MA in the History of Art

Seeing Sienese Art: Responses to the Works of a Medieval City.

Study at the CourtauldStudy at the CourtauldStudy at the Courtauld

Course Description

We now encounter the works of late-medieval Sienese artists as decontextualised survivals: a panel from a dismembered altarpiece on the Courtauld Gallery wall; a chalice in a display case in the V&A; a fragmentary drawing stored in the British Museum. What affects the way that we see these works now, and how were they seen when they were first created, almost seven hundred years ago? This course engages with different methods of reconstructing the changing appearance of Sienese art and the changing experiences of viewing that art. We will take two main approaches: the close study of the works themselves in their historical contexts, and engagement with broader questions of sight and visuality.
We will study works in different media. Material will include (but is not limited to) panel paintings and frescoes (Duccio, Simone Martini, and the Lorenzetti brothers), sculpture (Tino di Camaino), and goldsmith's work (Guccio di Mannaia and Ugolino di Vieri). Whenever possible, works will be studied at first hand in London Galleries and Museums. A key element in the course will be a short study trip to Siena and Florence, which will take place in early December (to be confirmed). We will begin by considering how such works are seen now, how they have changed over time, and (in the case of painting) how we can see below the surface to understand more about their making. Architectural and functional contexts will be reconstructed so as to explore medieval viewing conditions. We will look at the changing forms and uses of large-scale panel paintings, and at narrative cycles of the early fourteenth century, on panel (Duccio's Maestà for the cathedral of Siena) and in fresco (Pietro Lorenzetti's Passion cycle at Assisi), paying particular attention to illusionistic experiments in evoking space, time, movement and light. We will use the productions of individual artists who copied, or drew on, existing works as a means of considering what they saw and aspired to emulate. Examples will be taken from within and beyond Tuscany, including the responses of some north European and Iberian artists and patrons. Looking beyond Siena to other European centres in which the works of Sienese artists were admired and copied enables us to consider whether these reflections can tell us something about what other artists and patrons saw in Sienese art.
The course also considers issues of vision, visuality and visions. In recent years the study of the later-medieval understanding of the physiology of sight has increased, together with the exploration of connections between sight and memory, the concept of the 'period eye', the characteristics of miraculous images, and the relations, or disjunctions, between corporeal and spiritual seeing within religious contexts. These investigations, often directed at north-European medieval art, or at early Renaissance Italy, help to enhance our approach to the art of Siena in the Duecento and Trecento, poised, as it is, between periods variously categorised as 'late-medieval' or 'Early Renaissance'.
Following this training in a variety of methods and approaches, the student 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 may concern works of later-medieval art either within or beyond Italy.

Language and other requirements

Standard entry requirements. A reading knowledge of Italian is advantageous throughout the course, especially when selecting the dissertation topic.