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Prospectus

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Religion and Art

Course
2012-2013

Tag(s)

HI, GC, PA

Admission Requirements

Similarly tagged 100-level and 200-level courses. Students that do not meet this prerequisite should contact the instructor regarding the required competencies before course allocation.

Description

One of the features shared by all cultures, all over the world, is that of religion. It is also the focus of much, and often highly charged, interaction between cultures and socieities: think of the colonization of the Americas, motivated for a large part by the desire to convert their native inhabitants to Christianity. This course looks at the way humans have given visual representation to the sacred in their cultures all over the world, and in all periods: from the Borobudur to Bernini’s Baldacchino in Saint Peter’s, from Greek temples to Mark Rothko’s abstract murals made in reaction to the Basilica of San Lorenzo in Florence, from Venetian altarpieces to Damien Hirst’s skull studded with precious stones. It will focus, from a global perspective, on some key issues that arise from the use of visual representations in religion, and in particular it will study what happens when cult objects are transformed into works of art:

  • art, cult and faith

  • art, agency and divine presence

  • is art born out of religion, or religion out of art?

  • expressing the sacred and experiencing beauty

  • from cult object to collector’s item

  • the migration of religious images from one culture to another

Course Objectives

  1. To acquire the knowledge and analytical skills to understand by what visual strategies the sacred is represented in a variety of cultures and periods
  2. To acquire the knowledge and analytical skills to understand how these objects functioned within the cult for which they were made.
  3. To learn to study how sacred representations were perceived by believers, art historians or anthropologists, that is, how they morphed from religious objects to works of art, museum pieces or decorative items.
    To achieve these aims students will read the prescribed literature, look at religious objects in musems, choose one object to analyse in class, and on which to write their papers.

Students should have learned to identify a number of major issues that arise when the sacred is represented visually, and subsequently such representations enter the domain of art:

  1. they should be able to analyse visual representations, that is identify the artistic means by which an image of the sacred was created; they should be able to build an argument about its subject matter, provenance, time of creation, and religious character (for which religion or cult was it made, how was it used, what is its present status and function).
  2. they should be able to find relevant studies, on the basis of the texts provided as compulsory and suggested reading, but also by
  3. they should understand how they were perceived by believers, art historians or anthropologists, that is, how they morphed from religious objects to works of art, museum pieces or decorative items, by drawing on the anthropological literature and primary sources provided, but also by independent library searches.
  4. in their oral presentations in class, they should become able to present, in a brief and coherent form, a visual analysis of an art work or cult object of their choice, and identify the issues this object raises in the context of this class.
  5. in their final paper they have to provide a coherent and succinct close analysis of their art work or cult object, a clear statement of the issues it raises, and a sound argument developing answers to this questions, supported by adequate use of primary and secondary sources. In it, they should draw on, and apply in new contexts, the historical material, theories and analytical methods provided by the compulsory and suggested reading.

Mode of Instruction

Seminars; museum visits; oral presentations by students, general debates on the basis of presentations and in-depth analysis by tutor of major theories and art works or cult objects.

Assessment

Assessment: In-class participation
Percentage: 20%
Deadline: Ongoing Weeks 1 – 7

Assessment: Written analysis (1000 words)
Percentage: 20%
Deadline: March 5, 2013, 12.00

Assessment: Presentation in class, ten minutes each
Percentage: 20%
Deadline: Ongoing weeks 5 – 7

Assessment: Final research essay (3000 words)
Percentage: 40%
Deadline: Week 8 (March 30, 2013, 24.00)

Literature

1) Compulsory Literature

  • S. Brent Plate, Religion, Art ,and Culture (New York: Palgrave, 2002), pp. 53-73; 89-193.

  • R. Wittkower, Art and Architecture in Italy 1600-1750. Revised by Joseph Connors and Jennifer Montagu (New Haven and London 1999), vol. II. High Baroque, pp. 1-21.

  • D. Summers, Real Spaces. World Art History and the Rise of Western Modernism (London 2003), pp. 251-342
    A. Gell, Art and Agency. An Anthropological Theory of Art (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), Introduction.

  • D. Freedberg, ‘The Myth of Aniconism’, in: The Power of Images. Studies in the History and Theory of Response (Chicago and London 1989), pp. 54-82.

  • idem, ‘Idolatry and Iconoclasm’, in: The Power of Images. Studies in the History and Theory of Response (Chicago and London 1989), pp. 378-429.

  • W. Pietz, ‘Fetish’, in R. Nelson (ed.), Critical Terms for Art History¬ (Chicago and London 2003 [1996]), p. 307-28.

  • A. Borchardt-Hume (ed.), Rothko: the Late Series (London: Tate 2008), pp. 13-31 and 91-98

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/For_the_Love_of_God, which contains a very complete coverage of the work and the reactions it caused

2) Recommended Literature & Other Sources (e.g. websites, Academic Journals, documentaries etc.)

  • R. Nelson (ed.), Critical Terms for Art History¬ (Chicago and London 2003 [1996])

  • N. Spivey, How Art Made the World (BBC documentary)
    Religion and the Arts (Journal, published by Brill, available in Leiden University Library)

  • H. Honour and J. Fleming, A World History of Art (London 1999 [1984])

  • R. Hejduk (ed.), The Religious Image in Modern and Contemporary Art (New York : Routledge 2011)

  • M. Lambek (ed.), A Reader in the Anthropology of Religion (Malden 2002)

  • H. Morphy and M. Perkins (eds.), The Anthropology of Art Reader (Malden 2006)
    Artstor : very rich image database, to be consulted through Leiden University/Libraries/Catalogue/Databases

Contact Information

c.a.van.eck@hum.leidenuniv.nl; 071 527 2693

Weekly Overview

WEEK 1 Representing the sacred across the world (1) and (2). February 5 and 8.
WEEK 2: Representing the sacred across the world (3); literature study/museum visit (17/2). February 12 and 15
WEEK 3: Art, agency and divine presence (1) and (2). February 19 and 22.
WEEK 4: Is art born out of religion, or religion out of art? (1); literature study/museum visit (28/2) February 26 and March 1.
WEEK 5: Is art born out of religion, or religion out of art? (2); student presentations. March 5 and 8.
WEEK 6: Idolatry and iconoclasm; student presentations. March 12 and 15.
WEEK 7: Expressing the sacred, experiencing beauty; student presentations. March 19.

Preparation for first session

N/A