AAH 214 – The Art of Florence: Exploring Visual Culture

During the Renaissance, roughly defined as the period extending from the middle of the 14th century until the end of the 16th century, the city of Florence was the site of some of the most remarkable artistic experiences in European history. Why, though, should one city have contributed so much to the course of the arts? Why should so many of the city’s works of art, monuments, and buildings have played a major rule in the development of the visual arts? What set of circumstances and conditions made this possible? This course is designed to explore these questions through an examination of historical factors that made Florence the birthplace and point of reference for what we now call “Renaissance art.” We will examine the careers and achievements of some of the central figures working in Florence, including Giotto, Filippo Brunelleschi, Leon Battista Alberti, Donatello, Masaccio, Lorenzo Ghiberti, Fra Angelico, Fra Filippo Lippi, Sandro Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael.

Starting with the monumental site of the Duomo (the Cathedral of Florence), the first part of the course will focus on the development of sculpture and its architectural setting, emphasizing the circumstances of urban history that demanded public and monumental programs of architecture and sculpture. The first half of the course will end with an amplification of Filippo Brunelleschi’s achievement in the Pazzi Chapel, while providing an introduction to Giotto and fresco painting in Santa Croce. The second part of the semester will concentrate on the development of painting in the 15th century, and then move on to the Cinquecento (sixteenth century) with the achievements of Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael.

Emphasis will be placed on studying the art preserved and exhibited in Florentine museums and contained in monuments that often constitute its original site; therefore, class meetings will alternate between lectures in the classroom at Palazzo Rucellai, and study on site, so that the students will have the opportunity each week to experience original art rather than digital images. We will analyze the art within a sequence of contexts, in order to understand the cultural, political, economic and religious factors that contributed to the production of art in Renaissance Florence.

The fundamental goals of the course are to introduce students to the art and architecture of Florence in its historical context, and in doing so, to make them familiar with the origins, nature and development of the Renaissance in the visual arts. Mastery of basic concepts and terminology of art historical studies is another essential aspect of this course.

During orientation at the Institute, students will receive a list of textbooks and/or course readers they are required to purchase. Students should not purchase any texts before orientation.

Course descriptions may be subject to occasional minor modifications at the discretion of the instructor.