At the Seaside by William Merritt Chase

You are here

ART H 309 A: Topics in Art History

We look forward to safely returning to in-person instruction and activities this autumn quarter. Current and prospective students please visit our COVID-19 Updates pages.

Caravaggio: A Closer Look

Meeting Time: 
MW 11:30am - 1:20pm
ART 229
Estelle LIngo
Estelle Lingo

Syllabus Description:

Taking of Christ

Caravaggio: A Closer Look

            If you are enrolled in this course, chances are you are already intrigued by Caravaggio, whose distinctive art has excited scholars, students, and the general public since its rediscovery in the early twentieth century. Caravaggio finds a place in most art historical survey classes, where his paintings are generally noted for their tenebrism, “cinematic” or “theatrical” compositions, and often for subversive treatments of their ostensible subject matter. Caravaggio’s paintings make us want to talk about them, and indeed, they have inspired stories about the processes of their making and Caravaggio’s character and conduct since the seventeenth century. This course asks us to take a closer look, to probe the connections between the visual characteristics we single out as revolutionary in Caravaggio’s works and what art history has to say about them. Have we in fact yet identified and understood the visual innovations of Caravaggio’s art? And why and how do these visual innovations inspire such divergent interpretations of Caravaggio’s paintings? Twentieth-century art history imagined multiple Caravaggios, from a painter committed to the artistic ideals of post-Tridentine spirituality, to a proto-atheist whose art undermined church orthodoxies in favor of a new faith in scientific observation, to a psychologically troubled and violent figure whose images visualize inner turmoil and libertine desires. In the recent surge of publications following the four-hundredth anniversary of the artist’s death in 2010, scholars have offered new frameworks for thinking about Caravaggio’s art, yet many of these contradictions still remain unresolved. This course will emphasis close reading of recent and classic scholarly accounts of Caravaggio’s art, close visual observation of his paintings, and significant class discussion in order to examine these issues much more deeply than is possible in a traditional survey class, and ultimately, to reflect upon the methods and limits of art history.

Class sessions and assignments will allow you to:

  • build skills of visual observation and its verbal articulation as visual analysis
  • practice critical analysis of scholarly argumentation in art history
  • learn strategies for constructing new art historical arguments and interpretations
  • engage in collaborative, discussion-based problem-solving


Your final grade will be based upon three, equally weighted components:

First Essay Exam – 1/3

One Position Paper – 1/3

Second Essay Exam – 1/3

Course Reading Schedule:

For every class session there is a reading assignment that you should complete before the class meeting. For the schedule of readings, please consult the course syllabus, available under Files.


Catalog Description: 
Topics vary.
GE Requirements: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Last updated: 
August 2, 2019 - 9:11pm