Italian and Northern Renaissance Painting

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Course Information
Art History
Terms offered: 
Language of instruction: 
Contact Hours: 

Interest in the subject matter.


This course provides a critical account of the Renaissance north and south of the Alps, with a special emphasis on works housed in Viennese collections. The purpose of the course is not only to provide an overview of Renaissance art, but also to compare how key themes develop in different areas. Some of these themes are related to genres: altarpieces, prints, portraits, private devotional images, narrative painting, and popular imagery all have versions that appear in both north and south, but they differ in their forms. In accounting for those differences, we consider not only the artistic sources available to artists (the differences between a realist and classical notion of “nature,” for instance), but also the different social, political and institutional contexts surrounding the art in each place. In this light, religious and political structures; class and social divisions; differing notions of identity and authority; relationship to intellectual culture; and varieties of patronage will all become key themes.

Because Vienna offers a unique opportunity to see the great works of both northern and southern Renaissance art collected in one place, we will make active use of the city’s collections. This will include visits to the Kunsthistorisches Museum to talk about paintings you will be studying in class (among others, this includes works by van Eyck, van der Weyden, Dürer, Baldung, Cranach, Altdorfer, Bruegel, and Heemskerck in the north; and by Mantegna, Bellini, Perugino, Messina, Raphael, Correggio, Giorgione, Titian, Veronese, Parmigianino, and Bronzino from Italy) and may also include visits to the Palais Liechtenstein and/or the Akademie der Bildenden Künste. Museum visits offer the incomparable possibility of seeing works of art in person; they therefore form a key component of the class.

Attendance policy: 

Consistent and regular attendance and participation is required in accordance with Center policy. Students should be in class, on time, prepared, and attentive. Laptops are permitted for note-taking exclusively. Texting in class is not tolerated.

Learning outcomes: 

Upon completing this course the student should have acquired the ability to

  • Demonstrate a basic understanding of the developments in European art from circa AD 1400 to 1600, including

•   The ability to evaluate and contextualize key works of major artists,

•   Articulating developments in artistic technique and style,

•   Expressing the role/status of the artist in society, and

•   Comparing characteristics of key artistic movements;

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the ways in which art reflected and contributed to Renaissance Europe’s contemporary social, economic, religious, and political developments;

  • Evaluate the role of the forces shaping art and artists, including patronage, class, race, gender, and politics; and

  • Compose exemplary visual and analytical papers using the skills, methodology, and vocabulary demonstrated in class lectures and discussions, and in required readings.

Method of presentation: 

Lecture and discussion format, with excursions to see many of the works under consideration in person. Lecture centers around presentation of slides in digital form; class participation is invited, often involving discussion of relevant readings. Where possible we will study works first-hand, in class visits to Viennese collections (primarily the Kunsthistorisches Museum).

Readings will be posted on Moodle, as will handouts such as slide lists.

Required work and form of assessment: 

The course expectations include: active participation in class discussions, active participation in museum visits and on-site discussions; completion of all readings in time for class; writing an initial “looking paper” to practice visual analysis of a work of art; taking an in-class midterm exam; writing an analysis paper that involves both close looking and basic research on an object or pair of objects (topics to be assigned); taking a written final exam.

  • Visual paper - 15%
  • Midterm exam - 25%
  • Analysis paper - 25%
  • Final exam - 25%
  • Class participation - 10%

Progressing from the late 14th century to the late 16th, the course will address such questions as: Where and why did artistic culture flourish in the Renaissance? How can we understand the various ideas of “naturalism” in this era, and why was this concept important? Why was classical antiquity revived in Italy—which version of the “classical,” and whose interests did it serve? What devotional and political interests were served by “realism” in northern Europe? How did early modern rulers and nobles use the visual arts to establish political identities (the KHM’s heavy concentration of works commissioned and/or owned by Hapsburg and North Italian nobles is important here)? How did early modern artistic culture address not only elites, but populist ideas? How was religious change—and the resistance to it—spread by both old and emerging media?


Week Topic Readings

Introduction; Naturalism in Italy and the North

  • Baxandall, “The Conditions of Trade,” pp. 1-28.
  • Hamburger, “Ora et Labora: Prayer and Work,” pp. 181-191.
  • Harbison, “Fact, Symbol and Ideal,” and “Manuscript Illumination,” pp. 25-30.

Devotional Images: Private and Public Altarpieces

  • Ainsworth, “Workshop Practice in Early Netherlandish Painting: An Inside View,” pp. 205-211.
  • Humfrey, “The Bellini, Vivarini and the Beginning of the Renaissance Altarpiece in Venice,” in Borsook and Superbi, eds., pp. 139-152.
  • Van Os, “The Culture of Prayer” and “Devotional Themes,” pp. 50-129.

Signs of Status: Portraits and Court Art

  • Berger, pp. 87-120.
  • Cole, Chapter 1.
  • Harbison, “Portrait Imagery,” pp. 124-133.
  • Musacchio, “Wives, Loves, and Art in Italian Renaissance Courts,” in Bayer, ed., pp. 28– 41.

Prints, Popular Imagery, and the Reformation

  • Chartier, “Print Culture,” pp. 1-10.
  • Moxey, “The Battle of the Sexes and the World Upside Down,” pp. 101-26.
  • Nash, “Chapter 11: Printmakers in the Rhine Valley Inventing, Marketing and Distributing
  • Images,” pp. 129-142.
  • Ozment, “Chapter 5: Marketing Luther,” pp. 119-147.
  • Silver, “God in the Details: Bosch and Judgment(s),” pp. 626-650.

