Christian medieval art includes as a particularly important category the priceless ‘sacred’ treasures that were once housed in the strong-rooms of cathedrals and are now equally prized possessions of the world’s great museums. Golden chalices and crosses, finely embroidered vestments and altar-cloths, gem-encrusted reliquaries, gold-ground panel paintings and brightly illuminated liturgical books are all unified by an emphasis on intricacy, splendour and magnificence. This course investigates the medieval understanding of ‘art’ by exploring some of the world’s most stupendous medieval artefacts, such as the fourteenth-century Syon Cope, a magnificent example of English embroidery known as ‘opus anglicanum’ (V&A); the so-called ‘Suger Chalice’, a 12th-century golden vessel decorated with precious gems (National Gallery of Art, Washington), or the ‘Lothair Cross’ from about 1000 AD (Aachen Cathedral Treasury). These wondrous objects are endowed with a complex symbolism that is conveyed by material, colour, form and iconography. Medieval art works are often categorized in terms of date and style. Instead, in this course, we shall attempt to see such works through medieval eyes and to understand what they meant to the people for whom they were first made. We shall focus on how they were used and displayed, in liturgical contexts of mass and processions and in other rituals, and how they were preserved in specially constructed, exclusive strong-rooms. Course visits will include the Temple Church, the Victoria & Albert Museum, and Westminster Abbey.
This course examines the art of the Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites and other mendicant friars from c.1230 to c.1480, a period of 250 years during which the cities of Italy – among the largest and most prosperous in Europe – were transformed by the emergence of these new religious orders. The enthusiastic response at all levels of society to such charismatic figures as Saints Francis and Dominic created an unprecedented demand for painting, sculpture and architecture, often of a radically new kind. The churches built to house the friars and their growing congregations in Assisi, Florence, Siena and the other cities of central Italy were adorned with frescoes, altarpieces, tomb monuments and devotional icons that presented holy figures and the stories of their lives in ways designed to engage the emotions and to convince through realism. Artists such as Duccio, Giotto, Masaccio, Fra Angelico and Piero della Francesca responded to the challenges by inventing new ways of representing form, light and space, expanding the language of artistic expression. The course, which includes visits to the National Gallery and the Victoria & Albert Museum, is devoted to discovering how and why so many innovative and magnificent works of art came to be created for friars and nuns committed to lives of poverty.
By the 1540s Venice was undergoing revolutions occasioned by the spread of printing, and by religious dissent. In the company of the Florentine sculptor and architect Jacopo Sansovino and the critic, Pietro Aretino, Titian, who had been court painter to the Hapsburgs since the 1530s, dominated the local scene. Into this established order erupted the stupendously gifted Jacopo Tintoretto, followed by the golden boy of the Venetian elite, Paolo Veronese. As the Roman Inquisition clamped down on religious dissent, information nonetheless flourished through the press and visual ideas from the North spread beyond the Alps; Central Italy and Emilia inflected the native visual tradition towards what we now call ‘Mannerism’. Artists of the mannered grace of Andrea Schiavone competed in a city full of rival currents, some imported from the Venetian mainland, others from Islam. When the plague struck Venice catastrophically in 1576, profound responses were created by Tintoretto in the Scuola Grande of San Rocco, by Titian in his final Pietà, and by Andrea Palladio in his church of the Redentore. Emerging into a new world, Venice lost its political significance but created a final burst of visual energy that still burns brightly today. Course visits include the National Gallery and the British Museum’s print room.
The Protestant Reformation caused unprecedented religious upheaval in the history of Western Christianity. The visual arts in particular had to take on a new role. Protestants condemned the cult of veneration through relics and images, rejecting the appeal to emotion and the senses, and promoting the faculty of reason in receiving the Word of God instead. Early on, however, Martin Luther understood that visual displays had great didactic potential for many illiterate contemporaries and he set out to develop a Reformatory iconographic programme which eventually extended to altars, pulpits, galleries, epitaphs and liturgical devices. The Council of Trent (1545-1563) formulated the Catholic Church’s response to the challenge of Protestant Reformation. Every aspect of religious and devotional practice was reviewed, including the agency of art and architecture, and the role of the senses in inciting devotion and compassion became a central issue. In its attempt to win back the faithful, the Catholic Church embraced the sensuous, emphasising that art should be compelling in its narrative.
In class sessions and visits to the National Gallery and other London collections, we shall track this twin development, highlighting the fundamental and far-reaching artistic and theological differences between Catholicism and Protestantism at the time.
