Undergraduate Seminar: On Unicorns, Lions, Dragons, and Rabbits: Noah’s Ark from the Medieval Bestiarium to the Baroque Menagerie
In this seminar, we will consider how our local Berkeley mountain lions, canyon deer, and gophers relate to Dante and Giotto, and what our hummingbirds have to do with the global Baroque age. We will consider a history of animals in art that situates their aesthetics and ascribed symbolism in their changing social and scientific contexts. Collecting examples from late medieval to early modern and Baroque age and relating them to ancient as well as modern images of and ideas about animals, we will analyze their representation in the visual arts in relation to their represented environment, narrative, and human beings in and in front of the image / object. Studying the visual arts alongside the epochal texts that stand in relationships of mutual influence with the artworks, we will dip into a pool of images of “beasts” ranging from the naturalistic to the legendary and mythical in manuscripts, discussing particularly the Franciscan tradition, Dante’s Divine Comedy, animals represented by artists such as Giotto, Pisanello, Donatello, Mantegna, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Titian, Bernini, and Tiepolo – always in tune with the cultural resonance of their images in the arts and the wider world historical context.
Starting with central fauna iconographies such as the animals represented in Paradise and in Noah’s Ark, the seminar will search lesser known imagery and identify animals as peacemakers, placemakers, protectors, speaking coats of arms, threats, punishment, psychic forces, symbols, mottos, messengers, comforting and menacing presences, and in a variety of narrative functions.
Introducing the theme from a contemporary perspective, we will consider the role of animals in art in the medieval and early modern age with an eye on critical theory and on related historiographies in the arts, philosophy, and biology throughout the centuries, especially the long nineteenth century’s impact on animal studies and current work on animals in the arts and in art history.
Conducted in English, the class is open to majors from all fields. No previous art history or literature history preparation required. Italian and other non-English texts (such as French, Spanish, and German) will be introduced on a basic level as desired by the students. This course is designed to connect with other and further studies in broad fields including but not limited to Medieval Studies, Renaissance & Early Modern Studies, critical theory, interdisciplinary studies, and literature studies. Students from all backgrounds are welcome; please email Prof. Lange to discuss your interest in the course and potential adjustments for majors outside the arts and humanities.
This class resonates with Prof. Lange’s Spring 2021 lecture course Italian Studies 30, “Dante 2021: The Elements of Hell, Purgatory, Paradise (Earth, Air, Water, Fire).”
This course fulfills the following Major requirements: Geographical area (A), and Chronological period (II).