ART HISTORY 309: MICHELANGELO, MAKER OF WORLDS
Professor: Stuart Lingo Office: Room 361, School of Art + Art History + Design Office Hours: Monday and Wednesday
The name "Michelangelo" conjures epoch-making genius and an overwhelming legacy of nearly superhuman achievement. We didn’t invent these notions; they were products of Michelangelo’s own lifetime. But they create a myth that can blind us to an even more fascinating reality: that of an artist whose radical experiments were often met with incomprehension or even resistance, and of a man who fought a beleaguered rear-guard action as his visions of artistic destiny, political freedom, and religious conscience were all swept away in the spiritual and cultural upheavals that transformed the Italy in which he had first emerged as an artistic thinker.
Michelangelo thus exemplifies both the achievements of what we have come to call the “Renaissance” and their radical, experimental and contested margins. Because he was seen as a supreme sculptor, painter, architect, and poet, his work offers us at once a window on an entire artistic culture and a deeply idiosyncratic and personal vision that demands careful historical excavation. This course is thus designed to introduce you both to Michelangelo’s work and to the challenges of understanding the Italian Renaissance. Beyond that, the course is also conceived as an introduction to the nature of scholarship in art history, and how artistic evidence can reveal critical aspects of culture and history.
Course Format and Readings
Every meeting of our course is structured around shared readings, and even course lectures are designed to involve class discussion of these readings and their arguments. The fundamental book for the course is Howard Hibbard’s Michelangelo, a classic and accessible study, which will be available for purchase as the University Bookstore. This text will be supplemented by readings from recent scholarship; all readings beyond Hibbard will be available on the course Canvas site.
Goals for Learning in the Course
Goals specifically tied to course content:
-Attain a greater understanding of the nature and legacy of Michelangelo’s work, of its place in the period we know as the Italian Renaissance, and of the specific importance of artistic production in period culture.
-Gain familiarity with some of the salient cultural, religious, political, and perceptual environments that conditioned Renaissance attitudes toward and uses of the visual arts.
-Enhance critical skills of visual “literacy” and “reading.” While all students receive training in verbal language, few receive significant education in the interpretation of visual language. This skill will prove crucial, however, in our media age, which relies increasingly on visual messages and on the interplay of text and image.
-Develop and refine skills of close observation, careful analysis, and precise articulation in the study and interpretation of visual forms, and textual arguments made about them.
-Achieve heightened understanding of the interrelation and reciprocal influences between visual culture and other areas of culture and society.
-Enhance skills in critical reading, independent research, and the evaluation of scholarly art historical arguments.
-Enhance skills in writing and the articulation of persuasive arguments based on evidence.
These goals will be both practiced and tested throughout the course. As you study or work on your paper, remember to consider these issues. We will work together to build the relevant skills in class discussions.
Assignments and Grading
The course will have in-class mid-term and final exams, and a critical analysis paper in which you explore varied interpretations of critical Michelangelo works. The system of grading (on the 4 point scale) will be as follows:
final exam: 35%
final paper: 35%
Even though this is a relatively large class, I will make frequent efforts to engage all students during lecture; doing all assigned reading and coming to class prepared to discuss it will be critical to your success. If you have to miss a class, please let me know and make arrangements with me or a fellow student for a review; our class discussions are critical to understanding the material of the course.
Please observe due dates for all assignments, which will be posted at the beginning of the course. Late submissions will result in grade-point loss of 0.25 per day except in the case of severe extenuating circumstances, such as serious illness or family crisis.