The Culture of the Renaissance: A Re-translation  (with Juliet Fleming)

Graduate seminar

This class will provide both a solid foundation and a new platform for cutting-edge work for students of the Renaissance throughout the departments of GSAS. Our aim is to introduce students from various departments to each other, to solidify an understanding of what has been said about the ‘Renaissance,’ and to open the possibilities of where the discipline can now go.   Our broad aim is to ‘translate’ — that is, carry forward into the future and so reactivate — the Renaissance as an object of study.  We begin with an inquiry into the historiographical and disciplinary fortunes that produced the field.  Students should leave the class with a strong sense of both the history and the future of Renaissance studies.

Our title invokes the work of Jacob Burckhardt, Die Kultur der Renaissance in Italien (1860), the pioneering work of cultural history that is responsible in large part for what we mean when we use the term ‘Renaissance’.   We will follow the development of this period concept as it was consolidated and re-inflected in the early 20th century by the scholars associated with the Warburg library.

By starting in the 19th century, we bring out two key points: first, that 19th-century university-based scholarship, the framework within which we are all still working, institutionalized historicist and empiricist approaches to the past—philology and archeology—that were themselves created in the Renaissance; such that all modern scholarship on the Renaissance risks devolving into a self-affirming search for origins. Taught this way, the Renaissance is a topic that allows students to develop a historiographical self-consciousness that runs counter to more naive forms of historicism, and should encourage them to look beyond what appears to be a simple, un-stratified, or real past. The second point brought out by a focus on Burckhardt and his successor Warburg is that modern interpretations of the Renaissance divide sharply on the question of the period’s own relation to the past. On the one hand, the very term “rebirth” suggests a backward orientation, a desire to recover and curate the relics of antiquity. On the other hand, the technological, political, economic, and intellectual innovations of the period suggest a countervailing desire to break with the past, to engage with the physical world, and to assert a vital (yet often destructive) creativity in the present.

While the course is interdisciplinary to a high degree it does not pretend to survey the entirety of European experience in this period. Rather the focus will be on symbolic expression and its medial and rhetorical formats, including painting, literature, theater, music, and architecture, and their various codings, inscriptions, and archivings. But the concept of the symbol is broad, and we want to demonstrate to our students, and allow them to discover for themselves, that it can potentially embrace all aspects of life.

FALL 2017

German Art, 1800 to the present                                                

Undergraduate seminar

The history of art in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland from 1800 to the present. The main theme will be the relation between German art and the eminent German tradition of philosophical and critical writing on art. The course will offer lectures on the major artists and their works; classroom discussion of the works as well as assigned texts; and at least two field trips to New York museums. The readings will be mostly primary sources: artists’s writings and manifestos, art theory and criticism, aesthetics. Protagonists in the course will include the artists Johann Overbeck, Franz Pforr, C. D. Friedrich, Philip Otto Runge, Adolph Menzel, Arnold Böcklin, Hans von Marées, Max Klinger, Max Liebermann, Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, E.L. Kirchner, Emil Nolde, Käthe Kollwitz, Josef and Anni Albers, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Hannah Höch, Raoul Haussmann, John Heartfield, August Sander, Paul Klee, Max Beckmann, Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Richter, Anselm Kiefer, Sigmar Polke, Georg Baselitz, Blinky Palermo, Martin Kippenberger, Albert Oehlen, Rosemarie Trockel, Hanne Darboven, Franz West, Thomas Struth, Andreas Gursky, Neo Rauch, Christoph Schlingensief, Thomas Demand, Hito Steyerl, Cosima v. Bonim, Thomas Hirschhorn, and Kai Althoff; and the writers and thinkers Goethe, Tieck and Wackenroder, Hegel, Marx, Worringer, Hildebrand, Wölfflin, Kandinsky, Benjamin, and Adorno.