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Study information

Understanding Space in Renaissance Italy

Module titleUnderstanding Space in Renaissance Italy
Module codeAHV3002
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Professor Fabrizio Nevola ()

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

The course focuses on the meaning and function of space in art, architecture and urbanism in Renaissance Italy, and especially in Florence (c. 1300-1600). Space has emerged in recent scholarship on the arts in the Early Modern period as key concept for understanding the relationships between objects and their contemporary viewers. A wide range of objects, from private devotional paintings for domestic use to vast public buildings, served key functions in the fashioning of identities, familial, local and collective. Inspired in part by Henri Lefebvre’s influential discussion of The Production of Space (1974), we will consider such issues as the ways that pictorial form codifies relationships within the field of a painting and with its intended viewers, and how public sculpture and monumental architecture operate in the urban public realm.

Module aims - intentions of the module

Within the framework of the “spatial turn”, this module aims to introduce you to a variety of artworks in context. We will focus on three main types of spaces:

  1. Domestic (residential palaces and private chapels, and the art made for these spaces)
  2. Religious (churches, confraternities, monastic complexes)
  3. Civic (administrative buildings, public spaces, bridges)

We will also consider the way that meaning is structured within the painted field of images, both through the “science” of perspective and through the social norms that images codified. The course is structured thematically, so as to address new and emerging themes in the scholarship of art history and visual culture of the Italian Renaissance. It will draw on cross-disciplinary concerns in historical anthropology, sociology, and ideological criticism as well as theories of vision, materiality and reception to re-consider monumental spaces, well-known Italian paintings, sculptures and prints as well as less familiar places and practices.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Demonstrate an understanding of the ways that social practices inform contemporary production and experience of space
  • 2. Demonstrate an understanding of the specific types of material culture of the early modern period in Italy
  • 3. Demonstrate a basic knowledge of the key recent debates and issues in the scholarship of art history and visual culture of the Italian Renaissance
  • 4. Demonstrate familiarity with the history of various forms of cultural expression: literature, political theory, art and architecture, urban design

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. Recognise and understand relevant art-historical terminology and concepts
  • 6. With initial guidance, find his/her way around the relevant subject areas of the University Library and access and use learning resources specified by the course tutor
  • 7. Use a reading list to identify material relevant to a given aspect of the subject, and communicate ideas effectively in both oral and written forms
  • 8. Research independently and interpret information based on a range of primary and secondary sources

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 9. Assimilate, select and organise material in order to produce a written or oral argument
  • 10. Undertake structured learning activities with guidance from course tutor and with the help of written guidelines
  • 11. Explain and discuss personal conclusions with other members of the group

Syllabus plan

The course is structured thematically, so as to address new and emerging themes in the scholarship of art history and visual culture of the Italian Renaissance, using examples drawn from various centres in Italy, but with a focus on Florence. Major theme blocks for the lecture series:

  • The material culture of public space: streets, squares, monuments and public sculpture
  • Domestic spaces: the residential palazzo and material culture of the domestic interior
  • Religious and liturgical spaces: private chapels, art and liturgy, confraternities

Seminars explore case studies of object types as initially outlined in the lectures.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching71 hour lectures
Scheduled learning and teaching126 x 2 hour seminars
Scheduled learning and teaching3Trip to the V&A Renaissance galleries
Guided independent study128Private study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Seminar worksheets and readingApproximately 3 hours weekly1-11Collective, oral
Mini essay and assessed presentationAssessed presentation and 750 words supporting 1-11Individual, written

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Mini essay and assessed presentation20750 words and presentation1-11Feedback sheet with opportunity for follow-up tutorial
Essay802000 words final assessment1-10Feedback sheet with opportunity for follow-up tutorial

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay (2000)1-10Referral/Deferral period
Mini essay and presentationMini-essay (1000)1-10Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Marta Ajmar-Wollheim & Flora Dennis eds., At Home in Renaissance Italy, exh. cat. (London: Victoria and Albert Museum), London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 2006
  • Michael Baxandall, Painting and Experience in Fifteenth-century Italy. A primer in the social history of pictorial style, Oxford: Oxford University Press 1972
  • Roger J. Crum and John T. Paoletti eds.,  Renaissance Florence: A Social History, Cambridge: CUP, 2006
  • Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space. Oxford, 1974/1991.
  • Fabrizio Nevola and Georgia Clarke, eds. ‘Experiences of the Street in Early Modern Italy’, Special Issue section of I Tatti Studies in the Italian Renaissance, 16 (2013), 1/2
  • Evelyn Welch, Art and Society in Italy, 1350-1500, Oxford: Oxford University Press 1997

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Key words search

Italian, Art History, Modern Languages, Visual Culture, Renaissance

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites

No Language Requirements

Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date