Laura E. Smith

Associate Professor of Art History, Michigan State University

Western Art: Renaissance through Contemporary Periods

Course Description

The Western version of art history, while culturally distinct in some respects, also reveals a diverse array of works of art, artists, and sources for artistic inspiration.  This course studies the art of Europe and North America since 1300, focusing on style, iconography, and technique, as well as the function of and context for the art object.  The class additionally addresses the role of patronage, religion, science, gender, race, class, and revolution in the history of art.

Course Objectives

1. To develop a knowledge of some of the major art and architectural works of the Western world from the Renaissance to the Modern period

2. To understand how Western art responded to and influenced some art works from other parts of the world.

3. To discuss art using the terminology common in the field.

4. To develop skills in visual analysis, evaluative reading, and critical thinking in relation to Western art.

5. To be able to associate some particular types of objects with particular cultural groups and/or geographic areas.

6. To understand how art in Western culture developed from the Renaissance period to the modern, including key cultural and individual contributions that occurred.



Required Text: Gardner’s Art Through The Ages, Vol. II: The Western Perspective, 13th Edition.



The tests assess course objectives #1, 3, and 5. (See first page of syllabus) They measure your understanding of specific facts, nothing more.  They are not designed to assess critical thinking or writing skills. Questions will focus on the key artworks and terms presented in lectures.  These are the only things that this test will cover.  The key artworks and terms are your study guides.  You are responsible for knowing the artist (if known), the culture/country of origin, the style, the date or period.  This information is obtainable either from the textbook, lectures, or you can check on definitions through the Grove Art Dictionary. (See Online Resources above) 

The format of exams will be multiple choice, matching, and ranking type questions.

These exams are short, but demand precision.  It is highly recommended that you use flash cards to prepare for these exams.  Most students who do not use this study method fail these exams. 


Study Aids

Flash Cards (recommended) – Please note (in regards to the images) that you are only being tested on the artist (if known), the culture/country of origin, the style, and the date or period.  Some image flash cards my students have generated in the past (and that you may find online) have way too much information on them. The more you know about the artist, the period, the style, and the country of origin, the better you will do on exams. But you don’t need every word of the lecture on your flash cards.

Online Practice Quizzes – Several times during the semester we will post exam practice questions on Loncapa for you to assess your knowledge.  These are only practice; they will not count towards your course grade.


Writing Assignments/Flipped Classroom Sessions (see syllabus for dates)

A “flipped classroom” is one where rather than listening to lecture in class and doing assignments outside of the classroom, a student will do preparatory work at home and complete an assignment or other exercise in class.

Five times during the semester, you will experience this kind of classroom.  The in-class assignments assesses course objectives #2 and 4.  These exercises are designed to encourage you to continue to process course information and to present your own thoughts concerning what you have learned.  These essays will gauge the development of your critical thinking skills in art history.

The preparatory work for these sessions is listed on the syllabus and should be done in advance of the class for which they are assigned.  It is expected that flipped classroom time is reviewing reading notes or writing time, not reading or watching videos for the first time.  Your advance preparation will also help you develop and post your best work.

At the end of each session, you will post your writing assignments online for the GA to review.  More directions will be presented closer to each due date. There will be a rubric to follow for each assignment.  The GA assigns points based on this rubric, along with a few brief comments if time allows. If you want more feedback, please do contact the GA or me.  We are very glad to review your assignments with you at any time.



Week 1

Jan 8 Introductory lectureWhat is art history? What is a Western Art Survey?

  • Why include “Global and Regional Moments”
  • Read: Gardner, Introduction, pp. xxv-xxxvii; course syllabus.       

