What you will study
The module is organised chronologically, beginning around 1100 and extending over the period up to the present day. This long time span is broken down into three sections, each of which corresponds to one of the module books. Each book deals with prominent themes in the study of art and visual culture during the period in question. These books are supported by a variety of online materials, audio and video resources, and a module reader containing important primary and secondary sources.
Beginning with the early medieval period, the module starts in a time before the category of art existed in the way we understand it today. At this point there was no clear line between artworks and other forms of visual culture. Rather, images were produced for use, usually in religious rituals. The module sets out from these images before ‘art’ to explore defining moments in the emergence of a modern art world, in which art and visual culture are distinct categories. This involves consideration of the Renaissance, the emergence of institutions of art in the eighteenth century, and modern ideas of ‘autonomy’ in art. At each point the module reflects on the shifting definitions and practices of art and visual culture. In the process, we hope to illuminate modern categories and how they came into being.
Book One -1100 to 1600
This focuses on the visual culture of the medieval period and the renaissance exploring carefully selected topics and themes. It asks fundamental questions such as: what do sacred representations signify? How might the study of architecture be approached? When did the idea of art develop and what should we make of images in an era before this category came into use? How did the consumption and uses of art change through time? Engaging with these questions, you'll consider judgments about art and visual culture in a society very different from our own.
The first part concentrates on the visual culture of medieval Christendom, exploring not only what we now think of as the ‘high arts’ of painting, sculpture and architecture, but also the wider visual representations that played a significant role in the cultures of the time. You'll cover: the relation between the visual arts and religious culture; art and architecture of Great Churches, with a case study of Westminster Abbey; the work of the prominent Italian painter Simone Martini; and the distinctive visual culture that developed in the ‘Holy Land’ during the Crusades.
The second part looks at art and other visual artefacts that were important in the period broadly designated ‘the Renaissance’, from approximately 1400 to 1600. The Renaissance is traditionally seen as one of the high points of European culture and important themes from this cultural moment are considered. Material investigated includes the art of aristocratic Courts; the role of gender in patronage; and the travels of El Greco.
Book Two - the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries
This was the period in which a distinctly modern art world began to appear, with its own institutions and associated ideas about art and artists. The book assesses the significance and value of the labels traditionally used to define the art of this period, notably Baroque, Neo-classical and Romantic. In addition, it explores the ways in which art and visual culture were shaped by the ruling elites of different European countries, as well as considering the impact of socio-economic change and growing engagement with the world beyond Europe.
The first part addresses the period from around 1600 to about 1760, highlighting the way in which the relationship between the country and the city helped to shape different cultures of visual representation in different national contexts. Material covered includes: the embodiment of religious power in the restructuring of Rome by Bernini; seventeenth-century Dutch painting and the thorny problem of realism; and the development of urban London in the eighteenth century.
The second part is concerned with the period from around 1760 to 1850. It explores some of the ways in which art and other visual forms responded to changing societies and contributed to the emergence of a recognisably modern world. It covers: the emergence of public exhibitions in Britain and France and the codification of genres and types of art; the representation of the body in Canova’s sculpture; the meeting of western travellers with Pacific islanders, as reflected in images; and the emergence of the Romantic ‘genius’.
Book Three - 1850 to present
You'll consider the development of modern art in Europe and North America and the impact made by an increasingly globalised art world. The book provides a good guide to changing ideas and forms of art that will be unfamiliar to some. Some artists in this period responded to the commercialisation of society by trying to demarcate art from visual culture, while others immersed themselves in popular imagery. Focusing on a series of key points, the book tracks these transformations. As well as considering painting and sculpture, it contains material on photography, print culture, architecture, design, installation and video.
The first part covers the period from the middle of the nineteenth century to the end of the 1930s. It investigates the relationship between the processes of social and industrial modernisation that took place in western Europe and its colonies and the emergence of a variety of self-consciously ‘modern’ art forms. Material studied includes: Manet and the Impressionists; visual culture in nineteenth-century Britain, including William Morris and the Pre-Raphaelites; Cubism and Abstract art; and modern Architecture.
The second part considers the period from the 1940s up to the present day, including the consolidation and dominance of modernism in the New York art world and the subsequent opening up of a globalised art market. It includes material on: Abstract Expressionism and Conceptual art; installations and site specific art; and artistic responses to the recent economic and political conditions of globalisation.
You will learn
You will gain a grounding in Renaissance, eighteenth-century and modern art. However, you will also be introduced to the art of other periods and places. Further, you will develop an understanding of how art has been defined and its relation to other types of visual culture. The module provides an insight into the diversity of art history’s subjects and approaches and looks at a wide range of media, including painting, prints, photography, installation, architecture, sculpture and landscape.