In Pursuit of Perfection: The Progress of the Italian Renaissance (ARHA 52-01)

Submitted by (inactive) on Friday, 3/27/2009, at 12:23 PM

This course tracks the emergence and development of the art historical phenomenon of the Italian Renaissance through the lens of progress and perfection. The sixteenth-century biographer and painter Giorgio Vasari organized artists from Giotto to Michelangelo in a trajectory that reflected a progressive improvement toward a sublime perfection embodied in art of the High Renaissance. This course will examine these qualitative concepts through close looking at the works of major Italian Renaissance artists, thoughtful analysis, and the joint consultation of contemporary texts and modern scholarship. Fundamental to this inquiry is humanist reclamation of the achievements of the ancient classical past as the foundation for an increasingly perfect celebration of the human condition in visual form. We will trace the constantly evolving approach to the human figure, the depiction of three-dimensional space, and the visualization of narrative that occur in Italian art and architecture from ca. 1300 to ca. 1550 and concurrently consider the crucial role that patronage from both secular and religious parties played in the forging of the visual arts of the Renaissance. This course will focus primarily on the major artistic centers of Rome, Florence and Venice, but will also take into account the role others cities played on the stage of Renaissance Italy.



Recommended textbooks:

G.Vasari, The Lives of the most excellent painters, sculptors, and architects, trans. Gaston du C. de Vere, ed. Philip Jacks. New York, 2005. [also available as an e-book through Frost Library]

J. Paoletti and G. Radke, Art in Renaissance Italy, 3rd ed., Prentice Hall, 2005.


These books will be on reserve at Frost Library and can be purchased at Amherst Books or online. Weekly assigned readings will be available on e-reserve and/or on reserve at Frost.


Requirements for the course:

30% each exam (2)

30% final research paper

10% class participation


Attendance: Your attendance is essential for success in this class. Repeated absences will adversely affect your grade as the substance of this course is introduced in lectures and discussion rather than in the textbooks. It is your responsibility to plan your schedule so that you can attend class regularly.

Although the majority of this class will be lecture, I do expect you to participate regularly and intelligently. Please come to class prepared. The questions I ask are intended to engender discussion within class.


Readings: The assigned readings (listed below in the class schedule) can be accessed either through the course webpage or borrowed from the reserve desk in Frost library. You are responsible for keeping up with the readings, as they will form the basis for class discussion and portions of the exams.


There are no assigned readings from the Paoletti and Radke textbook, but it contains a helpful glossary, further bibliography, and summaries of most of the works we discuss in class. You may find it helpful to have the book on hand when you study for your exams.


Weekly responses: By email you will need to send, by midnight on the Sunday following the class week, a brief response to something that was discussed in class (a work of art, a theme, a question that remained unanswered) or something from the reading assignment. You are free to choose the subject and length of your responses. The idea is for you to respond to something that interests you in a thoughtful and intelligent way. Your first one will be due by Sunday 1 February. These are not graded but I do read them and keep track of who posts and the quality of the commentary; your grade will suffer if you miss more than one.


Exams: There will be two exams in this class: a midterm and a final. The midterm will be held in class on March 12 and the registrar will schedule the final during exam week. Many of the works will be illustrated in the Paoletti and Radke, but I will also make the powerpoints from class available to you on the course webpage. You will need to know these works for the slide identification portions of the exams, but there will also be essay portions that will draw upon your understanding of the readings assigned and the class lectures. Although the final will not be completely cumulative, there will likely be portions of it that will require you to address themes and concepts that persist throughout the Renaissance period. I will provide more information on the exams as we draw closer to them.

There will be NO make-up exams unless requested by a Dean. Unpreparedness or travel plans are not a valid excuse for missing an exam.


Papers: You have one research paper (12-15 pages; due May 4) for this class and it should be based on a Renaissance painting or object that you select from either the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum or the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Later in the semester, I will distribute information about a class trip to Boston. You may join the class on this trip, or find time on our own to visit the museums in Boston.


There are four steps to the successful completion of this assignment:

1)    You must see the object of your paper in person for the purposes of this assignment. You cannot choose something that you saw at an earlier point in your life or from a reproduction. The paper should include a visual analysis (not just description) of a work of art, as well a consideration of its cultural context.

2)    Submit a 1-2 page abstract of what you plan to explore or accomplish in this paper along with a bibliography of scholarly sources you will use. The abstract and bibliography must be submitted to me by April 9. I expect you to have consulted Sylvan Barnet, A Short Guide to Writing About Art, prior to writing your abstract. There are several copies in Frost Library. This book has very helpful tips and will save you a lot of time and trouble if you consult it before you start your research and writing.

3)    Write a complete first draft. It is your responsibility to schedule a time with me to go over your rough draft by April 23. I can only help those who leave enough time prior to the due date to help themselves.

4)    Revise your rough draft and leave time to have someone else read over your paper (such as a peer who writes well or the Writing Center). Then turn in your paper by 4:00 p.m. on May 4.

