2013-2014 Art History Courses
First-Year Studies: Archi/Texts: Buildings and Philosophies, Environments and Interactions From Periclean Athens to Contemporary Los Angeles and Beyond
Readings, lectures, presentations, and discussions in this course will focus on major statements made by architects, critics, and philosophers dealing with the built landscape from Athens in the fifth century to present-day Los Angeles and Shanghai, China World Expo 2010. Authors include Plato and Aristotle, St. Augustine, Leon Battista Alberti, Denis Diderot, Adolf Loos, Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wight, Martin Heidegger, Michel Foucault, Jane Jacobs, Peter Eisenman, Rem Koolhaas, Reyner Banham, Frank Gehry, and Thom Mayne. Readings will range From Aristotle’s Politics, Vitruvius, Ten Books on Architecture (73BCE) to Loos’s Ornament and Crime (1909) and Koolhaas’s Junkspace (2000) and beyond. Emphasis will be on close reading of texts, historical context for ideas, and buildings that are prescribed, described, or proscribed by theory in practice. Environmental issues will be assimilated into historical and sociological, as well as scientific, context. The first assignment will deal with the uses of literature in developing a critical theory; the second will be class presentations on theorists and attitudes toward architecture in the ancient world. Class will be broken into firms that will develop responses to texts and to a particular architectural program and project in second semester—the design of a retrofitted student center and campus plan for Sarah Lawrence College. Conference projects may focus on a variety of architectural venues: new towns, world’s fairs, religious structures of symbolic (or other) import, architectural NGOs, favellas, and utopia, both inside and outside the Western tradition.
East vs. West – Europe, the Mediterranean, and Western Asia from Antiquity to the Modern Age
Historically, competition or conflict between the European or Mediterranean West and the regions of the Middle East has been seen as a struggle between Christian and Muslim worlds, with roots in the era of the Crusades whose precedent and implications reach into the present time. While this course will focus extensively on the medieval period, it seeks to do so by situating the relations between Christian Europe and the Muslim world within a larger context, as the result of geopolitical patterns that long antedated the emergence of Christianity or Islam. In the fall, the course will begin with the Greek invasion of the Near East under Alexander as a war of retribution for the Persian invasion of Greece over a century earlier. We will consider how the political structure and culture of the multiethnic Hellenistic Greek kingdoms emerged from the wreckage of the Persian Empire and how Rome subsequently built on Hellenistic Greek experience and conflict with the Near East in establishing its empire. We will examine the emergence of Christianity as an example of a Roman or Western response to an originally Eastern religion and, conversely, the emergence of the Islamic faith and its new empire as an Eastern challenge to the Christianized Roman Empire of Late Antiquity. In the spring, we will see how this approach affords a very different view of the Crusades and the battle for the Holy Land as the outgrowth of longstanding cultural and political interactions or competitions that transcend religious faith and doctrine. The course will look at Christian and Muslim cultural relations in Spain and then close by examining the rise of the Ottoman Turkish Empire, which originated as a Muslim regime in Eastern Europe, becoming a major power in Asia only after it had conquered the remaining symbol of the old Christian Roman Empire, Constantinople, in 1453. We will consider primary historical and literary sources, as well as major artistic monuments.
The Paradox of Painting: Pictures and Practices, Histories and Theories in Renaissance and Baroque Art, 1500-1700
Annibale Carracci’s painting (1597-9) of St. Margaret, an Early Christian martyr, shows the saint pointing upward while looking outward and leaning on an altar inscribed, “Sursum Corda” (Lift Up Your Hearts). An exploration of the multiple meanings and paradoxes of this image, admonition, epigram, and emblem form an introduction to the basic questions and challenges of this course. How is art to achieve this lifting up? Who or what should be lifted: the artists, the patron, the viewer, the material, the world? Lifting up from what and to what or to whom? Lifting the heart, the head, the mind, the body? Are all the arts and all the subjects of the visual arts supposed to serve this same purpose? Does this admonition pertain to aesthetic, social ,and historical issues as well as to the theological and political? What about the linguistic implications: Can an exalted “classical” language exist side-by-side with a dynamic, naturalistic vernacular? The course will cover the art of 16th-century Italy, the Italian High Renaissance, as it frames the questions that painters, sculptors, and architects throughout Europe mediated in the following era, commonly called the Age of the Baroque. Included in the first semester will be studies of major artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Titian and art styles such Mannerism; in the second semester, Caravaggio, Bernini, Rubens, Rembrandt, and Poussin and Classicism, among others. First semester group conferences focus on the challenges posed by the career of Michelangelo; second semester, on the issues in art and architecture posed by the career of Bernini.
Islamic Art and Society: 632-2013
This course will explore some of the cultural, political, and social meanings that can be drawn from the history of the art and architecture of Islamic polities and of other pluralistic societies in which Islam has played a part. We will seek to understand the relationship between the religion of Islam and the arts produced in lands where Muslims are the among the creators of visual culture, using works of art and architecture as documents of social and political meaning. The course will begin in Arabia in the 7th century and continue to the Mediterranean, Iraq, Iran, Central Asia, and Asia. Finally, we will look at the arts of Islam as a contemporary global phenomenon, including Islamic arts in Europe and America.
Ancient Albion–Art and Culture in the British Isles from Stonehenge to the Viking Invasions
Given their geographical setting at the northwestern extreme of Europe, the arts and cultures of “Albion,” or Britain and Ireland, have often been described by the term “insular” in the sense of isolated, discrete, or peripheral, yet nothing could be further from the truth. No less than six Roman emperors spent time in Britain, and four came to power there. To a great extent, Irish clerics were responsible for the survival of classical learning during the Dark Ages. Indeed, throughout history cultural developments in the British Isles were intimately related to ideas and events on the European Continent and the Mediterranean. Following this basic premise, in the fall semester the course will examine civilization in Britain and Ireland from the late Stone Age or Megalithic period, through the Bronze and Early Iron Ages, to the coming of the Celts and the Roman conquest. In the spring, we will focus on later Roman Britain, Irish monasticism, and the emergence of Anglo-Saxon culture down to the arrival of the Vikings. At every turn, we will consider interactions with the urban civilizations to the south and west—the early Aegean, Greece, Rome, and the early medieval Continent—to discover that Albion was an integral part of the political, religious, and economic forces that have shaped the art and history of Europe up to the present time.