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2018/19 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

ITAL2090 Power, Pain and Beauty: Introduction to the Art and Literature of the Italian Renaissance

20 creditsClass Size: 15

Module manager: Dr Federica Pich

Taught: Semesters 1 & 2 (Sep to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2018/19

Pre-requisite qualifications

Level 1 Italian or equivalent

This module is mutually exclusive with

ITAL2091Power, Pain and Beauty: Introduction to the Art and Literatu

Module replaces


This module is approved as a discovery module

Module summary

It would be hard not to enjoy the art we shall study on this module - the awe-inspiring virtuosity of Michelangelo's frescoes on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Or Giotto's ability to combine the sheer ordinariness of life with extraordinary events: a plump man downs his drink; a friend betrays a friend; angels weep. And enjoyment is the key to much of the literature on the module. Machiavelli's La mandragola pokes fun at the corrupt priests, oversexed young men, and stupid lawyers of Renaissance Italy; and Ariosto's Orlando furioso mixes magic, love and war with the aim, many critics argue, of entertaining its readers. So we'll aim, above all, to enjoy what we study on this module. But we'll also go beyond the euphoric view of Renaissance Italy - the view that tourist companies want us to take - to ask some tougher questions. Why is pain so important to Giotto's art? Did women have a Renaissance? How did Michelangelo get away with painting so many naked men on the Sistine Chapel ceiling? How did Italy think of the Islamic world? And when we come to study Machiavelli's Il principe, we'll find Machiavelli asking some of the toughest questions in politics: is it better to be loved than feared? Do you have to be good to be a successful political leader? What happens to morals when political times are hard?


On completion of this module, students should be able to demonstrate an informed knowledge of some of the major works of art and literature of the Italian Renaissance. They should be able to analyse and discuss the set visual and literary texts, and relate them to the social and intellectual context of the Renaissance. They should be able to comment in detail on the techniques used by artists and writers in the Renaissance, and show how these artists and writers related to the traditions they inherited.

Skills outcomes
On completion of this module, students should be able to:
- read, analyse and understand texts written in Renaissance Italian;
- discuss, analyse and understand artworks of the Renaissance;
- gather, evaluate and use information from secondary sources;
- show an awareness of the historical, cultural and linguistic situation of Renaissance Italy;
- communicate effectively, both orally and in writing;
- use IT effectively, both as a means of communication and as an aid to learning;
- write clearly and in an appropriate idiom about complex topics;
- take personal responsibility for their own learning.


The module begins by considering a major work by the artist often considered to be the `father of the Renaissance': Giotto's Arena Chapel. It shows how an understanding of the social, artistic and intellectual context in which Giotto painted the frescoes of the Arena Chapel casts light on the artwork itself: in particular, examining the important movement in late medieval spirituality seen in the Franciscan movement, and considering shifting attitudes towards material wealth and physical pain. We will consider the ways in which this work has been seen as a foundation for the Renaissance, and evaluate such a judgment. The module then moves forward to look at another major fresco cycle: that by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel ceiling. We are now in a very different cultural context, however: that of High Renaissance Rome, in which ideas of beauty are being developed in new ways. The first semester concludes with an examination of Machiavelli's comedy La mandragola, a work which gives a view of Renaissance life which is different again, poking fun at its corrupt priests, its oversexed young men, and its stupid lawyers.

Semester 2 examines Ariosto's chivalric epic, the Orlando Furioso, a work which many critics have suggested was written with the sole aim of entertaining its readers. It is a story of magic, love and war, set in the medieval past; but it also has much to tell us about Renaissance society. As well as paying close attention to Ariosto's technique, we shall also examine the ways in which the text raises questions about a range of aspects of Renaissance society: in particular, questions of gender roles, court life and the relationship between poets, artists and patrons. Finally, we consider Machiavelli's Il principe, an analysis of the exercise of power which shocked many of its early readers and retains its ability to surprise.

Semester 1

Week 1: Giotto, the Arena Chapel; introduction to late medieval art and society
Week 2: Giotto, the Arena Chapel; Franciscanism and the question of artistic realism
Week 3: Giotto, the Arena Chapel; wealth, usury and sin
Week 4: Giotto, the Arena Chapel; Giotto between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance
Week 5: Michelangelo, the Sistine Chapel Ceiling; Introduction to High Renaissance art
Week 6: Michelangelo, the Sistine Chapel Ceiling; Renaissance Rome and the Classical World
Week 8: Michelangelo, the Sistine Chapel Ceiling; the idea of Beauty
Week 9: Michelangelo, the Sistine Chapel Ceiling; power and politics in Renaissance Rome
Week 10: Machiavelli, La Mandragola; Introduction to Renaissance Comedy
Week 11: Machiavelli, La Mandragola; Renaissance comedy and a society in conflict

Semester 2

Week 2: Ariosto, Orlando Furioso; Introduction to chivalric epic
Week 3: Ariosto, Orlando Furioso; Analysing Narrative Poetry
Week 4: Ariosto, Orlando Furioso; The poem 'inside the poem:' vision and self-reflexivity
Week 5: Ariosto, Orlando Furioso; Love, Madness and Magic
Week 6: Ariosto, Orlando Furioso; Gender and War
Week 7: Ariosto, Orlando Furioso; the text and the world: echoes of Renaissance Italy
Week 8: Machiavelli, Il principe; politics and power in the Renaissance
Week 9: Machiavelli, Il principe; Florentine Humanism
Week 10: Machiavelli, Il principe; Fortuna and VirtĂș, fate and the individual
Week 11: Machiavelli, Il principe: the shapes of thought: Renaissance rhetoric

Teaching methods

Due to COVID-19, teaching and assessment activities are being kept under review - see module enrolment pages for information

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours169.00
Total Contact hours31.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

Private study, reading of texts, preparation for general class discussion: 119 hours
Preparation and writing of assessed essays: 45 hours
Preparation for class presentation: 5 hours

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Progress will be monitored through feedback given on student presentations in seminars, and on performance in the assessed essays. Feedback will be provided on the first essay before the second is due. Progress will also be monitored informally through general class participation and work conducted online (e.g. via a discussion forum on the VLE to discuss guided reading exercises).

Methods of assessment

Due to COVID-19, teaching and assessment activities are being kept under review - see module enrolment pages for information

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay1 x 2,000 word essay42.00
Essay1,000 word commentary21.00
Presentation10 Minutes10.00
Group DiscussionClass participation6.00
Essay1,000 word commentary21.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 13/11/2018 09:25:46


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