skip to primary navigationskip to content
 

Part 2 Course Outline

Paper 1.  Approaches to the History of Art, with reference to works of criticism

(Part IIA)

This paper investigates the ways in which art has been written about through its history. It examines the philosophical arguments of classical antiquity; religious debates about images in the Middle Ages; approaches to art and architecture in the Renaissance; the birth of aesthetics in Europe; and the emergence of the history of art as a discipline in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The second half of the course is devoted to more recent developments: twentieth-century contributions to the discipline, such as formalism, iconography and the New Art History; the influence of broader intellectual trends, such as Marxism, Feminism, Psychoanalysis and Postmodernism; and the future of the history of art in a changing academic landscape.

Paper 2.  The Display of Art

(Part IIB)

Spread over two terms, this course explores the relationship between art and its various publics through a study of the ways in which art is collected, displayed and experienced. The Michaelmas Term ('The Birth of the Museum') will focus on the evolution of the Western art museum up to the end of the 19th century. The Lent Term ('The Critique of the Museum') will focus on the 20th century, examining the avant-gardes' radical challenge to the museum and the ways in which the institution changed in response to such critique.

Paper 5/6. Gothic Art and Architecture in France 1100-1300

This special subject examines the exceptionally fertile period of French medieval art and architecture between the era of monastic reform and the end of the building boom at the end of the 13th century.  Starting with Romanesque art in such areas as Normandy and Burgundy, it will examine the major sources of art comment in the 12th century including the writings of St Bernard and Abbot Suger.  The Parisian art milieu c. 1150, including Saint-Denis, will act as a springboard to further consideration of the development of Gothic architecture in northern and eastern France (Notre-Dame, Paris, Laon, Soissons, Chartres, Bourges etc.). Developments in metalwork and portal sculpture will be considered, and also illumination.  High Gothic (Reims, Amiens) will follow, with consideration of the portfolio of Villard d’Honnecourt.  The Parisian milieu will then be returned to with examination of Gothic architecture and ‘scholasticism’, the Sainte-Chapelle and Court art under Louis IX and the emergence of Rayonnant. Issues for discussion will include Gothic sculpture, theology and ‘moralitas’, the reception of French art and architecture in Western Europe more generally, and the of the loss of authority of French architecture to the geographical ‘margins’ from 1300.

Paper 7/8. English Renaissance Art and Architecture

The reigns of Elizabeth I and James I saw an unprecedented flourishing of the visual arts in England. In this era of political and religious instability, English artists and patrons experimented with new forms and motifs, forging a unique and idiosyncratic style.  Yet this was an art full of contradictions: it revelled in a revived medieval chivalry while grappling enthusiastically with classicism, celebrated grandeur in the country house and royal portrait while embracing the intimacy of the portrait miniature.  This special subject will examine the tensions and pluralism of English art ca. 1550-1625, paying close attention to the social and cultural contexts that framed and shaped it.  We will study panel painting and limning, architecture, sculpture, printmaking, the luxury arts, and the court masque alongside the period developments in literature and theatre with which they were imbricated.  The complexities and significance of gender (particularly under Elizabeth), religious confession, and courtly self-fashioning for the arts will be addressed.  Throughout, English art’s relationship to continental models – at the time and in subsequent historiography – will be critically assessed, as will its connection to the idea of Renaissance. 

Paper 9/10. Paris 1750-1800: the birth of the modern art world

Many of the features that characterize the modern art world have their origins in Paris in the years 1750 -1800. They include the birth of the public art gallery, in the Palais du Luxembourg and the Louvre, the rise of a new, articulate middle class public of art lovers, critics and painters, or the development of new venues to discuss art, such as the Salons. The works of Winckelmann were published in French translation immediately after their first appearance in German; the rediscovery of Herculaneum and Pompeï had a great impact on the development of neo-classicism and the new discipline of archaeology; the disputes caused by the rediscovery of Paestum led to radical new assessments of the value of classical art for the present. At the same time, critics, artists and the public were obsessed with the art and art politics of the Grand Siècle. A common theme that links all these developments is the emergence of an educated, articulate public as a main actor in the Paris art world. In this seminar we will investigate how these developments interacted to make Paris around 1750 the place where the modern art world was born; more in particular, we will consider how these, often conflicting, developments manifested themselves around a series of public debates, from the disputes caused by the rediscovery of Paestum and Pompeï to the design of the church of Sainte Geneviève, subsequently the Panthéon; or the debates that surrounded the transformation of the Louvre from a palace for an absent king to the first public museum; the new artists and audiences that met in the Salons; or the debates caused by the publication of Winckelmann’s History of Classical Art.

