Spring 2021

Women and Art in Early Modern Europe

Listed in: Art and the History of Art, as ARHA-284  |  European Studies, as EUST-284  |  Sexuality, Women's and Gender Studies, as SWAG-206

Formerly listed as: ARAH-84  |  EUST-55  |  WAGS-06


Nicola Courtright (Section 01)


(Offered as ARHA 284, EUST 284, and SWAG 206)  This introductory discussion-based course will examine how prevailing ideas about women and gender shaped visual imagery in Europe from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, and how these images, in turn, presented surprisingly varied pictures of women and their domains. Artists vividly expressed the paradoxical power that women possessed even more than language could. Both admired and feared in their societies, aristocrats, queens, mistresses, saints, witches, heroines, and housewives were all depicted in art in elevated and debased manners, sometimes as eroticized subjects and at other times as powerful, idealized actors—occasionally both at the same time. We will analyze the art and material goods that women paid for and what it communicated about them; women’s homes and the objects they held; the portrayal of women from merchant societies in Italian city-states to aristocratic women in India, of female saints, heroes and rulers, including Elizabeth I of England and Maria de' Medici of France; and the troubling imagery of rape. These different types of art raise questions about biological theories about women; feminine ideals of beauty; what marriage meant in different societies; the relationship between the exercise of political power and gender; women’s expression of transcendent spirituality; and what the portrayal of indigenous and enslaved women in Dutch and Spanish colonies conveyed about race.



  • Understand how images are unique forms of expression that help us to understand historical phenomena;
  • Gain an understanding of how historical attitudes about women and by women affect art made about and by women;
  • Develop an analytical ability to examine points of view expressed in texts and art of a historical period other than our own and to distinguish them from another;
  • Learn collaboratively with classmates;
  • Learn how to perform 2 kinds of research:

1) find materials to contribute publicly useful scholarship, by creating or revising Wikipedia entries, which greatly lack material on women;

2) Develop and argue an original thesis in a 10-page research paper.

 No prerequisites. Uncapped.

 Presence of the instructor:

  • The students present on campus will meet together in a classroom. Remote students will join in the synchronous class. Remote students in distant time zones will have the option of a second class at an agreed-upon time, or recorded lectures and a weekly tutorial with the professor.
  • The professor will lecture and lead discussion remotely (synchronous).
  • There will be asynchronous class preparation.
  • Smaller weekly discussion groups, divided into different time zones for off-campus students (synchronous), and posting on discussion boards (asynchronous).
  • Professor will hold in-person office hours if possible.

Spring semester. Professor Courtright.

If Overenrolled:


Attention to Issues of Gender and Sexuality, Attention to Issues of Race


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2012, Fall 2014, Spring 2017, Spring 2021