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Beyond Art: Grotesque & Auricular


Admission requirements

Admission requirements and any restrictions.


Beyond Art: The Grotesque and the Auricular

This MA course explores the boundaries of what we consider art. By looking at previous periods we learn that our modern definition of art did not always apply. The hierarchy where the art of painting was on top of the list as most prominent and most expensive was not valid in all periods and in all cultures. Besides, divergent mediums were seldom regarded in isolation, nor presented seperately. Finally, art was far less considered within national borders, as we tend to do. To clarify this we look at the importance of the grotesque and the auricular in the Dutch Golden Age.

Part 1: The Grotesque

Prof. dr. S.P.M. Bussels

In this part, we will look at how the grotesque underwent fundamental changes in divergent mediums in the Low Countries in the century between 1540 and 1640 and how this development spread to other European artistic centres. Antwerp artists from the forties onwards profoundly adapted the Italian tradition. We look at the work of various Flemish and Dutch artists creating grotesques in the second half of the sixteenth century and the beginning of the seventeenth century and contend that the increasing importance of an explicit meaning was a crucial and shared aspect. We will map how artists let the grotesque evolve from a self-reflexive arena to a medium that could represent elements from outside its pictorial universe.

Part 2: The Auricular

Prof. dr. R.J. Baarsen

This part concentrates on the auricular or ‘kwab’, a particular development of the grotesque, an intensification of some of its most ambiguous aspects, that occurred in the first decades of the seventeenth century. Although closely connected with a general European movement, kwab was nonetheless a quintessentially Dutch phenomenon. Unlike the grotesque, which normally performs the primary function of ornament, that is to decorate an existing surface, kwab evolved into the substance itself from which works of art were made. We will investigate its unique status; the foremost ‘kwab’ objects were among the most famous works of art of their time, admired for their inventive quality, free from the imitation of nature. We will also address the question, still largely unanswered, of the iconographic significance of kwab.

Course objectives

  • students will get insight in how art can be approached from an interdisciplinary angle and how certain movements are shared by diverse media

  • students will have obtained an insight in the role of the grotesque and the ornacular style in the Dutch Golden Age

  • students will have learnt to recognize and produce productive research questions regarding our central theme

  • students are able to initiate and carry out a modest research project in which they frame their own reading explicitly, and situate themselves critically withing early modern and contemporary scholarly and artistic debates


The timetable is available on the Master Arts and Culture website.

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures

  • Excursion

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours = 280 EC

  • Lectures & Excursion: 13 x 2 hours & 6 hours = 32 hours

  • Reading & preparing classes: 13 x 4 hours = 52 hours

  • Museum App or Paper, incl. reading & research: 196 hours

Assessment method

  • Paper


  • Participation in the class (20%)

  • Choice between a Museum App or Paper (80%)


The final grade is the average of the two grades (20%, 80%). A student passes the class if the weighted average is a 6.0 or higher (marks under 5 are not allowed) and obtained at least a 6.0 for the Museum App or Paper.


The re-sit consists of two parts: a remake/rewrite of the Museum App or Paper (80%) and/or an alternative assignment (20%)

Exam review

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.


Please note that if you do not hand in your assessments in time, your assessments will be considered as the resit.
For the deadlines, please see Blackboard


Blackboard will be used for:

  • Reading list

  • Communication

  • All practical information

Reading list

See Blackboard


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory. You can register until two weeks after classes have started however students are advised to register as soon as possible and preferably before the start of the course. In the case of electives: please be aware that most electives have a maximum amount of students who can enroll. Do not approach the course instructor in case the class is full. You will automatically be put on a waiting list.

General information about uSis is available on the website

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Prof. dr. S.P.M. Bussels Prof. dr. R.J. Baarsen