Course Descriptions Archive

The following course descriptions archive is organized alphabetically by faculty surnames, followed by team-taught, special guest, and cross-listed courses. The course descriptions are for reference only, and future iterations may differ from the descriptions listed below.

Art History Graduate Seminars

Team-Taught Courses

Special Guest Seminars

Visual Studies Cross-Listings

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Early Modern 2011–12

A study of the intersection of architecture and science. Topics will include natural magic, theories of vision, matter and materials, technology, machines, and divination primarily in the buildings and architectural theory of late medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque Europe.

Early Modern, Architecture 2020–21, 2018–19, 2014–15

Renaissance architecture is no longer understood as simply an Italian or even a European phenomenon. This course looks at the architectural interactions between regions as the result of trade, war, pilgrimage and diplomacy. Students will study architectural exchange between Europe and South Asia, the eastern Mediterranean, and Africa in order to understand how the conditions of a global economy shaped the development of architecture in the early modern era.

Early Modern, Architecture 2022–23, 2021–22

Water comprises the majority of the earth's surface, and has shaped the creation of art, architecture, and objects as the means of travel and transport as well as a powerful cultural metaphor. This course offers students the opportunity to study the environmental conditions, imagery, and mechanisms used by artists and craftsmen as well as the everyday experiences of water. Each week will offer a particular case study and point of view through which to study the connections between liquid contexts and art objects. Themes will include flows, surfaces and depths, water edges, and technologies. Students may work on projects in their choice of geographical and historical moments.

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Modern/Contemporary 2012–13

This seminar is an elective for students studying the history and theory of photography, but also for those with interests in some emerging and particularly interdisciplinary areas of the study of modern art. This course will be taught concurrently with a major exhibition on this theme taking place at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to which an optional trip for members of the seminar is tentatively planned. The “neutrality” of photography has been challenged almost from its very first introduction, and indeed, even from within its many and occasionally persuasive prehistories. This course will serve as an investigation into the many dimensions—technological, aesthetic, and epistemic—of photographic manipulation during the first seventy-five years of the medium’s history. Among the issues to be examined in detail are the numerous models, motives, and motifs implicated in the alteration of photographic representations, drawn from fields as apparently divergent as painting, microscopy, the Victorian novel, human physiology, and political propaganda. An organizing principle of our study will be to inquire how manipulation was achieved and how it was signalled to or concealed from its viewers. Ultimately, we will attempt to analyze the interests competing with neutrality or objectivity in whose service these manipulations were mobilized, and to explore the diverse sources of photography’s variable, but undeniable, authority.

Modern/Contemporary 2016–17, 2011–12

This graduate seminar will explore the transformation in how historical knowledge was represented and experienced visually during the long Nineteenth Century. This will be accomplished by a focused study of the relationships among European history paintings, three-dimensional historical artifacts, simulacral recreations of physically and temporally distant environments, and the rapidly evolving modes of historical writing. The new level of intimacy between audience and history was not simply expressed in contemporary historiographical tendencies; rather, these became laboratories for various models for understanding the relationship between a seeker of historical knowledge and her object. Drawing upon a wide range of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, this course will examine the evidentiary crossroads at which the visual representation of the past found itself in this critical period in modern culture. It is hoped that this course will be useful to students interested in the origins of modern visual culture, the history of the display of works of art, visual simulations and recreations, and the relationship of evidence to the historical enterprise.

Modern/Contemporary 2022–23, 2014–15

This course investigates the dynamic relationship between photography and the natural, physical, and human sciences in the 19th Century. We will be concerned with a number of pressing questions: How did photography compete and collaborate with other modes of scientific representation for the mantle of authority? How did scientific photography enter into the canon of the history of photography, and at what cost? What role did the medium play in the rise of scientific professions, and in science education? How did photography complicate or clarify the categories of scientific realism and anti-realism? Ultimately, we explore varied strategies of the production of scientific knowledge by photographic means, and the cultural and social implications of these activities.

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Medieval 2015–16

This course examines Sicily from the early Christian period to c. 1400, an era when cultural and religious diversity shaped the patronage, production, and reception of works of art and architecture. It probes works associated with Byzantine, Islamic, and northern European occupations, and investigates the ways in which artistic hybridity is manifest in works of art and interpreted in scholarship. A range of media, from large-scale building projects to manuscripts, textiles, liturgical arts, and excavated artefacts, is examined, including works representative of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic communities. Readings include foundational and recent studies of specific contexts and works of art, along with theoretical writings on imperialism, postcolonialism, portability, and Mediterranean studies. Medieval texts also figure prominently. Participants in this seminar will be eligible to apply for competitively-awarded places on a field trip to Sicily fully funded by the Getty Connecting Art Histories Initiative. This field trip will also include student members of a seminar of the same title taught at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts (taught by Dr. Linda Safran, PIMS and Getty Connecting Art Histories Visiting Professor, Guangzhou Academy of Fine Art). On the Getty Connecting Art Histories Initiative, and its funded cooperation between the U of T and the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts. Strongly recommended: Reading proficiency in at least one of the following: German, Italian, and French; Latin, Greek, and Arabic helpful.

Medieval 2021–22, 2016–17

This course examines medieval church treasuries, their contents and architectural settings, and the ways they have been conceptualized from the Middle Ages to the present. It highlights the diversity of treasury contents, from liturgical chalices to legal documents, who contributed to the shape of such collections and why, and how the collections were documented. Major themes in present-day art history create the conceptual underpinnings of the course, including materiality, collecting and display, mobility, and patronage. The course will provide opportunities for students to work with objects in local museums and to develop research projects in the Digital Humanities. Recommended: Reading knowledge of French, German, Italian, and Latin helpful.

Medieval 2017–18, 2013–14, 2011–12

This seminar critiques current theories of pilgrimage and investigates selected early Christian, Western medieval, Byzantine, and Islamic destinations. Readings (both primary and secondary sources) and discussions address such features as urbanism, architectural plans, sculptural programs, tombs and shrines, relics and reliquaries, badges and souvenirs. Student presentations/papers will attempt to reconstruct the realia of a specific pilgrimage site. Reading knowledge of at least one foreign language is recommended.

Medieval 2012–13

A focused investigation of one or more medieval cities that stand out because of their importance as historical and cultural centers. Issues of urban planning, civic identity, and patronage complement the in-depth study of local architecture and art. Some of these cities were important throughout the Middle Ages; others offer insights into critical moments in medieval art, architecture, and society. Among the cities that may be considered in any given semester are: Jerusalem, Rome, Constantinople, Paris, Aachen, Cordoba, Cairo, London, and Naples.

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Modern/Contemporary 2023–24, 2015–16, 2012–13

‘Artwriting’ can be thought of as writing ‘about’ art in the broadest senses, both thematic and spatial, including a website or monograph on an artist, an article or blog, a text in philosophical aesthetics, texts by artists, art that employs written or aural language, or a label in a museum. We will consider these practical and theoretical practices in European and North American contexts from c. 1750 to the present. We will discuss the relationships between and mutual definition of text and image, the institutional contexts of artwriting, and the import of geographical locale and cultural assumptions to the types of imagery and text produced. In 2023-24, we will focus on published and unpublished travel narratives from the 18th and 19th centuries as artwriting, specifically as imagetexts (Mitchell) and iconotexts (Louvel). We will use Arctic voyages from the Anglosphere and Nordic countries as the anchor for comparative studies of illustrated travel literature. We will discuss the complex infrastructural media of voyages on land, sea, and in the air (often together), oral and written accounts (some Indigenous, others Western, often in their intersections), mapmaking, publishing protocols, tourism, early guidebooks, and developments in reproductive media technologies – from wood engraving to chromolithography to photography – using period documents at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library and the Toronto Public Library. Theoretical perspectives from media theory, eco-critical art history, and analyses of empire, imperialism, and colonialism will be examined in the context of illustrated travel publications.

Modern/Contemporary 2020–21, 2017–18, 2016–17

Analogy and metaphor are central to the way humans think and make sense of the world, whether in culture (the pattern is common in literature, music, and architecture), politics, or science (Rutherford’s foundational analogy between the atom and solar system, for example). People think analogically because it is a potent shorthand that makes a connection, a comparison. It places its terms in useful but also restrictive ways. Art and Analogy investigates a fundamental range of questions in art history and the practice of artmaking: in what ways are art objects, the processes of their making, and their reception analogues? How is art related to the world: as a mirror, a material segment, a copy? Perhaps digital technologies have altered the nature of art itself by challenging the ancient pattern by which the arts are compared and ranked (“Ut Pictura Poesis,” for example). We will also examine how the narratives that make up art history are extensively based on analogical thinking, including the pattern that sees artist X as the artist Y of country Z (“Tom Thomson was the van Gogh of Canada,” for example). Are such analogies helpful? In what ways can they be misleading? Can we validly analogize across cultures and temporalities, as when Liu Haisu was dubbed the “Cézanne of China”? While analogizing is ubiquitous and forms a link between art history, the visual arts, and both scientific and humanistic cultural norms generally, we will seek to understand the roots and implications of analogical thinking in visual art and writing about art from c. 1700 to the contemporary period.

Modern/Contemporary 2023–24, 2011–12

Can there be a ‘Canadian’ art, and if so, what are its parameters in this rapidly changing country? Focusing on art made in Canada in its interactions with international practices, we will investigate defining frames in the fields of art history and visual culture studies today. Art historians habitually use national groupings to organize our field and employ genres such as landscape, land art, and public art to contour thinking. Since Montesquieu and Winckelmann in the 18th century, scholars in the west have also relied on what Thomas Da Costa Kaufmann calls the “Geography of art,” defined as “the effect of the environment, cultural and natural, on what humans have created.” The “contemporary” as a category often depends on the assumption that it is a global, not national, phenomenon. To test these and cognate practices, in 2023-4, we will examine the idea of the (far) north in Canada as a category in eco-critical art history and in art making that aspires to be global. Art and artists working in and thematizing the far north in Canada will be discussed in comparison with those in cognate geographical regions elsewhere.

Modern/Contemporary 2022–23, 2021–22, 2018–19, 2014–15

We will examine the extensive visual culture of voyages in the Arctic from the 16th century to the present, with an emphasis on the long 19th century and the Angloshpere. Topics include Western and Inuit perspectives on the Northwest Passage, the magnetic and geographic north poles in print culture, imaging technologies, commercial enterprises in the Arctic and in Europe, the USA, and Canada, nationalism, colonialism, and scientific understandings of the unique meteorological, human, and animal phenomena of this region. We will also interrogate the notion of the Anthropocene and competing contemporary ideas of the human impact on nature as a way to explore ecological understandings of the Arctic in the 19th century and today.

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Modern/Contemporary, Architecture 2016–17

European architects since the Enlightenment have felt compelled to respond to the advance of industry in articulating their discipline’s purpose and ambitions. This course will examine a series of instances in which designers have not merely engaged with new building technologies, methods, and programs, but have elevated industrial modernity to become an object of critical architectural reflection. In reading these case studies carefully, the seminar will explore a range of historiographic frameworks through which the industrialization of architecture has been conceived. Anchored in the “long nineteenth century,” the course emphasizes the interrelation of two major tendencies: the appropriation of new construction technologies and the design of spaces for modern forms of mass production and mass consumption. Other themes include the rise of the engineering profession; nationalism and empire; and transformations in the everyday experience of space.

