Undergraduate Course: The Optics of Devotion: Sight, Light and Experiencing the Divine in Medieval Europe (HIAR10187)
|School||Edinburgh College of Art
||College||College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
|Credit level (Normal year taken)||SCQF Level 10 (Year 4 Undergraduate)
||Availability||Available to all students
|Summary||Heinrich Wölfflin famously declared that ¿sight itself has a history¿ legible in the objects and through the methods of art history. This course explores the medieval chapters of that history. It will particularly appeal to students interested in the interplay of artistic, scientific and religious practices in premodern Europe and/or the roots of Renaissance perspective.
This course examines medieval discourses on vision (understood to be contingent on fire, i.e., light), which centred on the human capacity to see and thus know the divine in its invisible and incarnate guises. Students will read period tracts¿technical, poetic, theological¿explaining: why humans have eyes; the process of vision and its relationship to thought, memory and imagination; and accounts of visual and visionary experiences. Emphasis will be placed on the intermingling of Greek, Arabic and Latin traditions and the development of perspective. Written sources lay the groundwork for the close study of diverse devotional tools designed to catch the eye and stimulate the spirit.
Although not a comprehensive survey, the course will advance chronologically. Each two-hour seminar will centre on case studies from Christian, Jewish and Islamic contexts. These will serve as stepping-off points for investigating visual-material strategies of brilliance, inscrutability, naturalism, counterfeit and illusion. What, for example, can the blindingly reflective metallic surfaces of some Ottonian liturgical objects tell us about insight, or monumental low-relief sculpture reveal about public piety in thirteenth-century Italy? Consideration will also be given to the availability of optical effects valued by medieval viewers to today¿s audiences in museum settings and through conventional photography.
Information for Visiting Students
|Pre-requisites||Visiting students should have at least 3 History of Art courses at grade B or above (or be predicted to obtain this). We
will only consider University/College level courses. As numbers are limited, visiting students should contact the Visiting Student Office
directly for admission to this course.
|High Demand Course?
Course Delivery Information
|Academic year 2021/22, Not available to visiting students (SS1)
|Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info)
Seminar/Tutorial Hours 20,
Formative Assessment Hours 1,
Summative Assessment Hours 2,
Revision Session Hours 1,
Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4,
Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours
|Assessment (Further Info)
|Additional Information (Assessment)
||You will be assessed for this course in two ways:«br /»
(1) ESSAY (worth 50% of your overall mark)«br /»
One 2,500 word essay, the title to be chosen from a list supplied; due at the end of the semester.«br /»
(2) EXAM (worth 50% of your overall mark)«br /»
One 3-hour online exam in May diet.«br /»
Both summative components of assessment are assessed against all five course Learning Outcomes. Each Learning Outcome is equally weighted, and therefore comprises 20% of overall final course summative grade.«br /»
||Students are given feedback on FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT as follows:
You will be asked to prepare a presentation to deliver to the class and to submit a short (c.300 word) summary of your presentation with references. You will receive verbal feedback at a one-to-one meeting afterwards. The presentation will demonstrate knowledge and understanding that will contribute to your performance in your summative assessment.
SUMMATIVE ASSESSMENT: There will be an essay and an exam, equally weighted. Written feedback on student essays will be provided, in addition to the opportunity for a one-to-one meeting towards the end of semester.
||Hours & Minutes
|Main Exam Diet S1 (December)||3 hour online examination paper||3:00|
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
- Demonstrate skills of visual analysis and interpretation of medieval devotional objects in light of contemporary optical theories
- Demonstrate an understanding of medieval optics, and a detailed knowledge of selected key works
- Demonstrate historical knowledge of the senses and matter, and develop a sensitivity to the ways that ideas about perception and the physical world may have shaped making and viewing in the past.
- Demonstrate a critical awareness of the way that medieval optics and science more generally has been treated by scholars over time and in different disciplines, especially the history of science and art history
- Demonstrate confidence in identifying, conceptualising and expressing novel problems raised by the material
|Betancourt, Roland. Sight, Touch, and Imagination in Byzantium. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018.|
Givens, Jane A. Observation and Image-Making in Gothic Art. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
Hahn, Cynthia and Avinoam Shalem, eds. Seeking Transparency: Rock Crystals Across the Medieval Mediterranean. Berlin: Gebr Mann Verlag, 2020.
Lakey, Christopher R. Sculptural Seeing: Relief, Optics, and the Rise of Perspective in Medieval Italy. London: New Haven, 2018.
Smith, A. Mark. From Sight to Light: The Passage from Ancient to Modern Optics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014.
|Graduate Attributes and Skills
||Visual and critical analysis; Clear thinking and the development of an argument; Independent research; Presentation and communication skills; Organisation and planning.
|Course organiser||Dr Megan McNamee
|Course secretary||Miss Ellie McCartney
Tel: (0131 6)51 5879