MA in the History of Art

The Arts of Florence and Central Italy, 1400-1500

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Course Description

Fifteenth-century Florence encountered a flowering of the arts, such that subsequent historians came to see it as occupying a pivotal position in the development of both Italian and European art.

The stylistic innovations of Masaccio, Donatello and Brunelleschi, not to mention the patronage of a figure like Lorenzo the Magnificent, were seen as instituting monumental changes that rippled outwards from this dynamic centre.

When, in his life of the painter Pietro Perugino, the sixteenth-century biographer Giorgio Vasari asked why this should be the case, he decided that ‘it was in Florence more than in any other place that men became perfect in all the arts, especially in painting…’ But Perugino was not Florentine and although he did work there with great regularity, he painted as often in and around Perugia. A similar point could be made about Piero della Francesca, while other important painters such as Sassetta or Matteo di Giovanni seem to have had little interaction with the city on the Arno.

This course will examine afresh the art produced during the fifteenth century in Florence by asking what relationships existed with other cities in central Italy, such as Siena, Perugia and Rome, as well as smaller towns like Borgo Sansepolcro, Foligno or Pistoia, where artistic traditions sometimes developed in dialogue with Florence and on other occasions in isolation from it.

The centrality of Florence has, naturally enough, been challenged; some rejecting it outright, others reaffirming its pivotal position, but few have dismissed its historiographic importance, or the richness of its artistic and archival heritage. The intensity with which scholars have investigated Florence makes it ideal as a case study, allowing students the opportunity to encounter the variety of approaches – from object-based technical examination to the application of theory – that have been taken to the art of figures like Uccello, Ghiberti and Botticelli.

The course will seek explanations for how artistic ideas were transmitted and students can expect to come away with an understanding of the interaction between various centres, provinces and peripheries in central Italy that have perhaps received less critical attention in English-language studies.

Language and other requirements

Standard entry requirements. A reading knowledge of Italian is highly desirable.