MA in the History of Art

Revolutions, Translations, Imitations: The High Renaissance in Rome and its Legacy

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Course Description

The frescoes by Raphael and Michelangelo in the papal apartments and the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican are widely considered turning points in the history of Renaissance art. This MA discusses their revolutionary features and looks at the artistic trends that they generated in sixteenth-century Rome and beyond.

After first considering encounters in Florence between Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael in the opening decade of the sixteenth century, we shall embark upon an in-depth study of their activities in Rome, focusing above all on the patronage, iconography, and innovations of Raphael in the Stanze and Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling. Complementing this investigation with a critical reading of Vasari’s Lives, our next task will be to examine the various lines of artistic production inspired by Raphael’s and Michelangelo’s Roman works: while Raphael’s pupils and collaborators adapted and disseminated their master’s style in various media throughout Italy and abroad, other artists, notably Parmigianino, sought consciously to fashion themselves as new Raphaels, thus contributing to the creation of the myth of artistic perfection. By contrast, Michelangelo’s Roman works generated their most significant responses in Florence, with the radically original compositions of Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino, As a final chapter to this story, we shall examine in detail how the unveiling of the Last Judgement in 1541 prompted a debate about the merits and functions of art, raising issues that would soon come to shape Counter-Reformation image production.

This new course will provide opportunities to discuss and research fundamental issues in the study of Renaissance art such as invention, imitation, and the translation of artistic ideas, as well as concepts of authorship and originality. Among the central issues to be explored will be the role of prints in the dissemination of artistic inventions, the place of intermediaries in the production of works of art, and dynamic interactions between different artistic traditions. We shall also engage in critical discussion of current approaches to the interpretation of individual artworks and to the use of broader stylistic categories, such as High Renaissance, Mannerism and Counter-Reformation. For all of this, London’s world-famous collections of Renaissance works of art and its outstanding libraries will provide invaluable resources, opening up a host of possibilities for students to pursue innovative original research.

Language or other requirements

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