The AHA Guide to
Teaching and Learning with New Media
Some Very Detailed Examples
Renaissance Art: Vasari’s Lives of the Artists
This is the first of several assignments, spread out over the course of the academic year, in which I ask introductory students to choose particular works of art and discuss what they find interesting, confusing, or enlightening. Coming as it does at the beginning of the course, student comments tend toward the ingenuous and are often personal — "I liked this because . . . ." Some students, however, do use Vasari's comments to structure their comments and a few employ ideas they find in Barzun's discussion in From Dawn to Decadence. One student drew upon his Introduction to Philosophy course to invoke Aristotelian and Platonic notions of the beautiful.
Only a couple of students had ever taken an art history course. So we devoted a class to getting ready to choose among the artists Vasari discussed. I asked them to read Barzun's discussion and to look at Raphael's "The School of Athens, " a work Barzun refers to at some length. I provided a link to a site where students could see details of the painting as well as the whole and where they could resize the images to suit their own monitors. I also supplied the record of Veronese's run-in with the Inquisition in Venice as a way of helping students get a better idea of what Barzun means by "the artist is born." We devoted the last portion of this class to students browsing the site with the images discussed by Vasari. Their instructions were simply to find an artist or two whose work really struck them as wonderful. This was an easy way to introduce them to the enormous variety of Renaissance art. It gave them a serious task but freed them from the pressure of having to remember specific facts about specific works.
Sept. 22–24: Medieval-Renaissance Art Discussions
I. We will devote one class (Sept. 22) to “reading” a Renaissance painting, Raphael’s “The School of Athens” and to trying on Barzun’s view of the Renaissance artist. For this class you should submit two questions provoked by your reading of Barzun’s “The Artist Is Born” along with your initial reactions to the painting. The “artist” became a special category of person during the Renaissance, as Barzun seeks to explain. A quick way to begin to grapple with this is to look at Veronese before the Inquisition.
II. We will build our second discussion (Sept. 24) on Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the Artists. As Barzun points out, Vasari’s book has shaped the way people look at the art of the Renaissance for more than four centuries. Go to Lives with images of works discussed and browse through the images of some of the artists Vasari profiled. Choose an artist whose works you really like, and read that chapter in Lives of the Artists + the chapter on Michelangelo. As you read, toggle back to the images so that you can see the works Vasari discussed. Submit links to two works by the artist you chose that strike you as particularly interesting along with a shallow reason or two for your selection. My use of the word “shallow” is intended to remind all of us that we are not trying to define the essence of Renaissance art but to begin to develop some appreciation for it.
Last Updated: August 3, 2007 3:01 PM