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Portraiture. Portrait painters in Seventeenth-Century Europe


March 2020 to May 2021
Total hours: 40
Hours of lectures: 40

Examination procedure

  • Report or seminar


No prerequisites are required. The course is aimed primarily at PhD students, but is also open to undergraduate students.


The course will focus on portrait painting in seventeenth-century Europe and will present the first stage of a two-year teaching syllabus on Baroque portraiture, which will be completed in the academic year 2021-2022 dealing with the eighteenth century. The lessons will take place in the spring of 2021 (March-May) and aim to introduce students to some of the great protagonists of this artistic genre, from Caravaggio to Giovan Battista Gaulli, with attention both to their portrait production and to its contextualization within their heterogeneous pictorial activity. Although the course intends to deal with the themes with a monographic approach (that is, one artist at a time), transversal issues will not be neglected, such as the standardization during the century of some types of portraits (for the pope, cardinals, scholars, etc.), the importance of local artistic traditions (Genoa, Bologna, Florence, Naples etc.), the serialization of some works and their diffusion in print, the different functions of the effigies and their conditions of display, the variation in the formats, the dialogue with the Renaissance models (primarily Raphael and Titian), the competition with the contemporary sculpture, and above all the value of this artistic genre also in the light of the literary and treatise production of the time.

Although this course is planned as a unit in itself, it is highly recommended to attend the lessons – intended primarily for undergraduate students – on The Renaissance and Baroque Medal, which will introduce and anticipate various aspects that will be addressed in the lessons for the PhD students.

The course will be complemented by a series of seminars held by Italian and foreign scholars who have dealt with related themes and works, but also (if possible) by some field trips (outside the class schedule). 

Educational Goals

The aim of the course is to increase students’ historical and artistic knowledge and to bring them closer to some of the key themes of early modern age painting, accustoming them to tackling the issues according to a broad geographic development. Off-site lessons should allow students to approach the works de visu, to learn to value them in their context, both original and in museum contexts. At the end, the students will be required to give a seminar (between May and September), choosing topics related to the lessons and previously validated by the professor, to evaluate the terms in which they understood not only the course contents, but above all the proposed study methodology.

Bibliographical references

  • J. Burckhardt, Beiträge zur Kunstgeschichte von Italien, Basel 1898 (in particolare Das Porträt in der italienischen Malerei)
  • E. Castelnuovo, Ritratto e società in Italia, dal Medioevo all’avanguardia, Torino, Einaudi  2015
  • É. Pommier, Il ritratto. Storia e teorie dal Rinascimento all’Età dei lumi (ed. originale Théories du portrait. De la Renaissance aux Lumières, 1998), Torino, Einaudi  2003

Further bibliographical advice will be provided during the lessons.