Art and empire: in the early modern era

Course Dates: 10/01/24 - 14/02/24
Time: 10:30 - 13:30
Location: Keeley Street
Study the art of the Dutch Golden Age from 1600 to 1750 looking at the luxurious, tactile paintings of domestic life and landscape of this gloriously rich period in art. Consider the role that commerce, travel and trade played in how these paintings were made and through critical analysis of texts, try and evaluate the validity of the term ‘Golden Age’.
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Art and empire: in the early modern era
This course is full
  • Course Code: VB148
  • Dates: 10/01/24 - 14/02/24
  • Time: 10:30 - 13:30
  • Taught: Wed, Daytime
  • Duration: 6 sessions (over 6 weeks)
  • Location: Keeley Street
  • Tutor: Emma Rose Barber

Course Code: VB148

Full Wed, day, 10 Jan - 14 Feb '24

Duration: 6 sessions (over 6 weeks)

Please note: We offer a wide variety of financial support to make courses affordable. Just visit our online Help Center for more information on a range of topics including fees, online learning and FAQs.

What is the course about?

In this course we will look the art of Western Europe at a time when there was an increased value on independence of thought and creative self-ambition. For the north, this was a restorative time when it was freed from the Habsburg Empire and became a mercantile, maritime trading nation with a great sense of its place and power in the world. The region was open to exciting ‘material’ discoveries from the east such as Chinese porcelain, glass, textiles and wood.

This was also a period of prolific painting. We will look at the subject matter of painters such as Pieter de Hooch and Johannes Vermeer and consider why they devoted subject matter to interiors displaying the material culture of the time, with a particular focus on the particular. Landscape painters such as Jacob van Ruisdael and Aelbert Cuyp will also be studied to see how a time of great political and geographical impetus brought about a visual confidence in depicting the natural world. The continuing concept and legacy of the ‘self-fashioning’ artist will be discussed in relation to Rembrandt.

The course will also consider how an art movement, in this case, the ‘Golden Age’ is invigorated by its histories. Here we will see how the German philosopher – G.W.F. Hegel (1820s) sought to establish the importance of Dutch painting seeing it as something encouraged by its citizens. We will also look at other canonical writings about the period such as Simon Schama’s The Embarrassment of Riches: an Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age (1987) and Svetlana Alpers’ The Art of Describing: Dutch Art in the Seventeenth Century (1983). We can learn to be critical of the application of art terms such as the Golden Age and discuss whether these are valid or purely promotional rhetorical flourishes.

This course also includes at least one visit to the National Gallery.

What will we cover?

• The relevance and validity of the ‘Golden Age of Painting’ as a term
• An exploration of the paintings of Vermeer, de Hooch, Ruisdael and Rembrandt
• The how and why of the esteemed position of the painter during this period
• A consideration of some of the key themes found in the paintings.

What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...

• Discuss together the application of art terms and how they contribute to art history, with reference to the ‘Golden Age of Painting’
• Look at images of some of the most famous artists of this period, analysing composition, tactile details and the nature of the subject matter
• Identify how and why the artist of this period came to have such a celebrated status in the history of art
• Identify key artists and themes of this period.

What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?

This course is suitable for all levels.
You should be able to follow simple written and verbal instructions, demonstrations, hand-outs and health and safety information.

How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?

You will be taught by lecture with slide images and you will be invited to participate in group discussion. There will be homework in this course, in the form of reading. Handouts will be available digitally via a Google Classroom. You will be invited to join the Google Classroom within a week of your course start date.

This course includes at least one visit to the National Gallery, during one of the course sessions. You will need to transport yourself to the National Gallery during the class session. Further information on this visit will be explained when the course begins.

Please note: Museum/gallery-based sessions take place during public access hours. Tutors are not able to control sound levels or behaviours of visitors outside of the course group. Unless you are a wheelchair user, and have confirmed access details with us (as levels of access can vary between galleries), you will need to be able to walk between exhibits and stand for some time while looking at them (you may bring your own portable stool if you have one, but we cannot guarantee access to any gallery stools.) If you feel you may be impacted by these environmental variations, please inform the department on before the course begins, to discuss reasonable accommodations we can make to assist your learning in the museum space.

Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?

You might wish to purchase a notebook for taking notes. You might wish to buy some of the books on any reading list provided.

When I've finished, what course can I do next?

This course is part of a series of in-depth early modern European art history courses at City Lit. The next courses in this series are:
Art and Revolution: in the long 18th century
Art and Anxiety: from the Enlightenment to the Victorian age.

Emma Rose Barber

Emma Rose Barber is an art historian who has been teaching adults for over 25 years. She specialises in the visual culture of the Middle Ages and the Italian and Northern Renaissance. She has also taught classes on British art and has designed many different courses such as Last Suppers in Florence and Bosch, Breughel and the Surrealists. She has also given lectures on Women and Art. She used to run the history of art department at the British Institute in Florence and works for many institutions such as the Open University, Morley College and the department of continuing education at the University of Oxford. Her book – 111 Churches that you Shouldn’t Miss in London - is coming out in the autumn of 2020. She has spent the last five years with a Mini A-Z looking for churches to write about, many of which can be found on her blog – She is also writing a Cultural History of Wayfaring and writes articles for Selvedge Magazine.

Please note: We reserve the right to change our tutors from those advertised. This happens rarely, but if it does, we are unable to refund fees due to this. Our tutors may have different teaching styles; however we guarantee a consistent quality of teaching in all our courses.