The Science of Art, The Art of Science

This course explores the many ways in which art and science intersected during the fertile period of the Italian Renaissance, when both fields were being defined. The word “science” derives from the Latin word “scientia,” or knowledge. Art and science both ways of knowing, and in a crucial moment of their development they shared many techniques and approaches. This course argues that observation, imagination and invention were fundamental to both pursuits. Themes such as botany, anatomy, cartography, engineering, perspective and ecology will be considered in relation to both science and art. The idea of the “Renaissance Man” is a common cultural trope, but this course will investigate the cultural conditions at its heart.

Architecture and Representation

Over the past thirty years, digital technology has transformed the profession of architecture and the way architects learn, design, and show their work. Drawing, for centuries the cornerstone of the architectural training and practice, has lost its centrality. At the same time, the new modes of building made possible by developments in technology and engineering have made the traditional modes of representation, through plan, section, and elevation, almost obsolete.

We will consider the implications of these changes in a historical context, by examining the moment in fifteenth and sixteenth century Italy when the profession of architecture was defined in a way we still recognize. Conventions of representation, from perspective to axonometry, will be considered at their poitn of origin.

The course will be divided into two interconnected but independent parts. One will focus on art historical analyses of these problems and in class discussion; the other will be based in the Museum of Fine Arts and will consider how works of art and sculpture illuminate the problems of spatial representation. Both writing and drawing will be key modes of analysis.

Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael

Course Syllabus

A painting attributed to Leonardo da Vinci recently fetched the highest price on record for a work of art, a staggering 450 million dollars. The price speaks to the tremendous fascination certain Italian Renaissance figures still hold, 500 years after the fact. The Renaissance had many protagonists, but few loom as large as the three contemporaries and rivals who will form the focus of the course. In many regards, they shaped the notion of “genius” that we have inherited around themselves. The course builds out from these specific figures to a broader understanding of the Renaissance as an artistic and cultural phenomenon.

Works of art such as Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Michelangelo’s David, or Raphael’s School of Athens are so iconic, and so often reproduced, that it is easy to assume there is nothing more to know about them. This course reinserts these works and others into the social, political and aesthetic conditions in which they were produced, demonstrating that many crucial questions are still open. Along the way, it reveals the ways in which the artistic problems confronted by Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael—how to represent the human figure; how to convey a story; how to show emotion; how to represent space—are still topics of contemporary interest and relevance.

Each of these artists operated in multiple media, including sculpture, architecture, fresco and oil painting, as well as writing in poetry and prose. Our approach is inclusive, giving time to each of these pursuits. When possible, we read the poems, letters and notes of the artists themselves, as well as of their critics and champions.

Italian Renaissance Architecture

This course aims to introduce the principal architects, monuments, and themes of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Italian architecture. The lectures will be varied in approach and scope, some considering broad issues, others focusing on particular architects, buildings, or texts. Special topics will include architectural theory, Medici and papal patronage, villa architecture and garden design, architectural drawing, centralized churches, urban planning, palace design, and the interaction of architecture, painting and sculpture. The emphasis will be on developments in Rome, Florence, and Venice but reference will also be made to other cities, including Mantua, Urbino, Naples, Verona and Vicenza. Architects to be studied include Brunelleschi, Donatello, Leonardo da Vinci, Alberti, Michelozzo, Giuliano da Sangallo, Codussi, Bramante, Peruzzi, Raphael, Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, Michelangelo, Giulio Romano, Jacopo Sansovino, Michele Sanmichele and Palladio.

Antiquity in Ruins: The Renaissance Imaginary (graduate seminar)

Why and when did broken things come to be valued as objects of aesthetic appreciation? The seminar begins with Petrarch and his idea of fragments, and follows the trail through the fifteenth and sixteenth century, when artists, sculptors, architects and humanists took a passionate interest in fragments and ruins of all kinds. They fix them, they draw them, they depict them, they reuse them, and they learn from them. The course considers and interrogates each of these manifestations of interest. While the idea of the classicism we have inherited from the 18th century suggests a static and authoritative past, in the Renaissance the interpretation of antiquity was a topic of great contention. As we delve into these debates, we explore what counted as ancient, how artists imitated and competed with the past, and how they remade it.

Michelangelo (graduate seminar)

Michelangelo was not trained as an architect, his buildings were almost entirely insertions into existing structures, and his overall production as an architect is small when compared to many of his sixteenth-century contemporaries. Yet his impact on the conception and form of architecture was tremendous and lasting. The seminar will seek to understand this phenomenon through a consideration of various aspects of Michelangelo’s career and architectural production, both built work and drawings. Although the emphasis will be on architecture, there will also be significant attention to Michelangelo’s painting and sculpture, and the relation between these three spheres. The course is chiefly concerned with Michelangelo himself, however there will also be an attempt to understand him in relation to his predecessors and contemporaries, including figures such as Donatello, Masaccio, Ghirlandaio, Leonardo da Vinci, Bramante, Peruzzi, Antonio da Sangllo il Giovane and Raphael. Primary sources will be used extensively; these include the two competing biographies published during his lifetime, by Vasari and by Condivi, as well as other examples of sixteenth century criticism and Michelangelo’s own poetry and letters.

Venice, Istanbul and Granada: Cities as Sites of Cultural Exchange (graduate seminar)

This seminar will consider cultural affinity, rivalry, appropriation, and exchange in three Mediterranean cities. Venice, Istanbul and Granada each negotiated complex and varied local traditions: Roman, Byzantine and Gothic in Venice; Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman in Istanbul; Roman, Gothic, Nasrid and Italian in Granada. They were bound by political tensions and economic interdependence. The seminar will examine the role of the traveler, merchant, ambassador and artist as agents of cultural transmission. The cities will be considered from the point of view of urban design, architecture and landscape. Attention will also be devoted to portable objects that traversed the Mediterranean, including textiles, manuscripts, glass, ivory, and metalwork. An underlying interest will be in the visual ideology and cultural politics of empire, as manifest in architecture and art.

The Architecture and Landscape of Islamic and Renaissance Spain (graduate seminar)

Between the 9th and the 16th centuries, Spain was the site of a remarkable series of political and architectural transformations. Conquered by Muslim and Berber forces from North Africa and the Middle East and reconquered by Christian armies, it was also the center of a lively and integrated Jewish population. The architecture and landscape bear the traces of this layered political history of conflict and assimilation. The seminar will consider both first hand accounts of the people, culture, architecture, cities and landscape of the region, as well as the mythology that has developed about the period. It will focus on Granada, Cordoba, Seville, Madrid and El Escorial. Broader questions to be addressed will include: What aspects of Islamic architecture and landscape in Spain distinguish it from other geographies? What is the legacy of the centuries of Muslim domination after the reconquest? What is the relationship between Spain and Italy in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries? To what extent are the hybrid terms “mudejar,” “moresco,” “mozarabic” still useful ways of describing the cultural products of Spain? What is the status of Spain in relation to the Mediterranean and to Europe?