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VPHB74H3: Art in early Modern Europe Renaissances Outside Italy


Welcome to the Library Guide for VPHB74: Art in Early Modern Europe Renaissances Outside Italy

Course Description:

This course explores the rich visual culture produced in northern and central Europe 1400-1600. Topics such as the rise of print culture, religious conflict, artistic identity, contacts with other cultures and the development of the art market will be explored in conjunction with new artistic techniques, genres, styles and materials.  An exploration of the role of the artist will be a major theme throughout the semester. In the history of art history, this area has been overshadowed by an intense focus on Italian art of this era. Traditionally, scholars have divided the study of the so-called “Renaissance” era between Italy, and other geographical regions, with little attention paid to these latter areas and artists. As contemporary scholarship abolishes focus on a traditional canon, we are learning of the critical importance of art produced outside of Italy in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

We will examine visual material using analysis of its artistic and cultural significance, in order to create a solid foundation for considering the widest possible range of questions about the object, its context and meanings.  

  • Artistic significance:  technique; materials; style
  • Cultural significance: location; original intended audience; function
  • What is the difference between visual analysis and artistic significance? Answer:  visual analysis (also known as formal analysis aka analysis of FORM)  is: “an analysis of the work of art , which is made up of such things as line, shape, colour, texture, mass, composition. These things give the stone or canvas its form, its expression, its content, its meaning.” [Rudolph Arnheim, Art and Visual Perception (1974), quoted in Sylvan Barnet, A Short Guide to Writing About Art (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson Education Inc.  eleventh edition, 2015, p. 48]  Artistic significance provides analysis of how factors such as the types of material(s) used, the techniques involved (such as painting or photography) and the style used carry additional meaning and importance.



Interpreting Melencolia I

Albrecht Dürer’s 1514 engraving, Melencolia I, is now over 500 years old, and scholars still grapple with how to interpret this work. This print has been called “one of Dürer’s most puzzling compositions”, which naturally means that there is a large number of books, articles and exhibitions tackling its interpretation.1 One of the challenges in studying Early Modern Art is the multiplicity of viewpoints in interpretation of artworks that were meant to provoke and sustain deep looking and thinking. Scholars must be able to think, read and write critically in response to a range of ideas about a work of art. These exercises in interpretation will introduce students to the often-contentious and complex arguments that have been made about Albrecht Dürer’s famous engraving, Melencolia I. Students will explore several types of bibliographic sources, prepare summaries of the arguments, evaluate these arguments and bring their own responses to these ideas to an in-class debate/discussion. Students will also submit a final bibliography of all of the resources used in preparing for the debate.

Please note that the full assignment requirements are available through Quercus.