Course 2017-2018 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/02)
Course Director:

Classes: 31 (II sem.)

Course Objectives

This course introduces students to the arts of Europe from 1600 to 1900 by considering the representation of the natural world. The course aims at developing students’ skills in visual analysis and in the critical evaluation of texts, while promoting an understanding of Europe’s natural heritage in historical perspective.

Intended Learning Outcomes
Click here to see the ILOs of the course

Course Content Summary

This course presents the natural world as a fundamental subject of European art in the Early Modern period. By looking at the development of pictorial genres – landscape and still life – and at the first institutions where artefacts and natural specimen were collected – atlases, gardens and cabinets of curiosities – the course considers the evolution of this theme of artistic representation. Claims to empirical accuracy of drawings and paintings is set against the emerging methods of the natural sciences. Hence, we consider how representations of nature in Early Modern Europe increasingly yielded diverse (and sometimes conflicting) forms of truth. What does landscape representation tell us about the evolution of an existing environment? And how do different media (paintings, drawings, prints) visualise the natural world? Ultimately, what is the relation of man to nature in the period considered?
The course is structured as a series of in-depth case studies, and addresses specific drawings, paintings and publications in chronological order. In addition to the close visual analysis of artefacts and the discussion of historical texts in class, we will visit several art institutions in Milan, including: the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, where Cardinal Carlo Borromeo assembled an exceptional collection of landscapes and still lifes; the botanical gardens of the Pinacoteca di Brera established in 1774; the drawings collection held at the Castello Sforzesco. Students are introduced to the historical interconnection between art, science and other disciplines, and ultimately encouraged to think critically about the role and potential of natural heritage today.
The course is divided into three parts.
  • The Artist Working in Nature: from Breugel to Cezanne, we explore the notion of artistic practice ‘after nature’ and art’s claim to truth.
  • Nature and Early Modern Collecting: we study the history of atlases, cabinets of curiosities, and other knowledge devices used to collect and display previously unknown naturalia and artificialia.
  • Picturing Gardens and Landscapes: from the controlled microcosm of the botanical garden to the wild macrocosm of the panoramic worldview, we look at the spatial representation of nature.

Detailed Description of Assessment Methods

Students are assessed via a written exam. There is no partial exam.
The exam program is different for attending and non attending students. The latter group is be required to read a book-length study on the subject of the course and to sit to a longer written exam.


Exam materials include a bibliography of articles and original texts provided at the beginning of the course.
Exam textbooks & Online Articles (check availability at the Library)
Last change 22/06/2017 11:39