Tuesday, October 28, 2014

ART HIST 1A03: Mosaics of Ravenna

In our last lecture we had started to discuss the early Christian mosaics at the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia and San Vitale in Ravenna. Here is a short video in which the interiors and mosaics are highlighted to give you a better sense of their splendor.

Mosaics of Ravenna

Sunday, October 26, 2014

ART HIST 1A03: Tutorials (Oct. 27, 28, 29)

The tutorials for this week (Oct. 27, 28, 29) will explore reductive and additive sculptural techniques. Your TAs will be assisting you to look comparatively at stone carving (reductive) and 'lost wax' bronze casting (additive). The following two videos will give you some insight into each sculptural method. Watch them and consider the differences between each technique. What are the advantages of one over the other? How might the materials and process be meaningful to the finished work in each instance?

Reductive Technique in Marble

Lost Wax Method

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

ART HIST 1A03: Roman Art and Architecture (Oct. 15)

This afternoon we resume our discussion with a lecture on Roman art and architecture. We'll focus on a variety of Roman building and structure types and consider some of the treatments of art in the ancient empire.

The tests will be returned in tutorial next week. Prior to the lecture this afternoon, I will go over some details regarding the assignment.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

ART HIST 1A03: Assignment Guidelines

School of the Arts        McMaster University
ART HIST 1A03, Fall 2014
Instructor: Greg Davies

WRITTEN ASSIGNMENT: DUE NOV. 3, 2014 (Course Value:  35% of Final Grade)

Note that written assignments must be submitted in class (in hardcopy only) to the instructor NO LATER THAN November 3, 2014. Late papers will be deducted at the rate of 5% per day. Papers submitted by email or any format other than hard copy will not be accepted. Late papers resulting from illness must be accompanied by a doctor’s note. Please also note that papers may be subject to submission for textual similarity review to Turnitin.com for the detection of plagiarism. All submitted papers will be included as source documents in the Turnitin.com reference database solely for the purpose of detecting plagiarism of such papers.


            For this assignment you must select an original work of art or artifact (eg., ancient coin or vase) from the McMaster Museum of Art. Study the work closely and take note of its formal properties (its dimensions, the materials used, handling of colour, space, line, etc.). As you look at the work ask yourself questions about its appearance and the technique used by the artist. Is the work figurative or abstract? Does it appear as if the technique was challenging or not? Are the materials expensive (luxurious) or not? In other words ask yourself basic questions (similar to those we have used in lecture and tutorial) to generate a better understanding of the overall design of the work. After you have made your elemental observations you should then develop a structure for your essay. Your objective is to present a paper that clearly demonstrates, to the reader, how the technique and the materials contribute to the final appearance and the cultural significance of the work.
            Please note that both the content of your essay and the quality of your writing will be considered in the evaluation of your finished paper. Take the time to review and edit your rough draft before submitting your finished copy. You may need to make several revisions in order to meet the requirements of this assignment.
            NOTE: This is an exercise in visual analysis and NOT a research paper. You may certainly consult the gallery information provided adjacent to the work as this will clarify information on the materials, date(s), etc. However, you are encouraged to minimize consultation of sources on the artist, work or artifact as this may ultimately distract from your visual analysis.

            Your paper will be 4- 5 written pages in length (1000 - 1250 words) with an accompanying title page (noting the title of your essay, your name and student number, due date, instructor’s name and course name and number). Note that the title page is NOT to be counted as one of the 4-5 written pages. You may include an image of the work discussed. If you use an image you should present it on a separate page, with identification of the artist’s name (if applicable), title, date and medium (or media), immediately after the body of the essay. This should be followed by endnotes (if you do consult any sources) and, finally, a bibliography (only if applicable). Your pages should be printed using 12-point type, double-spaced with the first line of each paragraph indented. Quotes should be avoided. For citations and bibliographic format you must follow the Chicago Style guidelines.


Hello everyone. I have been experiencing some chronic back pain this morning and I will have to cancel this evening's lecture. Since I had expected to go over the course assignment with you I will instead post information here on the blog this evening.

