Design for the Wild by Emma Teal Laukitis

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ART H 204 A: Art History and Visual Culture

Michelangelo, Maker of Worlds

Meeting Time: 
MW 1:00pm - 2:20pm
SAV 260
Stuart Lingo
Stuart Lingo

Syllabus Description:


Mondays and Wednesdays, 1:00-2:20, Savery Hall 260


Professor: Stuart Lingo   Office: Room 361, School of Art + Art History + Design  Office Hours: Mondays and Wednesday 2:30-3:30 and by appointment.

TA: Lane Eagles (

Sections: Tuesdays, venues below

Section AA – 10:30-11:20 School of Art 003

Section AB – 11:30-12:20 Art 003

Section AC – 1:30-2:20 Art 003

Section AD – 2:30-3:20 Art 003

Office hours Tuesdays 12:20 - 1:20 and 3:20 - 4:20 Art 311 

Writing Tutor Kit Coty ( office hours Thursdays 11:00-1:00 ART 008 

Writing Tutor Karen Beech ( office hours Mondays 11:30 - 12:30 ART 341 

Course Description

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

Our class is a 200-level writing class, which means that it is designed to be accessible while helping you develop skills early on in serious critical writing. The class will two exams that test basic knowledge of course content, but the focus will be on writing assignments, culminating in a short critical analysis paper for which you will produce a draft and then revise the final paper on the basis of the feedback you receive. The fundamental book for the course is Anthony Hughes' 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 Hughes 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.

More generally:

-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 two unit exams, short writing assignments, and a critical analysis paper in which you explore varied interpretations of important Michelangelo works.


School of Art Class Participation, Engagement and Learning Policies (Links to an external site.):

Even though this is a large class, I will make frequent efforts to engage students during lecture; doing the 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 lectures and 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.


Schedule and Readings:

Week One: Michelangelo’s Origins: Reality, Myth, and the “Crisis” of 1500

Monday, January 7: Introduction: Michelangelo between Myth-Making and Historical Innovation

Tuesday, January 8: No section

Wednesday, January 9: Michelangelo’s Origins and the Work of the Body

            Reading: Anthony Hughes, Michelangelo (London: Phaidon, 1997), 4-32.


Week Two: Between the Antique and the Sacred: Icon, Narrative, and the Body Beautiful as Sacred Signifier   

Monday, January 14: A God and a Virgin in Rome, and the Return of the Cult Statue

Reading: Hughes, Michelangelo, 35-62.

Tuesday, January 15: Visual analysis      

Wednesday, January 16: Crisis and Innovation in the Altarpiece

Reading: Alexander Nagel, Michelangelo and the Reform of Art (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 25-43.


Week Three: Heroes and Republics

 Monday, January 21: Martin Luther King Day, University holiday  

 Tuesday, January 22: Thesis statements

Thesis statement draft due in section

Short Paper 1 draft due by 5pm

Wednesday, January 23: The Big White Giant and Naked Warfare

Reading: Hughes, Michelangelo, 65-102.


Week Four: A Tomb and a Ceiling for the Pope

Monday, January 28: “The Tragedy of the Tomb,” Act I

Reading: Hughes, Michelangelo, 105-118.

Tuesday, January 29: Assessing academic articles and primary and secondary sources

Wednesday, January 30: “The Place is Bad and I’m no Painter:” On the Sistine Ceiling

Reading: Hughes, Michelangelo, 118-144.


Week Five: Triumph, Entombed Hopes, and a Resurrection

Monday, February 4: Figuring Divine Thoughts

Reading: John O’Malley, “The Theology of Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling,”in The Sistine Chapel: The Art, the History, and the Restoration (New York: Harmony Books), 1986, 92-148. 

Tuesday, February 5: Common writing mistakes

Short Paper 1 final draft due by 5pm

Wednesday, February 6: The Tragedy of the Tomb Act II, and the Resurrection of the Flesh

Reading: Hughes, Michelangelo, 147-172.


Week Six: More Tombs and Tragedies: The Medici, Florence, and the Politics of Dissimulation

Monday February 11: The Medici Chapel, I: Politics, Religion, Representation

Reading: Hughes, Michelangelo, 175-206.

Tuesday, February 12: Exam review

Short Paper 2 draft due by 5pm

Wednesday February 13: First Unit Exam


Week Seven: The End of Florence

Monday February 18: Presidents’ Day, University holiday       

Tuesday, February 19: Common writing mistakes, rhetorical structure, and introductory paragraphs

Wednesday, February 20: The Medici Chapel, II: Simulacra and the Gaze of Stone

Reading: Hughes, Michelangelo, 224-227; Charles Dempsey, Inventing the Renaissance Putto (Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 219 (from final paragraph)-231. 


Week Eight: Religious Reform, and the Scandal of Modern Art

Monday, February 25: Michelangelo and the Body in Judgment

Reading: Hughes, Michelangelo, 238-254.

Tuesday, February, 26: Conclusion paragraphs

Conclusion paragraph draft due in section

Short Paper 2 final draft due by 5pm

Wednesday, February 27: The Last Judgment of Renaissance Art

Reading: Melinda Schlitt, “Painting, Criticism, and Michelangelo’s Last Judgment in the Age of the Counter Reformation,” in Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment”, ed. Marcia Hall (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge  University Press, 2005), 113-149.


Week Nine: Drawing, Private Faith, and the Art of Interiority

Monday, March 4: The “Presentation” Drawing, and drawing inward

Reading: Hughes, Michelangelo, 231-238, 257-263; Paul Joannides, “Primitivism in the Late Drawings of Michelangelo: the Master’s Construction of an Old-Age Style,” in Michelangelo Drawings (Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1992), 245-262.

Tuesday, March 5: In-class office hours (optional)

Wednesday, March 6: Piety and Pity – the Late Pietas

Reading: Hughes, 283-288, 313-316; John Paoletti, “The Rondanini Pietà: Ambiguity Maintained through the Palimpsest,” Artibus et Historiae, 21 (2000): 53-80; Nagel, Michelangelo, 200-216.


Week Ten: Muscle in Architecture – the Body Elsewhere

Monday, March 11: Animate Architecture and Building for Eternity

Reading: James Ackerman, The Architecture of Michelangelo (University of Chicago Press, 1986), ch. 1, “Michelangelo’s “Theory” of Architecture.” Hughes, Michelangelo, 207-224, 291-310.

Tuesday, March 12: Final exam review

Wednesday March 13: Second Unit Exam


Final paper due electronically by 5pm, Monday March 18

Catalog Description: 
Study of art and visual culture as instruments of knowledge and methods of human expression that operate in many arenas of history, tradition, and the contemporary environment.
GE Requirements: 
Social Sciences (SSc)
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
August 2, 2019 - 9:11pm