Visualising Bodies

The details
Art History and Theory
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 6
Thursday 08 October 2020
Friday 18 December 2020
11 May 2020


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

This module addresses a subject that has historically been one of the abiding concerns of visual art: the body. Although the module covers a broad chronological span – from c. 1300 to c. 1600 (the period that is sometimes termed the Renaissance) – it focuses primarily on the sixteenth century in Italy. The module will explore issues such as narrative, giganticism, androgyny, eroticism, struggle, violence, and dissection, as well as bodily metaphors in architecture, and the artist's own embodied practice. It will consider how the body became a locus for debates about politics and theology in this period and how it was sometimes regarded scientifically as a 'body of knowledge.' In so doing, the module will examine the works of artists such as Giotto, Duccio, Donatello, Masaccio, Ghiberti, Michelangelo, Giulio Romano, Titian, Dürer, Caravaggio, and others.

Module aims

The aims of the module are:

to investigate the tradition of the representation of the human body in the artworks examined within the module;

to consider how the body was made to stand for a broad range of complex ideas;

to consider how the body became at different times a locus of politics, knowledge, and desire;

to encourage students to develop skills in written communication through the writing of essays, and in oral communication through active participation in seminars.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module students should have:

a substantial understanding of the relationship between art and the body in a specific period and geographical location;

the ability to critically describe, analyse and interpret works of art and architecture featured in the module;

the ability to write at length in an informed manner on the relationship between art and the body and to form an argument relating to various aspects of the topic;

the ability intelligently to relate works of art to primary sources, and art historical and theoretical literature relating to the topics covered on the module;

the ability to write in a synthetic manner, drawing links between different artists, artistic centres, and periods of the Renaissance;

the ability to articulate the relationship between politics, knowledge, sexuality, and the body in the period under consideration.

Module information

No additional information available.

Learning and teaching methods

There will be a two-hour combined lecture and seminar each week. All teaching events will be accessible to students on and off campus either face-to-face or remotely through online teaching. Week 8 is Reading Week.


  • Patricia Simons. (c1992) '"Women in Frames: The Gaze, the Eye, the Profile in Renaissance Portraiture"', in The expanding discourse: feminism and art history, New York: IconEditions., pp.38-57-
  • Talvacchia, Bette. (c1999) Taking positions: on the erotic in Renaissance culture, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
  • Koerner, Joseph Leo. (1996) The moment of self-portraiture in German renaissance art, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Payne, Alina Alexandra. (1999) The architectural treatise in the Italian Renaissance: architectural invention, ornament, and literary culture, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Olson, Todd P. (2002-02) 'Pitiful Relics: Caravaggio's Martyrdom of St. Matthew', in Representations. vol. 77 (1) , pp.107-142
  • Goffen, Rona. (1999) 'Mary's Motherhood According to Leonardo and Michelangelo', in Artibus et Historiae. vol. 20 (40) , pp.35-
  • Simons, Patricia. (1997) '"Homosociality and Erotics in Italian Renaissance Portraiture"', in Portraiture: facing the subject, Manchester: Manchester University Press., pp.29-51-
  • Vitruvius Pollio. (1960) The ten books on architecture / Vitruvius ; translated by Morris Hicky Morgan ; with illustrations and original designs prepared under the direction of Herbert Langford Warren: Dover.
  • Katherine Park. (1998) '"Masaccio's Skeleton: Art and Anatomy in Early Renaissance Florence"', in Masaccio's Trinity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press., pp.119-140-
  • Michael Gaudio. (2002) 'The Space of Idolatry: Reformation, Incarnation, and the Ethnographic Image Original text', in RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics: The University of Chicago Press., pp.72-91
  • Auerbach, Erich. (c2003) Mimesis: the representation of reality in Western literature, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
  • Mason, Peter. (2009) Before disenchantment: images of exotic animals and plants in the early modern world, London: Reaktion.
  • Alberti, Leon Battista; Kemp, Martin. (1991) On painting / Leon Battista Alberti; translated by Cecil Grayson, with an introduction and notes by Martin Kemp, London: Penguin.
  • Puttfarken, Thomas. (1998-06) 'Caravaggio's 'Story of St Matthew': A Challenge to the Conventions of Painting', in Art History. vol. 21 (2) , pp.163-181
  • Sawday, Jonathan. (1995) The body emblazoned: dissection and the human body in Renaissance culture, London: Routledge.

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   Essay 1 - 2500 words      
Coursework   Essay 2 - 2500 words     
Exam  120 minutes during Summer (Main Period) (Main) 

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
70% 30%


Coursework Exam
70% 30%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Caspar Pearson, email:
Dr Caspar Pearson



External examiner

Prof Richard Simon Clay
Newcastle University
Professor of Digital Cultures
Available via Moodle
Of 18 hours, 18 (100%) hours available to students:
0 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

* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.

Disclaimer: The University makes every effort to ensure that this information on its Module Directory is accurate and up-to-date. Exceptionally it can be necessary to make changes, for example to programmes, modules, facilities or fees. Examples of such reasons might include a change of law or regulatory requirements, industrial action, lack of demand, departure of key personnel, change in government policy, or withdrawal/reduction of funding. Changes to modules may for example consist of variations to the content and method of delivery or assessment of modules and other services, to discontinue modules and other services and to merge or combine modules. The University will endeavour to keep such changes to a minimum, and will also keep students informed appropriately by updating our programme specifications and module directory.

The full Procedures, Rules and Regulations of the University governing how it operates are set out in the Charter, Statutes and Ordinances and in the University Regulations, Policy and Procedures.