This course explores the different social and political functions of religious art produced in Northern Europe (France, Germany, Low Countries) from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It will focus in particular on how artists and patrons responded to the changing religious climate at this time, and how religious works of art like altarpieces, reliquaries, and manuscripts were used as means of constructing of power, politics and social identity in times of instability.
Case studies will analyse themes such as: the power and performative nature of images; religious allegory and secular rulers; religion and social identity; and Northern responses to the Council of Trent and the Counter Reformation. Students will be encouraged to draw on the collections of the Barber Institute and Birmingham Art Gallery. By spanning the shift between the late medieval and early modern periods, students will be encouraged to examine and problematise broader questions pertaining to the study of periods and categories such as ‘medieval’ and ‘Renaissance’, ‘North’ and ‘South’, and ‘public’ and ‘private’.