Western Art: From the Greeks to the Renaissance (55+)

We will survey Western art from classical Greece through the Renaissance, relating the art to the leading ideas of the cultures in which it was created. We will consider the art of Greece, Rome, the early Christian period, the Romanesque and Gothic eras, and the Renaissance in Italy and northern Europe.

We will look at Western art as emerging from the alternation and combination of two philosophical and artistic traditions: the classical and the Christian. By doing this, we’ll come to understand why these traditions, and their art, were at times opposed to each other and at other times combined. This organizational principle will provide the framework for our explorations, but is not intended to exclude other ways of looking at Western art.

Note: Back by popular demand, from fall 2015.

Please note that enrollment in this course is reserved for adults 55+.

Currently not available for registration.

What will I learn?

Week 1: Art and Society: The Greeks and their Predecessors (Antiquity to 100 BCE)

We will observe how the Greeks transformed the art of the cultures that influenced them (Egypt and Crete) into a distinctive Western style—that of Classical humanism, the art of which was based on the study of nature and natural forms and the “this-worldly” idea that “man is the measure of all things.”

Week 2: The Roman Empire and Early Christian Art (100 BCE–500)

The Romans derived their art from the Greeks, but developed their own ways of seeing and making art. Some art historians argue that they were imitators lacking creativity. We will take a contrary stance and also look at the beginnings of Christian art.

Week 3: The Medieval Period—The Romanesque Phase (500–1100)

This period’s Christian art largely rejected the Classical tradition. It succeeded in creating a new artistic style through an innovative symbolism that aimed at representing the Christianity’s supernatural concerns and ideals, including its “other-worldly” belief that God, not humanity, is “the measure of all things.”

Week 4: The Medieval Period—The Gothic Phase (1100–1400)

Gothic artists revived some of the humanistic elements of the Classical tradition, combining these with the other-worldly elements of the Romanesque, to create a style that synthesized both the Classical and the Christian traditions. They also developed new forms, such as Gothic arches and stained-glass windows.

Week 5: The Italian Renaissance (1400–1600)

The Italian Renaissance marks the Classical tradition’s rebirth and the rejection of the Medieval tradition, particularly the Romanesque. Renaissance artists attempted to revive the Classical past as the model for present life and art. We will focus on the art of this audacious attempt.

Week 6: The Renaissance in Northern Europe (1400–1600) and Toward the Baroque

Italy’s artistic influence was transformed in the environment of Northern Europe. As the Renaissance began to fade, new artistic developments arose, reflecting, in particular, the influence of a revived and militant Christianity. With the Reformation, we find the beginnings of the period we call the Baroque.

How will I learn?

  • Lectures
  • Discussion (may vary from class to class)
  • Papers (applicable only to certificate students)

How will I be evaluated?

For certificate students only:

Your instructor will evaluate you based on an essay, which you will complete at the end of the course. You will receive a grade of “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”

Textbooks and learning materials

Reading material (if applicable) will be available in class. Some course materials may be available online.

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

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