Modern/Contemporary, Architecture 2019–20, 2017–18

This course examines how sound has been creatively manipulated to articulate spatial relationships in modern architecture, sound art, soundscape compositions, and film soundtracks. The term “acoustic space” was popularized by Marshall McLuhan in the 1950s and 60s, but had earlier roots in psychology, architectural acoustics, and media theory. Under the conceptual framework of acoustic space, theorists and artists across various cultural fields have posed questions such as: How do individuals locate themselves in the world through listening? How can the physical environment be transformed through creative acoustic interventions? How might new and potentially far-flung communities be convened through sound? With the theme of acoustic space as a starting point, the course surveys a range of historical methods associated with the emerging discipline of sound studies and the diversity of ways in which the spatial behaviour of sound has been subject to artistic representation and transformation.

Modern/Contemporary 2021–22 (cancelled)

This seminar examines significant buildings, movements, and ideas in nineteenth- and twentieth-century architecture. We will pay particular attention to relationships between art and architecture: the built environments in which art is created and exhibited, forms of graphic representation that have been instrumental in the development of modern architecture, and methodological links between architectural and art history scholarship. Finally, we will engage with the contested question of architecture’s medium-specificity or autonomy. Previous study of architecture is not required.

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Medieval 2018–19

This seminar primarily investigates the different ways that people embellished books in the Middle Ages and the meanings those held for a wide range of contemporary makers and users. Focus will be paid to the religious, political, and social messages communicated by the inclusion of decoration in these books. In addition, we will explore the methods and motivations behind the study, preservation, and presentation of medieval manuscripts in the modern world (including digital platforms). Students will be encouraged to develop their required presentation on a topic suitable to their disciplinary or intellectual interests.

Medieval 2015–16

Few periods in the Middle Ages have attracted as much attention as the twelfth century. The Crusades, increasing urbanism, the growth of universities, the impact of the revival of Aristotle’s writings, and religious reforms like the Cistercian movement—all mark the twelfth century as a pivotal moment in European history. Scholars have sought to characterize this remarkable period as “The Twelfth-Century Renaissance.” Art historians, too, traditionally highlight this moment by identifying a transition from Romanesque to Gothic. This seminar will investigate different aspects of this fertile period and explore the degree to which it and its artistic production were exceptional; historiographic traditions that inform our current understanding of the twelfth century and its place in the broader paradigms of art and history may also be examined.

Medieval 2022–23, 2020–21, 2019–20, 2013–14

This seminar investigates a wide range of questions related to the use and function of imagery in medieval books. What are the origins of medieval book illustration in the transition from roll to codex; what kinds of books were typically illustrated—and how; who conceived of the complex pictorial programs found in medieval manuscripts, and how did these programs function? Issues of patronage, audience and reception are central to this seminar, which focuses on specific case studies of manuscripts from throughout Europe dating from the late antique period until the advent of printing.

Medieval 2023–24, 2012–13, 2011–12

Early medieval art has long been viewed in the shadow of Romanesque and Gothic art and architecture, although the seven hundred years between c. 400 and 1100 produced a wealth of material culture that provides critical insights for understanding the formation of Europe. The seminar will focus in any given semester on one of the following four subdivisions with this period: Merovingian and Migratory, Carolingian, Ottonian, or Insular and Anglo-Saxon. The art and architecture in these periods can be understood in light of their relationship to the classical past, the development of political and ecclesiastical structures, the importance of the cult of saints, and the rise of monasticism. The focus in 2024 will be on the Carolingian Utrecht Psalter and there will likely be an important digital humanities component to the course.

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FAH1457H Vernacular Photography

Modern/Contemporary 2020–21

This course will introduce students to key texts from the 2000s onwards associated with what has been described as the “vernacular turn” in the history of photography. The focus of much of the class will be the category of ‘family photography’ with some discussion and comparison with other genres within the vernacular framework. Throughout, we will return to the question ‘what is a vernacular photograph?’ and will use case studies from the ROM’s South Asian and Family Camera photo collections, alongside visits to other GTA collections. The class will examine photo history from its beginnings in 1839 to the present day, including studio and amateur photography, as well as work by contemporary artists. It will allow students to examine the social, economic, and cultural practices that produce vernacular photography, while trying to understand its aesthetic and discursive dimensions.

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Ancient 2018–19, 2015–16

The course offers an introduction to some advanced techniques of visual analysis through an engagement with Roman wall painting. At the center of the seminar are the mythological frescoes that once adorned houses and Villas in and around Pompeii and other cities of Vesuvius, before the destruction of 79 CE. While these paintings have been analyzed primarily in contextual and socio-historical terms, our own approach will focus on the role of images in the formation of new forms of subjectivity emerging in the late republican and early imperial periods. Particular emphasis will be placed on the “psychoanalytical” implications of the use of Greek myth in a Roman context, and the usefulness of the notion of “fantasy” for an understanding of the imagery under discussion. Other topics include the image’s relation with its prototypes and the notion of “substitution,” art and empathy, art and spatiality, myth and visual narrative. The course offers an introduction to one of the most important bodies of ancient art (and one that is actually compatible with a broader art history), as well as an introduction to techniques of visual analysis. Readings include art historical and historical writings (by J. Elsner, P. Zanker, S. Bartsch, A. Wallace-Hadrill, and others), but also a selection of seminal texts from the fields of critical theory, visual culture, film theory, and “anthropology of the image.”

Ancient 2014–15

The course will introduce students to essential techniques of visual and cultural analysis through an engagement with mythological imagery in a variety of media and from a variety of cultures and periods, with a focus on Greek and Roman antiquity. It raises questions such as: Wherein lay the specific value and function of myth, and of mythological imagery, at any given time? What was the relation between the order of myth and the order of the societies that engendered it, or between myth and everyday life? How do visual narratives differ from oral and textual narratives, and what is a “visual narrative” anyway? How do mythological “programs” work, and what is “programmatic” about them? How does myth relate to notions of history on the one hand, and to notions of fiction and fantasy on the other? How is myth appropriated, transformed, re-patterned, and re-organized in the course of its adaptation in the visual arts, and what were its limits? How did myth relate to ancient subjectivities? Students are invited to adapt a comparative approach wherever possible, contrasting the uses of myth at different times and in different cultures. The focus will be on Greco-Roman art, but we will include material from later (medieval to modern) periods. The seminar will also include one or several visits to the Royal Ontario Museum.

Ancient 2022–23, 2020–21, 2016–17, 2012–13, 2011–12

A seminar on Roman Imperial Art and the metanarratives and conceptual frameworks that have shaped its study over the past 120 years. Topics include: the problem of style/form and the transformation of Roman art during the first four centuries of our era; Roman “classicism”; “propaganda” and the function of “state monuments” and “official” art; the figure of the “viewer” in archaeological scholarship; spolia and “damnatio memoriae”; historical commemoration. Monuments under discussion will include the Ara Pacis, Triumphal Arches, Columns of Trajan, and Marcus Aurelius, Roman “Historical Reliefs.”

Ancient 2023–24, 2021–22, 2017–18

The course, entitled “‘In the flesh’: Empathy, Embodiment and Emotion in Ancient Art’” explores different facets of its topic. Using a representative selection of works in a variety of media (mainly sculpture and painting) we will examine how ancient art both depicted and elicited affects, “emotions,” and bodily responses. No matter if we are looking at a Hellenistic symplegma (“entanglement”), a sarcophagus depicting the killing of the Niobids, a painting showing the violent death of Pentheus, or the decapitation of enemies of the Roman order—ancient art wanted to be experienced “in the flesh.” To this we can add scenes that—self-referentially and recursively—evoke the bodily experience of interacting with the object they decorate. But how exactly, and why, do ancient works of art seek to evoke bodily responses? How do the viewer responses they imply relate to the emotional protocols that can be reconstructed from a variety of ancient sources? (For example, in ancient theories of emotions, and in stark contrast to modern conceptions, viewers are supposed to feel “pity” in response to viewing the suffering of others only under certain circumstances). How does the emotional economy of ancient art, from the late archaic to the Roman periods, reflect a shifting corporeal habitus and changing concepts of personhood and subjectivity? Can the recent sub-discipline of “neuro-art history” provide a productive perspective, and has it made good on its claim of unravelling the “neural bases of empathy and emotion”? And if so, where does that leave us? Can the bodily responses they register really be “automatic” and universal, and how do their more reasonable practitioners account for the significant historical modulations in the responses to images? Readings will include some “classics” from the fields of Aesthetics and Phenomenology, but also more recent work produced in disciplines as diverse as Neuro-Art History and Classics.

Ancient 2019–20

This is a course on Greek and Roman sculpture in the Royal Ontario Museums (‘ROM’) collection of ancient art. The course is related to the wider project of a catalogue raisonnée of the ROM’s sculpture collection; it will give students the opportunity to participate in the preliminary research for the catalogue, and to write entries on individual pieces. The course will combine weekly visits to the ROM’s collections and archives with in-class meetings and presentations. Students will select an artefact or group of artefacts on which they will conduct their research, and will prepare a final essay. The seminar is structured around the material in the Toronto collection and offers a closer and more immediate engagement with ancient art and artefacts than most graduate courses in the department. It will, however, equally address the broader issues of cultural and art historical analysis and contextualization. It will further cover the themes of provenance and collecting, as well as the ‘biography’ of individual artefacts. If student’s texts or research will be used in the envisaged catalogue (to be edited by the curator, Paul Denis, as well as myself), their work will of course be fully credited.

Ancient 2024–25

At its most basic level, the course examines ancient representation of eroticism against the background of Greek and Roman constructions of gender and sexuality, as well as the medical understanding of the human body in antiquity. It also explores intersections with the themes of ancient humour, myth, and magic, and explores visual strategies of 'othering' by means of sexualized representation. This is, however, more than a standard course on 'gender and sexuality' in antiquity, or on 'text and image': It also examines the hedonic structures and libidinal economies of the works of art themselves, and relates them to changing notions of pleasure and desire in antiquity (from the 6th cent. BCE to the 4th cent. CE), as well as to social, cultural and philosophical constructions of personhood. The course avails itself of the rich scholarship that has been produced in the wake of the foundational works by K. Dover (Greek Homosexuality, 1978) and M. Foucault (The History of Sexuality I-III, 1976; 1984).

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Modern/Contemporary, 2023–24

Digital technology has greatly changed the way we make, circulate, receive, and study art. From PowerPoint handouts, Instagram, TikTok, to Google image search, many students of art history use applications and platforms daily in their work and life. Moreover, new technologies such as AI are changing the production and dissemination of images, many of which challenge the pre-existing definitions of “Art.” This course encourages students to turn an inquisitive and critical eye toward these activities that are often taken for granted. Instead of approaching digital art history, digital art, and contemporary digital visual culture as separate domains of study, this course encourages students to pay close attention to how their assumptions of the digital, their working habits of digital tools, and the potential of art historical inquiry interact.

