Objects of Knowledge: Renaissance Ornament and Society in Northern Europe, 1500-1650


Spring 2014


2nd Floor Classroom


Andrew Morrall

This course is devoted to exploring the themes and subjects of figurative ornament that animated the surfaces of the decorative and applied arts of the northern Renaissance. It will examine how crafted objects reflected, embodied or proclaimed definable social and cultural values and expressed the tastes and interests of different social groups in an age of growing secularization, of reformation in matters of religion, of humanism in education and ethical life, of overseas commercial expansion in the cities, and territorial consolidation among the European rulers. In the wake of the Protestant Reformation, in particular, the ornamental arts filled a number of gaps, economic, aesthetic and psychic, into which creative energies, cut off or diverted from the traditional outlets in religious art, freely flowed. The course will be organized into a number of themes, to include Cosmography, History, Ethics, Myth, and Nature. It will draw on some of the most the dazzling achievements of Renaissance craftsmanship in a number of different media that will include metalwork, cabinet making, carving in wood, ivory and other exotic materials, glass, ceramics, textiles, and scientific and mechanical instruments. Above all, the course seeks to draw out connections between aesthetic and social experience and claim the sphere of ornament as an important medium that communicated various kinds of knowledge about the world: the structures of power and authority, shared ethical systems, historical ties of community and kinship, as well as, more broadly, engaging with the period fascination with the natural world and of man’s place within it. 3 credits. Satisfies pre-1800 requirement.