The High Renaissance: Michelangelo, Raphael and the Creation of the Classical

  • Goffen, “Chapter 3: Paragoni,” in Renaissance Rivals, pp. 31-68.
  • Jacobs, “Aretino and Michelangelo, Dolce and Titian: Femmina, Masculo, Grazia,” pp. 51-67.
  • Vasari, “Life of Michelangelo,” selections from pp. 325-443.
  • Wood, “Young Raphael and the Practice of Painting in Renaissance Italy,” in Hall, ed., pp. 15-35.

Dürer, Altdorfer, Patinir: Classical Imitation and Naturalistic Invention

  • Panofsky, pp. 43-59 on the Apocalypse.
  • Silver, “Nature and Nature’s God: Landscape and Cosmos of Albrecht Altdorfer,” pp. 194-214.
  • Sullivan, “The Witches of Dürer and Hans Baldung Grien,” pp. 333-401.

Bellini, Giorgione, and Venetian Colorism

  • Goffen, “Icon and Vision: Giovanni Bellini's Half-Length Madonnas,” pp. 487-518.
  • Junkerman, “The Lady and the Laurel: Gender and Meaning in Giorgione’s Laura,” pp. 49-58.
  • McHam, “Reflections of Pliny in Giovanni Bellini’s Woman with a Mirror,” pp. 157-171.

Titian, Veronese and Venetian Rivalry

  • Ilchman, "Venetian Painting in an Age of Rivals," pp. 21-40.
  • Puttfarken, “Titian’s poesie for Philip II as Painted Tragedies.”
  • Rosand, “Chapter 4: Theater and Structure in the Art of Paolo Veronese,” in Painting in Sixteenth-
  • Century Venice, pp. 107-133.
  • David Rosand, “Titian and the Eloquence of the Brush,” pp. 85-95.

Inexplicable Imagery: Bruegel and Italian Mannerism

  • Alpers, “Bruegel’s Festive Peasants,” pp. 163-176.
  • Cropper, “On Beautiful Women, Parmigianino, Petrarchismo, and the Vernacular Style,” pp. 374-394.
  • Jardine, “A Culture of Commodities,” pp. 275-330.
  • Shearman, Introduction to Mannerism.

Origins of the Counter-Reformation: Tintoretto; Tying up loose ends

  • Rosand, “Action and Piety in Tintoretto’s Religious Pictures,” in Painting in Sixteenth-Century Venice, pp. 134-164.


Required readings: 
  • Ainsworth, Maryan and Keith Christiansen, eds, From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1998.
  • Alpers, Svetlana, “Bruegel’s Festive Peasants,” Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art 6: 3- 4 (1972/1973), pp. 163-176.
  • Bayer, Andrea, ed., Art and Love in Renaissance Italy, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.
  • Baxandall, Michael, Painting and Experience in Fifteenth Century Italy, Oxford; NY: Oxford University Press, 1988 (2nd edition).
  • Berger, Harry, “Fictions of the Pose: Facing the Gaze of Early Modern Portraiture,” Representations 46 (1994), pp. 87-120.
  • Borsook, Eve and Fiorella Superbi, eds. Italian Altarpieces 1250-1550: Function and Design, Oxford; NY: Oxford University Press, 1994.
  • Chartier, Roger, ed., The Culture of the Print: Power and Uses of the Print in Early Modern Europe
  • Harbison, Craig. The Mirror of the Artist: Northern Renaissance Art in its Historical Context, NY: Harry N. Abrams, 1995.
  • Ilchman, Frederick, ed., Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice, Boston: MFA Publications, 2009
  • Jacobs, Fredrika, “Aretino and Michelangelo, Dolce and Titian: Femmina, Masculo, Grazia,” The Art Bulletin, 82 (2000), pp. 51-67.
  • Jardine, Lisa, Worldly Goods: A New History of the Renaissance, New York: W.W. Norton, 1998 (1996).
  • Junkerman, Anne Christine, “The Lady and the Laurel: Gender and Meaning in Giorgione’s Laura,”  Oxford Art Journal 16 (1993), pp. 49-58.
  • McHam, Sarah Blake, “Reflections of Pliny in Giovanni Bellini’s Woman with a Mirror,” Artibus et Historiae 29 (2008), pp. 157-171.
  • Moxey, Keith, Peasants Warriors and Wives: Popular Imagery in the Reformation, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989.
  • Nash, Susie, Northern Renaissance Art (Oxford History of Art), Oxford UP, 2008.
  • Ozment, Steven, The Serpent and the Lamb: Cranach, Luther and the Making of the Reformation, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011.
  • Panofsky, Erwin, The Art and Life of Albrecht Dürer (Princeton Classic Editions), Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012 (originally 1948).
  • Puttfarken, Thomas. Titian and Tragic Painting: Aristotle’s ‘Poetics’ and the Rise of the Modern Artist, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005.
  • Rosand, David, “Titian and the Eloquence of the Brush,” Artibus et Historiae 3 (1981), pp. 85-95.
  • Painting in Sixteenth-Century Venice: Titian, Veronese, Tintoretto, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997 (revised edition).
  • Shearman, John, Mannerism (Style and Civilization), NY: Penguin Books, 1990 (originally 1967).
  • Silver, Lawrence, “God in the Details: Bosch and Judgment(s),” The Art Bulletin, 83 (2001), pp. 626-650.
  • “Nature and Nature’s God: Landscape and Cosmos of Albrecht Altdorfer,” The Art Bulletin 81 (1999), pp. 194-214.
  • Sullivan, Margaret, “The Witches of Dürer and Hans Baldung Grien,” Renaissance Quarterly 53 (2000), pp. 333-401.
  • Van Os, Henk, The Art of Devotion in the Late Middle Ages in Europe, 1300-1500, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994.
  • Vasari, Giorgio, The Lives of the Artists Volume 1, George Bull, Trans., NY, London: Penguin Books, 1987