The Renaissance Book

Instructor: Helena Szepe

This course examines the place of books in visual culture. Books are uniquely structured containers of images, where images often have singularly intimate or direct relationships with texts. Illustrations in books can be ornamental, illustrative, or central to a volume’s conception. Whereas the images in books are two-dimensional, the book format itself incorporates three-dimensional and time-based characteristics, which producers or artists of books can capitalize upon. Books as objects of visual attention, therefore, invite varied, and often particularly intimate, modes of viewing as well as of reading. This course will investigate the role of illustrated manuscripts and early printed books in early modern European visual culture, from about 1450 to 1600, when the development of printing in Europe coexisted with the survival and further development of manuscript books. In fact, some of the most famous illuminated manuscripts were produced after the introduction of printing, and many early printed books were hand-painted.

In this course we will focus on the role of the image and body of books in society, images within books, and the interrelationship of images and text within books. Some questions we will address include: What effect did the introduction of printing have on the manuscript book and the miniature painting profession, and on European painting, sculpture and architecture? What capabilities of books did early modern artists capitalize upon? What were the relationships between artists of the book with painters, sculptors and architects? What role did printing in general have upon the visual arts? Manuscripts and printed books were often important diplomatic gifts, and we will examine the patronage and marketing of books. We will sometimes refer to earlier manuscripts and modern books to set the subject in a broader critical and historical context.
Students will examine actual early printed books and manuscript facsimiles to become acquainted with the physical nature of early books. We will regularly read and debate fundamental texts for early book history, and students will work independently on a seminar research paper. Course assignments will encourage the development of research, oral presentation, and writing skills.

Prerequisites: Renaissance Art, Renaissance History/Literature, or consent of instructor

<< Back to Course List