Course syllabus

Mona Lisa.jpg

Left: Leonardo da Vinci, 1452-1519                                 
Mona Lisa, La Gioconda, La Joconde, c.1503-6

Musée du Louvre


Right: Marcel Duchamp, 1887-1968
Rectified Readymade, L.H.O.O.Q, 1919

Private collection





Understanding Art: Leonardo to Warhol

SEMESTER 2, 2019

15 points

Course Convenor: Robin Woodward

Course Lecturers:  Erin Griffey, Elisha Masemann, Sophia Powers, Robin Woodward

Lectures: Tuesdays and Fridays 10am - 11am

Contact details:

Weeks 1-4. Erin Griffey -

Modernism and Course Convenor. Robin Woodward -

Modernism. Elisha Masemann -

Photography lectures. SophiaPowers -



Anya Samarasinghe,


Office hour: Tuesday 11-12pm. Arts One 206-305.

Tutorials:   Tuesday, 4-5pm

                        Thursday, 11-12pm

                        Thursday, 12-1pm


Mirren Brockies,


Office hour: Friday 11:30 - 12:30. Arts One 206-304.

Tutorials:   Tuesday, 1-2pm

                        Wednesday, 11-12pm

                        Wednesday, 12-1pm


Course delivery format:

2 hours of lectures per week


and 1 hour of tutorial in weeks 2-4 and 6-12 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: Monday 7 October

50% exam           at the end of the semester

Course Programme

Tues    23 July   Introduction to Renaissance Art in Florence and Rome                                          EG

Fri       26 July   The Renaissance Portrait: Ghirlandaio, Leonardo & Piero della Francesca  EG


Tues    30 July   Art for the Renaissance Palace: Botticelli, Benozzo Gozzoli & Donatello    EG

Tutorials Tues and Wed Visual Analysis: Painting

Fri       2 Aug   The Art of Devotion: Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel                                       EG


Tues    6 Aug   Mannerism: Bronzino and Pontormo                                                                                    EG

Tues/Wed Tutorials Visual Analysis: Sculpture

Fri       9 Aug   Baroque Rome & the Catholic Counter-Reformation: Caravaggio & Bernini EG


Tues    13 Aug  The Art of the Dutch Golden Age: Rembrandt and Vermeer                                  EG

Tues/Wed Tutorials Subject Matter, Theme and Context

Fri       16 Aug  The Shift to France: Versailles, Rococo, Neoclassicism, Romanticism               RW


Tues    20 Aug  CLASS TEST                                                                                                                                         EG

Tues/Wed   No Tutorials

Fri       23 Aug  The Modern City: Paris                                                                                                                  RW


Tues    27 Aug  Courbet in Context                                                                                                                         EM

Tues/Wed Tutorials Essay Writing

Fri       30 Aug  The Beginnings of Photography                                                                                               SP


Mid-semester break

Monday 2 September – Saturday 14 September 2019


Tues    17 Sept  Painters of Modern Life: Manet and Degas                                                                  RW

Tues/Wed Tutorials Art and Life

Fri       20 Sept  New Ways of Seeing: Monet and Impressionism                                                       RW


Tues    24 Sept  Form and Colour: Cezanne and Seurat                                                                           RW

Tues/Wed Tutorials Colour and Technique: Painting

Fri       27 Sept  Visualising Emotion: Van Gogh and Munch                                                                  EM


Tues    1 Oct    Expressionism in Germany and France                                                                            EM

Tues/Wed Tutorials Sources and Influences

Fri       4 Oct    War and its Aftermath                                                                                                                 EM




Tues    8 Oct    A New Pictorial ‘Language’: Cubism                                                                                  RW

Tues/Wed Tutorials Cubism

Fri       11 Oct   Early Twentieth Century Photography                                                                           SP


Tues    15 Oct   The Invention of Abstraction                                                                                               EM

Tues/Wed Tutorials Representation and Abstraction

Fri       18 Oct   Sense and Nonsense: Dada                                                                                                    EM


Tues    22 Oct   Whatever Happened to Traditional Sculpture?                                                       RW

Tues/Wed Tutorials What is Art? Focus: Duchamp/Exam Preparation

Fri       25 Oct   Setting the Scene for Warhol                                                                                               EM


 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 are indicated above.

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 will be penalised by loss of marks.

Course summary:

Date Details