Skip to main content

Art and Society in the Middle Ages and Renaissance


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

Module description

In this module we explore major developments in European art between 1150 and 1550. This period spans the glories of the French Gothic and the Italian Renaissance, with a focus on the diversity of art in the period both north and south of the Alps.

We will focus 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
  • issues of style, including questions of regional traditions, self-conscious emulation of the arts of the past and ideas of development.

Indicative syllabus

  • Gothic art and architecture in Northern Europe: 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
  • The art of the Northern Renaissance: Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden and Albrecht Dürer and naturalism in early netherlandish painting; art for church and domestic devotion; the export of netherlandish painting; the exploitation of portraiture
  • Italian Renaissance art: artists including Leonardo and Michelangelo; pictorial space; classicism; the status of the artist; the persistent importance of religion; the use of the arts by princes, popes and communes

Learning objectives

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

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