Paper 11/12.  Italian Art and Architecture in the Age of Giotto

Italy’s artistic culture underwent a revolution in the decades around 1300 – a seismic shift towards more naturalistic modes of representation most strongly associated with Giotto di Bondone (c.1267-1337). This course disentangles the Florentine master from Vasarian myth and modern attribution debates, reassessing his achievements within the context of his own time. We consider Giotto alongside other leading painters (his Florentine compatriot Cimabue and the Sienese Duccio, Simone Martini, and both Lorenzetti) as well as the architect-sculptor Arnolfo di Cambio, setting them against the dynamic backdrop of Tuscany’s burgeoning urban centres (Florence, Siena, Pisa). We explore links between art and literature, especially through the poetry of Dante, and the emergence of pictorial allegory capable of communicating complex philosophical and political concepts. Beyond Tuscany, the course examines several other major artistic centres where Giotto worked: Rome, where the papacy energetically renewed the eternal city’s early Christian past; Assisi, headquarters of the Franciscan Order and site of the peninsula’s most intensive concentration of fresco cycles; Padua, where the university encouraged artists to engage with classical antiquity and the new science of optics; and Naples, whose Angevin kings refashioned their southern capital with Gothic architecture imported from France.

Paper 13/14. The poetics and politics of Surrealism

This course will cover the history of the Surrealist movement from its birth in Paris in 1924 to the dissolution of ‘historical Surrealism’ in 1969. It will focus on the developments of Surrealism during this fascinating period of French history and explore its revolutionary role in art, literature and politics in France in the inter- and post-war years: from its birth in the aftermath of World War I, to its engagement with Marxism and psychoanalysis in the 1930s, to its exile in New York during World War II, to its post-war international exhibitions. Students will be encouraged to examine Surrealist art from a number of thematic perspectives - including desire, mythology, occultism and utopianism, and to generally consider the relationship between Surrealist art and politics (gender, racial and national) so that its successes and failures, and its legacy today, can be critically assessed.

Paper 15/16. Painting and Patronage in Imperial Russia

From the reign of Peter the Great (1682-1725), artistic practice in Russia underwent a period of remarkably accelerated development, complementing the long-standing tradition of icon painting with a wealth of experimentation in secular art. At the same time, the country acquired art collections of international repute, thanks to the activities of patrons as ambitious as Catherine the Great. This course examines the vibrant visual culture which resulted, from the imposing portraits of the eighteenth-century court, to the iconoclastic antics of the pre-Revolutionary avant-garde. By focusing both on painters unfamiliar in the West and on works as canonical as Malevich's Black Square, the course will challenge standard interpretations of the modernist mainstream, and consider the role which Russia played in the wider development of Western European art.

Paper 17/18. Art against the World: Visual Art 1960-Now 

Against the perceived complacency of post-war modernist painting, movements like Pop Art, Fluxus and Conceptual Art renewed the promise of the early 20th century avant-gardes. Again, art was to dismantle or at least resist culturally dominant patterns of thinking and doing. The lectures will critically examine how these ambitions played out over the next 50 years. We will interrogate three ideas that have informed recent artistic production: (1) that art can offer a critique of consumer culture, (2) that it can offer new models for political action, and (3) that it advances its own forms of thought and knowledge. Emphasis will be placed on recent forms such as installation, performance and video, from their beginnings in the American and European context to their apogee in the contemporary, global art world. In recognition of the fluidity of the canon of recent art, students will be especially encouraged to tackle case studies beyond those used in the lectures.

Paper 21/22. From Amateurs to Museums: Collectors, Collections, and Displays of Islamic Art

This course offers a broad examination of the emergence and development of the field of Islamic art from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century. It will begin with an exploration of the rich artistic output of individuals like Owen Jones and Jules Bourgoin whose borrowings of patterns from sites like the Alhambra almost instantaneously sparked global interest in Islamic ornament and architecture. The course will go on to examine the effects of these discoveries on artisanal productions worldwide and their role in major movements such as the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau. It will navigate through the rooms of collectors like Frederic Leighton and Albert Goupil, look closely at the Orientalist oeuvre of artists like Jean-Léon Gérôme and his one-time disciple Osman Hamdi Bey, and cast a critical eye on modern modes of displaying Islamic art in exhibitions and museums. Through these examples, participants will have the opportunity to discuss such concepts as Orientalism and Islamic aniconism and look in depth at the complicated history of archaeology and the circulation of objects that affected the formation of the field. The course will include visits to the Fitzwilliam Museum to study its Islamic art collections onsite.