Jan 10 Late Gothic in Italy (and Siena)

  • Guilds and Artistic Training in the Renaissance
  • Fresco Painting
  • Global Moment: Persian/Mughal painting studios
  • Read: Gardner, Chapter 14, pp. 375-388

Week 2

Jan 15 15th century Italian Renaissance in Florence and Mantua: Family and Courtly Patronage

  • Renaissance Perspectival System
  • Global moment: Nok sculpture and Nigerian proportions
  • Read: Ch. 16, pp. 391-392, 418-427, 430-434, 440-445, 450-452

Jan 17 15th century Northern Renaissance (Flanders and France): Courtly and Family Patronage

  • ****Flipped Classroom: Writing Assignment #1
  • Read: Gardner, Ch. 15, pp. 396-411
  • Watch: the Kahn Academy videos on Van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece, parts 1 and 2, and the Arnolfini portrait

Week 3

Jan 22 16th century High Renaissance in Rome: Leonardo and the New St. Peter’s

  • Leonardo and Raphael
  • The Role of Science in Art
  • Global Moment: Pueblo Worldview and Religious Architecture
  • Read: Chapter 17, pp. 456-465, 475-478

Jan 24  16th c. High Renaissance: Rome and Venice

  •  Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel
  •  Female Patrons in the Renaissance Art World
  • ****Flipped Classroom: Writing Assignment #2
  • Read: Chapter 17, pp. 466-475, 482-489
  • Watch: Michelangelo, The Sistine Chapel videos: Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Studies for the Libyan Sibyl, Last Judgement




We will review the readings in class, wander virtually through Vatican City, St. Peter’s and the Sistine Chapel, and then develop a response to a question that you will post by the end of the day.

Week 4

Jan 29 16th century Mannerism: Venice and Spain

  • Global Moment: Andrés de Concha, Baltasar de Echave Orio, Luis Juárez and Mannerist Painting in New Spain (Mexico)
  • Read: Ch. 17, pp. 490-493, 496-497; Ch. 18, p. 524

Jan 31  Reformation: Germany and the Netherlands

  • Albrecht Dürer and the Art of Engraving
  • The Uses of Allegory 
  • Read: Ch. 15, pp. 415-416; Ch. 18, pp. 502-512, 515-519

Week 5

Feb 5 The Counter-Reformation and The Italian Baroque

  • Artemisia Gentileschi: Women Painters and Depictions of Women in the 17th century
  • ***Flipped Classroom: Writing Assignment #3
  • Read: Ch. 19, pp. 526-540
  • Rozsika Parker and Griselda Pollock, “Critical Stereotypes: The Essential Feminine or How Essential is Femininity,” from Old Mistresses: Women, Art, and Ideology.  New York: Pantheon Books, 1981, pp. 1-27.
  • You will develop and post a short essay by the end of the day.

Feb 7 The Spanish and Flemish Baroque and the Making of the Court Artists: Velàsquez, Rubens, Van Dyck

  • The Dutch Republic – Art and Art Collecting
  • Read: Ch. 19, pp. 543-548;  Ch. 20, pp. 550-659

Week 6

Feb 12 Test I (covers Late Gothic up through the Counter-Reformation and Italian Baroque)

Feb 14  The Sun King: Art and Power in France

  • The Rococo Salon and High Society French Women
  • Read: Ch. 20, pp. 569-578; Ch. 21, pp. 582-589

Week 7

Feb 19 Neoclassicism and the Enlightenment: England and the U.S.

  • Global Moment: Chinese Porcelain, Yuan Dynasty, Temple Vase
  • Read:  Ch. 21, pp. 589-599
  • Chinese porcelain excerpt
  • John Kuo Wei Tchen, “Porcelain, Tea, and Revolution,” from New York before Chinatown: Orientalism and the Shaping of American Culture, 1776-1882, (1999)
  • Watch:  the David Vases video
  • ****Flipped Classrom: Writing Assignment #4
  • You will work on a writing assignment and post it by the end of the day.

Feb 21  No regular class meeting.

