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Unit Overview


This unit provides an understanding of the art produced by the new bourgeois societies in northern Europe in terms of the contrasting aristocratic court cultures of France and Britain and the Protestant Republics of Holland and Germany. It entails in-depth exploration of world calibre artists such as Van Dyke, Frans Hals, Vermeer and Rembrandt as well as lesser known artists; architects such as Inigo Jones, Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor; and anonymous popular artists. While religious conflict provides a major theme, the big difference from the art of the Counter-Reformation in Southern Europe at Level 2 of the History of Art major is that resistance to idolatry provided the impetus for secular art in Northern Europe. This drew its exciting new themes from a range of areas including science, exploration trade, domestic settings, Northern versions of Italian academic art, the nude, still life and the exotic entertainments accruing from new wealth. At the same time, aesthetic curiosity about these secular themes was qualified by religious presentiments of death and the certainty of divine judgement of worldly pleasures. A major focus of the unit is on analogies between seventeenth-century conflicts concerning idolatry and iconoclasm and their contemporary heritage in the visual formation of religious subjectivities in the globalised and culturally diverse environments in which graduates of the unit will be living and working.

6 points
Details for undergraduate courses
  • Level 3 elective

Students are able to (1) identify the historical and cultural contexts of Reformation art and architecture in several Northern European countries—Holland, Germany, France and Britain (e.g. how art reflected contrasts between 'vertically' organised aristocratic and 'horizontally' organised republican societies in Northern Europe); (2) apply key theoretical approaches in the social history of art to the complex reflexive qualities of images created to embody awareness of the religious dangers of idolatry and to distinguish between the various genres and conventions of the period such as the nude, landscape painting, still life, genre and Vanitas painting; (3) discuss changes in the scholarship on seventeenth-century art and architecture (e.g. where the competing claims of realistic and emblematic readings of works of art and architecture are concerned); (4) integrate visual and aesthetic analyses into broader discourses on such themes as the migration of Italian taste to Britain, the distinctive forms of Dutch urban development, the commercial aspects of Dutch art, and the impact of science and exploration on the arts; and (5) apply the methods of the latest scholarship on Reformation art and architecture in arguments whose clarity, logic and theoretical rigour do justice to the distinctive qualities of Reformation art in relation to the major themes of the unit. This includes an understanding of how seventeenth-century conflicts regarding idolatry and iconoclasm are registered in the visual formation of religious subjectivities of the globalised and culturally diverse world in which graduates will live and work.


Indicative assessments in this unit are as follows: (1) two written assignments; (2) two oral assignments; and (3) a tutorial presentation and participation. Further information is available in the unit outline.

Student may be offered supplementary assessment in this unit if they meet the eligibility criteria.

Unit Coordinator(s)
Associate Professor Darren Jorgensen
Unit rules
MEMS2001 Classical Traditions and Transformations in Medieval and Early Modern Europe
or any Level 2 History of Art unit
VISA2208 Art of the Reformation
Contact hours
lectures: 2 hrs per week
tutorials: 1 hr per week
Enrolled students can access unit material via the LMS (Learning Management System).
  • The availability of units in Semester 1, 2, etc. was correct at the time of publication but may be subject to change.
  • All students are responsible for identifying when they need assistance to improve their academic learning, research, English language and numeracy skills; seeking out the services and resources available to help them; and applying what they learn. Students are encouraged to register for free online support through GETSmart; to help themselves to the extensive range of resources on UWA's STUDYSmarter website; and to participate in WRITESmart and (ma+hs)Smart drop-ins and workshops.
  • Unit readings, including any essential textbooks, are listed in the unit outline for each unit, one week prior the commencement of study. The unit outline will be available via the LMS and the UWA Handbook one week prior the commencement of study. Reading lists and essential textbooks are subject to change each semester. Information on essential textbooks will also be made available on the Essential Textbooks. This website is updated regularly in the lead up to semester so content may change. It is recommended that students purchase essential textbooks for convenience due to the frequency with which they will be required during the unit. A limited number of textbooks will be made available from the Library in print and will also be made available online wherever possible. Essential textbooks can be purchased from the commercial vendors to secure the best deal. The Student Guild can provide assistance on where to purchase books if required. Books can be purchased second hand at the Guild Secondhand bookshop (second floor, Guild Village), which is located on campus.
  • Contact hours provide an indication of the type and extent of in-class activities this unit may contain. The total amount of student work (including contact hours, assessment time, and self-study) will approximate 150 hours per 6 credit points.