Skip to main content

Art and Society in the Middle Ages and Renaissance


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 5
  • Convenor: Professor Leslie Topp
  • Assessment: a 1000-word primary source analysis (40%) and 2500-word essay (60%)

Module description

This module explores major developments in European art between 1150 and 1550. This period spans the glories of the French Gothic and the Italian Renaissance, and the module highlights the diversity of art in the period both north and south of the Alps. It focuses on three main themes: social structures and practices, including those of princely and royal courts and the increasingly important cities, with their impact on the patronage, production and reception of visual art; the beliefs and practices of the Christian religion, which in this period permeated all aspects of life; and issues of style, including questions of regional traditions, self-conscious emulation of the arts of the past and ideas of development.


  • Gothic art and architecture in Northern Europe, including the development of cathedrals, their images and narratives in stained glass and sculpture; patronage of the major royal courts and cities and exchange of ideas and artists; development of painted images in different media and their devotional role
  • Art in late medieval Italy, including the work of Giotto and dealing with the art and architecture of the nascent communes, the art of the Franciscans, the art of commemoration and the idea and practice of the artist
  • The Art of the Northern Renaissance, including the work of Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden and Albrecht Dürer and dealing with naturalism in early netherlandish painting, art for church and domestic devotion, the export of netherlandish painting and the exploitation of portraiture
  • Italian Renaissance art, including the work of Leonardo and Michelangelo and dealing with pictorial space, classicism, the status of the artist, the persistent importance of religion and the use of the arts by princes, popes and communes

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge of:

  • the nature of stylistic innovations and traditions in European regions covered by the module
  • the themes covered in the module
  • the functions, typologies and iconographies of works produced in this period.