Please know that there will be no class on Monday Oct. 13 due to the holiday. I will go over the assignment to clarify questions when we next meet on Wednesday  Oct. 15. At that time we will also begin our examination of Roman art and architecture.


Saturday, October 4, 2014

ART HIST 1A03: Tutorials (Oct. 6 - 8)

In anticipation of the course assignment (which I will address in class on Wednesday Oct. 6), I have asked the TAs to lead a discussion on visual analysis. The images presented below will be used in the tutorials to open questions on the formal properties of objects and images. The task, here, is not to finalize discussion by researching each object. Rather, we are aiming to open up useful questions and develop ideas from preliminary, group observations. Studies in art history and cultural heritage generally begin with the object or image and, most importantly, with the process of looking. Consider the following object for instance:

Gold belt buckle from the Sutton Hoo ship burial, Anglo-Saxon (early 7th century AD), Sutton Hoo, Suffolk, England

This is the belt buckle from the Sutton Hoo burial site in England. Even without prior knowledge of Anglo-Saxon art we can make important observations about the object by simply looking and asking relevant questions. Consider the following for instance:

What size is the object?
Does the scale of the object influence the design?
What are the materials used?
Is colour important?
Is it richly decorated or not?
Is the decoration abstract or figurative?
What are the motifs used and can we determine anything meaningful from them?

By considering such questions and weighing up our answers against the basic information provided by the identification, we can begin to explore more complex questions. If the material is gold, would it be safe to assume that the object was less functional than symbolic, ceremonial, etc.? The design appears intricate and, although it consists largely of geometric patterns and shapes, it includes subtle references to animal forms (eyes and mouths for instance). Why should animal references be made in what are, otherwise, abstract decorations? The interwoven lines that create the complex patterns seem to have a logical flow (try tracing them with your eyes!). Is this significant? Could this have some bearing upon the nature / animal references made in the abstract patterns?

These are but a few questions but, as you can see, they open up possibilities for interpretation. For instance, the abstract patterns with animal references reveal a logical orderliness which, in turn, is born of human imagination. These patterns signify an artful orderliness imposed upon the forms of nature. This, in turn, may be quite significant if we consider that such a seemingly luxurious object reflects a very high level of craft (also underscored by the luxurious material and the fact that it was found at a burial site). Add these observations together and we begin to form a potentially useful picture of the object in its time and place. 

Even specialists must begin with such questions. Consider, now, the following works. Which questions would you ask and how would you respond? Give this some thought and be prepared to come to your tutorial with your observations.  

Calligraphic composition on a leaf, (19th century AD), chestnut leaf with gold and wax, Turkey

Dean Gle Mask, (late 19th - early 20th century), wood and pigment, Liberia, Africa

Maritime subjects, mosaic fragment from a pool (late 2nd - early 1st century BCE), 
stone and glass inlay, Rome

Friday, October 3, 2014

ART HIST 1A03: Re., Etext

If there is anyone who has still been unable to purchase the access codes for the etext, please contact me by email. I was informed by the bookstore that they are available at the main cash. If anyone has found this to not be the case please let me know.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

ART HIST 1A03: Course Text Upate

I have just received an email from the course materials buyer at the Mac bookstore. The etext codes should be available for purchase at the main store cash. The access codes are passed on to the bookstore from the publisher via a card which is retained at the register. If you are visiting the store again tomorrow please check at the main store cash. If there are continuing problems please let me know by email.

I also see that Amazon.ca has copies of the 5th edition (vol. 1) available, apparently with free two-day shipping for students:

Stokstad at Amazon.ca

As noted in class, if copies are still unavailable a last resort would be to consult a similar survey text by Gardiner, Janson, Honour & Fleming or Schneider-Adams. Survey texts of art history have been produced by each of the authors and they will cover most of the key works we have looked at. However, the treatmenty may vary some works will be omitted so they will not be fully consistent. Thus, they should only be used as a last resort.