Modern/Contemporary, Asian 2022–23, 2020–21, 2019–20, 2018–19, 2016–17, 2014–15, 2012–13

This seminar offers a survey of contemporary Chinese art with an emphasis on the contested conditions of art production, display, and interpretation. Organized as a series of case studies, this seminar will encourage students to situate contemporary Chinese art within the critical debates on glocalisation, neoliberal world order, and postsocialist condition. Special attention will be given to the positions and interventions of writers from the disciplines of philosophy, anthropology, and sociology together with the leading authors of contemporary Chinese art such as Wu Hung, Ackbar Abbas, Karen Smith, Minglu Gao, and Hanru Hou.

Modern/Contemporary, Asian 2013–14

Art history’s growing assimilation of regions and cultures outside of Europe and North America has led to a rethinking of the very premise of the discipline itself. As well phrased by James Elkins, “can art history become a discipline that keeps a recognizable shape wherever it is practiced? Are its methods, concepts and purposes suitable for art outside of Europe and North America? ... if not, are there alternatives that are compatible with existing modes of art history?” This course encourages students to explore the contested uses of art history in light of the recent studies of Chinese art. Primary attention will be given to the applicability of art historical concepts and methods to non-Western art, which bears the great potential for advancing our understanding of Chinese art yet at the same time the risk of obscuring alternative historiography and epistemology.

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Modern/Contemporary 2022–23

This course examines artistic production associated with the Caribbean, with particular focus on the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The goal of the course is twofold: first, to survey a wide-ranging literature on artistic practices across a variety of mediums (painting, sculpture, photography, printmaking, performance, exhibition making, etc.) from across this diverse region and second, to assess how its social, political, and cultural specificities offer new methodological possibilities for art historical research. Special focus will be paid to histories of colonialism and indigeneity as well as geographic frameworks such as the global, the hemispheric, the archipelagic, and the diasporic.

Modern/Contemporary 2023–24

The 1960s are synonymous with revolution, both political and aesthetic. In this course, we will consider how recent methodological "turns" within art history (e.g. the global, the diasporic, the decolonial; queer, transgender, latinx, indigenous, and Black studies; reassessments of social history of art) might produce new histories of this monumental decade. Potential topics include: the body and sculpture, performance and abstraction, information and technology, commercialism and capital, and solidarity. Students will be expected to identify the themes and gaps in current literature, discuss questions of methodology, and develop practices of close reading and close looking.

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Modern/Contemporary 2019–20, 2011–12

In this seminar, we will examine the potency of ideas of “Otherness” in the development of modern and contemporary arts in the last century and the thorny process of interpreting works of art by contemporary non-Western artists in relation to this larger history. Beginning with an analysis of the political and philosophical genealogy of “primitivism” with all of its attendant notions of exoticism, eroticism, and primordialism, the course will then trace the shifting critical theories employed by art historians, critics, visual anthropologists, feminists, and cultural studies scholars alike to frame the politics of representation that underlie our understanding of the contemporary productions of transnational artists.

Modern/Contemporary 2020–21

With the rise of various models of “global” art history and the proliferation of biennale culture, the complicated relationships between the practice and theory of art and ethnography seem newly relevant. Contemporary artists and curators, working across global histories refer to methods of “field research/work/site” and engage with the participatory and performative aspects of art-making. Some of the questions we will consider: What does it mean to curate as a form of ethnographic practice? How have these disciplines addressed the complexities of material cultures, the agency of objects, and indigenous and local ways of knowing? How do we understand tropes of “crisis” and calls for “reflexivity” in both these arenas of study, in the wake of renewed concerns about cultural appropriation and calls for decolonization and cultural restitution? Finally, what kinds of imaginative or speculative fictions have been articulated through both ethnographic and archival research by contemporary artists and researchers? The work of ethnographers, art historians and artists has drawn repeatedly on tropes of travel, discovery, hybridity, cultural proximity and distancing. How might we usefully draw these common threads into productive conversations to clear space for more radical ways of doing art history?

Modern/Contemporary 2018–19, 2015–16, 2012–13

The critical tools acquired from postcolonial and postmodernist discourses—coupled with the growing interest in and studies of the global contemporary art market—have enabled critics, scholars, and curators to broaden historical understandings of the modern. This seminar will address Said’s discussions of the “voyages in” of exiles in interwar and postwar modern Europe, Stuart Hall’s subtle readings of the visual cultures and identities in postwar Britain, and Kobena Mercer’s ongoing projects on the overlapping, imbricated nature of modernist practices, alongside new thinking on cosmopolitanisms by Kristeva, Benhabib, and Clifford. These important approaches in the EuroAmerican sphere run parallel to ever-deepening studies of locally-situated, often nationally focused but globally-conscious artistic scenes around the world (often misnamed alternative modernities), including work by Geeta Kapur and Partha Mitter on India, Okwui Enwezor and Chika Okeke on parts of the African continent, and Gerardo Mosquera and Guy Brett on sites in Latin America. This course broadens an ever deepening interest in the global implications of the modern, in a department that features a growing number of scholars with interest and expertise in global modern and contemporary visual cultures and art histories. It will enable graduate students to gain greater insight into current debates on contemporary uses of cosmopolitanism in light of historical models and understandings of the modern.

Modern/Contemporary 2022–23, 2014–15

While the allure and mechanisms of the archive have held the attention of modernist scholars for well over a decade, the interest in mining its contents has shifted with the ascendance of the global contemporary—With its presentist and universalist claims, at once disavowing the need for modernist genealogies and simultaneously re-orchestrating them to explain current “global art currents,” theories of the global contemporary seem to require a “backward glance” in the work of artists hailing from beyond the received boundaries of the modern. This seminar will address the history of thought surrounding the modernist archive, particularly in light of its presence in the work of many artists from postcolonial and post-trauma sites. It will ask how conversations about imperial nostalgia, postcolonial melancholy and other forms of memory work play out in the works of these artists and how they inform critical re-imaginings of both the materiality and representational politics of the archive. Readings will include Agamben, Buchloh, Derrida, Demos, Enwezor, Foster, Huyssen, and Mbembe.

Modern/Contemporary 2017–18

This course addresses the interplay of discursive and artistic returns to the modern, particularly by post-colonial and indigenous artists tasked with imagining a historically grounded space within the global contemporary art world. The perceived or real failures of the modernist project in the former third world and the waning of its post-war developmentalist/internationalist guise have opened a space for what I am calling “retro-modernism” to operate. In the hands of critics, it retains the spectre of primitivism, as an elemental part of modernity’s fictions—continuing a search for analogous (but ultimately derivative) modernist forms outside of the Euro-American story. It makes both a spectacle and fetish of non-Western modernity as an anachronism—a project cut unnaturally short by circumstance and painstakingly held apart from the tangible political and ethical effects of the loss of empire at mid-century. In the hands of artists, the playfulness and levity of the “retro” belies the seriousness of its aim. Rather than simply a recap of postmodernist appropriation and pastiche or a trendy practice of archival mining, retro-modernism may be a tool with which to make claims not just to modernity’s pasts (its ambitions, its certainties and fears, its genres) but also modernity’s (or what Okwui Enwezor might call “aftermodernity”’s) futures (its possibilities for regeneration, reflection, and revolution). We will thus examine the critical purchase of re-surfacing the modern and debates on modernity’s character as a continuing project of decoloniality. Readings will include Marx, Williams, Belting, Derrida, Demos, Harootunian, Enwezor, Boym, and Moxey.

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Thematic, Geo-Zone 2016–17

The idea that modernity is of necessity secular is increasingly coming into tension with the myriad forms of contemporary religiosity that surround us today, including iconic images, both secular and sacred. This seminar attends to how this tension plays itself out in art history, with a view to revising our disciplinary presuppositions in a way that allows us to address this important aspect of contemporary image-making, both in the West and elsewhere. In order to examine the fate of religiosity and the icon in our thinking about images, we will juxtapose the sublimation of religion into the aesthetic in the powerful and far-reaching early formulations of Romanticism and Hegel with more recent reconsiderations of the modes of efficacy of images, iconoclasm/iconoclash, and the nexus between religion and media. Examples will be taken not only from Christianity and Judaism but also from other religious traditions such as Islam and Hinduism. Readings, mostly from art history, philosophy, and anthropology, will be chosen from the work of GWF Hegel, Jean-Marie Schaeffer, Hans Belting, Walter Benjamin, David Freedberg, Charles Taylor, Dario Gamboni, Bruno Latour, Marie-Jose Mondzain, Barry Flood, Alfred Gell, Christopher Pinney, Boris Groys, David Morgan, Hent de Vries, Jean-Luc Nancy, Samuel Weber, James Elkins, and others.

Modern/Contemporary, Non-Western 2015–16

This seminar asks whether and how democracies in a range of historical and geographic contexts have been predicated on, or have produced, certain forms of representativeness/representation, where “form” is understood in its broadest aesthetic sense (including, but not restricted to, “art”). Of particular interest here is what happens to these representational imperatives in situations of cultural plurality (colonialism, postcoloniality, war/occupation, multiculturalism, diaspora, cosmopolitanism). Our point of departure is the formulation of the link between aesthetics and politics in the work of Jacques Rancière: this is the primary focus of the first half of the seminar. We will also touch on Ernesto Laclau’s work on populism, as well as on the aesthetic regimes of neoliberalism. While I have assigned some tentative readings for the second half based on relating the ideas from the first half to specific media or aesthetic forms from a diverse set of contexts, the seminar will ideally take its direction from the seminar participants: we could choose to workshop the ideas from the first half in relation to participants’ areas of interest, or we could delve deeper into issues raised in the first half.

Modern/Contemporary 2012–13

Our contemporary “global” condition is often characterized by tropes that draw on an earlier modernist excitement about the automobile—circulation, flows, smoothness, speed, connectivity, superhighways—as well as its downsides: risk, insecurity, pollution, blockages, car bombs, kitsch (girlie calendars, billboards, Las Vegas). Drawing on approaches from “new materialism,” anthropology, critical geography, architectural theory, and cinema studies as well as art history and critical theory, this seminar attempts to rethink these affects of automotive modernism in relation to spaces, times, and assemblages that aren’t easily subsumed within modernist narratives of modernity.

Modern/Contemporary 2014–15

This thematic, method-oriented seminar surveys the recent rethinking of the temporality of art history, partly occasioned by what is often (problematically) called art history’s “global turn.” How do we think art history beyond a linear progression of styles and periods (Kubler, Focillon, Moxey)? What is the time of the image: is it anachronic/anachronistic (Didi-Huberman, Nagel and Wood)? What does it mean to be modern, to be contemporary, and for whom; does it make sense to speak of multiple modernities and heterogeneous temporalities (Latour, Smith, Kapur, Mercer, Harootunian, Wu Hung, Enwezor)? In addressing such questions, the course appropriately attempts to draw on scholarship across a wide range of locations and periods; participating students are invited to bring to the table any contexts of specific interest.

