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Renaissance art reconsidered

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This is not simply another module on Renaissance art. It questions the traditional geographical and social boundaries of this subject – one of the most traditional in the art history discipline – in line with contemporary developments in academic research. Instead of focusing on the Italian peninsula and Florence in particular (as has been the tendency for most histories of Renaissance art c.1420-1520), this module ventures to England, the Netherlands, France, Italy and Crete. It includes art forms such as prints, tapestries, manuscripts, painting, sculpture and architecture, centred around three main themes: Making Renaissance Art; Locating Renaissance Art; and Viewing Renaissance Art.

What you will study

The module is presented through three module books, a DVD-ROM and three DVDs. Each module book has its own distinct focus on the how, where and who of Renaissance art. The DVD-ROM is linked particularly to Book 1 through its analysis of how works of art in the Renaissance were actually made. The three DVDs include films that complement and amplify the themes and issues covered in all the module books. Each DVD contains filming commissioned by the OU, film from other providers, and archival film.

Book 1: Making Renaissance Art 
This includes seven essays on the production of art. These essays are designed to encourage your direct engagement with drawing, painting, sculpture, architecture and print-making. Through the examination of works of art made in Italy and countries north of the Alps, you'll address practical issues of art production. You'll also discuss themes long associated with the Renaissance such as change and continuity; the relative balance of theory and practice; the revival of interest in antique art and architecture; and the imitation of nature. Essays deal specifically with drawing and its role in workshop training and design; mathematical perspective – its significance and alternatives; sculpture north and south of the Alps; the practice and theory of architecture; Gothic and Renaissance altarpieces; and the production of prints. The last chapter of the book examines the proliferation of artistic treatises and biographical writings about Renaissance artists.

Book 2: Locating Renaissance Art
This book departs radically from the traditional view of Florence as the origin and centre of the Renaissance, though the city serves as a foil for some of the case studies. All the essays extend the geographical boundaries of Renaissance art. Topics include studies of Florentine artists working in their home city and in Rome; the export of Netherlandish painting; the international trade in tapestries; Siena as a Renaissance artistic centre; a study of the post-Byzantine Cretan painter Angelos; Venice and its relationship with its trading partners; and the peripatetic career of the architect Bramante.

Book 3: Viewing Renaissance Art
The final book deals with the consumption of Renaissance works of art. This volume focuses on the values, priorities and motives of patrons and the purposes and functions of artworks. The seven essays consider very different kinds of patrons and consumers: from individuals to secular and religious institutions. The essays also consider a variety of themes such as conspicuous consumption and self-fashioning. Studies of a wide range of social patronage are included, together with chapters specifically on manuscript production; French art; the market for Cretan icons; art associated with the rituals and beliefs connected with death; and Holbein and the Reformation.

You will learn

You will learn about the art-historical period traditionally known as the Renaissance (c.1420–c.1520) and develop a systematic and critical knowledge and understanding of some key aspects of Renaissance art within and beyond the confines of Italy. You will obtain an awareness of current thinking and developments in relation to some key issues of the study of Renaissance art. In line with contemporary art-historical study, you will also broaden your knowledge of the discipline to include media not traditionally classed as fine art: illuminated manuscripts, tapestries and prints.

The project (independent essay) that completes the module will enable you to reassess the period through an in-depth study of a self-chosen topic relating to the themes of the module. You do not need to have a topic in mind before you start the module. You will receive help and advice on choosing a topic at various stages of the module.

Through the use of video and ICT you will learn how to analyse and interpret works of art (architecture, sculpture, painting, etc.) in their immediate physical context. You will also explore complex works of three-dimensional art (architecture, sculpture, cities) that cannot be properly represented within the limits of a few illustrations.

Entry requirements

This is an OU level 3 module and as such it builds on study skills and subject knowledge acquired from previous studies at OU levels 1 and 2. OU level 3 modules are intended only for students who have recent experience of higher education in a related subject and have already acquired the skills appropriate for this level, such as analytical thinking and essay writing. 

You are not expected to have any particular knowledge of Renaissance art, but some experience of studying art history at undergraduate level would be very advantageous. If you have no such experience we advise you to study a OU level 2 art history module, Exploring art and visual culture (A226), before embarking on this OU level 3 module.

If you would like more information about this module visit the AA315 website.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

Preparatory work

Any means of familiarising yourself with the art of the period will stand you in good stead. In particular, try to spend some time in an art gallery with a reasonable range of Renaissance art works. You might also want to look at the set books, although you are not expected to have read them before you start the module. For those who would like to do some preliminary reading on the art of northern Europe we also recommend Jeffrey Chipps Smith, The Northern Renaissance, Phaidon, 2004, which was a set book until the publication of Nash. You are not required to purchase this book, however.

What's included

Module books, other printed materials, a DVD-ROM, DVDs, audio CDs, website.

Computing requirements

A computing device with a browser and broadband internet access is required for this module.  Any modern browser will be suitable for most computer activities. Functionality may be limited on mobile devices.

Any additional software will be provided from a hardware device e.g. DVD drive or USB stick or is generally freely available. However, some activities may have more specific requirements. For this reason, you will need to be able to install and run additional software on a desktop or laptop computer with Windows 7 or higher.

The screen of the device must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.

To participate in our online-discussion area you will need both a microphone and speakers/headphones. 

Our Skills for OU study website has further information including computing skills for study, computer security, acquiring a computer and Microsoft software offers for students. 

Materials to buy

Set books

  • Nash, S. Northern Renaissance Art Oxford University Press £19.99 - ISBN 9780192842695
  • Richardson, C.M., Woods, K.W. & Franklin, M.W. (eds) Renaissance Art Reconsidered: An Anthology of Primary Sources Wiley-Blackwell £31.99 - ISBN 9781405146418
  • Welch, E.S. Art in Renaissance Italy, 1350-1500 Oxford University Press £18.99 - ISBN 9780192842794
  • Dunkerton, J. Giotto to Durer Yale University Press £20.00 - ISBN 9780300050820

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. We may also be able to offer group tutorials or day schools that you are encouraged, but not obliged, to attend. Where your tutorials are held will depend on the distribution of students taking the module.  

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper.

The end-of-module assessment (EMA) is a project that must be submitted online. 

You will be assessed on all three module book topics by means of a multi-part tutor-marked assignment (TMA). Each TMA is double weighted, i.e. the equivalent of two conventional TMAs. In addition to these three TMAs, you will be required to submit a project proposal, and an end-of-module assessment project that will be the examinable component. For the end-of-module assessment project (the independent essay), you’ll need to have first hand access to at least one work of art of your own choice that is central or closely relevant to your independent essay subject. This work need not be in an art gallery; it could be in a stately home, a church or cathedral, or a building in your local area.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying AA315 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

Renaissance art reconsidered starts once a year –  in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2018 which is the last time we expect it to start.

Course work includes:

4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school

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