BA Art History and History / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Images of Power: Patronage and the Early Modern Court

Course unit fact file
Unit code AHCP33161
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course will explore the way that the arts - understood broadly - were used to represent the political structure of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century courts. We will focus principally on the French court of Louis XIV, although rival courts in England, Italy, Spain and Austria will also be discussed. The course follows a two-part format: we will begin with segments on the organization of court life, the nature of patron-client relationships, and the role and status of the ruler. Then, in the second half of the semester, we will address the way these conditions were reproduced in various forms of artistic and cultural patronage, including the decoration and planning of palaces, the conduct of rituals and ceremonies, the design of festivals, the establishment of scientific and literary academies, and the large-scale collecting of art and curiosities.


The course aims to introduce students to the political culture of early modern court and to demonstrate how that culture underpinned various forms of artistic and cultural patronage.



The seminars will cover all or most of the following topics:

  • The Early Modern European Court: The State of the Field
  • Structural Features of the Early Modern Court
  • Symbolism, Representation, and “Propaganda”
  • The Court Society: Norbert Elias and His Critics
  • The Patron-Client Relationship
  • The Role and Status of the Prince
  • The Planning and Decoration of Palaces
  • Gardens
  • Etiquette, Ritual, and Ceremonial
  • The Festival
  • The Royal Portrait
  • Curiosity and Collecting

Teaching and learning methods

Seminar format, comprising of structured group discussion, individual and group presentations, and collaborative projects

The course will utilize Blackboard for communicating the course schedule, reading assignments, and discussion notes

Knowledge and understanding

  • Account for the social and political culture of early modern courts
  • Account for the role of the visual arts as part of court culture
  • Account for modern historiographical debates over the nature and role of the early modern court and its patronage

Intellectual skills

  • Complete a research-intensive essay
  • Marshal appropriate evidence, frame arguments, write persuasively
  • Deliver a cogent, clear, and convincing presentation defending a specific point-of-view

Practical skills

  • Apply personal initiative to individual and collaborative tasks
  • Work in teams
  • Communicate effectively in an academic setting

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Reflect historically on the intersection of art and political culture

Assessment methods

Assessment Task

Formative or Summative


Essay Plan










Feedback methods

Students will receive formal feedback in verbal and written form on all assessed work

Recommended reading

John Adamson, ed., The Princely Courts of Europe: Ritual, Politics and Culture under the Ancien Régime: 1500-1750 (London, 1999)

Jeroen Duindam, Vienna and Versailles: The Courts of Europe's Dynastic Rivals, 1550-1780 (Cambridge, 2003) Ernst H. Kantorowicz, “Oriens Augusti—Lever du roi,”

Dumbarton Oaks Papers, no. 17 (1963): 162-178.

Peter Burke, The Fabrication of Louis XIV (New Haven, 1992)

Evonne Levy, Propaganda and the Jesuit Baroque (Berkeley, 2004)

Norbert Elias, The Court Society (Oxford, 1983)

Sharon Kettering, Patrons, Brokers, and Clients in Seventeenth- Century France (New York, 1986)

Alice Jarrard, Architecture as Performance in Seventeenth-Century Europe: Court Ritual in Modena, Rome, and Paris (Cambridge, 2003)

Chandra Mukerji, Territorial Ambitions and the Gardens of Versailles (Cambridge, 1997)

Roy Strong, Art and Power: Renaissance Festivals, 1450-1600 (Berkeley, 1983)

Krzysztof Pomian, Collectors and Curiosities: Paris and Venice, 1500-1800 (Cambridge, 1990)

Study hours

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

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Anthony Gerbino Unit coordinator

Return to course details