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Major Mind-Blowing Moments in the History of Western Art

Massachusetts College of Art and Design via Kadenze


This course introduces students to twenty-four of the greatest mo(nu)ments in the history of Western art, and the forces that shaped the larger history of Western culture. Two dozen key monuments in different media, including visual arts, music and literature, will provide the focus for an evolving and ever more widely ranging discourse concerning the ways in which we define art. We will examine the way art has been (and can be) interpreted and re-interpreted; the infinitely complex relationships between art and the artist and the viewer; and the time and place in which it is made and the time and place in which it is subsequently seen, assessed, and interpreted.

The course begins with an examination of the fifth century BC Parthenon (1) on the Acropolis at Athens, the greatest example of Greek classical architecture and sculpture, followed by a discussion of the Hellenistic sculpture, Laokoön (2), a discussion that expands the notion of classicism and entails thoughtful consideration of the rapport between art and human suffering.

The Roman Pantheon (3), Emperor Hadrian’s temple to the planetary deities, by many scholars identified as the most perfect building in the world, will be the focus of the second session, leading to an examination of the sixth-century AD mosaics at San Vitale in Ravenna (4).

The Early Middle Ages in Europe will focus on the Lindisfarne Gospels (5), while the Sainte Chapelle (6) in Paris will be the conduit for a conversation on the Medieval ecclesiastical interior.

The Renaissance will pit Leonardo’s Last Supper (7) against Titian’s Rape of Europa (8) and Michelangelo’s David (9); Palladio’s Villa Rotonda (10), Caravaggio’s Beheading of Holofernes (11), and Gianlorenzo Bernini’s Cornaro Chapel (12) will extend that discussion into the Baroque period.

Northern art will be discussed in a session that moves from Jan van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece (13) to the etchings of Albrecht Durer (14) and the Bathsheba of Rembrandt (15). The complex of absolutist complexes that is the palace of Versailles (16) will be viewed from the perspective of Goya, as introduced by his Self Portrait with Doctor Arrieta (17).

Jacques Louis David’s Oath of the Horatii (17) will be viewed against the backdrop of the ancient regime. Romantic and Realist alternatives to Neoclassicism will be found in the “trialogue” between Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello (18), Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa (19) and Courbet’s Burial at Ornans (20). Monet’s Impression: Sunrise of 1872 (21) is the opening of a session which ends with a comparison of the Eiffel Tower (22) and the Ferris Wheel in Chicago (23).

The last session will consider a work by Jackson Pollock (24) as representative of the Modern notion of the end of the hegemony of traditional representation.


Session 1: Foundations  Session 2: Greek Classicism  Session 3: Ancient Rome  Session 4: The Middle Ages  Session 5: The Renaissance  Session 6: The Baroque Period: An Oddly Shaped Pearl  Session 7: Widening Circles: Northern Art  Session 8: The Modern Period  Session 9: Arriving In The Present 

Taught by

David Nolta


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