Hillyer College

ARB 110

Survey of Western Art I: Prehistoric through Medieval

Prof. Fran Altvater

Fall 2005


Course Description

Students in this class will be introduced to the fascinating production of different cultures in the pre-modern world, from the smooth flowing line paintings in the prehistoric caves at Lascaux to the soaring vaults of the Gothic cathedral at Amiens.  In addition to learning how art and architecture of the time reflects its social/political concerns, we’ll look in depth at the period styles of Egypt, Greece, Rome, early Islam, and the medieval west.  We’ll spend much of our time developing a vocabulary for talking about the forms of art and architecture and learning the key methods of art historical analysis.


Course Materials

Laurie Schneider Adams, A History of Western Art, 4th ed., 2005 (ISBN: 0-07-282719-X)


In addition to the textbook, you will need to use our Blackboard page.  The Blackboard page will have the syllabus, links to useful web sites, assignment information, etc.


Course Requirements


Attendance and Participation: This class requires your active participation as both listeners and contributors.  You will be expected to arrive on time and stay the full time.  Hillyer College policy allows 3 unexcused absences; students who miss more than 3 classes may be asked to drop the class at the professor’s discretion.  Attendance and participation are worth 10% of your final grade.


Quizzes: There will be 4 quizzes; they will be non-cumulative.  Students will be expected to fully identify (with artist or culture, title, date, material or location) a number of works, chosen from the lecture sheets.  The quizzes will also include vocabulary and short answer questions, again based on sheets and lectures.  Each quiz will be worth 10% of your final grade for a total of 40%.  PLEASE NOTE: You MUST take all 4 quizzes to complete this course; they are NOT optional.  Make-ups will be given only in cases of medical or family emergency, with a note from your advisor, and/or at the discretion of the professor.  Hillyer College policy is that the make-up is given by the Bursar’s Office; students must make arrangements with the Bursar’s Office directly.


Homework Assignments: There will be 4 homework assignments that must be turned in.  Each will show you an unknown object relating to the material we have been discussing in lecture and in the reading.  These writing exercises (250 words) are designed to keep you thinking about the art of the period and to hone your skills at writing about art.  You should discuss its formal and iconographic characteristics as they relate to other known works.  You may use notes and the text (page number required).  The assignments will be worth a total of 20% of your grade.  PLEASE NOTE: Late assignments will be graded at a penalty of one half grade (A becomes A-) for EACH CLASS PERIOD after assignment deadline, without medical excuse or advisor’s note.


Final Project: The final project will be worth 30% of your grade and includes a written and an oral component.  The assignment will be discussed in detail in class.  Students will be asked to design an exhibition, choosing first an organizing theme, then choosing 4 works from different periods/cultures (of which 2 may be discussed in the text or lecture and 2 must be from outside sources).  The oral component will be a 5-minute presentation of your exhibition (using PowerPoint, slides, or handouts) to your classmates.  The oral component CANNOT be rescheduled.  The written component will be a 3-5 page paper.  The final oral project will be scheduled for our final exam time.




You will be expected to do the readings before coming to class.  They will lay the groundwork for lectures and discussions.  I’ve included a few questions to help you think about the material but you should bring your own to class as well.


August 31-September 2


                        Read Adams, Chs. 1 & 2

                        How do you answer the question: what is art?  What is art history?  Come to class on the 2nd prepared to discuss what questions seem important to ask when we approach a work and to begin using the vocabulary in Ch. 2.



September 7 & 9

            Prehistoric Art and Architecture

            Read Adams, Ch. 3

            Think about the word “primitive”.  Is it a useful word to use here or not?  How do we begin to define artistic creation before we have written records?  What cultural elements seem important?  What elements define the period style?


September 12 & 14

            Art and Architecture of the Ancient Near East

            Read Adams, Ch. 4

            Besides geography, are there any other ways we can tie together the artistic production of these cultures?  Material seems very important in these works—what can it tell us about a culture if the material is local/imported? What can the material tell us about the artist’s or patron’s concerns?


September 16, 19, & 21

            Art and Architecture of Ancient Egypt

            Read Adams, Ch. 5

            Cultures prioritize certain values in art—in America today, we place a high value on originality and innovation.  What do you see as the Egyptian values?  How do they change in the Amarna period?


