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2022/23 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

ARTF3056 Unmaking Things: Materials and Ideas in the European Renaissance

20 creditsClass Size: 18

Module manager: Dr Richard Checketts

Taught: Semester 1 (Sep to Jan) View Timetable

Year running 2022/23

Pre-requisite qualifications

At least 20 credits from ARTF1003, ARTF1004, ARTF1014, ARTF1015, ARTF1023, ARTF1024, ARTF1042, ARTF1043, ARTF1045, ARTF1046, or ARTF2000, ARTF2044

This module is approved as a discovery module

Module summary

This course will attend to a series of questions generated by historical consideration of the materials from which Renaissance artworks and objects were made. With a focus on Europe (though in a number of ways thinking about European encounters with other cultures), we will develop approaches that cross between close object-analysis and critical reflection on some of the broader social, political, religious and philosophical frameworks in which ideas of materiality took shape in this period. We will look at primary written sources (Renaissance and earlier classical and Christian texts), and think about a broad range of objects and materials. These might include sculpture, architecture in various forms, prints, ceramics, armour, pigments, religious artefacts and relics, as well as ‘natural’ bodies such as shells, pearls, coral, rock crystal, fossils, and marble. Some of the key themes the course will explore are around the varied ideas of transformation and power that became associated with materials during the Renaissance. Centrally, we will pursue ways of ‘unmaking’ the ostensibly settled and self-contained appearance of Renaissance objects, and of positioning them as active engagements within dynamic, and often conflicting, cultural tendencies.


The objective of this module is to engage historically with the materiality of Renaissance art. Working with a variety of media (across the conventional categories of the ‘fine’ and ‘decorative’ arts), and using a range of primary written sources, its aim is to position the artwork within the wider cultural contexts in which materials were encountered and understood in the early modern period. The module aims also, in a number of ways, to situate the European Renaissance in its relations with non-European cultures.

Learning outcomes
By the end of the module students will have a clear understanding of the importance of materials in the historical interpretation of Renaissance art. They will be able to locate and discuss works of art in relation to a number of social, religious and scientific/philosophical frameworks, as well as in relation to European encounters with other cultures. Students will be able to build upon, and in some cases offer an informed challenge to, more established approaches in Renaissance art-historical studies (such as those based on the study of iconography, or patronage, for example). They will have developed their skills in close object analysis, and acquired confidence in the use of primary written sources.

Skills outcomes
The module will broaden the range of approaches available to students within the discipline of art history, and it will foster critical reflection on the effectiveness of different approaches towards different interpretative ends. It will develop skills central to the discipline of art history, notably those involving the transitions between very close analysis of objects and critical reflection on the broader cultures in which artworks take on meaning.


The module is research-led, so the syllabus will change year to year. As a guide, the themes and objects the module will address might include the following:
- Traditions of describing and ordering materials before the Renaissance; antiquity; the Arabic tradition within Europe; materiality in Medieval Christianity.
- Materiality and global encounters in the early modern world; Islamic objects in Christian treasuries; extra-European travel and redefinitions of the natural order.
- Ideas about matter in Christianity.
- Renaissance philosophies of nature.
- Material innovation and questions about the value of objects.
- Intersections and interactions between philosophical, scientific, alchemical theories with technical or artisanal practices.
- Ideas of material transformation in metals, ceramics, glass, mineral pigments.
- Modelli and bozzetti: questions of material in artistic process.
- Armour, materials, fashion, and the body.
- Architecture as ‘natural’ material.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours181.75
Total Contact hours18.25
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

Students will be required to read and make notes on complex texts in preparation for detailed class discussions. They will be expected to think independently and creatively about how each of the readings relates to the broader themes of the module.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Student progress will be monitored through their contribution in class and through assessed coursework submitted in week 5 and at the end of the semester (see below).

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay1 x 2500- 3000 words60.00
Essay1 x 2500- 3000 words40.00
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: 29/04/2022 15:22:37


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