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

INSTRUCTOR: Nicole Constantina Paxton
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: TTH 1:30PM 2:45PM

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 Medieval Mediterranean and Western Asia, across a period roughly between AD 400-1400.

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

 This allows the course to ask fundamental questions regarding characteristics, contacts and interchanges of the Latin West, Byzantium, and Islamic worlds 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 medieval worlds.

 The course is organized in four overarching issues, each of which frame a different way to approach the visual arts: Art in context, Media and display, Art as local and global, and Viewing as process. 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 making and analysis of works in this period.

 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 medieval 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 medieval art

- Identify, analyze, and interpret significant aspects and themes in the histories of medieval 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 medieval 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


Visual Analysis1) Image and full caption (list of essential data to identify the work) 2) Visual analysis, maximum 500 words5%
Contextual Analysis and Significance1) Image and full caption 2) Visual analysis, maximum 500 words 3) Context and significance, maximum 500 words10%
Compare and Contrast Analysis1) Images and full captions for the two works 2) Bullet points of main issues in maximum 250 words15%
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 essays25%

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.