This course, aiming to provide first-hand and critical knowledge of Renaissance art and architecture in Venice, is intended not only for art history students, but also for all students interested in understanding the cultural and artistic heritage of the city in which they are spending this term.
In the mid-fifteenth century Venice witnessed a stylistic turn toward the Renaissance, a major cultural movement that had emerged in other Italian cities and courts and sought to revive the culture of classical antiquity, particularly that of ancient Rome. What circumstances, values, and aims led to such a turn in a city devoid of an ancient past and thriving in the middle of a lagoon as a commercial and cultural link between the Middle East and Northern Europe?
The new trend developed in Venice in a distinctive manner. What factors and reasons can explain the peculiarities of Venetian Renaissance art and architecture? And what was the role of the main artists and architects? Indeed, in the sixteenth century renowned painters, sculptors, and architects active in Venice – Giovanni Bellini, Titian, Tintoretto, and Palladio, among others – contributed in their own way to the artistic developments of the Renaissance as well as to the Renaissance transformation of key sites of the capital of the Serenissima Republic.
We will begin by addressing the changing concepts and perceptions of the Italian Renaissance from the sixteenth century to the present and by investigating Renaissance innovations and changes in the visual arts and architecture. My hope is that the participation of students from different countries will allow us to consider different artistic / architectural traditions and cultural movements. A comparative approach, in fact, would be very useful for looking at the Renaissance with disenchanted eyes and for highlighting its characteristics, meanings and implications.
Then we will examine a selection of key places, buildings, paintings, and sculptures in Venice. We will describe and analyse them under two different, but interconnected, respects, as works of art and as evidence of various issues in the political, social, and environmental history of Venice, trying to grasp their 'Venetian-ness'.
Finally, we will discuss the work, and contribution to Renaissance art and architecture, of the leading masters.
After completing the course, students should have acquired:
• awareness of the different and changing notions of Renaissance
• familiarity with the cultural heritage of Venice and understanding of the distinctive qualities of Venetian Renaissance art and architecture
• awareness of the complex relationships between Venetian art and architecture and environmental, historical, political and social conditions
• insights into the work of the main artists and architects of Renaissance Venice
• exposure to different approaches in art history
• some methodologies and tools to read, talk and write on art and architectural history, which includes learning a proper terminology and the fundamentals of the classical language of architecture
• ability to produce and present an Art history research paper involving visual analysis, reading of scholarly publications, and critical thinking
Teaching methods and course requirements
Classes will be held either in on campus or on-site in Venice.
On-site classes will consist of discussions led by course participants. Students are expected to be flexible about the timetable of on-site classes, which could overlap the lunch break to allow time to reach the visit sites. These will probably include Piazza San Marco, possibly the museum of San Marco, the churches of San Zaccaria, Santa Maria dei Miracoli, San Giovanni Crisostomo, San Sebastiano and the Redentore, Palazzo Grimani at Santa Maria Formosa, the Scuola Grande di San Marco, the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, and the Gallerie dell’Accademia. Further sites might be the subject of assigned field work and some guided visits and a day trip outside Venice that are relevant to the course might be organized as co-curricular activities.
Classroom activities will depend on the number of the course participants, the composition of the class, the topic to cover, and also the development of our joint investigation. They may consist of introductory remarks by the professor, group work followed by informal presentations to the class and collective discussions; or of student presentations on assigned material or fieldwork; or of interactive lectures.
In all cases, all students are expected to contribute to discussions, which implies (i) having carefully and critically completed preparatory assignments prior to the class, and (ii) being willing to share their own opinions and listen to those of others. Observations and simple questions from students with educational backgrounds other than art history and from non-European students can greatly enrich the discussion because of their different perspectives.
In the first half of the term, students will choose a research topic related to the course content in consultation with the professor. They will briefly describe the topic, the reasons for their choice, and how they plan to pursue their study with a ten-minute presentation at one of the class meetings before the midterm break. They will also share the results of their study with a ten-minute presentation followed by discussion during exam week.
- Attendance and participation in all course activities, which includes personal efforts made to create a friendly and engaging atmosphere of collaboration, to encourage discussion, and to promote cultural exchange (20%)
- In-class or on-site presentations (20%)
- In-class presentation of the topic of the final research paper (20%, consisting of the average of peer and professor evaluations)
- Final research paper (40%): in-class presentation during exam week (20%, the average of peer and professor evaluations) and written version due by the end of the term (20%).
Our main 'book' will be the city of Venice itself with its buildings and works of art. Further study material, consisting of images and readings from either primary sources or secondary literature, will be provided in the e-learning platform of the course.
The following volumes might be useful for orientation and reference.
Updated introduction to European Renaissance art:
- Nichols, Tom. Renaissance Art: A Beginner’s Guide. London: Oneworld Publications, 2010. (UniVIU 759.45311/NIC VEN)
Handbooks on, and introductions to Renaissance art and architecture in Venice:
- Huse, Norbert, and Wolters, Wolfgang. The Art of Renaissance Venice. Architecture, Sculpture, and Painting, 1460-1590. Translated by Edmund Jephcott. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1990. (UniVIU 709.45311/HUS VEN)
- Fortini Brown, Patricia. Art and Life in Renaissance Venice. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1997. (UniVIU 709.4531/BRO VEN)
- Nichols, Tom. Renaissance Art in Venice. From Tradition to Individualism. London: Laurence King Publishing, 2016. (UniVIU 759.45311/NIC VEN)
The ‘myths’ of Venice in visual arts:
- Rosand, David. Myths of Venice. The Figuration of a State. Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 2001. (UniVIU 321.86.7 ROS VEN)
A guide to architecture throughout the world and throughout history, with proper terminology:
- The Grammar of Architecture. Edited by Emily Cole. Boston, New York, London: Bulfinch Press, 2002. (UniVIU 720.351/COL)
Introduction to the history of Venice:
Ortalli, Gherardo, and Scarabello, Giovanni. A Short History of Venice. Ospedaletto (Pisa): Pacini, 1999. (UniVIU 945.31/ORT VEN)
An old, still valuable, small book on the history, society and civilization of Venice in its ‘imperial age’:
- Chambers, David. The Imperial Age of Venice, 1380-1580. London: Thames and Hudson, 1970 (UniVIU 945.311/CHA VEN).