Early Renaissance Art in Italy
Spring 2003
Christopher Pastore

Course Description

According to Giorgio Vasari, Giotto returned "to the light that art which had been buried for many centuries under the errors of those who had painted more to delight the eyes of the ignorant than the intellect of the wise." Although Vasari’s bold claim that the Florentine painter announced the death of International Gothic overstates the case, dramatic changes in painting, sculpture and architecture took place in the fourteenth century as Italian culture started to embrace its classical heritage. The course will introduce the art and architecture of Early Modern Italy and focus upon the idea of an "Italian Renaissance" that supplanted Medieval art and continued to vigorously adapt over the next two centuries as artists and patrons established and supported new paradigms in the visual arts. Art and architecture will be discussed as a rich and subtle means of communication that helped legitimize bold power grabs, explained the nature of social relationships within Early Modern Italian cities and transformed theological concepts into comprehensible narratives. Primarily an urban phenomenon, the Italian Renaissance was shaped by a series of creative geniuses who responded to changing economic, political and social circumstances in vibrant cities such as Florence, Rome and Venice. Among the artists discussed in the course will be the architect Brunelleschi, sculptors such as Donatello and Ghiberti, the painters Mantegna and Duccio.


John Paoletti and Gary Radke, Art in Renaissance Italy, Harry N. Abrams, 2nd Ed., 2002. (P/R)

Michael Baxandall, Painting and Experience in Fifteenth Century Italy: A Primer in the Social History of Pictorial Style, Oxford University Press, 2nd Ed., 1988. (MB)

Cennino Cennini, The Craftsman’s Handbook, Dover, 1978.

Additional Reading

The readings for ARTH 251 will be available on Reserve in the Fisher Fine Arts Library. The readings marking (CP) are required "course pack" selections (although there is no official 251 course pack. All of the article reprints are on reserve as photocopies. The chapter selections from Burke, Welch, Vasari and Alberti are on reserve as photocopies and the books are also on reserve. The reading selections marked "RR" are "recommended reading" from books that are available on reserve. Finally, I have requested that copies of the reserve reading be placed on the class Blackboard site which can be found at "courseweb.library.upenn.edu". A full list of the Reserve Reading will be posted on the Blackboard site.


The writing assignment for 251 consists of two parts. The first part is a three-page formal analysis of an Italian Renaissance work of art selected by the student from the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The second part will be an essay (5-6 pages) that compares the PMA object with a major work selected from the textbook. The essay should incorporate your keen observations and concepts gleaned from the assigned readings. Although not a standard research paper, any ideas based on your reading must be carefully cited.


There will be a Midterm and a Final Exam. The Midterm will include slide identifications (artist, title of work, date, location, patron, and one significant fact) as well as two comparison essays. The Final Exam will be cumulative and will include three comparisons, several short answers and one essay. The essays will require you to know the assigned readings and may, in fact, focus directly on material covered in the reserve reading.


Formal Analysis Paper 10%, Comparative Paper 35%, Midterm: 15%, Final Exam: 40%. In addition up to 5 points will be available for Class Participation during section meetings. Class Participation cannot lower your grade, it can only improve your overall situation. Attendance, while mandatory, does not count toward the five points; the points will be given based on your participation in classroom discussion about the readings and in response to issues raised by the lectures and section readings.


Week 1:


January 14


January 16

Art in Context. P/R 12-27; MB 1-28.

Week 2:


January 21

The Tools of the Trade. P/R 27-41; Cennini The Craftsman’s Handbook

January 23

The Thirteenth Century: Venice, Florence and Siena. P/R 43-63; Peter Burke, "The Uses of Works of Art" (CP)

Week 3:


January 28

The Thirteenth Century continued. Creighton Gilbert, "The Pisa Baptistery Pulpit Addresses its Public" (CP)

January 30

Rome in the Thirteenth Century. P/R 63-77

Week 4:


February 4

Museum Trip – Meet at the Philadelphia Museum of Art . Time and Date to be announces. MB 29-108.

February 6

Giotto and the Rebirth of Art. P/R 78-92, Vasari "Life of Giotto" (CP); Hans Belting, "The New Role of Narrative in Public Painting of the Trecento: Historia and Allegory," Studies in the History of Art, Vol. 16, 1985. (CP)

Week 5:


February 11

The Fourteenth Century in Florence and Siena. P/R 92-110

February 13

The Fourteenth Century in Milan and Naples. P/R 111-127

Week 6:


February 18

Republican Art of the Later Fourteenth Century. P/R 129-160

February 20

Art in the Fourteenth Century Court. P/R 160-192

Week 7:


February 25

Florence and Siena in the Fifteenth Century. P/R 192-227; Lorenzo Ghiberti: "The Commentaries"(CP); Eloise M. Angiola, "Gates of Paradise" and the Florentine Baptistery," The Art Bulletin (CP).

February 27

Florence continued. Paul Watson: "Brunelleschi’s Cupola, A Great Hill of Earth, and the Pantheon" (CP); Antonio Manetti: "The Life of Ser Brunellesco" (CP); MB 109-153.

Week 8:


March 4


March 6

Florence Under the Medici. P/R 229-253; Sarah Blake McHam, "Donatello’s Bronze David and Judith and Metaphors of Medici Rule in Florence" (CP)

March 11-13


Week 9:


March 18

Houses and Gardens. Matthew G. Looper, "Political Messages in the Medici Palace Garden" (CP); Evelyn Welch, "The Domestic Setting" (CP)

March 20

Fifteenth-Century Rome. P/R 253-263

Week 10:


March 25

Fifteenth-Century Courts. 279-298; Alberti: "On Architecture"

March 27


Week 11:


April 1

Fifteenth-Century Venice. P/R 264-277, 298-308

April 3

Venice, continued. P/R 331-345; Patricia Fortini Brown, "Painting and History in Renaissance Venice" (CP).

Week 12:


April 8

Late Fifteenth-Century Florence. P/R 309-320

April 10

Late Fifteenth-Century Rome. P/R 320-330; Carol Lewine, The Sistine Chapel Walls and the Roman Liturgy, pp. 1-20 and 103-114 (RR); Leopold Ettlinger, The Sistine Chapel Before Michelangelo, pp. 31-42 and 104-119 (RR)

Week 13:


April 15

Late Fifteenth-Century Milan. P/R 320-345

April 17

Leonardo and The High Renaissance. P/R 347-356, Vasari "Life of Leonardo" (CP)

Week 14:


April 22

The Imperial Papacy. P/R 356-373; Partridge/Starn, A Renaissance Likeness, Chs. 1 & 2, pp. 1-74 (RR)

April 24

Review Session