This subject offers candidates the possibility of studying and comparing themes in cultural history which are often considered apart. Its aim is to examine aspects of the civilizations of both the ‘Gothic’ North and ‘Renaissance’ South in fifteenth-century Europe. In the North, the Low Countries witnessed the emergence of an art of remarkable naturalism (represented by Jan van Eyck, Roger van der Weyden and Hans Memling). Meanwhile, the Italian peninsula saw the development of a more idealized vision of the world, beginning with the works of Masaccio and drawing increasingly on Greek and Roman antiquity for both subject-matter and inspiration. Beside these apparently divergent tendencies, some common ground existed between the two cultures: urban life, the rise of princely courts and households, mercantile and financial contacts, and important movements in devotional religion. One purpose of the subject is therefore to examine the relationship between the visual art of these regions and the societies from which it emerged.
The prescribed texts and documents introduce the student to the theoretical literature of the arts as well as to the study of patronage and purchase: humanist treatises, contracts, inventories and correspondence between patrons and artists. Devotional trends are illustrated by saints’ lives and by texts emanating from the devotio moderna of the age. Intermediaries between North and South such as diplomatic envoys, the agents of the Medici bank and foreign observers are also represented. A selection of photographs of works of art, chosen to illustrate both differences and affinities, forms an important part of the source material. By studying visual and documentary evidence together, a reappraisal of the comparisons and contrasts between Netherlandish and Italian culture can be undertaken. In the process, material from cities other than Florence (e.g. Milan, Ferrara, Mantua and Urbino) is studied and the role of princes as patrons emphasized.
The prescribed texts (with one exception) are available in English translation and in practice no foreign language is required for the course.