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MA Medieval and Early Modern Studies / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Women and Art in Italy 1280-1530

Unit code AHCP61031
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Art History and Cultural Practices
Available as a free choice unit? No


This course promotes an understanding of the complex questions surrounding women’s involvement, both active and passive, in Italian art during the period from 1280 to 1530. The course will deal with questions of patronage, the representation of women, and the ways in which different types of women – for example nuns, high-ranking lay women, holy women – influenced and were influenced by art.



-        To provide students with the skills to carry out supervised research on women and art in late Medieval and Renaissance Italy.

-        To promote a critical understanding of the complex questions surrounding women’s place(s) in society and their involvement in art, active and passive, in Italy between 1280 and 1530 and how this has evolved in scholarship on the subject.

-        To situate and evaluate the works and ideas studied within the wider context of debates about feminism and art history.

-        To understand the mechanisms of iconography, narrative, and patronage that are in play when considering art relating to women in the period.


Topics covered may include:


Aristocratic female patronage:

  • Fina Buzzacarina and the Baptistery in Padua
  • Maria of Hungary and Santa Maria Donna Regina in Naples
  • Sancia of Majorca and Santa Chiara in Naples
  • Isabella de’Este


Women and the convent:

  • The Santa Chiara Dossal in Assisi
  • The Saint Humility Altarpiece



  • Profile portraits of women in the quattrocento
  • Three-quarter portraits


Women and art for the home:

  • Painted marriage furniture


Representing holy women:

  • The Virgin Mary
  • Female saints


The woman artist


Teaching and learning methods

This course consists of lectures and seminars. Sessions will generally begin with an introductory lecture followed by presentations and discussions of set readings. Students are expected to participate in class discussion based on the set reading. Readings will be available via BlackBoard.


Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this course students will be able to:

-              Demonstrate how political, religious and social contexts are relevant to interpretations of particular artworks produced in Italy between 1280 and 1530.

-              Identify and critically reflect upon the different ways in which women participated in and were affected by art produced in Italy between 1280 and 1530.

-              Be familiar with both the restrictions and the opportunities that shaped women’s patronage of art, production of art, depiction in art, and use of art and be able to critically assess relevant primary material.

-              Have gained a thorough knowledge of relevant works of art of the period and be able to critically assess these works and be able to relate these works of art to the major critical and methodological questions involved in assessing Renaissance women from a twenty-first century viewpoint.


Intellectual skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:

-        Critically analyse images relating to the course unit.

-        Read and critically analyse written sources relating to women and art in late medieval and renaissance Italy.

-        Critically evaluate secondary source material.

-         Produce a well-reasoned argument on specific issues or debates surrounding women and art in late medieval and renaissance Italy using relevant primary and secondary material.

Practical skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:

-              Produce detailed visual analyses which utilise relevant historical knowledge and skills of visual interpretation.

-              Produce carefully honed critical readings of written sources.

-              Produce a professionally presented essay which reflects critically on issues discussed within the course unit and results from directed research.

-              Give a class presentation and lead class discussion with particular reference to important primary and secondary material.

-              Be able to discuss and evaluate the views of different scholars who have written on women and art in late Medieval and Renaissance Italy.


Transferable skills and personal qualities

By the end of this course students will be able to:

-              Carry out self-directed research using available resources.

-              Critically evaluate written and visual sources.

-              Present coherent arguments in written work

-              Manage time effectively in order to complete assignments.

-              Present material in class using PowerPoint, respond to questions arising from the presentations, and contribute effectively to class discussion.

-              Use PowerPoint and Word in order to present work professionally.

-              Respond to feedback in order to improve their study skills and understanding of material discussed in class.


Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 100%

Feedback methods

- Feedback on formative presentation 

- Summative feedback on essay via Turnitin

Recommended reading

Broude, Norma, and Garrard, Mary D. (eds), Feminism and Art History. Questioning the Litany, New York: Harper and Row, 1982

Broude, Norma, and Garrard, Mary D. (eds), The Expanding Discourse. Feminism and Art History, Boulder: Westview Press, 1992

King, Catherine E., Renaissance Women Patrons, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1998

Tinagli, Paola, Women in Italian Renaissance Art: Gender, Representation, Identity, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997

Chadwick, Whitney, ‘Art History and the Woman Artist’, ‘The Middle Ages’ and ‘The Renaissance Ideal’ in Women, Art and Society, London and New York: Thames and Hudson, 1990, 15-77

Mosher Stuard, Susan, Women in Medieval History and Historiography, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987

Coakley, John, ‘Introduction’ in E. Ann Matter and John Coakley, eds, Creative Women in Medieval and Early Modern Italy (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994), 1-16.

Reiss, Sheryl E., and Wilkins, David G., Beyond Isabella: secular women patrons of art in Renaissance Italy, Kirksville: Truman State University Press, 2001

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 11
Seminars 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 117

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Cordelia Warr Unit coordinator

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