Insegnamento a.a. 2018-2019


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.)


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 addresses specific monuments, images and artefacts (including paintings, mosaics, metalwork, architecture and sculpture) in chronological order. 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' from Goya to war photography.
  • Monumental Palimpsests (1): Museums as cultural palimpsests: the Mshatta from Jordan to Berlin.
  • Monumental Palimpsests (2): The Parthenon between ancient democracy, imperialism and modern nationalism.
  • Monumental Palimpsests (3): The Ara Pacis in Rome: art, peace and propaganda from Augustus to Fascism.
  • 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 age of conquest.

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.

Teaching methods

  • Face-to-face lectures
  • Guest speaker's talks (in class or in distance)
  • 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 and 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-based questions. The exam paper is based on course readings, as well as on seminar materials and discussions held in class. 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-based questions. The exam paper is based on a reading list that students receive when they enter 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 are 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:

  • G. DIDI HUBERMANN, Images in Spite of All, Chicago, Chicago University Press, 2008.
  • J. NOYES,The Politics of Iconoclasm : Religion, Violence and the Culture of Image-Breaking in Christianity and Islam, London and New York, 2013.
  • S. SONTAG, Regarding the Pain of Others, New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003.
  • P. ZANKER, The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus, Ann Arbor, 1990.
Last change 21/06/2018 07:20