RCHUMS 346 - Art and Philosophy in the Renaissance Tradition
Fall 2020, Section 001
Instruction Mode: Section 001 is  Online (see other Sections below)
Subject: RC Humanities (RCHUMS)
Department: LSA Residential College


Course Note:
Instruction Mode As a DC (Distance due to COVID) course, all aspects of this course will be fully compatible with remote online learning. Learning Mode The weekly lecturers for this course will be made available synchronously.
Requirements & Distribution:
May not be repeated for credit.
Primary Instructor:


This seminar investigates fundamental questions raised during the early modern period in Europe about the nature of art as an ethical practice and as a way of knowing the world. What is the purpose of art? Where do artists find their ideas? Why do objects exert effects upon viewers? What is the relationship between ars and ingenium—that is, between rules and creative license? What is the role of practical knowledge and what is the role of divine inspiration in the process of artistic creation? During this period (roughly from 1400 to 1780) we find that many different kinds of people—artists, poets, academicians, princely secretaries, clergymen—offered answers to such questions. The Humanist revival of ancient Greek and Roman literature and philosophy in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries was crucial to the early modern idea that the making and enjoying of visual art should be considered a philosophical activity. From the fourteenth century onward, treatises, dialogues and poems aimed at general educated readers fueled the discussion of how visual art affects our moral lives and how it reveals truths about the natural, human and divine worlds. The belief that art has an ethical purpose, that it engages the higher faculties of the mind, that it offers instruction as well as delight, contributed fundamentally to the modern conception of visual art as a guide to understanding and means of representing the human condition. Artists themselves often reflected on their activity in their works and expressed their ideas by pushing the limits of what could be stated in material form. This seminar will offer an introduction to early modern European thought about visual art on the basis of selected writings in English translation and the evidence of paintings, sculptures, drawings and prints, some of them in the University of Michigan Museum of Art. Emphasis will be given to works by Italian, German, Dutch and English artists. Readings will be drawn from Giovanni Boccaccio, Leon Battista Alberti, Leonardo da Vinci, Baldessar Castiglione, Albrecht Dürer, Lodovico Dolce, Giorgio Vasari, Giovan Pietro Bellori, Johann Joachim Winckelmann, among others..

Textbooks/Other Materials:

  • Michael Harvey, The Nuts and Bolts of College Writing, 2nd ed., Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2013. ISBN: 9781603848985
  • Leon Battista Alberti, On Painting, trans. C. Grayson, Penguin, 2004. ISBN: 0140433317
  • Leonardo da Vinci, Leonardo on Painting: An Anthology of Writings, trans. M. Kemp and M. Walker, New Haven: Yale Nota Bene, 2001. ISBN: 030009051
  • Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Artists, Volume 1, trans. G. Bull, Penguin, 1987. ISBN: 0140445005

HISTART Distribution Requirements: D. Europe and the US, 3. Early Modern, 4. Modern and Contemporary

Course Requirements:

  • Three short papers (30%)
  • Two short slide-essay exams (20%)
  • Term paper draft (15%)
  • Term paper (25%)
  • Participation (10%)

Intended Audience:

Upper-level undergraduates

Class Format:

Two 80-minute seminar meetings per week, lecture and discussion


RCHUMS 346 - Art and Philosophy in the Renaissance Tradition
Schedule Listing
001 (SEM)
TuTh 4:00PM - 5:30PM

Textbooks/Other Materials

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