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BA Film Studies and History of Art / Course details

Year of entry: 2021

Course unit details:
Before the Black Death: The Golden Age of Siena

Unit code AHCP21102
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Art History and Cultural Practices
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course introduces students to the glorious visual culture of late medieval Siena. Between 1260, when the Sienese won a decisive battle, and 1348, when Europe was ravaged by the Black Death, Siena’s political independence and reach, its prosperity, its governance, its religion and the lives of its citizens were marked by and in the city’s artistic production.  Many buildings, sculptures, paintings and original documents survive, which makes it possible to engage with Siena as an art-historical case-study for exploring a raft of intellectual questions about the ways in which art, society, politics, religion and ritual interact.  


This course unit aims to: -

  • Introduce students to primary and secondary source material – visual and textual – for studying Sienese art circa 1260-1348
  • Consider the impact of state and religious institutions on Sienese art and artists
  • Identify mechanisms of iconography, narrative and patronage
  • Examine artists’ technical and organizational practices
  • Consider ‘developments’ in art by Sienese artists in and away from Siena
  • Ese Sienese art as evidence in wider debates about art present in the Middle Ages
  • Explore the legacy of Siena’s Golden Age

Learning outcomes

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

  • engage critically with the artistic and cultural production of late medieval Siena
  • understand and use specialist language relevant to the creation, display and use of buildings, sculpture, paintings and other artistic products
  • relate late medieval Sienese artistic production to wider debates about art, both during the Middle Ages and subsequently.

Knowledge and understanding

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

  • identify different types of sources for Sienese art circa 1260-1348
  • explain key issues in the study of Sienese art in this period including panel painting, fresco painting, workshop practices, iconography, narrative methods and patronage
  • identify and discuss continuities and discontinuities in works by Sienese artists in this period

Intellectual skills

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

  • analyse critically different types of sources
  • articulate intellectual arguments orally and in writing
  • show how political, religious and social contexts are relevant to interpretations of art
  • compare ideas about art in the Middle Ages with ideas about art in other periods

Practical skills

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

  • identify and evaluate different types of sources for discussing art and visual culture
  • identify and contextualise different modes of writing about art
  • read texts effectively
  • write essays or reports that select, organize, interpret and evaluate material in response to given questions

Transferable skills and personal qualities

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

  • attend closely to visual, written and spoken evidence
  • participate confidently and appropriately in group situations (e.g. seminars, group projects)
  • communicate ideas in a logical and engaging manner, both orally and in writing
  • manage time effectively
  • respond positively to constructive feedback 

Employability skills

This course unit will enable students to gain and improve a number of skills including: - ¿ Reflecting on how things past illuminate and inform the future ¿ Developing research skills and resourcefulness ¿ Working effectively under direction and supervision ¿ Working well in a team ¿ Working creatively ¿ Working to deadlines ¿ Managing preconceptions ¿ Responding well to challenges

Assessment methods

Annotated bibliography  0%
Essay 1 40%
Essay 2 60%


Feedback methods

  • Written feedback on essays 1 and 2
  • One-to-one or group feedback available during office hours or by appointment

Recommended reading

David Bomford et al., Art in the Making. Italian Painting Before 1400 (London: Yale University Press, 2002 [1989]

Chiara Frugoni, A Day in a Medieval City (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005)

Timothy Hyman, Sienese Painting (London: Thames and Hudson, 2003)

Diana Norman, Painting in Late Medieval and Renaissance Siena (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2003)

Diana Norman, Siena and the Virgin: Art and Politics in a Late Medieval City State (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1999)

Diana Norman (ed.), Siena, Florence and Padua, Art Society and Religion 1280-1400, 2 volumes (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1995)

              Daniel Waley and Trevor Dean, The Italian City Republics (Harlow: Pearson, 2010)

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Cordelia Warr Unit coordinator

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