I will provide more specifics on the format and content of the paper assignment in class, but here are some standard guidelines to follow for the assignment:

            ~Papers must be typed, double-spaced, and checked for grammar and spelling errors. Papers not appropriately revised will be downgraded.

            ~You must turn in a hard copy of your paper, with illustrations.

            ~ 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.

            ~Use Sylvan Barnet, A Short Guide to Writing About Art (Prentice Hall, 2007), for directions on appropriate formatting for your citations and written language.

            ~Papers are due by the due date and time. I do not accept late papers under any circumstances.

            ~Your development as a writer and a critical thinker is very important. I am happy to discuss your writing—or any other aspect of this course—during office hours or by appointment.





Jan 27/29            Introduction

“Prima maniera:” Cimabue, Duccio, Giotto


·       E. Gombrich, “The Renaissance Conception of Artistic Progress

and its Consequences” in Norm and Form, pp. 1-10

·       J. Ackerman, Style, in Distance Points, pp. 1-22.

·       M. Baxandall, Painting and Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy, Chapter 2: “The Period Eye”

·      Vasari, Preface to the Lives; Life of Giotto


Feb 3/5            Birth of the “Seconda maniera” and the Era of Competition: Brunelleschi and Ghiberti; Early Donatello                                  and Orsanmichele


·       Vasari, Preface to the Second Part; Lives of Ghiberti and Brunelleschi

·       Ghiberti, “Second Commentary,” in C. Gilbert, Italian Art, 1400-1500, pp. 83-88.

·       M. Levey, “Public Competition Among the Artists” in Florence: A Portrait. Cambridge, 1996, pp. 116-153.

·       N. Adams and L. Nussdorfer, “The Italian City, 1400-1600” in The Renaissance from Brunelleschi to Michelangelo: The Representation of Architecture, ed. H. A. Millon. New York, 1997, pp. 205-220.


Feb 10/12            New Developments in Painting: Masaccio, Fra Angelico, Fra Filippo Lippi


·       Vasari, Life of Masaccio

·       L.B. Alberti, “On Painting,” in C. Gilbert, Italian Art 1400‑1500, pp. 51-75.

·       K. Christiansen, “Some Observations on the Brancacci Chapel Frescoes After Their Cleaning,” Burlington Magazine 133 (1991): 4-20.

·       M. Baxandall, Painting and Experience, Chapter 1: “Conditions of Trade”

·       F. Ames-Lewis, “Fra Angelico, Fra Filippo Lippi, and the Early Medici,” in The Early Medici and their Artists, ed. F. Ames-Lewis. London, 1995, pp. 107-24.


Feb 17/19            In Dialogue with Antiquity: Paolo Uccello, Leon Battista Alberti, Andrea del Castagno


·       Vasari, Lives of Paolo Uccello and Andrea del Castagno and Domenico Veneziano

·       J. Ackerman, Imitation” in Antiquity and its Interpreters, eds. A. Payne et al. Cambridge, 2000, pp. 9-16.

·       I. Lavin, On the Sources and Meaning of the Renaissance Portrait Bust” in Looking at Italian Renaissance Sculpture, ed. S. B. McHam, ed., pp. 60-78

·       A.  Grafton, “Panofsky, Alberti and the Ancient World” in Meaning in the Visual Arts: Views from the Outside. A Centennial Commemoration of Erwin Panofsky (1892–1968). Princeton, 1995, pp. 123–30.


Feb 24/26            Catch-up class; NO CLASS on Feb 26th


Mar 3/5            Art in the age of Lorenzo the Magnificent: Sandro Botticelli, the Pollaiuolo brothers, Andrea del                                              Verrocchio, Domenico Ghirlandaio, and later Donatello


·       C. Dempsey, The Portrayal of Love, Introduction, pp. 3-19.

·       A. Butterfield, “At San Lorenzo,” in The Sculptures of Andrea del Verrocchio.  New Haven, 1997, pp. 33-55.

·       S. B. McHam, “Donatello’s Bronze David and Judith as Metaphors of Medici Rule in Florence” Art Bulletin 83 (March 2001): 32-47.

·       A. Wright and P. L. Rubin, “Artists and Workshops,” in Renaissance Florence: The Art of the 1470s, eds. P. L. Rubin and A. Wright. London, 1999, pp. 76-117.


Mar 10/12            Beyond Tuscany: Perugino, Mantegna, Piero della Francesca

Midterm March 12


·       Vasari, Life of Andrea Mantegna

·       E. Welch, “Painting as Performance in the Italian Renaissance Court,” in Artists at Court: Image-Making and Identity, 1300-1550, ed. S. Campbell. Boston, 2004, pp. 19-32.

·       A. Cole, “Arms and Letters: Urbino under Federico da Montefeltro” in Virtue and Magnificence: Art of the Italian Renaissance Courts, pp. 67-90.

·       D. Franklin, “Perugino and the Eclipse of Quattrocento Mannerism” in Painting in Renaissance Florence, pp. 5-18


Mar 17/19            NO CLASS (SPRING BREAK)


March 24/26            The Early Renaissance in Venice: The Bellini, Carpaccio

                                     Women in the Renaissance: The Female Domain


·       P.F. Brown, Art and Life in Renaissance Venice, pp. 9-37.

