Module Details

AR957-7-AU-CO: The Hero, The Genius And The Divine: Concepts Of Creation From The Renaissance To The 19C

Note: This module is inactive. Visit the Module Directory to view modules and variants offered during the current academic year.

Year: 2017/18
Department: Art History and Theory
Essex credit: 20
ECTS credit: 10
Available to Study Abroad / Exchange Students: Yes
Full Year Module Available to Study Abroad / Exchange Students for a Single Term: No
Outside Option: No

Teaching Staff: Dr Lisa Wade; Dr Caspar Pearson;
Contact details: Postgraduate Administrator, Wendy Williams. Email:; Tel: x2705

Module is taught during the following terms
Autumn Spring Summer

Module Description

(Updated August 2013)

This module examines notions of what it was to be an artist and to create art works from the Renaissance to the nineteenth-century. It focuses particularly on traditions that see the artist as a genius, a heroic outsider or even a 'divine being', with God-like powers of creativity. Beginning with a brief examination of attitudes towards artists in Antiquity, and especially in Plato's philosophy, the module then concentrates on a series of case studies that start in the Renaissance. Artists studied include, Cellini, Artemisia Gentilleschi, Caravaggio, and Leonardo da Vinci. There will also be a particular focus on the life and works of Michelangelo and the writings of Leon Battista Alberti. We will examine the ways in which the reputations of these artists were fashioned, both by themselves and by others. There will also be a robust theoretical and historical investigation of ideas such as genius and divinely-gifted talent. Examining the writings of authors such as Schopenhauer, Freud and Wittkower, we shall explore the historical tendency to link genius to madness and to consider genius as something that is not open to rational investigation.

Learning and Teaching Methods

One two hour seminar each week for ten weeks.


100 per cent Coursework Mark


One essay of 3-5000 words


  • Updated (August 2013)
  • ALBERTI, Leon Battista, Opere volgari, Cecil Grayson (ed.), 2 vols., Bari, 1960-66.
  • BATTERSBY, Christine, Gender and Genius, London, 1989.
  • COHN, Samuel Kline Jr., Women in the Streets: Essays on Sex and Power in Renaissance Italy, Baltimore, 1996
  • FREUD, Sigmund, Leonardo Da Vinci: A Memoir of His Childhood, London, 2001.
  • GARRARD, Mary, Artemisia Gentileschi: The Image of the Female Hero in Italian Baroque Art, Princeton, 1991.
  • HOWE, Michael, Genius Explained, Cambridge, 1999.
  • JANAWAY, Christopher, Images of Excellence: Plato's Critique of the Arts, Clarendon Press, 1998.
  • LANGDON, Helen, Caravaggio, A Life, London, 1999.
  • MICHELANGELO BUONAROTTI, Complete Poems and Selected Letters of Michelangelo, trans. Creighton Gilbert, Princeton, 1980.
  • NOCHLIN, Linda, 'Why have there been no great women artists?' in Women, Art and Power: And Other Essays, pp.145ff, London, 1989.
  • REED, Walter, Meditations on the Hero: a Study of the Romantic Hero in Nineteenth-Century Fiction, New Haven, 1974.
  • SCHOPENHAUER, Arthur, The World as Will and Representation, New York, 1969.
  • TINAGLI, Paola, Women in Italian Renaissance Art: Gender, Representation and Identity, Manchester, 1997.
  • VASARI, Giorgio, The Lives of the Artists (various editions).
  • WATKINS, Renée Neu, 'Leon Battista Alberti in the mirror: an interpretation of the Vita with a new translation,' Italian Quarterly, 30, 1989, pp. 7-22.

Further information