Course syllabus




Understanding Art: Leonardo to Warhol

SEMESTER 2, 2019

15 points

Course Convenor: Robin Woodward

Course Lecturers: Len Bell, Erin Griffey, Sophia Powers, Robin Woodward

Lectures: Tuesdays and Fridays 10am - 11am


Course delivery format:

2 hours of lectures per week


and 1 hour of tutorial in weeks 2-11 inclusive. Ten tutorials in total.

Timetable and room details can be viewed on Student Services Online


Summary of Course Description:              


‘You look, but you do not see’, Sherlock Holmes said to Dr Watson.

This course is about how to look at and really see visual images and objects -- about  how  to observe, analyse, interpret and understand  paintings, monuments and sculptures,

We explore the life and work of  the major Renaissance artists such as Leonardo and Michelangelo, followed by the Baroque master of light and dark, Caravaggio, and the artists of the Dutch Golden Age, Rembrandt and Vermeer. In modern society new approaches to art  are examined through the work of Monet, Degas, van Gogh, Edvard Munch and Picasso. Salvator Dali and Marcel Duchamp introduce us to the world of dada and the surreal, Mondrian and Kandinsky to abstraction, and Warhol to the relationship between artistic expression, celebrity culture and advertising that flourished in post war American society.

A high level of visual literacy is increasingly necessary today in order to navigate our way through the  world of images, at times a flood of images in which it is easy to drown. It is not just that visual images are central to everyday life. It is rather that they are increasingly predominant, even dominating, in social and cultural life and communications. To misunderstand them is to be severely disadvantaged.

In this course students will learn how visual images are constructed, how they generate ideas and emotions, how they ‘work’ on their consumers (that is, ’us’), as well as how they can be interpreted and understood. To these ends the course involves close and intensive study of specific paintings and sculptures. As much as possible the images and objects selected for study are compelling and memorable in themselves.

‘I break up an event into little pieces and analyse it’: Li Yan, contemporary artist.

How and why can we learn so much about seeing and understanding images and objects generally from the close study of individual works? In this course images and objects are studied in terms of their structural, formal, thematic and iconographic (meaning-producing) features. They are also placed in the social and cultural contexts in which they were produced and used in order to more fully understand how the production of meanings are context-specific. The various ways the one image or object can be, or has been, interpreted and understood are studied, while the limits of verbal interpretation of images are also considered. As such, the course provides invaluable skills in observing, analysing and interpreting, skills that are fundamental to all disciplines.



 Course outcomes:

A student who successfully completes this course will have the opportunity to:

  • acquire knowledge of art historical styles and apply it
  • understand and carry out visual analysis
  • acquire skills in report writing, critical thinking, academic literacy and presentation

 Assessment Summary:

Weighting of assignments and due dates

20% test              In class test: Tuesday 20 August

30% essay           Due date: Thursday 3 October

50% exam           at the end of the semester

Topics to be covered

Renaissance Art in Florence and Rome

Lecture 2:The Renaissance Portrait: Ghirlandaio, Leonardo and Piero della Francesca

Art for the Renaissance Palace: Botticelli, Benozzo Gozzoli and Donatello

The Art of Devotion: Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel

Mannerism: Bronzino and Pontormo

Baroque Rome and the Catholic Counter-Reformation: Caravaggio and Bernini

The Art of the Dutch Golden Age: Rembrandt and Vermeer

The Shift to France – Versailles, Rococo, Neoclassicism, Romanticism

Academic Art v. Courbet and Realism

The Modern City – Paris

The Beginnings of Photography

New Ways of Seeing: Monet and Impressionism

Form and Colour: Cezanne and Seurat

Visualising Emotion: Vincent van Gogh

Visualising Emotion: Edvard Munch

Expressionism in Germany and France

A New Pictorial Language: Cubism

The Invention of Abstraction

Early Twentieth Century Photography

Sense and Nonsense: Dada and Surrealism

Whatever Happened to Traditional Sculpture?


 Recommended reading: This will be indicated each week

 Workload and deadlines for submission of coursework:           

The University of Auckland's expectation is that students spend 10 hours per week on a 15-point course, including time in class and personal study. Students should manage their academic workload and other commitments accordingly. Deadlines for coursework are set by course convenors and will be advertised in course material. You should submit your work on time. In extreme circumstances, such as illness, you may seek an extension but you may be required to provide supporting information before the assignment is due. Late assignments without a pre-approved extension may be penalised by loss of marks – check course information for details.

Course summary:

Date Details