Modern/Contemporary 2017–18

What is a “landscape”? To address this question, as this seminar does, is to think about the way the category emerged as part of European ideas about something called “nature” and its relationship to human subjectivity. Here landscape became a way of seeing as a way of knowing: in particular as a way of understanding land as property and as a resource, as well as a reflection of human emotions and a way of engaging questions of existence. In order to “provincialize” these ways of seeing/understanding—that is, to identify how they emerged within a very particular set of historical, geographical, cultural, political, and economic contexts that nonetheless came to claim universality—we will compare Western landscape painting traditions with visual forms from other traditions that might be seen as akin to landscapes. These include Chinese and Islamic traditions, as well as Indigenous art from Canada and elsewhere; seminar participants are also encouraged to bring their own specific interests to the table through readings on other topics. Understanding the genealogies of “landscape” through scholarship in art history, anthropology, history, and geography will equip us for a more globally oriented and critical approach to those strands of modern and contemporary art concerned with the “environment” and our existence in the geological age recently dubbed the Anthropocene.

Modern/Contemporary 2019–20, 2018–19 (Cancelled)

Even as “visual culture” was emerging as a field of study, in the late 1980s and early 1990s art history was reckoning with critiques of “ocularcentrism” or the primacy of vision. While much of that rethinking was channelled into an “affective turn,” this seminar foregrounds postcolonial approaches in asking what a focus on comparative sensoria might add to discussions about the politics of the sensible, and the status of vision in relation to the other senses. After revisiting earlier debates on ocularcentrism, the seminar seeks to “provincialize” histories of the senses centred on Euroamerican modernity by seeking out work on heterogeneous sensory regimes from a range of periods, locations, and/or cultural formations—Western and non-Western, pre-modern and modern/contemporary—that challenge not only the dominance of vision and its separation from the other senses, but also, perhaps, the celebration of these challenges as politically subversive (a case in point here is the privileging of touch in South Asian practices of caste.) The aim here is twofold: to rigorously interrogate our methodological presuppositions about the visual in approaching images and artworks, and, working with a nonlinear notion of layered temporal circuits, to further illuminate the work of the senses in our increasingly complex global present. This broad conceptual and methodological orientation means that the seminar is intended to speak to students across geographical and temporal specializations; participants are encouraged to collectively shape the reading list by contributing their interests to a proposed list of topics and readings. The latter will include work from art history, history, anthropology, philosophy, music, film studies and literary theory (among others), covering topics such as the acousmatic, the corpothetic, synesthesia, kinesthetics, olfaction, Indigenous life-worlds, varying forms of religiosity, and untouchability.

All 2020–21

Both art practice and scholarship in the humanities over the past two decades have been described as taking an “animal turn,” influenced by posthumanism and a resurgence of ecological thinking. This conceptual and thematic seminar explores the unfolding of this turn in art history, examining key texts and trends in relation to images across a range of geographical areas and periods. It aims to provincialize the terms of debate in this area by opening it up to a diverse set of image traditions related obliquely, if at all, to Western narratives of humanism and posthumanism. In doing so it illuminates a range of approaches not only to imaging animals, but also to the animation of the image.

Modern/Contemporary 2021–22

This seminar examines approaches to the efficacies of images from the standpoint of South Asia, where—as elsewhere, only more clearly—the force of the aesthetic far exceeds the arena of “fine” art. In doing so, this seminar explicitly reflects on postcolonial and decolonizing challenges to art history’s Eurocentric presuppositions. While based in South Asian materials, the course therefore has wider relevance to issues of art historical method. Each week, representative scholarship and critical texts on South Asian images, mostly (but not exclusively) from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, will be examined in relation to the questions they pose about art history’s objects, categories, methods, and narratives. The course does not require background knowledge of South Asia, however participants will be expected to fill this in as required for the weekly reading, as they are for unfamiliar Western materials.

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Modern/Contemporary 2022–23

What is the relationship between photography and the occult? Is it possible for the camera to see the invisible beyond the powers of the naked eye? Beginning with the spirit photographs of William Mumler in the 1860’s to contemporary manifestations of digital ghost hunting, we will investigate the search for elusive ghosts via the camera lens as an ongoing preoccupation in the history of photography. We will review this rich and fascinating history with key case studies of “haunted media” starting with the emergence of phantasmagoric visual entertainments and other psychic, occult, and borderland phenomena whether UFOs, auras, fairies, or “thoughtography”. Exploring these “ghosts in the machines” through the lenses of science, religion, and art, the course will consider various reasons why some have wanted to believe in the veracity of these phenomena while others have wanted to debunk occult photography as a hoax, trick, or fraud.

Modern/Contemporary 2019–20, 2015–16

This course investigates augmented reality (AR) as an emerging new media art practice. Whether using head-attached, spatial displays, or hand-held devices as their mode of interface, AR art projects and maps virtual space onto real space setting up interactive environments and embodied spaces that rely on locative media. The course will provide us an opportunity to read leading theorists and art historians who are thinking about the meaning and significance of AR art and its larger implications for the study of digital culture including Christine Ross, Lev Manovich, and Greg Ulmer. Topics will include the relation of AR art to site-specific installation; media activism and the virtual public sphere; the use of AR in the construction of counterfactual history; its relation to geo-spatial studies and critical cartography; and museum manifestations using augmented reality. The course will review a number of key contemporary case studies by AR artists.

Modern/Contemporary 2023–24, 2021–22, 2018–19, 2016–17

What are the ways in which photography as a visual and narrative medium induces laughter and provides amusement? This course explores this question by focusing on major photographic genres throughout the history of the medium and by examining major photographic humourists in particular. The course is particularly concerned with the analysis of key images (both old and new) that mock conventional assumptions made about the nature and function of photography in terms of its claims to truth, identity and reference. The course also includes readings of major philosophers and cultural theorists on the subject of humour and applies them to thinking about photography.

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FAH3011H Roman Painting

Ancient 2013–14

Roman painting is perhaps the most attractive body of material of ancient art in terms of aesthetic value, and also the one that is most compatible with current art historical methodologies, from socio-historical and contextual approaches to psychoanalytical reception theories. The focus of the seminar will be on the role of mythological wall painting in the emergence of new forms of subjectivity in the late Republican and early Imperial periods. Notions of “fantasy,” “embodiment,” and “selfhood” will be explored. The seminar will address a range of iconological issues, in particular the appropriation of Greek myth in its new contexts, the relation of mythological images with the iconographic tradition, gender, sexuality and the body, as well as the problem of “programs” in wall painting. Most of the examples under discussion come from Rome and the cities on the Bay of Naples, but the chronological and geographical framework of the seminar will extend beyond that looking back at the Greek predecessors as well as to Roman painting of the second to fourth century AD.

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Early Modern 2023–24, 2022–23

What types of communication and value did each of the many media allow and express? Many of the same artists designed artifacts in multiple media. The role of drawing became essential to all arts, but drawing alone could not define the material and spatial properties of other media. Concepts of skeuomorphism, affordance, and intermediality have occupied scholars from James J. Gibson, Donald Norman, and W.J.T. Mitchell to our own Evonne Levy. We will examine theories that underlie these ideas along with principles of word-and-image relations, artistic mode, categories and functions of drawing, issues of color and polychromy, theatricality, and the role of family and professional networks. We will investigate the artistic culture of the Netherlands as a system, and we will concentrate on the sixteenth century, a period in which the region became truly Pan-European, with artistic and intellectual ties from Italy to Sweden, from England to Ukraine.

Medieval, Early Modern 2021–22, 2019–20, 2016–17, 2014–15, 2013–14

This course examines varieties of sculpture in Northern Europe during the fifteenth and sixteenth century with particular emphasis on the Netherlands and Germany. The course questions the near-exclusive focus on painting as the quintessential artistic medium of Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Sculpture was an essential medium for the expression of power relations. Tombs of the high nobility framed and controlled the communal space of churches and chapels. Towering sacrament houses offered magnificent stages for the Eucharist—the material focus of the central drama of the church. Mantelpieces in town halls asserted the complex relationship between competing groups within the city. Carved altarpieces found visual formulas for metaphysical notions of sacred space and time. And smaller works like bronze statuettes became treasured objects in Renaissance collections.

Early Modern 2014–15

This course looks at the innovative work of Pieter Bruegel in the context of the artistic, literary, economic, religious, and political culture of the Low Countries in the sixteenth century. Particular attention will be paid to Bruegel’s secular pictures and the current notion of a “vernacular’ style.” We will examine Bruegel’s narrative techniques and their relation to the approaches of other artists and media in the Netherlands. Classes will begin with discussion of assigned articles that survey recent approaches to Bruegel’s art and to his culture. Participants are expected to prepare critical assessments of all readings, to give a number of presentations in class, and to write a term paper. Language Requirements: German and Dutch are a benefit; all assigned readings are in English.

Early Modern 2015–16, 2012–13

Margaret of Austria, the daughter of Emperor Maximilian and regent of the Netherlands, is renowned as one of the most highly educated and sophisticated female patrons of the arts during the Renaissance. Having lost two husbands to early death, she defied her father’s wishes to remarry and became one of Europe’s most competent governors. From her court at Mechelen, she was at the center of the remarkable artistic revival at the beginning of the sixteenth century. Margaret and her nobles were the leading patrons of Hieronymus Bosch, while she, herself, collected important paintings by Jan van Eyck, Jan Gossaert, and many others. Her commissions for tapestries helped nurture the preeminent workshops of Brussels during these years. And her church with its tombs at Brou remains one of the outstanding dynastic structures of the European nobility. Margaret’s sights were truly international. Raised in France, and resident for a time in Spain and Savoy, she welcomed numerous foreign artists to her court, meeting with both Albrecht Dürer and Lucas Cranach during their visits to the Low Countries. The course will focus partly on Margaret of Austria’s wide-ranging engagement with the arts at her court and partly on the art industry of nascent Antwerp. There will be considerable discussion of the unique paintings by Hieronymus Bosch. There will be further lectures on the development of urban culture, on the rise of Antwerp as a center and market for the arts, on the mythological pictures of Jan Gossaert, on the genesis of landscape painting and secular imagery of common experience, on the cult of antiquity, on Netherlandish carved altarpieces, on the early printing industry and the production of woodcuts and engravings. Other media such as tapestry, illuminated manuscripts, and stained glass will also be considered. Particular attention will be paid to gender studies, socio-economic and anthropological perspectives, and the history of collecting. We will examine, as well, historical notions of the Renaissance and their applicability to Northern Europe and the Netherlands. Readings will include essays by Hans Belting, Erwin Panofsky, Keith Moxey, Joseph Koerner, and Paul Vandenbroeck. Students will deliver brief reports on the readings, a major oral presentation, and a term paper. Recommended languages in order of importance: German, French, Dutch.

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Ancient 2013–14

Since G.E. Lessing’s categorization of poetry and painting as the “arts of time” and the “arts of space,” the concept of space has occupied a special ontological position vis-à-vis the visual arts. Theoretical frameworks hinging upon the concept of space, however, went through a variety of transformations since Panofsky’s appropriation of “space” as a necessary condition for what was to be called the formalist art historical tradition. Taking David Summer’s Real Spaces (2003) as a starting point of our inquiry, this interdisciplinary seminar surveys critical scholarship in various fields of art history and archaeology, as well as those from neighboring disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, on “space” as a unifying concept. Concomitant concepts that will be examined briefly include: virtuality, perception, memory, time, materiality, social and gendered spaces, and world art history. Having surveyed critical methods across disciplines, using space as a categorical concept, the students will have a chance to develop their own critical research projects in the area of their choosing.

