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Art History

ARTHI 6B WQ 2016
Paper assignment: 6-7 pages (1800 words)
*Your paper must be typed, double-spaced, and list the word count at the end.
Due Date: Tuesday, March 8th (your paper should be submitted on GauchoSpace AND as
a hardcopy at the end of lecture)
NB: This paper is worth 20% of your final grade. Due to the tight schedule of the quarter
system, we CANNOT accept late papers.
The purpose of this assignment is to develop skills in immersive viewing practices, the close
observation of an artwork (examined in the original rather than in reproduction), and utilization of
the objective language of art historical description. While this is primarily a “looking
assignment” entailing no interpretation (i.e. symbolic meanings) and no research, you will be
asked to situate the work within artistic and cultural developments discussed in the course. First,
choose an object that interests you among those from the attached list. They are on view in the
Art & Architecture room at Davidson Library. Then, in a 6-7 page essay, write a close visual
analysis of the object you have chosen. For this assignment, I want you to focus on describing
and otherwise explaining the ways in which this object constructs particular effects through
its own register of formal and stylistic devices. Your essay should answer the questions: “What
is going on in this object?” “What effect does it create for the beholder?” and, “What do you see
that makes you think so?” Your description of the object, how it looks, and how it was made to
do so should constitute the basis of your argument about the overall impression that it conveys.
The paper must be double-spaced and written in 12 point font size. Remember to include a
title, page numbers, and a word count. We will be happy to meet individually with you and
discuss problems related to the content and organization of the paper, but we will not read drafts.
We encourage you to make use of the CLAS Writing Lab http://clas.sa.ucsb.edu/writing-eslforeign-language
Step 1: Close looking
Choose an object that interests you from the attached list. You should spend a minimum of an
hour looking very carefully at the object, paying attention to how it is constructed, and to how
the various elements that constitute the object guide you to understand what you take to be its
overall effect. Note down your evolving observations as well as the questions and speculations
that arise from those observations. Here are some guidelines:
Note the basic facts and condition of the object. What is the title and accession number of the
object? What kind of object is this (sculpture, painting, drawing, print, etc.)? How is it displayed
(position in room, surrounding works, etc.)? What materials are used? Are there signs of wear
and tear? Is this the entire object or a fragment of a larger work? Are there any clues that alert
you to how the object was originally displayed? Is there an ideal viewing point?
Observe and detail the overall appearance of the object and, if it contains narrative or
figural material, unlock the visual references you think are central to the story it tells. If
there is figural material, this might mean you need to look up a reference in the title of the work
(if you do, and the information you find influences your analysis, please be sure to cite it), but for
the most part it means translating the image/object in front of you into a narrative or descriptive
texts. What do you see and what story does it tell?
Unravel the formal elements. As you look at the object, try to understand the way it is put
together. Take notes on any significant aspects of the painting/object. You should think of this
as amounting evidence – visual, formal, or stylistic evidence – that explains not only “what” you
see, but also how it is conveyed.
When you have broken down the object according to the above suggestions, you should
have some idea of how it functions and the overall impression it conveys. Your next step is
to ask “why.” What is the idea that the object tries to convey? Be careful to ground your answer
in explicit reference to the visual evidence you have amassed in the first three steps.
Step 2: Essay
Having done all of this preparatory work, you are now ready to write. Synthesize the most
pertinent and relevant details of your analysis into one coherent paragraph that summarizes the
“what,” “how,” and “why” questions you have asked and answered in regard to the painting.
This paragraph should not be simply a list of all the wonderful details you have discovered,
but rather should make them cohere into a single, well-organized paragraph that builds toward a
single, compelling statement about how the object operates.
Here, please be sure to prioritize the various facets of your analysis. Which are your most
revealing and provocative observations? Which details are secondary and can therefore either be
omitted or placed in service of these more pressing readings? In six-seven pages you will not be
able to describe every detail of the object. Focus on summarizing and abstracting those details
that are most significant to your understanding of how the object works. Remember: visual
evidence is here your proof. No two people will “see” the same way; your job is to make
your reader understand and agree with the way you see the object. To do this effectively,
you need to describe the object in such a way that the reader sees it as if through your eyes.
Step back from your close-reading and formulate the overarching statement for your essay.
What sentence could effectively introduce, control and structure your reading? This does not
have to be a traditional thesis, but it should make some kind of claim about your object.
Then, provide an extremely detailed description of the formal features of the work. It is up
to you to decide how to organize this description—you may want to take your cue from the
composition itself, beginning with what seems to be the central feature (say, a central female
figure enthroned, or a narrative action that unfolds from left to right, etc.) and then moving on to
other elements. Pay attention to the ‘economy’ of the details—how individual elements are
employed to create forms, features, and effects.
Finally, your essay should include a brief discussion that situates the work within the
artistic and cultural trends we have examined in class. What visual strategies or techniques do
these images use that we have seen in the course? What does the subject matter tell you about
contexts of patronage and use? What other information would you want to know about this
object if you were to interpret it further? This section should be no more than a page.
Avoid judgments of beauty and/or quality. Try also to avoid excessively ornate language and an
over-reliance on adjectives. Also, try to avoid over-using the verb “to be,” in any tense.
This paper does not require any additional research about the object in particular. I am not
interested in what other specialists have said. Rather, I am interested in what you see and how
you communicate that vision us as an argument that draws on evidence and careful explication.
If you have never before written about art and the language required to do so feels uncomfortable
to you, you might want to look at Prof. Marjorie Munsterberg’s website, writingaboutart.org. In
particular, the pages collected under the tab “visual description” might be useful. See:
You may also want to consult the chapters from Anne d’Alleva’s book, Look!, “Formal Analysis”
and “Contextual Analysis” posted on GauchoSpace and assigned for section.
Some questions to consider while observing your work:
What different parts make up this object? What is its condition?
Why might the artist have chosen this medium/these materials?
What are the characteristics (expressive or conventional) that the media convey?
Do you detect any significant patterns (e.g. repeated actions, sounds, or shapes)?
What might explain their arrangement in this way?
How do the parts relate? What do they contribute to the whole?
Do any of the elements of the work suggest a viewing sequence?
How is the work displayed? Does this influence your experience?
What are the different representational features within the composition and how are they
rendered (i.e. the human body, a face, a landscape, the textile pattern of a dress)?
Does there seem to be a sequence according to which the viewer is supposed to take in the
various elements in the composition? If so, how is this sequence suggested through the
compositional structure?
How is the paint applied? Are the brush strokes readily visible?
Are there any attempts to create texture? If so, how is this achieved?
How is the illusion of volume created? Through tonal modeling with darker and lighter
shades of color? Are colors blended together? Or are they separated in juxtaposed areas
of monochrome?
Is spatial depth achieved? If so, how?
Are there any indications that the painting was reworked or changed in any way?
Is the imagery narrative? If so, is there an indicated sequence of events?
Do you see any evidence that the painting has been reworked?
Graphic arts:
Same questions as considered above, along with:
What is the line value?
Are there variations in the line width? If so, what is the effect of this?
Is the support material used as a compositional element?
How is the illusion of volume created? Through parallel lines? Through cross-hatching?
Was this sculpture created through an additive or subtractive process?
Is it carved, cast, molded, or constructed? In the round, high relief, low relief?
What is the texture? Scale?
How is form built up through the manipulation of the medium?
Does the sculpture use negative space as part of the composition?
Some books to consult:
Anne d’Alleva, Look! The Fundamentals of Art History, chapter on visual analysis
(assigned for section)
Joshua Taylor, Learning to Look: A Handbook for the Visual Arts, chapters on graphic
arts (posted on GauchoSpace)
Ursula Weekes, Techniques of Drawing (Music Library Reserves, NC730.W44 1999)
Select one of the works listed below.
1. Moderno, Flagellation of Christ, late 15th-early 16th centuries, bronze, 5 ½” x 4”.

