MA in the History of Art

Artists and Friars: The Renewal of Painting in Assisi and Siena in the 13th and 14th Centuries

Study at the CourtauldStudy at the CourtauldStudy at the Courtauld

Course Description

Artistic and religious renewal marked the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The pace of artistic change was rapid: in central Italy there were innovations in style, technique, subject matter, object types, the quantity, scale, and location of art, and the status of the artists themselves.

At the same time the foundation and growth of the Franciscan and Dominican orders signalled a new departure in religious life. Their chief mission was to care for the spiritual well-being of the laity, and art was one of the methods used to express their identity and communicate with their flock.

Religious and artistic renewals ran in tandem, but how were they related? This course considers the question through detailed study of key works of art associated with Assisi and Siena.

At the same time the course provides an introduction to methods in the study of late medieval and early renaissance art, serving as an art-historical training with wide application. The principal focus is on paintings – on panels and in fresco – but attention is also paid to sculpture and other media.

A knowledge of the physical characteristics of works of art is an important component of the course. This is supported by sessions in the conservation departments of the Courtauld Institute, and there will be an emphasis on first-hand study of objects in the Courtauld Institute, the National Gallery, Victoria and Albert Museum as well as in a range of locations during the study-trip to Italy. The issue of the identity of the individual artist is also a key concern. Some major figures remain elusive, or entirely anonymous, while we know enough about others to group together some of their works or even follow parts of their careers.

  • The first term concentrates on the Franciscans, especially in their headquarters at Assisi. The course traces the development of Franciscan iconography at Assisi, especially through images of the Passion and the narration of the life of St. Francis. Works studied include paintings by Cimabue, Giotto, Simone Martini and Pietro Lorenzetti. The role of art in promoting the cult of St. Dominic is also considered.
  • The second term concentrates on works made for Franciscan, Dominican, Augustinian and Carmelite friars by Sienese artists, including Duccio, Ugolino, Simone Martini and the Lorenzetti brothers.
  • A key element in the course is the short study trip to Assisi and Siena, which takes place in early December.

Following this training in existing methods of study, students will select a topic for the closely-supervised dissertation. Students are encouraged to develop their skills by applying them to a topic of their own choice that often concerns other areas of Italian painting and/or works in other artistic media.

Language and other requirements

Standard entry requirements. A reading knowledge of Italian is normally expected. Knowledge of other modern European languages, especially German, is advantageous as it provides access to important works of secondary literature. Many relevant texts and documents are available in translation, but a willingness to tackle material in Latin is a great advantage.