Early Medieval Art Introduction

Professor Michelli Ext 3098

Website: http://www.ariadne.org/studio/michelli/
Flaten Auditorium Art 263
Tuesday, Thursday, 11.45-1.10 p.m. Office Hours by appointment

Set book:
J Snyder, Medieval Art, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, and Harry Abrams Inc, New York, 1989

On reserve:
J Beckwith, Early Christian and Byzantine Art, The Pelican History of Art, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, England, 1979

D Wilson, Anglo-Saxon Art, Thames and Hudson Ltd, London, 1984

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This course traces the establishment and spread of Christianity in Western Europe from around the 2nd Century AD to c.1000 AD. We are looking at a wide range of societies and their differing responses to and exploitation of Christianity. Rome, for example, which first accepted the faith, was already a literate society with a well established bureaucracy, legal system, high quality figurative art, and massive building types, and these formed the basis of the new artistic traditions which were set up for Christianity. But Christianity has an important problem with regard to figurative art: the Second Commandment forbids it. So we will not only trace the process by which new, legally validating artistic traditions were set up, but the further process by which this problematic commandment was circumvented. We will also be considering why it was necessary to do all this.

The rest of the course concerns the transmission of these artistic traditions throughout eastern and western Europe. In the Byzantine Empire religious art took on almost magical properties, dangerously appealing to a different aspect of the human psyche with, perhaps, inevitable results. We will contrast this approach with the Early Christian one to gain a better understanding of both. In Britain Christianity was transplanted to an illiterate society where the artistic validation of the faith would have been particularly important. Here, and in Charlemagne's Europe, the exploitation of art for religious and political purposes is particularly clearly seen, and it is worth comparing this repeating approach with that of Constantine in the Early Christian period, and the converted Vikings and the Ottonians in the 10th century. This is a well established use of art which is still practiced today. While all this was happening in the west, a new "chastened" art emerged in Byzantium, and we will try to trace its sources and rationale. This style (or is it a mode of thinking?), too, became well established and is still practiced today.

The power of art, the acceptance or rejection of particular styles and modes by the religious community, and the resultant introduction of new ways of conceiving of art including symbolism, revelation, magic, theater, and politics are the focus of this course.

The syllabus is divided into a series of numbered units which correspond to one class period each. The classes will be arranged around discussions of the works and readings listed in each unit. It is a good idea to learn the identifications of these works, as failure to do so seriously hampers your ability to join the discussions - and this is required and graded. Your participation will be tracked through name tags and you should think in terms of contributing twice per class if you hope for an "A". BRING SNYDER TO CLASS on the discussion days, as we will not be using slides. The discussions will focus on topics designed to set the material into its conceptual context. You will need to prepare for these as they are also the topics for your paper assignments, so be sure to ask for the topics in advance. There are advance reminders to do this in the syllabus.

You will write up the first and second discussions as full papers, which are due on the day of the discussion. See the paper requirements and grading policy for more specific information. You will prepare for the other discussion and for your final exam through your running e-mail assignment. For this, you will post one question or two answers per week to the class e-mail art-263 (sorry, not available to visitors). You may post more often that this if you wish, but this will not earn you extra points or credit. On the other hand, it might considerably improve the quality of the discussion. We are quite a large class, so try to keep the postings fairly short (say, one screenload, max), unless you get carried away. If you fall behind with your postings, you will lose their associated points for that week: you cannot back-date points with later postings. In my role as moderator of this discussion list, I will eyeball the postings for courtesy and accuracy, but the discussion is yours. If a posting seems particularly relevant, important or inaccurate, I will post a comment (because this is the raw material for your final exam, and you want to know if you can rely on it), but the discussion is yours and I will not be adding my ideas to it. When you know the topic for discussion 3, address your postings towards that topic. At all other times, choose your subjects to suit yourselves. Now, for the final exam, you will choose any thread from the entire semester, print out all its postings, and examine, expand, critique, or challenge it in a 1000 word discursus paper. Submit the complete thread and the paper (stapled together) at the final exam. The instructions for this continuing assignment are deliberately loose to allow you to define your own interests and approaches and to leave the course with something uniquely your own. So use your imagination, and TAKE THIS ASSIGNMENT SERIOUSLY.

Attendance is required and tracked and is worth extra credit if your final grade is borderline. It is your responsibility to be sure that I have noted your presence in class. If you arrive late, come and check the register immediately after class before you leave. I will not accept late "corrections".


Participation 44, i.e. twice per class = 10% of total grade
Postings 10 questions or 20 answers, or combination = 10% of total grade
Assignments Average of 3 assignments including final = 80% of total grade
Attendance Extra credit on final grade, if borderline

Home Syllabus Paper Presentation
Paper Writing Grading Policy