2. Albrecht Dürer, Joachim’s Offering Rejected by the High Priest, ca. 1504, woodcut
11 ¾” x 8 ½”.

3. Giorgio Ghisi, Venus and Adonis, ca. 1570, engraving, 9” x 12 ¾”.

4. Fra Bartolomeo, Nude Youth, 15th-16th century, black chalk on cream paper, 11 ½” x
6 ½”.

5. Gian Domenico Tiepolo, Cloud of Angels, 1757, pen and black ink, gray wash on
cream paper, 9 9/16” x 6 7/8”.

Venus and Adonis
“In his narrative poem ‘Metamorphoses’ Ovid tells us that Venus, grazed by Cupid’s
arrow, fell in love with Adonis and urged him not to hunt dangerous animals. Ignoring
her advice, the handsome youth was killed by a wild boar. In antiquity, Adonis was
worshipped as a god of the seasons who spent each winter in the Underworld and
returned each spring, causing Venus, equated with the earth’s fertility, to rejoice. In
Ghisi’s engraving, based on his brother’s design, we see Adonis’ dead body being nuzzled
by the boar near a bare tree in the background. In the foreground, Adonis receives Venus’
caresses in a verdant bower, his foot resting on the boar’s head to demonstrate his victory
over winter.” http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/53.522.28/
Joachim’s Offering Rejecting by the High Priest
This account comes from the cycle of the life of the Virgin Mary and involves a story
about her parents, Joachim and Anna. As related in the “Gospel of the Birth of Mary,”
Joachim and Anna went to the temple to make an offering, but the High Priest rejected
their offering because they were childless. This was interpreted as a sign of divine
displeasure. Joachim then retreated to the desert, where he fasted and did penance for
forty days. At the end of this time, an angel of the Lord appeared to him and Anne,
promising them that they would have a child.
Flagellation of Christ
This is an episode from the Passion of Christ (the events leading up to Jesus’ death and
resurrection). In this scene, Roman soldiers hold Jesus, whip him, and mock him by
making him wear a crown of thorns on his head. This is in reference to his title as “The
King of the Jews.”

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