Research Paper

Submitted by (inactive) on Thursday, 3/26/2009, at 12:33 PM

Important dates:                   

1-2 page abstract and bibliography             DUE APRIL 9

First draft                        DUE APRIL 23           

Final draft                        DUE MAY 4

For the paper assignment, select a work of art from the collections of the Isabella Stewart Gardner or the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. You may also choose something from the special exhibition at the MFA, “Titian Tintoretto Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice”. Make sure the work you select is by an Italian artist (or an artist working in Italy) and falls within the parameters of this class (roughly 1300-1600). It can be a painting, a sculpture, a drawing, or any other kind of object. One of the most important aspects of this assignment is that you spent time looking carefully at an object that you have seen personally for the purposes of this assignment. You may not choose something that you saw at an earlier date or in a reproduction. The quality of your writing should make it clear that you have examined the work in person.

While at the museum, give yourself a healthy amount of time (at least 10 minutes) to observe the work from a variety of viewpoints and distances. Focus your skills on analyzing the work's compositional elements and how they combine to convey the subject of the work. Think about the criteria we use in class to analyze a work's purpose or intent and make logical assumptions about the way these aspects reflect the content or message behind the work.

Consider the following issues as they apply:  subject matter, setting, composition, technique, space, form, line (contours, directional, seen and unseen), size and scale, proportion and balance, color, light and shadow, texture, brushstroke and paint handling, pose, gesture, movement, expression, emotion, figure style.  Take notes on its appearance and its various compositional elements (e.g. use of color, line, light and shade, scale, size) and obtain an illustration of the work for later reference. You will need to provide an illustration (in color or black/white) the work in your paper. Think about how the formal characteristics of the work combine to present the subject matter. What can be deduced about the artist's intentions in its presentation of form?


Your paper should be equal parts visual analysis of the work and exploration of its historical context. It is up to you how you organize and balance the visual and historical elements of your paper. Keep in mind, however, that you are not simply describing of the object, but conveying an argument or assessment that you can support by referencing details from the work itself. Your essay should be based on your observations of the work and your words should recreate the appearance of the work for the reader. Do not assume that the reader is familiar with the work in question.


While formulating your approach for the paper, think about the following: 

Every work of art has a story behind its creation and context. Your paper should explore the circumstances of the work's creation, both specific to the work itself and reflective of the broader characteristics of the Renaissance.

Consider the following:

Where does the work fit into the artist's career? Is it typical of his/her work or something different?

How are the facts and interpretations that you discover about the artist and the work supported or refuted by what you see in the art work itself? Stick to solid historical fact and scholarly sources rather than be distracted or romanced by arcane theoretical interpretations. Use the work as your guide when determining which sources or arguments to incorporate into your paper.

What are the themes explored in the work and how might they relate to the artist and his/her time period?

Where does the work fit into the broader spectrum of art historical movements and developments during the Renaissance? How does its style and mode of presentation correlate to or diverge from the prevailing artistic norms of the period in which it was made?

I strongly suggest consulting S. Barnet, A Short Guide to Writing about Art, Chapter 12 before you begin your research. It will save you a lot of wasted time and effort. Also, use the resources made available by the College's librarians. They provide a webpage specifically for research on art that will provide you with credible sources both online and in print (

Make sure you consult both books and articles in your research. I will be suspicious of a paper that cites only online sources, especially those not included in the list of resources provided by the Frost Library website. If you have questions related to research, please contact the reference librarian or me.

Below are a few guidelines to follow for your final paper. Please come see me if you have any questions about the nature of the paper or if you encounter problems. I can only help those who leave enough time before the due date to help themselves.

1. Your paper should be 12- 15 typed pages, double-spaced, and fully illustrated.  Either color or black and white images are acceptable. Illustrations, endnotes and bibliography are not included in the page count.

2. Quality of writing and command of the English language counts toward your grade. I strongly suggest you leave enough time to take your paper to the Writing Center prior to turning it in. Printing out and reading your paper aloud to yourself is also a very efficacious method for detecting grammatical errors and awkward phrasing.

3. Remember to use third person in your paper. This is art historical research, not art criticism or a venue for personal reflection.

4. Be selective about the sources you use for your research. Use your judgment when reading the scholarship; do not simply reiterate someone else’s argument unless you are planning to refute or elaborate upon it. I will be looking for intelligent use of sources, not wholesale repetition or antagonistic nitpicking.

5. Avoid subjective or vague words such as “amazing”, “important”, “beautiful”, “talented”, “impressive”. Every time you use a descriptive word, you should also indicate how and why this terms applies to the work or the artist.

6. Please do not refer to the work of art as a “piece”. It is an “art work”, a “painting” (or sculpture, drawing ,etc.), a “work”, or an “object”.

7. Avoid run-on sentences, poor grammar, spelling errors, and unclear phrasing. Avoid the passive voice and omit needless words. These will all count against your grade.

8. You can use any format to cite your sources, as long as it contains an author's name, the title of the cited work, its publication information, a date, and a page number. Please be consistent in your formatting. Any edition of Kate Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, is a good place to go if you do not have a preferred format in mind. There are several copies in Frost Library. There is also a section on formatting in the Barnet book.

A note about plagiarism: if you use an idea, phrase, or interpretation that is not your own, you must cite your source in a footnote, endnote or parenthetical citation. It is always best to err on the side of caution rather than inadvertently plagiarize. Direct quotations should be used only for primary sources, i.e. the artist's own words, a Renaissance biographer or critic; all secondary sources should be paraphrased.

Your paper must follow all the guidelines indicated on the syllabus. Late papers will not be accepted and you must turn the paper in to the Art Department Office by 4:00 pm on May 4. Please provide a hard copy of your paper; papers sent by email will not be accepted.