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Objects of Virtue: Material Culture and Moral Order in 16th-Century Northern European Society

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The expression of virtue is the most prevalent idea behind decoration in the 16th and early 17th centuries. It informs almost every subject and element of decoration, from biblical narrative to classical architectural ornament, and it appears in every conceivable medium and on every possible surface. As such, virtue provides an important unifying theme for any understanding of northern Renaissance ornament and decoration. The ambition of the course is to show how objects, ornament, and decorative schemes addressed not only aesthetic and social aspects of their culture, but also the intellectual, moral, and philosophical concerns of the day. The structure of the course follows a sequence of themes that include “Man, Cosmos, and Moral Order,” “Man and Nature,” and “Man and Society.” Although given in seminar format, the course is intended to introduce students in broad terms to the material culture of the northern Renaissance and to show how the world of possessions was deeply imbued with, and implicated in, the values and belief systems of the late medieval and early modern world. A working knowledge of French and German is desirable but not required. 3 credits.