History of Art 262: The Alterity of Ornament

Instructor: Professors Todd Olson and Kathryn Blair-Moore

This course proposes to explore the Renaissance origins of three closely interrelated stylistic categories, the Gothic, grotesque, and arabesque, and the ways in which they engage with the perceived alterity of ornament.  Both the Gothic and grotesque were defined in terms of bodily deformity, femininity, perverse hybridity, and lack of regulation and control, and used to characterize the foreignness of the arabesque, and vice versa.  This course will interrogate the anxieties (and perhaps latent desires) underlying the formation and perception of these categories, including xenophobia, misogyny, and fear of the irrational and exotic.  Although we will closely examine early modern Italian and French illustrated books, prints, and buildings, the seminar will draw from other fields to consider the role of images in the uncontrollable reproduction and dissemination of ornament.  From this perspective, the course will also revisit some of the seminal texts on the theorization of ornament, including Henri Focillon’s Vie des Formes and Alois Riegl’s Stilfragen, as well as more recent art historical scholarship, including Alina Payne’s From Ornament to Object, Ethan Matt Kavaler’s Renaissance Gothic, and Gulru Necipoglu’s Topkapi Scroll.

  • Elective Requirement: This course fulfills the Critical Approaches and Methodology requirement for the DE in REMS.  It may also count as an elective.