Ancient 2020–21

There are numerous ways in which a picture is worth a thousand words. This course investigates the complex relationship between narrative and image, and the ensuing notions of temporality in spatially based pictorial media. The focus on ancient Greek and Roman visual culture—from Greek vase painting to Roman historical reliefs—provides a rich ground for exploring different narratological methodologies, which the students will learn throughout the course. The readings, thus, will be partly drawn from a wide range of theoretical sources in narrative studies, from Aristotle’s Poetics to Roland Barthes, as well as more recent approaches to visual narratology in contemporary film studies. The course will also address broader philosophical issues regarding notions of time and art, going beyond the domain of narratology proper, and consider the ways in which artworks can acquire temporality, both in and out of their proper socio-historical contexts.

Ancient 2018–19, 2015–16

The graduate seminar is a comprehensive exploration of women, both their myth and their reality in the ancient Greek world, through extant visual and literary representations. The course is organized both by subject matter (divine figures, heroines, amazons, courtesans, etc.) and by theme (festivals, drama, religious participation, daily life, marriage, etc.), and offers theoretical and methodological insight throughout the semester. The students will also read key texts from gender theory along with relevant primary and secondary literature on women and gender in ancient Greece. The aim of the course is to obtain familiarity with scholarly methodologies regarding gender through the lens of antiquity, with an emphasis on the analysis of visual evidence, at the same time gain critical insight into women’s history in ancient Greece, through their artistic representations.

Ancient 2019–20, 2016–17

A truly interdisciplinary course by design, on the relationship between Time and Art. Using Concepts of Time as a disciplinary bridge between Philosophy, Aesthetics, and Art History, the course will examine some of the major philosophical thoughts on Time throughout history and explore different ways in which Time and temporality enter into art historical or philosophical discussions on works of art. We will approach each subtopic of Time and its relationship to Art, from both philosophical and art historical perspectives, offering productive avenues for interdisciplinary investigations. Some of these topics include: Time in Ancient Philosophy and Art, Visual Narrative and the Philosophy of Narrative, Renaissance Anachronism, Phenomenology of Time and Art, Time and Modernity, Retrieval and Restoration of the Past, and On Writing History. Close readings of philosophical texts will include excerpts from Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Freud, Heidegger, Bergson, Merleau-Ponty, and Benjamin; we will also be analyzing works of art and their relationship to Time from major periods of Art History, with a focus on Ancient Greece, and touching upon Renaissance, Modern and Contemporary. Students will be encouraged to work on artworks from local museums, notably the ROM.

Ancient 2017–18

The seminar is designed as an exploration of the science, philosophy, and historical meaning of visual perception, as it pertains to art history. On one level, the course investigates theories of vision and perception throughout history (with a particular focus on Ancient Greece, but covering a large span of history in a survey-like style) and how these thoughts might enter both artistic treatises at the time and the current art historical discourse. On another level, using the concept of visual perception as a disciplinary bridge, the course will attempt to explore the nexus between psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, and art history, tapping into the most recent scholarship of the last decade, which has started to explore such relationships. The readings will be drawn from a very diverse array of sources both primary and secondary, including Plato, Aristotle, and other Greek philosophers; Early Modern optical treatises; Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological treatments of perception on embodiment; secondary literature by art historians, philosophers and media theorists, such as Jonathan Crary and David Freedberg, Arthur Danto, Noël Carroll, Stephen Davies and W. Seeley.

Ancient 2014–15

There are numerous ways in which a picture is worth a thousand words. This course investigates the complex relationship between narrative and image, and the ensuing notions of temporality in spatially based pictorial media. The focus on ancient Greek and Roman visual culture—from Greek vase painting to Roman historical reliefs—provides a rich ground for exploring different narratological methodologies, which the students will learn throughout the course. The readings, thus, will be partly drawn from a wide range of theoretical sources in narrative studies, from Aristotle’s Poetics to Roland Barthes, as well as more recent approaches to visual narratology in contemporary film studies. The course will also address broader philosophical issues regarding notions of time and art, going beyond the domain of narratology proper, and consider the ways in which artworks can acquire temporality, both in and out of their proper socio-historical contexts.

Ancient 2023–24

This is a graduate seminar on Greek vase painting that takes place in the Royal Ontario Museum, using their significant collection of Greek vases. The course is co-taught with the ROM curator of antiquities, who will oversee the handling of and discussions about the vases, fragments, and their historiographical and iconographical studies. This course not only offers a rare opportunity for hands-on, object-based learning, it also provides instructions on writing for the museum, whether a catalogue entry, archival notes or labels. The course will also introduce students to theory, methodology and historiography of vase painting scholarship, while using the ROM’s collection as case studies for further research. Topics of exploration will include formalist subjects such as vase painting techniques, connoisseurship and dating, as well as interpretative frameworks including archaeological and social contexts, aspects of daily lives, gender and sexuality, and mythological iconography. We will also be engaging in digital technology such as 3D reconstructions and photogrammetry of the objects. The format of the class will be an hour lecture, followed by discussion / hands-on investigations of vases and fragments, and a visit to the galleries where students will have chances to perform short presentations.

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Ancient 2012–13

In studying material culture the spotlight tracks towards the extraordinary; yet most artefacts are ordinary, banal, and hence frequently overlooked. This seminar asks how we might retrain our analytical gaze upon the objects of the everyday, the aim being a fuller understanding of human interactions within the material world. It tackles the category of “the everyday” from a range of disciplinary perspectives: among them art historical, anthropological, and archaeological. We will consider a range of topics, including: the relationship between the everyday and the extraordinary; the multimodal human engagement with artefacts and images; the definition of “objects” vs “things”; the agency of material entities in relation to social practices; artifact biographies; the modes of meaningfulness in everyday material culture; spatio-temporal dimensions of the everyday; the power of artifact assemblages; and cognitive perspectives on material culture. Case studies are drawn principally, but not exclusively, from Aegean prehistory.

Ancient 2016–17, 2011–12

Many art historians refer to the finest objects of the Aegean Bronze Age (c. 3000–1000 BCE) as “art.” Yet most anthropological archaeologists working on this same material resist this term. While there is an interesting debate to be had on the status of this ancient material culture, it has rarely been explicitly framed. This course reviews this state of affairs and explores new approaches to the artefacts/artworks of the Bronze Age Aegean, focusing on notions of practice, gesture, performance, and skill, and drawing on novel ideas emerging in the broader field of material culture studies. The objective is to reveal the various functions and meanings of ancient visual and material culture in this prehistoric east Mediterranean setting.

Ancient 2024–25 

Across the humanities and social sciences there has been a surge of interest in connections and relations of various kinds. Network analysis has shown itself to be an effective and adaptable means of exploring such phenomena, particularly given the increasing accessibility of computational methods. This course will focus on the potential for using network analysis in reconstructing ancient connectivities and mobilities, with application particularly in studies of the ancient world across disciplines. There are various ways in which these fields can benefit. On the one hand, the social relations among artisans and artists responsible for bringing artworks into being can be scrutinised, as can the connections between consumers that help shape value, or indeed the networks of distribution or circulation that link producers to consumers. These factors all concern the social structures sustaining artistic output. On the other, it is also possible to conceive of the relations between artworks in network terms, within the oeuvre of a given artist, or more broadly between media or across periods or regions. The class will cover the history of approaches to connectivities, relations, and networks; present case studies that demonstrate the utility of network approaches; and offer students the chance to develop their own projects in network analysis applied to ancient materials (with all the attendant problems of data incompleteness). This is a course in digital humanities, in its concern for the exploration and visualisation of data with the aid of computational methods.

Ancient 2018–19, 2014–15

This course aims to put the growing interest in neuroaesthetics, neuroarthistory and neuroarchaeology in perspective, through a broader review and exploration of cognitive approaches in art history and archaeology. We will query why art history has been drawn towards those versions of cognitive science that are a) neurocentric, maintaining a separation between mind and world, and b) reductive. Although similar patterns are also present in other disciplines, including archaeology, we shall explore how the latter has begun to embrace more fully the active role of materiality in cognitive processes.

2021–22, 2019–20

A year-long core course with the aim of providing students with a critical understanding of what constitutes method within the different domains of Classical archaeology, ancient history, and prehistory, and the challenges and opportunities in working across these methods to produce new frameworks for researching the ancient Mediterranean. Students will examine ways in which historical and archaeological methods might be applied comparatively or diachronically across traditional chronological or geographical boundaries. Readings will be drawn from several core ‘classic' texts on the ancient Mediterranean and specific case studies.

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Modern/Contemporary 2021–22, 2019–20

In the wake of Hannah Gadsby’s influential film Nanette (2018), and in the context of the Me Too movement, particular pressure is put on the ways that Picasso has been constructed, and the claims and counter-claims made for his work over the course of the 20th century into the present. These include the biographical Picasso, the formalist genius Picasso, the intellectual semiotician Picasso, the political Picasso, the colonialist Picasso, the “late” Picasso in view of postmodernism, and the misogynist Picasso. We will consider the principal critical and academic texts, as well as popularizing photographs and key films

Modern/Contemporary 2016–17

This course deals with Surrealism from its inception in 1924, through the work of the principal surrealist artists in various media, including the production of objects that break down the conventional distinctions amongst media (photography, sculpture, and painting), and between the categories of art, utensils, and detritus. Surrealist art is tied up with texts—poetic, automatist, philosophical, and political—informed by psychoanalysis and anthropology. We will consider key works by Lautréamont, Aragon, Breton, Bataille, Caillois, Leiris, Lacan, and Kojève, as well as the writings of the artists themselves.

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Early Modern 2023–24, 2020–21, 2019–20, 2018–19, 2016–17

With the material turn, art historians have been engaged in imaginative explorations of the uses and meanings of materials in early modern art and visual culture. This course focuses on crossings from one medium to another (intermediality or intermateriality) whether through conscious imitation (material mimesis) or translation. We will look at explicit statements of medium-specificity in treatises; the situating of drawing as the unifying art; border crossings in the well-known art theoretical debate of the 16th century, the paragone; anxiety about deception (terracotta that feigns stone, stucco that imitates gold). A principal preoccupation will be with the intermedial effects of the introduction of printed images. For while intermediality is as old as art itself, there is an intensification with the introduction of print, when all media became graphic, only to be remedialized again. The chronological span is 15th–18th centuries and the geographic reach is global, with a particular focus on Europe and Latin America (where print was translated into painting and architecture often and in unexpected ways). We will spend time on signal works of intermediality (Roger van der Weyden, Rubens, Gianlorenzo Bernini) as well as many anonymous works, especially in the Americas (16th–18th centuries). This course is historiographically-oriented, tracking the reception of these historical artefacts alongside the modern call for truth-to-materials and the post-war call for medium-specificity in abstract art. A goal of the course is to develop a lexicon of terms specific to intermediality (pictorialization, linearization, resurfacing, flattening, modelling, etc.).

