BA Latin and Italian / Course details

Year of entry: 2022

Course unit details:
Renaissance Florence: Culture, History and Art

Course unit fact file
Unit code ITAL30621
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Italian Studies
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course will provide an introduction to the culture, art, and history of Florence between 1348 and 1520, focusing on key written and artistic works by Boccaccio, Masaccio, Botticelli, and others. Using approaches from history, literature, art history, and cultural geography, we will consider these works both in terms of their formal qualities and innovations, and as representations of the city and its people and practices during this period of extraordinary cultural activity. We begin with selections from Boccaccio’s Decameron, set at the time of the Black Death in 1348, reading it as a way into the history, culture and civic spaces of the city. We then move into the fifteenth century, first exploring the different spaces of the Renaissance city from above and on foot, using digital humanities mapping tools and immersive apps, then relating this to the representation of two-dimensional space in Florentine artworks, following the ‘invention’ of linear perspective attributed to Brunelleschi in the early Quattrocento. The last part of the course will focus on selected examples of sacred and secular art, located in the public and private spaces of the city, reflecting on their various functions, subject matter, and materiality. At the end of the course students will have gained in-depth knowledge of the Renaissance city of Florence and the varieties of its cultural production.


This course aims to provide students with:

·       a detailed knowledge of some of the major literary and visual works by Italian authors and artists of the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries

·       an awareness of key debates in relation to the construction of the idea of the ‘Renaissance’ and Florence’s place within this

·       the ability to analyse written and visual texts produced in different media (painting, sculpture, furniture, print, architecture)

·       an insight into cultural production within the social and spatial structures of the Renaissance city

·       an awareness of key moments in Florentine history between c. 1348 and 1520, including the Black Death, the rise and fall and restoration of the Medici, and Savonarola’s Bonfire of the Vanities.

 On successful completion of this course, students will be able to:

·       undertake analysis of primary and secondary sources, and critically engage with them, including employing theory to read these texts

·       discuss various approaches to the representation of the city, in a variety of media

show a sophisticated understanding of narratives of Florentine exceptionality in culture

Teaching and learning methods

The majority of lectures for this course unit will be delivered online.

Knowledge and understanding

  • analyse selected written and visual texts in detail
  • understand selected Florentine prose and artistic works produced between the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries
  • demonstrate a critical awareness of selected methodological and theoretical approaches to the artistic works and spaces of the Renaissance city

Intellectual skills

  • demonstrate an ability to carry out independent research;
  • demonstrate an ability to deal with abstract ideas;
  • demonstrate an ability to engage with different type of text in a variety of media;
  • demonstrate a critical awareness of the relationship between literature, art, and historiography.

Practical skills

  • demonstrate the ability to communicate ideas and sustain an argument, using relevant critical material, in discussion, essays, and seminars;
  • demonstrate an ability to present complex ideas in a clear form, including writing for a general audience
  • demonstrate a familiarity with selected spatial digital tools and technologies and critically engage with them;
  • demonstrate an ability to work in a team.

Transferable skills and personal qualities


  • write succinctly for the web and to learn the basics of wiki construction.
  • work independently and in a team, and to co-produce electronic resources.
  • think and argue critically and coherently, both orally and in writing.
  • The ability to manage time and work to deadlines.
  • The ability to design learning activities for peers.


Employability skills

¿ Initiate and carry out projects; ¿ Manage a project independently and work in a team; ¿ Manage time and meet deadlines; ¿ Deal with personal responsibility and autonomous planning; ¿ Demonstrate good presentation, writing, and language skills; ¿ Demonstrate skills in working with specific digital technologies, including spatial tools and wikis ¿ Demonstrate powers of analysis in dealing with a variety of media.

Assessment methods

Commentary 40%
Renaissance Florence Wiki Formative
Essay  60%


Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Written feedback on summative written work, to be provided within 15 working days


Feedback will be given on a commentary draft


Global feedback on written work will be given in class and may also be posted on Blackboard, as necessary.


Oral feedback on the unassessed student-led presentations on the wiki projects


Additional one-to-one feedback is available during consultation hours or by appointment.

Formative and summative


Recommended reading

Set texts:


Giovanni Boccaccio, Decameron, in English translation or Italian.

Recommended editions:

Decameron, translated by G. H. McWilliam, 2nd edn (London: Penguin, 2003);


Decameron, ed. by Amedeo Quondam, Maurizio Fiorilla and Giancarlo Alfano (Milan: BUR, 2013) ;


The Italian text and an English translation by J. M. Rigg are also available freely on the Decameron Web:


Scott Nethersole, Art of Renaissance Florence: A City and its Legacy (London: Laurence King Publishing, 2019) (approximately £15)


A selection of key artworks by Masaccio, Botticelli, Brunelleschi, and other artists to be accessed via Blackboard.


Recommended reading:

The Cambridge Companion to Boccaccio, ed. by Guyda Armstrong, Rhiannon Daniels, and Stephen J. Milner (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015). Free access via Reading Lists Online

Renaissance Florence: A Social History, ed. by Roger J. Crum and John T. Paoletti(Cambridge: CUP,2006) (Selected essays via Reading Lists Online)

Mapping Space, Sense,and Movement in Florence: Historical GIS and the Early Modern City,ed. by Nicholas Terpstra and Colin Rose (Abingdon: Routledge, 2016

Study hours

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

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Guyda Armstrong Unit coordinator

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