  • Required Film Screening (on your own)
  • The Power of Art: Jacques-Louis David (complete episode, 59:30 min)
  • ***be prepared for a film quiz on Feb 26


Week 8

Feb 26 Neoclassicism, Revolutions, and the Emperor Napoleon: France and the United States

  • Romanticism: France, Spain
  • Napoleon’s Invasion of Spain
  • The Atlantic Slave Trad
  • Zong Massacre – History of British Abolitionist Movement
  • Global Moment: Ghanian Ivories depicting slave trade
  • ***Quiz #1 related to film
  • Read: Ch. 21, pp. 600-601, 606; Ch. 22, pp. 609-625

Feb 28 Romanticism: The Romantic English Pastoral Landscape and Picturesque Conventions

  • Landscape Painting in the United States: The Hudson River School                                                                 
  • Global and Regional Moment: Nature, Iroquois/Anishnaabe Iconography, Aesthetics, and Quilled and Beaded Bags
  • Read: Ch. 22, pp. 625-629

Week 9

S p r i n g    R e c e s s

Week 10

March 12 Realism: France and the Painting of Everyday Life

  • The U. S. and the Civil War
  • The Invention of Photography and War                                                                 
  • Read: Ch 22, pp. 630-635, 638-640, 646-650

March 14 Impressionism (France)

  • The Parisian Modern City and Fleeting Moments
  • Global Moments: Japonisme, Edo Period, Hokusai, woodblock prints, 18th-19th c.
  • Read: Ch. 22 pp. 635-636; Ch. 23 pp. 654-663

Week 11

March 19 Post-Impressionism and Pointillism: The emotional and scientific qualities of color

  • Nineteenth-Century Color Theory
  • Regional Moment: Chicago, Modern Architecture and Art Nouveau
  • Read: Ch. 23 pp. 663-670, 678-682

March 21 No regular class meeting

  • Required Film Screening (on your own)
  • The Power of Art: Picasso’s Guernica (complete episode, 59:03 min)
  • ***be prepared for a film quiz on March 28


Mar 26 Test II

Mar 28 Expressionism and Cubism (France and Germany): Primitivism and the French Colonization of Africa

  • Global moment: African masks
  • ****Quiz #2
  • Read: Ch. 24, pp. 685- 704

Week 13

April 2 Modern Art in the U.S.: New York Dada, The Armory Show, Gallery 291

  • Modern Sexual Identities                                                                      
  • Read: Ch. 24, pp. 704-715

April 4 The Harlem Renaissance

  • Negritude in Paris
  • Read: Richard J. Powell, “Re/Birth of a Nation,” in Rhapsodies in Black: Art of the Harlem Renaissance (1997).


REQUIRED BROAD ART MUSEUM VISIT (1st week of April, on your own time)
****Museum Visit Writing Assignment: Works inspired by the Harlem Renaissance

  • Writing Assignment #5: -details tba
  • Due: April 11


Week 14

April 9 Modern Art, Modern Warfare: Dada, Expressionism, and Surrealism after WWI

  • Global moment: Frida Kahlo and Surrealism in Latin America
  • Read: Ch. 24, pp. 716-723, 736
  • Film Clip: Un Chien Andalou, Dali and Bunuel, 1929

April 11 Revolution and Design: Suprematism, De Stijl, Bauhaus (Russia and Holland)

  • Regional Moment: Chicago and the New Bauhaus
  • Frank Lloyd Wright and Lansing, Michigan
  • Read: Ch. 24, pp. 724-726, 736-742

Week 15

April 16 Art and Politics in the 1930s

  • Guernica and the Spanish Civil War
  • The Depression and FSA Photography
  • Global and Regional Moment: Mexican Muralism and the United States
  • Read: Ch. 24, pp. 716, 730-736

April 18 Abstract Expressionism

  • Global Moment: Navajo Sandpainting
  • Read: Ch. 25, pp. 746-753

Week 16

April 23 Pop Art and Minimalism

  • In-class video: Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol 1966 Interview –
  • Read: Ch. 25, pp.754-760

April 25 Feminist Arts of the 1970s

  • Read: Ch. 25, pp. 765-771


Final Exam: