Fall 2009

The Monastic Challenge

Listed in: Art and the History of Art, as ARHA-50


Joel M. Upton (Section 01)


This course aims to be a visually and spatially attentive search for the ‘art’ of the monastic and cathedral masterpieces of medieval France. First, by learning how to recognize, define, and respond to the artistic values embodied in several “romanesque” and “gothic” monuments including the Abbeys of Fontenay, Vézelay and Mont St. Michel and the Cathedrals of Laôn, Paris, Chartres, Amiens and Reims, we will try to engage directly (e.g., architecturally and spatially) the human aspiration these structures embody. Secondly, with the help of two literary masterpieces from the period, The Song of Roland and Tristan and Isolde, we will discover that the heart of the “monastic” challenge to our own era is not the common opposition of the medieval and modern worlds, but rather the recognition of the potential diminishment of ‘art’ by an exclusively ratiocinated view of all reality. The tragic love affair of Eloise and Peter Abelard will dramatize a vital existential dilemma too easily forgotten that always (but especially in our time) threatens ‘art,’ human compassion and spirituality. Our goal is to reclaim the poetic potential of the word “cathedral.” Two class meetings per week.

Fall semester.  Professor Upton.


2021-22: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Fall 2011