Online course: Making Sense of Ideas on Art: A Beginner’s Course in Art Theory - The Courtauld Institute of Art

Making Sense of Ideas on Art: A Beginner’s Course in Art Theory, c. 1790-c.2000

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Making Sense of...

Making Sense of Ideas on Art: A Beginner’s Course in Art Theory, c. 1790 – c.2000


Spring and Autumn Courses Online Courses

Making Sense of Ideas on Art: A Beginner’s Course in Art Theory, c. 1790-c.2000

Making Sense of…

Making Sense of Ideas on Art: A Beginner’s Course in Art Theory, c. 1790 – c.2000

Dr Matthias Vollmer

Delivered online

Monday 19 – Friday 23 April 2021

This course has now finished



A woman reads in a study and an angel stands to her left.

Detail of: Workshop of Robert Campin, Annunciation Triptych (Merode Altarpiece), c. 1427-32, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Course Description

This intensive, introductory course is designed for everyone with an interest in art theory.

Philosophical theories on the nature, characteristics and function of art, and more narrowly, on beauty, have been very influential in the development of art history and in the ways we have interpreted, and sometimes also made, images. The names of their authors crop up time and again in art–historical texts – Immanuel Kant and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, among others – but for all their impact, the theories of these philosophers are not always well or widely understood. From the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, art history came into its own as a serious academic discipline and influential art historians like Heinrich Wölfflin, Aby Warburg, Erwin Panofsky and Ernst Gombrich developed their own approaches to the study of art. Charles Sanders Peirce’s semiotic reading of visual signs was stimulating and influential for art and art theory. A more recent approach is represented by W.J.T. Mitchell´s 1992 ‘pictorial turn’ in the humanities, registering a renewed interest in, and prevalence of, images in a so–called ‘age of simulation’, with its extensive and increasingly diverse visual culture. Bildgeschichte (the history of the image) is a more recent form of German art history and focuses primarily on meaning, message and composition, not as an end in itself, but in pursuit of the image as a vehicle by which political and social power is enacted and disseminated. Art historians Hans Belting and Horst Bredekamp have extended the scope of their studies to investigate a much greater range of visual material and the contexts of its production, proposing a Bildwissenschaft (the study of images) with a complex relationship to the older, institutionally more secure discipline of art history.

This course offers a thorough but accessible investigation of the influence of these important thinkers on art–historical writings and on the making of art from the 18th to the 20th centuries.

Day 1: Aesthetics and ‘Genius’: Kant and Hegel

Day 2: The Emergence of Art History and Psychology: Wölfflin, Warburg and Jung

Day 3: Subject–Matter, Artist, And Sign: Panofsky, Gombrich, Semiotics

Day 4: The ‘Pictorial Turn’ And The Nature of Images: W.J.T. Mitchell, Hans Belting and Horst Bredekamp


Lecturer’s Biography

Dr Matthias Vollmer is Adjunct Professor at the Freie Universität Berlin European Studies Programme. He studied art history, philosophy and orientalism at the Freie Universität Berlin and wrote his PhD thesis on medieval book illustration. Matthias teaches interdisciplinary seminars on medieval and Renaissance art, as well as courses on modern art at the Freie Universität Berlin, the Universität der Künste Berlin, the Universität Münster and the Universität Frankfurt. He currently researches the principles of visualisation in art and science.

Online delivery

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Other courses at The Courtauld

If you would like to deepen your art-historical knowledge in areas central to these Spring School courses, we recommend the following:

On the relationship between ideas and visual art: Summer School course 30,Words and Images: The Power of Faith in the Age of Reformation and Counter-Reformation, with Dr Matthias Vollmer

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