Introduction to Medieval Art
The medieval period may seem like a distant, alien age in some respects, but this long and tumultuous era of European history is still present in the cultural products of modern life, from campus and city architecture to its portrayal in film and television. But do we really know the Middle Ages? This semester we will encounter many curious objects, startling images and spectacular structures that will both enrich and complicate our understandings of the Middle Ages as we attempt to see medieval art as medieval people saw it, putting ourselves in the shoes of artists, patrons and the churchgoing faithful. This course will proceed through time from the spread of Christianity in northern Europe to the eve of the Reformation, c. 700-1500 CE. Although chronological organization will serve as the course’s backbone, bringing us from the prayer books of early Irish monks to the soaring spaces of Gothic cathedrals, we will not always adhere strictly to sequence. Within this framework, our approach will follow a “special topics” format, which will allow us to examine key issues such as pilgrimage, women in medieval art, and east-west connections, enabling us to resist the conclusion that there is only one “story” to be told of medieval art.