Fall 2012 - Undergraduate Course Descriptions

Rosen, Mark
Discipline and Number
AHST 2331 Section 004
TR Time 2:30 PM - 3:45 PM
Course Title
Understanding Art

Description of Course:

Leonardo da Vinci and His Time

He lived briefly enough that many of the boldest ideas in his notebooks were not gathered together for publication in his lifetime, yet he lived long enough to see several of his most ambitious projects start to deteriorate soon after their completion. He was an artist known for harmony and grace who represented himself to a potential patron as a military engineer first, artist second. He disdained sculpture yet seemed poised to change its foundations when the French army entered Milan in 1494 and derailed his plans for a great equestrian monument. He revolutionized the art of portraiture, yet apart from several canonical works, it still remains unclear which surviving portraits were truly his and which came from his many close followers. Restoration of his few surviving painted works over the past decade has proven extremely controversial and sparked hostilities between scholars and restorers. Difficulties in dating the drawings and writings in his many assorted notebooks yield never-ending debates about what he knew when, the progression of his thinking, and his level of engagement in the artistic and scientific climate of his time. Leonardo is not just the genius we all know him to be, but also an extremely slippery figure who succeeded and failed in an era of war, shifting allegiances, and changing taste. And he has continued to provide inspiration for any artist interested in science, any scientist interested in art.

Because UTD encourages the exploration of the relationship between science and the humanities, Leonardo da Vinci makes an exemplary figure upon whom to focus an interdisciplinary course. We will approach him from many different directions and discuss what meaning he might have carried to his era and our own. The crowded Florentine workshops of the 1460s and 1470s will provide the starting point for Leonardo’s career, and we will follow him through his long stays at the Sforza court in Milan, his return to newly republican Florence, and his other travels ending at the French court of Francis I. Among the topics we will discuss are Leonardo’s training in Verrocchio’s studio; his engineering, military, and cartographic projects; the traditions of portraiture and the altarpiece which Leonardo inherited and his role in changing them; the distinction between artistic production in Florence as opposed to in Milan and the many other ducal courts of Italy; the causes and meaning of Leonardo’s experimentation with media and technique; the change in the Italian political and artistic climate marked by the arrival of French troops in 1494; Leonardo’s relationship with contemporaries such as Bramante, Michelangelo, Raphael, Machiavelli, the condottiere Cesare Borgia, the mathematician Luca Pacioli, and the many others whom he inspired or was inspired by; and close readings of Leonardo’s writings and drawings regarding war, machines, the human body, perspective, and optics. We will also discuss the latest finds in Leonardo studies, a field in which there have been several important discoveries lately.

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