Reading and Writing about Visual Experience: Portraiture Before Photography in Western Europe
Tuesday | Thursday: 11:00 - 12:30pm
For over five centuries, portraiture has been one of the most popular genres in Western art history. It is sufficient to mention Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile to convince us of the tremendous agency portraits exert upon generations of viewers. Although portraits can seem straightforward, they are highly rhetorical. Despite the apparent consistency of their formula, they changed significantly over time with the evolving idea of the self and the varied socio-political contexts.
This course will examine the various functions of portraiture, starting at the Renaissance when the individual portrait privileged a faithful imitation of reality, and ending at the early nineteenth century before the era of photography – an innovation that would dramatically modify the conditions of imitation. Students will be invited to consider pictures within a larger frame of social interactions and address questions such as: What is the artist’s relation to the sitter? How intrusive were patrons? How were portraits displayed?
This class will focus on case studies relating to different historical contexts. Students will enrich their ability to describe objects and transcribe visual sensations into words. They will be introduced to different ways of writing about art and will learn how to compose compelling arguments. Each student will produce a 10-12-page research paper at the end of the course.