BA History of Art

Year of entry: 2024

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

Course unit fact file
Unit code AHCP31031
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


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 –including nuns, holy women and high-ranking lay women – influenced and were influenced by art.


  • 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
  • To understand the mechanisms of iconography, narrative, and patronage that are in play when considering art relating to women in the period
  • To situate the works and ideas studies within the wider context of debates about feminism and art history

Learning outcomes

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 1280-1530
  • Identify the different ways in which women participated in and were affected by art produced in Italy between 1280 and 1530
  • Explain the restriction and the opportunities that shaped women’s patronage of art, depiction in art, and use of art during the period being studied


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 is seminar based. Student will participate in class discussion based on set reading. Readings will be available via BlackBoard.

Knowledge and understanding

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

  • 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
  • Have gained a thorough knowledge of relevant works of art of the period
  • 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
  • Demonstrate the ability to locate, select, organise, interpret, evaluate and present material appropriate to the course.

Intellectual skills

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

  • 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

Practical skills

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

  • Produce detailed visual analyses
  • Produce carefully honed critical readings of written sources
  • Carry out supervised research
  • Produce a professionally presented and coherently argued essay
  • Give a presentation using PowerPoint and, if necessary, handouts
  • Be able to discuss and evaluates 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 supervised 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 and respond to questions arising from the presentation
  • 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

Employability skills

Group/team working
Working in a team and leading and participating in discussion
Project management
Presentation skills and the ability to answer questions relating to a presentation
Oral communication
Presenting an argument to an audience and being able to field questions
Working, with guidance, on research including finding suitable material for assessments and being able to assess this material
Written communication
Presenting written material in a professional format
Time management and being able to work to deadlines. Reflection on discussions and assignments enabling future improvement

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 45%
Report 25%
Oral assessment/presentation 30%

Feedback methods

  • Written feedback on presentation
  • Written feedback on the essay
  • Additional one-to-one feedback (during consultation hour or by making an appointment)

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 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 165

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Anne Kirkham Unit coordinator

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