Art History 441

Florence and the Medici

Course Description

Course Description

A Wedding Procession to the Baptistery of Florence. 15th Century.
Florence, Bargello.

Course Requirements
Florence News
Lectures and Web sites
On the Paper
Reserve Items and Some Web Sites
News about Italian Renaissance Art
Vasari's Lives of the Artists
Sources for Florence
Movies of Italian Renaissance or Baroque Appeal


1994 marked the 500th anniversary of the expulsion of the Medici family from Florence. The family came to power in 1434 and ruled for sixty years through a canny blend of "first among equals" posture and behind-the-scenes influence. The Medici are most famous in history for their involvement with the artistic culture of Florence and were patrons of some of the leading artists of the time, including Donatello, Fra Angelico, Verrocchio, Botticelli and Michelangelo. Cast out by its citizens in 1494 seeking to create a Florentine republic, the Medici returned in 1512 and rapidly dropped any pretense of republican sympathies. Ironically, the rise of the new Medici rulers coincided with the decline of the artistic fortunes of their city.

Our course will focus on the artistic developments in Florence under the early Medici, that is, from Cosimo Pater Patriae to Lorenzo il Magnifico. We will look also at the rule of Cosimo I, the first of the Medici Grand Dukes in the 16th century, and briefly consider the the Medici of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. We will be interested in subjects such as the artists within and without the circle of Medici patronage; Medici interest in and efforts in the urban development of Florence; the Medici villas; humanism and the arts.


Prerequisites: Theoretically, Art History 106 or a Western Civilization course. In reality, nothing but interest in the subject and the willingness to do the work and participate in class. Those with no art historical background are strongly advised to read over the relevant sections of any of the standard art history survey texts. Texts: Our main historical text is Christoper Hibbert, The House of Medici: its Rise and Fall (1980). Please read the book in its entirety; the schedule below is a suggestion. Our main art historical texts are:

Guido Zucconi, Florence: an Architectural Guide, Verona, 1995.

J. R. Hale, ed. Encyclopedia of the Italian Renaissance.

Charles Avery, Florentine Renaissance Sculpture. The first two are to be used as reference sources throughout the course. You will be expected to acquire a basic topographical knowledge of the city of Florence; and the Encyclopedia will provide basic collateral knowledge of the period. You are expected to purchase all of these. Copies will also be available on reserve in the Art History Library.

Additional readings:

We will also use separate readings from books and articles. These will also be placed on hold in the Art Library. Readings will be selected from: Hartt, History of Italian Renaissance Art, Paoletti and Radke, Art in Renaissance Italy, and Heydenreich, Architecture in Italy: 1400-1500 (ed. by P. Davies). Copies of these are also available at the bookstore.

Field Trip: There will be a voyage to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on a Saturday to be arranged, sometime before the midterm.

The Exams: There will be two exams: a midterm and a final. The midterm will consist of a series of short essay questions, often in conjunction with slides of the works we have studied. The final will be a take-home essay; you will have three or four questions to choose from and several days within which to finish.

The Paper: The paper is to be on an object or monument of your choice. I will make up a list of suggestions which you can also use. We will talk more about this in class, but in general I wish you to discuss the work in relation to the effects of Medician rule and patronage in this period. This will be a semi-research paper; the length should be about 10-15 pages.

Please note that the readings and the schedule as currently listed may have to be adjusted due to circumstances beyond our control.

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