The Art of the Renaissance

The Renaissance marks the rebirth of the Classical Humanist tradition and the rejection of the Medieval Christian tradition. The Renaissance began as Italian city-states came to resemble the republican city-states of classical times. When classical texts from the Byzantine Empire arrived in Italy, Italians saw themselves in the life these texts portrayed, and attempted to revive the classical past as their model for life and art. We will study the art of this audacious attempt at rebirth and renewal as it made its way through Europe.

A $50 discount will be applied automatically for adults 55+.

This course is available at the following time(s) and location(s):

Campus Session(s) Instructor(s) Cost Seats available  
Online - William Ellis $170.00 0 Join Waitlist
Online - William Ellis $170.00 5 Register

Schedule clarification: This is a four-week online course. It runs from Monday, March 8 to Friday, April 2. Each week, all week, you can study that week’s material, post and respond to messages, and engage in course activities. Students enrolled in Section 1 will participate in live videoconferencing sessions each Monday from 1–2:30 p.m. PT; students enrolled in Section 2 will participate in live videoconferencing sessions each Tuesday from 3-4:30 p.m. PT.

Learning objectives

By the end of the course, you should be able to do the following:

  • Describe the difference between the humanism of the Renaissance and the more religious perspective of the medieval period, and why this difference led to a revolution in artistic style
  • Explain how the rise of republics in Italy and the nearly independent republican cities of the Hanseatic league affected the material culture of Western Europe and the production of art
  • Discuss the differences between the Southern and Northern Renaissance
  • Discuss why Russia did not have a Renaissance

Learning methods

Your online learning will include the following methods:

  • Participation in written discussions with other students
  • Participation in videoconference seminars
  • Suggested and optional further readings and references

For Liberal Arts for 55+ Certificate students: you will write a reflective essay.


Week 1: From Gothic to Early Renaissance in Italy, 1300-1450

Gothic art, the art of the high-middle ages, mirrored the intellectual tradition of scholasticism in that it was a mixture of humanist and anti-humanist religious elements. In the course of the 14th and early 15th centuries, the anti-humanist elements of Gothic art were abandoned and the style of the Renaissance was born.

Week 2: The High Renaissance in Italy, 1450-1550

Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, and the painters, sculptors and architects who surrounded them brought the humanism of the Renaissance to a heroic pitch of expression. We look at their achievement.

Week 3: The Renaissance in Northern Europe 1500-1600

France, the Netherlands, Germany and Northern countries still medieval through most of the 15th century, adapted the ideals of the Italian renaissance to achieve distinctive expressions of the Renaissance style.

Week 4: The Renaissance in Central and Eastern 1500-1600

What culturally separates places such as Poland, the present-day Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary from places such as Russia? One answer is that the Renaissance reached them—while failing to reach the Russian lands. We contrast the Renaissance art of central Europe with the art of Russia.

Books, materials and resources

You will access reading material using SFU's online course management system, Canvas.

Technical requirements

This course is delivered using SFU's online learning system, Canvas. You can check if your browser is compatible with Canvas here.  

To get the most out of this online course, you should be comfortable doing the following:

  • Using everyday software such as browsers, email and social media
  • Navigating a website by clicking on links and finding pages in a menu
  • Downloading and opening PDF documents
  • Posting, replying and uploading images to a discussion board
  • Participating in videoconferencing sessions

You will be participating in videoconferencing using Zoom Meetings. For this, your computer needs to have a camera, microphone and speakers or headphones. Your computer software should be up to date with the latest available operating system and browser versions.

Accessing your course

  • A few days before the course starts, we will email you more information about the course and how you'll access it. You will also receive an email inviting you to access the Canvas learning platform (click on the link in the invitation to join the course). Once you’ve accessed Canvas, you can begin exploring the platform on your own. The full course will be accessible on its start date.
  • We’ll also host a virtual drop-in time on Zoom Meetings a few days before the course starts. This will give you a chance to check that you can access Zoom Meetings, and that your computer’s camera and microphone and speakers are working properly.

If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

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