Early Modern 2012–13

This seminar is occasioned by “Bernini’s Models in Clay” a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition of virtually the entire corpus of Bernini’s works in terracotta (50 works, alongside 30 drawings, and some marble and bronze statues) organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art (opens October 2012). Bernini’s terracotta sculptures, a fragmentary record of preparatory works by a sculptor who denied any direct relation between sketches of any kinds and final works, occupy an uncomfortable place in what should be a relatively straightforward narrative of ideation, preparation, and execution. This seminar takes a critical look at this “preparatory” work. We will also use the terracottas to take a fresh look at Bernini’s work in all media (clay, ink, stone, bronze) from the perspective of its materiality, seeking to take a new cut through the considerably large but in some sense remarkably anti-materialist literature on Bernini as an artist of fleeting motion, religious (and material) transcendence, (ephemeral) theatricality and (dematerializing) illusionism. In addition to reading the Metropolitan Museum’s exhibition catalogue and the major interventions in the Bernini literature we will be reading a selection of studies outside of the Bernini and baroque literature. In addition to a final paper students will re-write an entry in the exhibition catalogue. An international conference (“Material Bernini: Clay, Ink, Stone”), which will bring major figures in the field of Baroque sculpture and Bernini studies to Toronto at the end of the semester, is also being planned in conjunction with the seminar. A trip to New York City to view the exhibition (likely October 25–28, 2012) will be part of the class and depending on the success of my fundraising efforts, a certain amount of the costs will be borne by participants. Because we will be negotiating group rates and reserving travel well before the fall semester it is important to know how many people will be taking the seminar. So please do get in touch if you are interested. Reading knowledge of German and Italian is recommended but not required.

Early Modern, Modern/Contemporary 2015–16, 2011–12

Organized in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the Swiss art historian Heinrich Wölfflin’s Kunstgeschichtliche Grundbegriffe [1915] (Principles of Art History), perhaps the most widely read work of art history ever written, this seminar explores the worldwide reception of this foundational and controversial work of formalism. Written during World War I, the Principles has and continues to attract a worldwide readership, from Beijing to Buenos Aires, in and outside the academy, drawing people into art history and influencing the terms in which they understand it. Received positively and negatively, as in turn a colonialist work, anti-colonial and post-colonial, as at once one of art history’s unacknowledged operating system and its scapegoat, the Principles are art history’s crucible and its pandora’s box. This seminar will conduct a close reading of the text and its crucial intertexts, and, in the second part of the seminar, the research workshop, we will investigate how this text reaches into many corners of art history, visual culture, as well as into neighbouring disciplines, how it has been confronted by and stimulated theoretical renewal in the discipline (up to and including the neural turn in art history). The 2015 Wölfflin seminar will be conducted concurrently with graduate seminars on this topic given by art history professors at 10 different universities around the world. You and the other graduate students in Tokyo, Delhi, Sao Paulo, and elsewhere will be reading a similar curriculum and “meeting” online for group discussions about seminar topics and your research topics. The seminar reading materials will be supplemented by digital content (videos of master classes, interviews and discussions with important scholars, and so on) and a digital space where you can meet co-participants from the consortium. The seminar culminates in a virtual international conference at which research from graduate students in the consortium will be presented. This seminar and the book at the center of it supports research into a very wide range of topics in the history of art and architecture, photography, decorative arts, and visual culture not just in Western art but in Asian and Colonial Latin American art. Consortium of Universities: University of Toronto (Canada); University of Zurich (Switzerland); University of Fribourg (Switzerland); University of Munich (Germany); Ghent University (Belgium); Sorbonne, Paris (France); University of Queensland (Australia); Jawaharlal Nehru University (India); Federal University of Sao Paulo (Brazil); Johns Hopkins University (US); Central Academy of Art, Beijing (China).

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Modern/Contemporary 2023–24, 2020–21

This course introduces methodologies for the study of Indigenous customary arts (both historical and contemporary), taking as our point of departure the materials and practice of these arts from a maker's perspective, and the land- and trade-based relations they enact. We will focus locally on Great Lakes arts by Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee artists, with an eye to wider movements and connections. Beads, black ash, porcupine quills, clay, copper and more will be explored through theorizations of place, process, sovereignty, and relationality, as well as through artist talks and hands-on engagement in exploratory workshops.

Modern/Contemporary 2022–23, 2021–22

This course will explore activism within art contemporary movements as well as art strategies used by activist movements, with a specific focus on the local and ongoing. The course will span theory and praxis, asking how we might bring the critical and decolonial lenses of our texts into the world and vice versa. We will learn from artists and activists working locally, and from these conversations move into a wider global framing.

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Medieval, Architecture 2023–24, 2022–23

This course reexamines how notions of the otherworldly shaped Islamic architecture, with a focus on its formative period. It explores the act of building as a form of being, considering the ways architecture upheld human encounters with the divine, the celestial realm, as well as other otherworldly beings, benign and malevolent. The course considers the ways Muslims navigated notions of sacrality through a lifecycle, from daily to annual ritual practices and how architecture and material culture emerged dialogically within this context. Through an exploration of Islamic temporality, eschatology, the afterlife, early Islamic sacred geographies, sacred cities, ritual practice, pilgrimage, relics and funerary cultures of early Islam, the course challenges notions of sacred space as a typology to reveal Islam’s relation to the otherworldly as an embodied enactment of transcendence.

Medieval, Architecture 2018–19, 2017–18

A critical examination of seminal early Islamic sites, including the Mosque of the Prophet in Madina, the Great Mosque of Damascus, the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, select Umayyad desert palaces, Abbasid Baghdad and Samarra, and the palace of Madinat al-Zahra and Great Mosque in Cordoba. Themes discussed include cultural encounters with late antiquity, the ancient near east and Europe, the impact of nascent Islamic institutions, questions of patronage and the role of ceremonial.

Medieval, Architecture 2021–22, 2020–21, 2019–20

The Umayyads present a unique opportunity for the study of Medieval Mediterranean architectural history. As religious and political leaders, Umayyad caliphs and their patronage manifest a rootedness in late antiquity that challenges notions of Islamic art as “other.” By considering key Umayyad monuments, cities and material culture we will problematize binaries of east vs. west, sacred vs. secular and center vs. periphery to reveal what makes the Umayyads empire builders of the first order. Contextualized through ceremonial, pilgrimage, trade, praxis and governance, the built environment operates as a vehicle to access deeper and more nuanced understandings of Islamic history.

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Early Modern 2011–12

This seminar will explore the architecture and works in different art media made for monastic spaces and associated ritualistic activities, as well with the luminal status of the religious female self. We will examine the fascinating images that were produced and which constitute productive episodes of visual tension that transformed the regulated usage of the spaces they ornamented. The aims of the seminar are multiple: to provide students with knowledge of Renaissance conventual art from its rise to its directional shift during the Tridentine religious reform; to consider the methods and contexts through which conventual art has been approached in recent decades.

Early Modern 2021–22, 2018–19, 2015–16, 2012–13

Two major exhibitions, symposia and several new publications have recently re-considered the art of the Italian painter Correggio (1489–1534), but its understanding remains problematic within the current paradigms of Renaissance art. Correggio’s art has generated oppositional responses in the scholarship, ranging from its being considered an embodiment of “Renaissance classicism,” to its characterization as “proto-baroque,” or to the artist’s supposed exemplary status as a “post-classical” master. One of the central questions underlying the seminar is: where does Correggio’s art fit in the current Renaissance art history? The work of Correggio and its reception will be examined not just in and of itself, but as paradigmatic of the interpretative impasse that characterizes Renaissance art history as it is currently practiced. The seminar will consider Correggio’s most ambitious projects—his altarpieces, domes decorations and erotic images—and reconstruct their referential structures and meanings. But the examination of this still undervalued protagonist of Renaissance art will serve as a springboard for reflecting upon larger problems in the field: the ontological status of Renaissance art history, its methods and approaches, and the present-day “crisis” of interpretation.

Early Modern 2013–14

The seminar will explore some of the most crucial artistic innovations of the Italian Renaissance and their symbiotic relation to monasticism. Engaged with the pursuit of learning and religious reform issues, Renaissance monks became major agents of the cultural and spiritual changes that affected Italian society during a stressful period of foreign invasions, political turmoil and religious angst. Monks’ investments in art were extraordinary and in multiple art media, involving key experimental artists of Renaissance art history, including Mantegna, Raphael, and Correggio. Histories of Italian Renaissance art have, however, downplayed their role to a minimum, presenting the innovative artworks for their monastic spaces as mere local enterprises. To rethink a corpus of works as interconnected contributions to the development of a renewed monastic art, this seminar discusses works in different art media that actively participated in the definition of modern Renaissance art. Reading level of Italian is expected.

Early Modern 2014–15

The course investigates the dense intersections of art and monasticism in early modern Italy. We will examine works in different media and sizes at key junctures of the history of art and religious reform in Renaissance Europe.

Early Modern 2020–21

The development of Renaissance art has often been traced on the basis of large-scale works, including grandiose palaces, monumental chapels, colossal sculptures, imposing frescoes and massive tapestries. Small-format works, however, constitute an area of artistic performance that deserves further scrutiny and critical attention. This seminar explores miniaturization in several media works produced ca.1400–1600. We will be looking at a corpus of small-size works that provide some of the most compelling responses to questions of scale, crafting, performativity and portability. Readings include chapters by Mack, Payne, Lévi-Strauss, and Bredekamp, among others. There may be visits to local museums if the situation allows.

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Other 2014–15, 2012–13

A close reading of the major texts related to the theory and practice of art history and its related disciplines. Required for all incoming PhD students, unless students receive permission for previous course from the Director of Graduate Studies.

Formerly Global Medieval Art in China

Medieval, Asian 2022–23, 2018–19, 2016–17

Part of the UofT Getty Connecting Art Histories project, this course examines the arts of medieval China—especially those of the port cities of Guangzhou and Quanzhou—from a multicultural perspective. This course considers how the idea of “medieval art” might be understood with respect to the production of art in China, how such art raises questions about the geography and periodization of native and non-native art forms in China, and how non-native art forms that flourished in China connect to their originating sites and move along the networks of their transmission. While in the past decade art history has embraced the idea of globalization, this seminar seeks to probe the making of medieval Chinese art in postglobal context by introducing the methodological tools of postglobal art history, a new approach to the discipline emerging from developing art histories (i.e., from non-Western nations in which art history has developed as a discipline only since the late 20th century).

Modern/Contemporary 2020–21 (Cancelled)

This seminar, to be co-taught by Kenneth Brummel, Associate Curator of Modern Art at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) seeks to problematize the discourse and practice of formalism—i.e., critical approaches to the study of visible and material features of an art object—in the discipline of art history. Weekly seminars will alternate between the gallery spaces of the AGO, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), and other local collections, in order to facilitate the kind of first-hand looking at objects practiced by true formalists. First-hand engagement with objects will be combined with the reading of various methodological, historiographical, and theoretical texts, including those by the British art critic Roger Fry (1866–1934), who wrote extensively about both Chinese ceramics and modern art, and Henri Focillon (1881–1943), the French formalist who was also a Director of the Musée de Beaux Arts de Lyon. By developing critical, analytical, and object-focused skills, this seminar has three goals: to problematize the division between the fine and decorative arts; to consider the possibilities and limitations of established methods of formalism that have been resurgent with the rise of “Global Art History;” and, to suggest the importance of formalism in an era of methodological experimentation that at times eclipses the object. Ultimately, this seminar will equip students with tools for thinking through and making sustained art-historical arguments about diverse types of objects that are both methodologically rigorous and materially grounded.

