Course 2022-2023 a.y.


Department of Social and Political Sciences

Course taught in English
Go to class group/s: 31
CLEACC (6 credits - II sem. - OBS  |  L-ART/01)
Course Director:

Classes: 31 (II sem.)

Suggested background knowledge

Good oral and written command of English.

Mission & Content Summary


This course aims to introduce students to the complex intersections between visual arts and politics. What do specific images, monuments and artefacts say about the cultural identity, historical memory, and political ideologies of a community? In what ways can they contribute to construct, advertise and disseminate shared ideals and values? How and why do certain social groups reject specific monuments and images, and how do they communicate their (subversive) identities through the visual? Conversely, what are the institutional, discursive, and ideological contexts that shape the objects and images that we call visual art? By addressing these questions in relation to selected case studies, the course of arts and politics provides students with the foundations of knowledge and the basic critical and analytical tools to examine artifacts in relation to their cultural, social and political milieu.


The course is structured as a series of in-depth case studies, and considers specific monuments, images and artefacts (including paintings, mosaics, metalwork, architecture and sculpture) in chronological order and as they relate to broad societal issues and question of cultural politics. It primarily focuses on monuments and artefacts created in the Mediterranean from antiquity to the renaissance and examines them in their original contexts. However, the course also exposes the key role that some of these monuments played in the political ideologies of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, encouraging students to think critically about the role and potential of heritage management today.


A detailed programme is presented at the beginning of the course. Topics may include (but are not confined to):

  • Contested Images (1): Iconoclasms and image destructions, past and present.
  • Contested Images (2): Representing 'the pain of others': imageing suffering.
  • Art and politics / Art as politics: Gentile Bellini's Portrait of Mehmet II
  • Monumental Palimpsests (1): Museums as cultural palimpsests
  • Monumental Palimpsests (2): The Parthenon between ancient democracy, imperialism and modern nationalism.
  • Representing power (1): Sacral kingship and the Sainte Chapelle in Paris – medieval modern.
  • Representing power (2): Public art in the city of Siena: holy patrons, good government and civic pride.
  • Representing power (3): Artistic interaction as visual politics in medieval Venice.
  • Making sense of the Other (1): The arts of diplomacy in the Christian and Islamic Mediterranean.
  • Making Sense of the Other (2): Knowledge, wonder and power in the early global world

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILO)


At the end of the course student will be able to...
  • Appreciate and articulate the ability of images and artifacts to interrogate the political sphere.
  • Grasp the potential of images, artifacts and monuments to convey political messages and ideologies.
  • Understand the complex historicity of artworks, and their changing meanings over time.


At the end of the course student will be able to...
  • Approach artifacts beyond their aesthetic appeal, and examine them in relation to their cultural, social and political milieu.
  • Formulate critical arguments about the interconnections between images, artifacts and monuments, and the political realities that they manifest.
  • Problematize the notion of cultural heritage and cultural identities.

Teaching methods

  • Face-to-face lectures
  • Company visits
  • Case studies /Incidents (traditional, online)
  • Individual assignments
  • Group assignments
  • Interactive class activities (role playing, business game, simulation, online forum, instant polls)


This course combines traditional frontal teaching (lectures) with seminar-based activities. If possible (extant the ongoing health emergency), the course will also include off-campus visits to relevant collections, institutions and/or exhibitions. Visual analysis plays a central role, and image-based exercises (both individual and in group) are assigned throughout the course. Students are expected to participate in class discussions.

Assessment methods

  Continuous assessment Partial exams General exam
  • Written individual exam (traditional/online)


Students are required to take a final exam (100% of the grade). The exam is written, and students are asked to answer a mix of open-ended questions and image or source-based questions. The exam paper is based on course readings, as well as on seminar materials and discussions held in class (in person or virtual). Consistently with the expected learning outcomes of this course, the exam aims to assess students' engagement with and understanding of textual and visual evidence, and their ability to interpret such evidence critically, showing understanding of the visual regimes, narratives, and conceptual issues at stake in the course.


Students are required to take a final exam (100% of the grade). The exam is written, and students are asked to answer a mix of open-ended questions and image or source-based questions. The exam paper is based on a reading list that students receive at the beginning of the course. The exam aims to assess the familiarity of non attending students with the key conceptual, historical and historiographic issues addressed by the assigned readings; their ability to summarize and critically interpret the narratives and arguments advanced by those readings; and their capacity to link textual and visual evidence, producing well-grounded and original interpretative essays.

Teaching materials


Attending students are required to read a comprehensive reading list, which includes articles, book chapters and critical essays relevant to each class topic. The complete reading list is made available to students on the first day of class, and - where possible - readings are made available on Course Reserve at the library (online and/or off line).


Non attending students are required to read the following books:

  • C. GINZBURG. Fear, reverence, terror:  five essays in political iconography, London, Seagull Books, 2017 
  • G. DIDI HUBERMANN, Images in Spite of All, Chicago, Chicago University Press, 2008.
  • M. MEISS, Painting in Florence and Siena after the Black Death, Princeton, University Press, 1951.
  • S. SONTAG, Regarding the Pain of Others, New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003.
Last change 18/12/2022 09:15