September 23

            Review for Quiz 1


September 26

            Quiz 1


September 28 and 30

            Art and Architecture of the Ancient Aegean

            Read Adams, Ch. 6

            How do we describe Minoan art?  Mycenaean art?  How do they relate to each other?  After we discuss style in depth, we’ll also talk about archaeological practice and the economics of the art world.


October 3 (Archaic), 5 (Early Classical), 7 (High Classical) and 10 (Alexandrian/Hellenistic)

            Art and Architecture of Ancient Greece

            Read Adams, Ch. 7

            The text divides work up by material; in lectures, we’ll be thinking chronologically so you will be encouraged to think about how what’s happening in vase painting applies to sculpture (for example).  Think about the phrase “Man is the measure of all things” and how that might apply to what the Greeks think about naturalism and art.  On the 7th, we’ll spend our time looking at the Athenian acropolis and how the Parthenon could be seen as the best propaganda building of all time; if time allows, we might consider the issue of the ownership of the Parthenon Marbles.


October 12


October 14

            Quiz 2


October 17

            Art and Architecture of the Etruscans

            Read Adams, Ch. 8

            The Etruscans can be described as a bridge between the cultures of Greece and Rome; think about what connects the Etruscans to the art of ancient Greece and what we might expect to see in Rome.


October 19, 21, 24

            Art and Architecture of Ancient Rome

            Read Adams, Ch. 9

            The Romans established the most extensive empire of the Classical world.  Their art is fundamentally political—think about the message that the patron wants to convey in their choices of portraits and victory monuments.  Even architecture has a clear “Roman-ness” even while it draws heavily on Greek architecture; what makes Roman architecture so different from Greek?


October 26

            Art and Architecture of the Early Christian period

            Read Adams, Ch. 10

            This class will look in depth at how the early Christians took the forms that were familiar under the pagan Roman Empire and reused/recycled them for a new audience.


October 28

            Art and Architecture in the Early Byzantine Empire

            Read Adams, Ch. 10

            The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire; we’ll look at the survival/revival of Roman styles under Justinian (and consider what makes Justinian’s art and architecture different from the High Roman form).


October 31

            Review class


November 2

            Quiz 3


November 4 and 7

            Art and Architecture of Islam

            Read Adams, Ch. 11

            How does Islamic art relate to the Roman world?  How do iconoclasm (as practiced by the Byzantines in the mid 8th-9th centuries) and aniconism (an avoidance of making figural forms, as practiced by the Moslems) connect?  Are the Christian west and the Islamic east ONLY antagonistic in the pre-modern world?  Adams concentrates on Islamic religious art but we’ll also try to look briefly at secular production.


November 9

            Art of the Migratory Tribes

            Read Adams, Ch. 11

            We’ll look at the connection between pagan culture and emerging Christianity at the site of Sutton Hoo and in Hiberno-Saxon manuscripts.


November 11

            Veterans Day

            There is no reading for today; topic will be announced.


November 14 and 16

            Art and Architecture of the Carolingian and Ottonian periods

            Read Adams, Ch. 11

            These periods are often characterized as Roman revival periods.  What happens to naturalism?


November 18, 21, and 28

            Art and Architecture of the Romanesque

            Read Adams, Ch. 12 (and for architecture look at pp. 203-204—Romanesque Precursors to Gothic)

            How does pilgrimage, as a social phenomenon, affect the art and architecture produced at this time?  What’s so Roman about this art?


November 30, December 2 and 5

            Art and Architecture of the Gothic period

            Read Adams, Ch. 13

            What are the major structural changes that allow the Gothic aesthetic of “light and height”?  What changes do you see in the sculptural styles that allow us to think about a renewed interest in naturalism?


December 7

            Review class


December 9

            Quiz 4


December 12

            Where have we been, where are we going?  A course wrap-up

            This is a good time to ask final questions for the end of semester project oral and written reports.



Your oral presentation will be done during our final exam time.  Your written work will also be due at this time.


8:30 MWF       Exam is on Thursday, 12/15 from 11-1.


9:30 MWF       Exam is on Saturday, 12/17 from 2-4.


1:30 MWF       Exam is on Monday, 12/19 from 2-4.