Early Modern 2020–21

This seminar “Multiples and their Articulations in Chinese Art,” seeks to recover pre-modern Chinese notions of what contemporary art history terms “the multiple” in order to understand the ways in which pre-modern Chinese objects were understood in their own cultural context in dialogue with terms and concepts established in the implicitly European discipline of art history. The course will introduce the theory, methods, and historiographic foundations of the idea of the multiple and probe the corresponding relationship of the idea of the multiple to concepts such as originality, uniqueness, and the masterpiece in pre-modern China and in the discipline of art history.

Early Modern 2023–24

This course seeks to train students in the history of one the world's major traditions of painting, namely that of China, and in the methods for studying it – including in Sinological context and in dialogue with other traditions of painting. Weekly seminars will leverage Toronto collections, namely paintings in the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and painting facsimiles in the collection of the Cheng Yu Tung East Asian Library at UofT, so that students can acquire an object-based foundation for researching Chinese paintings using established and novel methods in the discipline of art history. Beyond gaining hands-on experience with objects of a medium that – while painting – differs significantly from dominant Euromerican expectations for “painting”, this seminar will introduce students to theory, method, and historiography for studying Chinese painting, emic and etic, in dialogue with objects. This seminar will also position students to work meaningfully with a medium that, given its fragility and foreignness, many find difficult to handle and/or understand, teaching students, whether literate in Chinese or not, how to do research on these objects. The ultimate goal of this seminar is to enable students to mobilize knowledge of a distinctive premodern non-Western medium in the Eurocentric discourses of the discipline of art history. Knowledge of Chinese language not required; students who read Classical Chinese will have the option of reading primary source texts in the original.

Medieval / Early Modern 2024–25

This course will explore a clearly defined topic and/or a problem related to Chinese painting history: either in local, China-wide, or global context; and, in a period from the medieval to the contemporary, but not necessarily including the entire breadth of these temporal periods. By the design of the instructor, the course may address select developments in the history of Chinese painting. Some modules might involve the study of: specific painters, movements, or dynasties; painting theory; a text or texts of Chinese art writing in the original; or, historiographic problems. All modules will emphasize: key primary sources (paintings and texts) in their original format; the development of the Sinological, philological, and bibliographical skills for working with these primary sources; and exploration of the secondary literature. This course emphasizes the development of art-historical skills grounded in Sinological practice in order to prepare students for further research either in entry-level art world jobs or in graduate school (including MA or PhD theses in Chinese painting history).

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Modern/Contemporary 2014–15, 2012–13

James Wilson Morrice (1865–1924) is the Canadian artist most closely associated with issues of early modernism. Born in Montreal, he was educated there and in Toronto (Law, University of Toronto, 1882–89), but found his true vocation only when his family allowed him to travel to London, then Paris, to study art. While he remained resident in Paris the rest of his life, he returned to Canada annually until 1916, and was regularly represented in Canadian exhibitions throughout his career. A quiet retiring personality, Morrice nonetheless achieved a certain critical acclaim in Paris before the First World War, and numbered many prominent painters and writers among his friends, primarily within the large Anglo-American community in the period of the Nineties through the turn-of-the-century, but in Fauve circles after 1905 when he became associated with the Salon d'Automne. Each participant in the seminar will be expected to investigate Morrice's relationship to one of his artist friends such as the Americans Maurice Prendergast and Robert Henri, or the Frenchmen Albert Marquet and Henri Matisse, or with an evident mentor such as Whistler or Manet. The intention is to demonstrate how the study of a Canadian figure can be enlarged significantly through the use of the often extensive and methodologically varied literature available on French, American, and British subjects. Topics are chosen and developed through round-table discussions in the early weeks of the seminar, and are presented to the group in penultimate form. The written paper, submitted at end of term, counts for the entire grade.

Modern/Contemporary 2017–18, 2016–17, 2015–16, 2013–14, 2011–12

This seminar will examine the evolution of portraiture in Canada from the final decade of the French Regime to the accomplishment of Confederation, offering possibilities of investigating technical, social, and stylistic developments within a new area of study in the Department of History of Art/Graduate Department of Art that links with our recently established specialization in the history of photography. This was a period of remarkable growth in the incidence of portraiture in Canada, in part due to the heightened apparatus of local governance, but mainly as a consequence of increased immigration and the dramatic rise of a newly wealthy middle class in the wake of growing trade and the onset of the industrial revolution. Portraiture was purveyed initially in the form of oil paintings and watercolours, then proliferated in a range of more popular idioms, including miniatures and silhouettes, culminating finally in daguerreotypes, and contact and projection printed photographs, often elaborately hand-coloured in the later period, better to compete with still-popular oil and watercolour paintings. The seminar will also situate Canadian studies within a broader understanding that encompasses British and European influences and the cross-border traffic of itinerants operating within the Atlantic, St. Lawrence, and Great Lakes regions.

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Modern/Contemporary 2012–13

This seminar examines some of the principal themes in the work of Roland Barthes over what were to be the last three years of his life. Enabled by the recent publication and translation of his lecture courses at the College de France (The Neutral; The Preparation of the Novel), and the mourning diary that he kept in the wake of his mother's death, the course seeks to understand the central importance of the notion of the neutral, the experience of mourning, the evidence of photography, and the notations of homosexual erotics in Barthes' writing and teaching from his Inaugural Lecture at the College on January 7, 1977, to his seminal book on photography, Camera Lucida. Other texts that we will discuss include: Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes; Incidents; as well critical works by Maurice Blanchot, Jacques Derrida, D.A. Miller, Diana Knight, Eduardo Cadava, Geoffrey Batchen, and others.

Modern/Contemporary 2022–23, 2013–14

The seminar is devoted to the study of the work of French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy, and specifically the ontological priority that he gives to aesthetic praxis in his thinking of the politics and ethics of subjectivity, community, the senses, bodies, globalization, and technique. Attention will also be paid to such topics as: representation/presentation, the image, the portrait, and spectacle. On a weekly basis we will engage in close readings of such books by Nancy as The Muses, The Ground of the Image, and Being Singular Plural, along with the work of other philosophers and theorists who serve as his major points of reference (Hegel, Kant, Freud, Heidegger, Bataille, Blanchot, Derrida).

Modern/Contemporary 2021–22

This course examines recent work in Queer Theory, Philosophy, Literature, and Visual Culture, in which questions of ethics and aesthetics are of principal concern in thinking about friendship; sexual pleasure; intimacy; decision; anonymity and identity; social encounters and relations. We will read works by: Leo Bersani, Tom Roach, Tim Dean, William Haver, Michel Foucault, Herve Guibert, Jean-Luc Nancy, Lauren Berlant, and others.

Modern/Contemporary 2023–24

This seminar reads a series of contemporary novels and short stories by women authors in the context of current discussions and debates on intimacy and violence; misogyny; desire, fantasy, and the pornographic. The course will consider the ambiguity of desire and pleasure’s contradictions; transgression and consent; rape; female friendship; sex talk; the stories of young women; and readership and audience. African-American, Indigenous, Canadian, Irish, Moroccan, and American authors will be read: Roxanne Gay, Kathleen Collins, Katherena Vermette, Miriam Toews, Eimear McBride, Leila Slimani, Diane Williams, Jamie Quatro, and Mary Gaitskill, amongst others. The focus will be on stories that are intentionally unsettling and operate without clear moral lessons. What is it that fiction can do, that non-fiction cannot, precisely when absent of general accusation, but instead is filled with detailed observations of the “inconsistencies and incoherence” of sex?

Modern/Contemporary 2011–12

The seminar is devoted to the study of the work of French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy, and specifically the ontological priority that he gives to aesthetic praxis in his thinking of the politics and ethics of subjectivity, community, the senses, bodies, globalization, and technique. Attention will also be paid to such topics as: representation/presentation, the image, the portrait, and spectacle. On a weekly basis we will engage in close readings of such books by Nancy as The Muses, The Ground of the Image, and Being Singular Plural, along with the work of other philosophers and theorists who serve as his major points of reference (Hegel, Kant, Freud, Heidegger, Bataille, Blanchot, Derrida). Jean-Luc Nancy's work on art, aesthetics, and sense has achieved widespread significance in contemporary philosophical, art historical, and theoretical discussions and debates on the relations between art, politics, and ethics. This course will enable students to critically analyze and assess Nancy's place within twentieth-century philosophy, including his reading of the works of Martin Heidegger, his alliances with Jacques Derrida and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, and comparative analysis that might be undertaken with the work of such contemporaries as Jacques Ranciere and Giorgio Agamben and their respective thinking on politics and aesthetics, sense and community. Earlier versions of this course have been in the Graduate Department of Art.

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Ancient 2023–24

This course considers fundamental problems in developing an Art History for ancient art, with an emphasis on the prehistoric through Medieval Mediterranean. How can the approaches, methods, and theories developed for the study of “art” be applied to ancient artifacts and visual culture recovered from archaeological contexts? How is art history impacted when we seldom can identify the creator of an artifact, or so little is known about an ancient persona that we cannot meaningfully assess a career at an individual level? Going beyond the erasure of the great majority of creative individuals from an otherwise literate ancient society, how do we engage with imagery in a prehistoric context, where creators are not only anonymous, but the lack of written documents introduces a deep uncertainty in any interpretation? In response to these existential questions about ancient art history, we will examine both modern and ancient concepts of art and craft, including the culturally embedded constructs of artist versus artisan. The surviving ancient literature and epigraphical records cast important light on ancient aesthetics, modes of perception, and emerging ancient notions of art history, albeit one quite distinct from the modern. The course also reviews specific methods and theories which have been applied to the study of ancient artisans and aesthetics, beginning with attribution studies and collection practices which shaped modern museums. We will then consider the corpus of ancient signatures and other personal marks left on artifacts, as well as visual representations of craft created by the artisans themselves. Additional topics will be adapted to the background and interests of the enrolled students. We may consider the power and influence of images and image-makers in antiquity, the approaches to symbolism and meaning in prehistoric visual culture, the organization of artisans and workshops in various media and conditions, the economics of craft production, or the reconstruction of ancient technologies – each of which provide new insight into and perspective over the lives of artisans and craftspeople in the ancient world.



FAH1221H Inside the Painter's Studio

Early Modern 2020–21, 2019–20, 2018–19, 2017–18, 2016–17, 2015–16, 2014–15, 2013–14, 2012–13

Painters at work in Italy, France and Germany, 1550-1700. The aim of this seminar is to understand studios as places for painting, teaching, selling and modelling, and hence painters as a craftsman, teacher and team boss, negotiator and salesroom manager. Research topics include: the physical location and environment of painters’ studios; painting as a corporeal act; painting as a performance for studio visitors; self-representation of painters at work; bodily traces in paintings (fingerprints and finger painting); visual and literary evidence of production. An eclectic array of approaches and sources will be used: material culture, anthropology, scientific conservation, social and economic history, and literary analysis. Source material will include biographies, letters, diaries, account books, inventories, testaments, lawsuits, technical manuals and (naturally) prints, drawings and paintings. Reading knowledge of Italian, German or French is required.

