From the Provencia Romana, to the Medieval Romanesque; and from the Paris of the early Kings to the Early Moderns, France is alive today with an uninterrupted and thriving art history. this course will use two cities in France, Avignon in the south and Paris in the north, and their environs (Provence and the Ile de France, respectively) as bases to study the history, art, and architecture of France from Antiquity to the modern era. Our effort will be directed toward defining what is unique about French culture and its historical framework, as well as seeking to identify those aspects of other cultures and traditions from the past that the French have borrowed to assist in their over four hundred year efforts at nation building.
Students will be taken to visit historic sites, churches, palaces, and museums that are accessible by train or bus on day trips from these two cities, as well as exploring the cities themselves. Students will be required to keep a journal of their experiences, observations, and growing understanding of French culture past and present, and write a summary paper at the end of their travels.
The course content and field trips will examine the major monuments in roughly chronological order, with a focus first on monuments from Roman Gaul and the Middle ages in southern France. These will be followed by Renaissance, Baroque, 19th and 20th Century painting, sculpture and architecture observed in Paris and its surrounding area (including Saint Denis, Versailles, and Chartres). Students will be challenged to understand the monuments in the context of historical developments in these regions. They will be encouraged to define changing styles from period to period, to draw comparisons and to address the fundamental question of defining the unique aspects of French art and culture.
Through this course students will acquire a greater understanding of the path of development of France from its earliest Greco-Roman beginnings to the late 19th century when France acquired a permanent Republican form of government after several painful attempts. This understanding will come, in part, from examining cultural artifacts from the ancient past to the modern era; specifically art and architecture that both mirrored the aspirations of the people as well as shaped the messages of their leaders. Students will learn of the role that art can play as both “mirror and messenger.”
Through deeper understanding of historical and cultural events, students will also acquire a greater appreciation of changing styles of art that reflect the French peoples’ values and biases over time. Students will also learn about some of the historical art movements and styles from other locales and peoples that influenced French artists, and understand more fully the nature of cultural borrowing and its relationship to constructing a national identity.
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