·       C. Schmidt Arcangeli, “‘Orientalist’ Painting in Venice, 15th-17th Centuries” in Venice and the Islamic World, 828-1797, ed. St. Carboni. New York, 2006, pp. 121-139.

·       Vasari, Life of Properzia de’ Rossi

·       Simons, P. “Women in Frames: The Gaze, the Eye, the Profile in Renaissance Portraiture” in The Expanding Discourse: Feminism and Art History, ed. N. Broude and M. D. Garrard, pp. 39-57.

·      J. M. Musacchio, “Imaginative Conceptions in Renaissance Italy” in Picturing Women in Renaissance and Baroque Italy, ed. G. A. Johnson and S. F. Mathews Grieco. Cambridge, 1997, pp. 42-60.


March 28            Provisional Date for Class Trip to MFA Boston and the Gardener


Mar 31/Apr 2            “Terza Maniera”: Leonardo


·       Vasari, Preface to Part Three, Life of Leonardo

·       D. A. Brown, “Ginevra de’Benci: The Nature of the Portrait,” in Leonardo da Vinci: Origins of a Genius. New Haven and London, 1998, pp. 101-21.

·       M. Kemp,Leonardo da Vinci:  Science and the Poetic Impulse” in  Sixteenth-Century Italian Art, ed. M. Cole. Malden, MA, 2006, pp. 94-114.

·       L. Syson, “Leonardo and Leonardism in Sforza Milan,” in Artists at Court: Image-Making and Identity, 1300-1550, ed. S. Campbell. Boston, 2004, pp. 106-23.


Apr 7/9            Raphael, Bramante, and the Vatican


·       Vasari, Lives of Raphael and Bramante

·       A. Nesselrath, “Raphael and Pope Julius II” in Raphael: from Urbino to Rome, eds. H. Chapman, T. Henry, and C. Plazotta. London, 2004, pp. 281-293.

·       R. Goffen, “Raphael’s Designer Labels: From the Virgin Mary to La Fornarina,” Artibus et Historiae 24, no. 48 (2003): 123-142.

·       I. Campbell, “The New St Peter’s: Basilica or Temple?,” Oxford Art Journal 4 (July 1981): 3-8.


Apr 9                        Abstract and preliminary bibliography for the research paper due


Apr 14/16            Oddballs and Outsiders: Luca Signorelli, Piero di Cosimo, Lorenzo Lotto,

                               and Sofonisba Anguissola



·       D. Geronimus, Piero Cosimo: Visions Beautiful and Strange. New Haven, 2006, pp. 22-33.

·       P. Humphrey, “Lorenzo Lotto: Life and Work” in Lorenzo Lotto: Rediscovered Master of the Renaissance, ed. D. A. Brown, pp. 5-13.

·       J. Reiss, “Signorelli’s ‘Many Portraits’ and the Papal States in 1500” in The Renaissance Antichrist: Luca Signorelli’s Orvieto Frescoes. Princeton, 1995, pp. 66-74.

·       M. D. Garrard, “Here’s Looking at Me: Sofonisa Anguissola and the Problem of the Woman Artist,” Renaissance Quarterly 47 (Autumn 1993): 556-622.


Apr 21/23            Renaissance Venice: Giorgione and Titian


·       Vasari, Lives of Giorgione and Tiziano da Cadore

·       D. Rosand, Painting in Sixteenth-Century Venice. Cambridge, 1997, pp. 1-34

·       R. Goffen, “Titian’s Sacred and Profane Love and Marriage” in The Expanding Discourse: Feminism and Art History, eds. N. Broude and M. D. Garrard, pp. 111-125.

·       S. Campbell, “Giorgione’s ‘Tempest,’ ‘Studiolo’ Culture, and the Renaissance Lucretius,” Renaissance Quarterly 56 (Summer 2003): 299-332.


Apr 23             Rough draft of paper due


Apr 28/30            Michelangelo I


·       Vasari, Life of Michelangelo

·       C. Acidini Luchinat, “Michelangelo and the Medici” in The Medici, Michelangelo and the Art of Late Renaissance Florence, pp. 1-23.

·       S. Levine, “The Location of Michelangelo's David,” Art Bulletin 56
(1974): 31-49.

·       B. Wisch, “Vested Interest: Redressing Jews on Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling,” Artibus et Historiae 24, no. 48 (2003): 143-172.


May 4                        Research Paper due in Art Department Office by 4:00 pm.

                                   No late papers; no exceptions


May 5/7            Michelangelo II


·       J. Paoletti, “Michelangelo’s Masks,” Art Bulletin 74 (September 1992): 423-440.

·       J. Ackerman, Michelangelos Theory of Architecture in The Architecture of Michelangelo. Chicago, 1986, pp. 37-52.

·       W. Wallace, “A Week in the Life of Michelangelo,” in S. McHam, ed., Looking at Italian Renaissance Sculpture, 203-219.



Final exam scheduled by registrar (Exam Week: May 11-15)