Barringer 2014: 220-5 (sculptural revolution), 296-9 (nudes), 301-19 (Mausolos, Alexander, Pella); Bourke 2008: 248-65 (Alexander the Great)





21. A Mediterranean koine: Pergamon

Hellenistic Mediterranean 2nd century BC. Pergamon; Great Altar of Zeus; Praeneste: Sanctuary of Fortuna, Nile mosaic; Alexander mosaic, Pompeii

Reading: Barringer 2014: 349-64 (Pergamon); Tuck 2015: 86-88, 95-97 (Praeneste, Pompeii)


22. A Mediterranean koine: Rome

Late Republican Rome, 2nd-1st-century BC. Portico of Metellus; Round Temple by the Tiber; Theatre of Pompey

Reading: Claridge 2010: 239-41, 255-56 (Theatre Pompey, Portico Octavia/Metellus), 285-8 (Round Temple); Tuck 2015: 80-81, 91-94 (Rome, theatre of Pompey)


23. Honorific reciprocity: portraiture

1st-century BC/AD Rome; Veristic and Augustan portraiture; Tivoli general, Prima Porta Augustus;

Reading: Tuck 2015: 108-11, 214-16, 222, 247-51 (portraiture)


24. Princeps and elite: fashioning civic space

1st-century BC/AD Rome and Pompeii; Ara Pacis Augustae and Forum of Augustus, Rome; Building of Eumachia, Pompeii

Reading: Tuck 2015: 114-127 (Ara Pacis, Forum Augustus), 190-94 (Pompeii)


25. Urban space as political consensus

Roman Empire: 1st-3rd century AD. Colosseum, Arch of Titus, Arch of the Argentarii, Baths of Caracalla

Reading: Tuck 2015: 180-85, 201-2 (colosseum, Arch Titus), 287, 341-46 (Severan)


26. Contemporary trends in (ancient) Art History

Reading: Hölscher 2009 (relationship between work, space, viewer); Trimble 2017 (relationships in a work, in space)





27. Review

Discussion of course material in relation to the final exam


28. Review

Discussion of course material in relation to the final exam


29. Final exam

Date, time and place to be announced