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Modern/Contemporary 2022–23, 2019–20, 2012–13

This course examines two early twentieth-century British modernist movements and their key artists and writers (including Vanessa Bell, Jacob Epstein, Roger Fry, Wyndham Lewis, Ezra Pound, and Virginia Woolf, among others). Topics include the groups’ complex politics, contributions to aesthetic theory, exploration of text/image relations, response to World War One, and sexual politics.

Modern/Contemporary 2024–25

This course examines ideas of craft that have emerged in the modern period in response to the industrial and digital revolutions, and other significant social and political changes. From the Arts and Crafts movement, the Bauhaus, and mingei to Etsy, maker culture, Craftivism, the Hobby Lobby, and biofacture, modern craft is associated with radically different practices and politics. Drawing on a variety of disciplinary and theoretical frameworks, we will consider craft’s relationship to art, design, industry, and leisure in a global context, using case studies to illuminate key concepts and issues. We will pay particular attention to the place of craft in modern and contemporary art; to issues of gender, class, and race in understandings of craft and its queering; to craft’s relationship to the environment; to what Indigenous perspectives and practices can teach us; and to what has been seen as craft’s revolutionary or reactionary potential.

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Medieval 2012–13

The course examines the role and history of the “Middle Ages” from its Renaissance roots to the invention and establishment of Medieval Art as part of the academic discipline of the history of art. Further on, it focuses on the European and North American modern approaches in the field and attempts to evaluate its present state, value and function within the academic curriculum.

Medieval 2011–12

This course examines various communal paintings in Italy of the outgoing thirteenth and the fourteenth century in Florence. (Giotto/Palazzo della Signoria), Perugia (G. Pisano et al./Fontana Maggiore. Palazzo dei Priori), Rome (Cola di Rienzo/S. Angelo in Pescheria), Siena (Lorenzetti/Palazzo Comunale), and in Padua (Giotto/Palazzo della Ragione). Emphasis is on the interdisciplinary historical context, i.e. the changing self-understanding of the communes as independent city republics and the integration of hitherto new pictorial means, wall painting as a public medium, historia and allegory as to depict the growing emancipation of these city states within a time of radical changes. In short, the focus is on perception and explication in painting and the mentality of the time. A good source is Hans Belting and Dieter Blume (editors), Malerei und Stadtkultur in der Dantezeit. Die Argumentation der Bilder (Munich: Hirmer Verlag, 1989). Languages recommended: Italian, German.

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Team-Taught Courses

Other offered every year

A close reading of the major texts related to the theory and practice of art history and its related disciplines. Required for all incoming PhD students, unless students receive permission for previous course from the Director of Graduate Studies.

Medieval, Early Modern, Modern/Contemporary 2020–21, 2018–19

In 1921 the Russian structuralist Roman Jakobson lamented that the history of art was remarkably imprecise in its vocabulary. One word received particular disapprobation: “the term ‘realism’…fares especially badly. The uncritical use of this word, so very elusive in meaning, has had fateful consequences.” In this seminar, we will address the consequences that have attended the invocation and variability of “realism” by examining a series of episodes in Western art from the late medieval and early modern periods to the Twentieth Century.

We will explore—and attempt to disentangle—the most influential historical and theoretical accounts of realism and its relatives, including mimesis; naturalism, the comic, pictorial realism; social realism; photo-realism and photography. We will examine the invocation of these terms with respect to such phenomena as medieval sculpture, Van Eyck, Caravaggio, Dutch genre painting, Courbet, nineteenth-century photography, and cubism. The fundamental aim of this exercise is to become familiar with the various discourses around notions of realism, to assess how disparate artists have sought to link visual representation with the world.

Meetings will be organized around readings from Boccaccio, Rabelais, Johan Huizinga, Lorraine Daston, Roman Jakobson, Erich Auerbach, Ernst Gombrich, Roland Barthes, John Tagg and other relevant writers. Students will be evaluated on their participation in weekly discussions, oral presentations, and final paper.

Early Modern 2019–20

The “global” turn in the discipline of art history too often eliminates the locality – the specific and sometimes not well-known places where art is made – from its purview in favour of geographically-expansive narratives focused on circulation and reception of works made in localities. As a counterpoint to these narratives, this seminar explores ideas of artistic localities in Italy and China during the early modern period. Its principal focus is on questions of place and cultural geography, but it also necessarily examines the relationship of place to artistic exchange in networks of various sizes (those small walled cities, those of metropolitan centers, and those of “global” reach). To address methodological concerns, we will critically review existing literature on artistic geography, from period sources to contemporary works

Modern/Contemporary 2021–22

Working at the juncture of Art and Visual History and Philosophies of the Image and marshalling a set of critical-theoretical approaches to address the politics and aesthetics of sociality and community, this seminar investigates the role that photography and the field of photo studies together might play in imagining and creating collective futures, afterlives, and other lives. The seminar will provide a unique transcontinental focus on photography in relation to Africa, Europe, and the Americas; ecology, and species extinction; postcolonial and decolonial histories; and race and temporality—including their heretofore unexplored intersections.

Modern/Contemporary 2017–18

This seminar will focus on the art and life of Christiane Pflug (1936–72). Born in Berlin, and subsequently living in Paris and Tunisia before immigrating to Toronto, Pflug’s paintings embody both a northern European sensibility and the dramatic changes taking place in post-1960s Canadian society and culture. Her subject matter was drawn from her experiences and immediate surroundings and expressed in highly controlled compositions: the view out her window, her kitchen, her daughters and their dolls, her caged birds. “I work in an enclosed and very private world,” she once said. A series of guest lectures broadly inspired by themes central to Pflug’s work will frame the research. Students will work directly with the artist’s works and archives held at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

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Special Guest Seminars

Modern/Contemporary 2014–15

In the history of picture production, as opposed to the narrower history of fine arts, the United States in the 19th century was a site of internationally significant developments. It became a principal locus for advances in the instrumentalization of images for marketing, political persuasion, and the circulation of information. At first slow by European standards to develop a pictorial press, a lithography trade, and a corps of skilled draughtsmen, printmakers, and designers, the US was, by the end of the century, a world leader in the mass production of pictures and in the expansion of commercial, political, and aesthetic uses for them. Although the growth of mass visual culture was an international phenomenon, the unconstrained capitalism and rapid territorial and demographic expansion of the US made it ground zero. This crucial chapter in the commodification of images is largely unwritten, yet it is foundational for the international image-culture of the 21st century. This seminar will examine some important events in the early history of the development of mass picture production in the U. S., focusing on the period 1830 to 1860. This is the formative period, when the infrastructure, labour force, and audiences took shape. At this time various forms of mass production made non-autographic pictures, formerly rare and remarkable, commonplace elements in daily life and social relations. Numerous factors contributed to this change: artists motivated to experiment with ways of attracting (and shaping) a broad audience; a growing population with an appetite for pictures and some disposable income; new image technologies permitting high-volume reproduction, such as wood engraving, lithography, chromolithography, steel engraving, and, starting in the 1850s, photography; industrialized printing facilities; efficient shipping and distribution networks; apparatuses for publicity and promotion; and new public institutions designed to support these developments, such as Art Unions, Mechanics’ Institutes, popular museums, etc. Since much of this history remains to be reconstructed, opportunities for original research will be ample, and class assignments will regularly involve research in primary sources. The seminar will aim to identify influential figures, watershed works, and formative events in the early history of American mass visual culture; develop ways of discussing and discriminating among early mass cultural materials; and test some of the influential theories of mass culture developed by Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Stuart Hall, Clement Greenberg, and others.

Medieval, Asian 2014–15

This course will explore approaches to art in China’s Song dynasty (960–1272) through examination of selected paintings and calligraphy. During the Song dynasty, a new kind of painting developed that built on established religious, narrative, and panegyric pictures. Practiced largely by the educated elite (including the emerging scholar-official class, Buddhist monks, and imperial clan members), it drew heavily on metaphor and textual references and was an extension of the literary culture of the time. Readings will include seminal historical texts as well as contemporary scholarship. Chinese reading ability is desirable but not required. Grades will be based on class participation including discussion of assigned readings, short oral reports, and one longer oral report with PowerPoint on a topic chosen in consultation with the instructor.

Early Modern 2016–17

This year's series of Bernard Herman Lectures in Art History concerns major topics in Italian Renaissance art history. The lecture topics range from sensitive reflections on Leonardo’s art through the writings of a major twentieth-century scholar, John Shearman, to focused studies of Vasari’s Lives (1550 and 1568 edition). Students will be assigned readings on the various topics of each lecture and will be exposed to close readings of works of art as well as to broad methodological reassessments on the history of Italian Renaissance art.

Medieval, Asian 2015–16

This seminar examines the art industry of China’s Middle Period, roughly from the early 3rd century when the Han empire (206 BCE–220 CE) collapsed to the mid-14th century when the Mongol Yuan dynasty (1276–1368) ended. This period witnessed several key events in Chinese art history—the coming of age of sculpture, the florescence of both mural and scroll painting, and the development of a distinctive “medieval” mode of art criticism, among others. The course highlights materiality in art making, investigating materials, methods, and processes of sculpture and painting on the one hand, and on the other, exploring the significance of materials, facture, as well as pictorial intelligence during these medieval centuries, when the making of artworks constituted the intersecting point of artistic style, religious beliefs, transregional commerce, and politics. In tandem with an in-depth reading of early scroll paintings and their critiques, the course pays particular attention to mural painting and sculpture of varied materials/formats that were created for Buddhist chapels and underground tombs. Students are expected to give short presentations on course readings and to write a final research paper. Readings include classic and recent studies on key issues in medieval Chinese art history, together with theoretical works on “iconology of material,” formalism, and “global” art history. Reading proficiency in at least one of the following languages: Chinese, German, Japanese. Participants in this seminar will be eligible to apply for competitively awarded places on a field trip to the Dunhuang caves fully funded by the Getty Connecting Art Histories Initiative. This field trip will also include student members of a seminar of the same title taught at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts (taught by Profs. Li Qingquan and Zou Qingquan). On the Getty Connecting Art Histories Initiative, and its funded cooperation between the U of T and the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts.

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Visual Studies Cross-Listings

Modern/Contemporary 2013–14, 2012–13, 2011–12

This course focuses on defining moments in the development of contemporary art after 1960, both in Canada and internationally. Examining critical events, turning points, practices, and artwork, the course includes such topics as the relationship between contemporary art and its markets, institutions, the development of media, and new post-colonial and global contexts for the visual arts. The course is offered as a series of seminars, with assigned readings, research papers, and presentations by students.

Modern/Contemporary 2013–14, 2012–13, 2011–12

This course engages major developments in contemporary theory and criticism as pertinent to the history of contemporary art. The course attends closely to the relationship between art practice and its interpretation. Major focus on critical writing, close reading of work, and the development of pertinent frameworks for the explanation and interpretation of contemporary art and artistic practice. The course is offered as a series of seminars, with assigned readings, research papers, and presentations by students.

Modern/Contemporary 2013–14, 2012–13, 2011–12

This course will trace the history of paradigmatic exhibitions with particular emphasis on the emergence of temporary exhibitions (rather than permanent displays) and their historical contexts. Using Canadian and international case studies, the course examines the assumptions, theoretical considerations, and critical undertakings that underwrite the making of exhibitions since the enlightenment with a particular focus on the contemporary period.

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