Art, Sex and Death

The details
Art History and Theory
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 4
Thursday 03 October 2019
Saturday 14 December 2019
18 December 2019


Requisites for this module



Key module for

BA V351 Curating,
BA V352 Curating (Including Year Abroad),
BA V353 Curating (including Placement Year),
BA V359 Curating (Including Foundation Year),
BA V35B Curating (Including Foundation Year and Year Abroad)

Module description

Sociologists define 'social problems' as conditions that some or all members of a given community view as undesirable. Such problems include social conditions (e.g. poverty or homelessness), actions (e.g. murder or rape), behaviours (e.g. substance abuse or loitering), and other phenomena (e.g. diseases or environmental crises). Popular culture plays a pivotal role in shaping perceptions of such social problems, including which concerns are viewed as being of vital importance in a particular time and place.

Today social problems are constructed in large part through popular media: social websites like Facebook and Twitter, reality television programmes, and 24-hour news outlets; the visual and textual forms at work include photographs and videos, hashtags and memes, GIFs and banner headlines. In late medieval and Renaissance Italy (ca. 1300-1600), the situation was not so very different. Then as now, images and texts worked together to frame and condition public perceptions of social problems-problems like slander, vendetta, madness, infanticide, plague, infidelity, suicide, infertility, and illegitimacy.

This module focuses on one category of visual evidence-representations of miracles performed by saints-in order to uncover the role played by such images in shaping views of social problems in the period. Biographies of saints (known as hagiographies) were everywhere in late medieval and Renaissance cities, in both image and text. Like popular media today, tales of the miracles performed by saints-raising the dead, curing the infertile, rescuing ships, freeing the unjustly convicted, healing the sick-helped late medieval and Renaissance people to make sense of their world. Paying particular attention to the ways in which images shape ideas, this module will examine a wide range of visual and material culture, including painted and sculpted altarpieces, fresco cycles, prints, and illuminated manuscripts.

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

1. to provide students with a grounding in the history of late medieval and Renaissance Italy;
2. to explore issues related to the main developments in visual hagiography and to be able to relate those issues to the politics, social contexts and ideological debates of their times, and subsequently;
3. to introduce students to specialised debates in past and recent literature around the role and interpretation of both visual hagiography and social problems;
to learn to summarise and re-present key theoretical and historical arguments concisely;
4. to raise student awareness of different methods of approaching the discipline through analysis of chosen texts;
5. to stimulate students to develop skills in written communication through essay and oral communication and debate in seminars.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students should have acquired a set of transferable skills, and in particular be able to:

1. define the task in which they are engaged and exclude what is irrelevant;
2. seek and organise the most relevant discussions and sources of information;
3. process a large volume of diverse and sometimes conflicting arguments;
4. compare and evaluate different arguments and assess the limitations of their own position or procedure;
5. write and present verbally a succinct and precise account of positions, arguments, and their presuppositions and implications;
6. be sensitive to the positions of others and communicate their own views in ways that are accessible to them;
7. think 'laterally' and creatively (i.e., to explore interesting connections and possibilities, and to present these clearly rather than as vague hunches);
8. maintain intellectual flexibility and revise their own position based on feedback;
9. think critically and constructively.

Module information

No additional information available.

Learning and teaching methods

10 x 2 hour lecture/seminars 1 x Gallery visit.


  • Nancy Patterson Ševcenko. (1999) 'The "Vita" Icon and the Painter as Hagiographer', in Dumbarton Oaks Papers. vol. 53, pp.149-165
  • Begel, Andrea. (2013) '"A new and monstrous Creation": The Female Demoniac in Thirteenth-Century Franciscan Art', in Nierika: Revista de Estudios de Arte., pp.19-31
  • Michael Goodich. (1994) 'Sexuality, Family, and the Supernatural in the Fourteenth Century', in Journal of the History of Sexuality. vol. 4 (4) , pp.493-516
  • Cathleen Sara Hoeniger. (2002) 'The Child Miracles in Simone Martini's Beato Agostino Novello Altarpiece', in Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte., pp.303-324
  • Herbert Blumer. (1971) 'Social Problems as Collective Behavior', in Social Problems. vol. 18 (3) , pp.298-306
  • Bull, Marcus Graham. (1999) The miracles of Our Lady of Rocamadour: analysis and translation, Rochester, NY: Boydell Press.
  • Goffen, Rona. (c1996) 'Wives and Mothers: Adultery, Madness, and Marital Misery in Titian's Paduan Frescoes', in Desire and discipline: sex and sexuality in the premodern West, Toronto: University of Toronto Press., pp.217-244
  • Bleiker, Roland; Campbell, David; Hutchison, Emma; Nicholson, Xzarina. (2013-12) 'The visual dehumanisation of refugees', in Australian Journal of Political Science. vol. 48 (4) , pp.398-416

The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course. The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students. Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework   Peer reviews    10% 
Coursework   Weekly Reading Summaries Total    20% 
Coursework   Week 3 Reading Summary  15/10/2019   
Coursework   Week 4 Reading Summary  22/10/2019   
Coursework   1500 Word Essay  11/11/2019  30% 
Coursework   Week 8 Reading Summary  19/11/2019   
Coursework   Week 9 Reading Summary  26/11/2019   
Coursework   2500 Word Essay  13/01/2020  40% 

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Diana Presciutti, email:
Dr Diana Bullen Presciutti



External examiner

Prof Richard Simon Clay
Newcastle University
Professor of Digital Cultures
Available via Moodle
Of 20 hours, 18 (90%) hours available to students:
2 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information
Art History and Theory

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