This course focuses on depictions of non-European places and cultures by European artists during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Trade, colonialism and exploration led to the ‘discovery’ of unfamiliar societies, natural environments, objects and materials that fascinated audiences at home. Paintings, prints, book illustrations, maps and luxury furnishings brought these novelties to a wider audience. Despite being shaped by a Eurocentric outlook, such works often express complex attitudes towards the foreign. ‘Exotic’ figures and animals appear in the work of major artists such as Titian, Dürer and van Dyck, where they often play an important role in the formation of European identities. Colonial artists working in parts of the Americas produced visual materials that span the modern divide between aesthetic, religious, scientific and promotional images. Asian civilizations and products were highly regarded for their sophistication and technological prowess, as shown by how they are visualised in allegories of the Continents, in still life paintings, and in popular travel books. Foreign images also inspired new work by artists who did not venture beyond Europe, as in the case of the group of late Rembrandt drawings which respond to Mughal miniature paintings. Slavery represents the dark side of this story, one that has left its mark in the art-historical record. The course will include visits to several London collections.
In the context of WWII and the Holocaust, Nazi officials perpetrated a coordinated programme of art and cultural property dispossession; one of the greatest thefts in history. Hundreds of thousands of objects remain missing or unrecovered by their rightful owners.
We shall begin with an exploration of Nazi cultural ideology, the purge of modern art as ‘degenerate’, and the sponsorship of a ‘pure’ and ‘Aryan’ art that was widely used for propaganda purposes. We shall then focus on the systematic looting by the National Socialist regime across Europe, between 1933-1945, and the plunder of Jewish collections as a particular mechanism of persecution. We shall discuss military spoliation, the post-war Allied investigation and recovery efforts, including the work of ‘The Monuments Men’ and the wider ethical and legal dimensions of restitution claims faced by the art world today.
The course introduces fundamental principles and methods of researching the history of ownership, transfer and exhibition, or provenance, of an artwork, a practice as essential to Nazi-era art- historical research as it is to wider curatorial practice. Through a discussion of case studies, and object examinations in a museum setting, participants will also approach questions of contemporary display and interpretation related to these complex historic narratives. Visits may include The Imperial War Museum, The Ben Uri Gallery and The Wiener Library.
1971-1995 saw radical changes in American society and culture: the rise of identity politics led to the consolidation of Second Wave Feminism; neoliberalism took consumer culture to new heights of excess; an explosion in underground music and club culture was cut short by the AIDS crisis; Hollywood saw the rise and fall of a period of maverick-driven artistic freedom. Focusing on New York City and Southern California, we shall investigate these turbulent decades through three key, enduring American contemporary art practices: Conceptualism, Appropriation and Performance.
Conceptual Art will be examined in the work of Vito Acconci, Hans Hacke, Jenny Holzer and the influential exhibition ‘Projects: Pier 18’ in New York (1971). We shall investigate Appropriation through Andy Warhol and artists – like Cindy Sherman – associated with ‘The Pictures Generation’, a group unified by their use of pre-existing images and the influence of mass media on their work. Performance Art in America will be explored with special attention to Californians Chris Burden and Paul McCarthy and the New York-based David Hammons. Finally, we shall look at CalArts, an influential Californian art school many of whose alumni continued to use Conceptualism, Appropriation and Performance into the 1990s and beyond. Visits include the Tate Modern major retrospective of Andy Warhol; Tate Modern’s permanent collection and other relevant exhibitions.
This course examines the intersections between Brazilian dress, visual culture – film, art and photography – and national identity, looking at a fascinating set of case studies that include Oswald de Andrade’s Cannibalist Manifesto (1928), Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras (1930) and Genevieve Naylor’s Brazil Photographs (1940-42). Brazil encapsulates many of the tensions between the ‘Western’ and the ‘non-Western’, the ‘European’ and the so-called ‘foreign’. In the words of anthropologist Roberto DaMatta, Brazilian culture constitutes ‘a unique site in which Western culture has mixed and mingled with non-Western cultures for centuries’.
This course examines Brazilian culture at a crucial point in history, using it as a starting point to explore global preoccupations with modernity, image-making and nation building. As a major player within Latin America, Brazil casts doubt upon simplistic assertions of US cultural imperialism, and complicates geographical distinctions between the West and ‘the rest’. Brazilian culture has often refashioned European art, ideas and goods to suit national needs. Brazil therefore provides an extremely useful model for thinking about the characteristics of a contemporary multicultural society.
This course includes trips to the Royal Anthropological Society, the Wellcome Collection, and the Victoria & Albert Museum’s print room.