Spring 2015 - Graduate Course Descriptions
Description of Course:
Writing in the fifteenth century, Alberti claimed that the highest form of painting was the istoria, or history painting, which he and his contemporaries defined as featuring an elevated subject (from the Bible, mythology, or ancient or contemporary history) and containing a number of figures in diverse poses illustrating a well-known story. Many theoretical treatises of subsequent centuries, and indeed the entire academic tradition of art that held sway in Europe through the nineteenth century, continued to place narrative subjects above other genres of art (portraiture, landscape, and still life, for example). For every great visual work, the tradition argued, there also had to be a source text being illustrated; the image rarely acted alone, but in part acted to interpret the written word as well as the standard iconography associated with the depicted subject.
This seminar will treat the topic of how visual narrative works in art, and how text and image interrelate in paintings and sculpture illustrating narrative subjects. Among the topics we will discuss are: the ekphrastic tradition; the evolving interpretations of mythology; the relationship of the Bible and Christian legend to late medieval and Renaissance art; the idea of an artistic narrative cycle; and the varying meanings of a theme or an ancient source over time. We will spend a great deal of time with literary sources, particularly Ovid's *Metamorphoses* and Voragine's *Golden Legend,* that provided the textual background for much of the great narrative artworks of the Early Modern period. Among the contemporary authors we will read on the topic are Leo Steinberg, Hubert Damisch, and Michael Baxandall.
Course Requirements/Evaluation Criteria: