98798 - Decorative Arts in the Western Middle Ages (1) (LM)

Academic Year 2023/2024

  • Teaching Mode: Traditional lectures
  • Campus: Bologna
  • Corso: Second cycle degree programme (LM) in Visual Arts (cod. 9071)

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will know the specific issues of the history of decorative arts (ivories, metalwork, textiles, lavish books) during the Western Middle Ages (4th–15th centuries); acquire maturity and freedom of judgement learn to critically analyze the iconographical, technical, material and stylistic aspects of artworks and to historically interpret them by reconstructing the connections with their artistic, social and cultural context; learn a specific critical language to properly and effectively communicate contents on this category of medieval artworks.

Course contents

The course will focus on the western medieval production of those artifacts that have been gathered for several reasons (utilitarian function, importance of manual work, dimensions, use of precious materials) under the categories of applied, decorative, industrial, minor, precious or sumptuary arts in order to distinguish from and also originally subordinate them to the ‘major’ arts, architecture, painting, and sculpture. Indeed, this distinction appears to be arbitrary and, especially during the Middle Ages, these objects should be considered indeed as an integral and often pivotal part of the wider pictorial tradition.

The course will provide an introductory survey on the precious arts in the western Middle Ages, especially ivories and metalworks, addressing the following topics:

  • The critical consciousness of 'decorative' arts in modern Europe.
  • The central role of the precious arts in the western Middle Ages
  • Silverworks and ivories in Late Antiquity (4th-6th century).
  • The metalworks of Germanic people (5th-7th century).
  • The Carolingian age (8th-9th century).
  • Europe around the year 1000 (10th-11th century).
  • Romanesque Europe (11th-13th century).
  • Gothic Europe (13th-15th century).


For attending students:

1.The following readings are recommended to integrate the lecture notes:

  • Calderoni Masetti, Rosa and Victor H. Elber. 1997. “Oreficeria.” In Enciclopedia dell’Arte Medievale, vol. 8, 833-860. Rome: Treccani. Accessed September 21, 2022. https://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/oreficeria_%28Enciclopedia-dell%27-Arte-Medievale%29/.
  • Castelfranchi, Liana. 2005. Lo splendore nascosto del Medioevo. Arti minori V - XIV secolo. Milan: Jaca Book.
  • Collareta, Marco. 2003. “Arredi, suppellettili, decorazioni mobili.” In Arti e storia nel Medioevo, edited by Enrico Castelnuovo and Giuseppe Sergi, vol. 2. Del costruire: tecniche, artisti, artigiani, committenti, 303-328. Turin: G. Einaudi.
  • Collareta, Marco. 2003. “Oreficeria e tecniche orafe.” In Arti e storia nel Medioevo, edited by Enrico Castelnuovo and Giuseppe Sergi, vol. 2. Del costruire: tecniche, artisti, artigiani, committenti, 549-560. Turin: G. Einaudi.
  • Gaborit-Chopin, Danielle. 1991. “Avorio.” In Enciclopedia dell’Arte Medievale, vol. 2, 780-796. Rome: Treccani.Accessed September 21, 2022. https://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/avorio_%28Enciclopedia-dell%27-Arte-Medievale%29/.
  • Tomasi, Michele. 2003. “Avori.” In Arti e storia nel Medioevo, edited by Enrico Castelnuovo and Giuseppe Sergi, vol. 2. Del costruire: tecniche, artisti, artigiani, committenti, 453-467. Turin: G. Einaudi.

2. It is requested to prepare one reading or group of readings among the following: 

  • Bologna, Ferdinando, 1972. Dalle arti minori all’industrial design: Storia di una ideologia. Bari: Laterza (and later editions).
  • Caillet, Jean. "Le livre dans l'édifice cultuel aux temps carolingiens et ottoniens." In Imago libri. Représentations caroligiennes du livre, edited by Charlotte Denoël, Anne-Orange Polipré, and Sumi Shimahara, 193-204. Turhout: Brepols. del Monaco, Gianluca. 2022. “Libri e spazi liturgici in epoca medievale.” In Gli spazi del sacro nell’Italia medievale, edited by Fabio Massaccesi and Giovanna Valenzano, 117-133. Bologna: Bologna University Press. Lowden, John. 2007. “The Word Made Visible: The Exterior of the Early Christian Book as Visual Argument.” In The Early Christian Book, edited by William E. Klingshirn and Linda Safran, 13-47. Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press. Mazal, Otto and Jean Vezin. 1996. “Legatura.” In Enciclopedia dell’Arte Medievale, vol. 7, 596-609. Rome: Treccani. Accessed September 21, 2022.https://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/legatura_%28Enciclopedia-dell%27-Arte-Medievale%29/. Zanichelli, Giuseppa Z. 2007. “Codici e arredo liturgico nel Medioevo.” In Arredi liturgici e architettura, edited by Arturo Carlo Quintavalle, 86-98. Milan: Electa.
  • Kessler, H.L., 2019. Experiencing Medieval Art. Toronto, Buffalo, and London: University of Toronto Press, 2019.


For non-attending students:

1. It is required to prepare the readings recommended to attending students at point 1.

2. It is required to prepare two readings or group of readings to be chosen among those listed for attending students at point 2.

Teaching methods

Frontal and participatory teaching lessons, supported by PPT images, visits to collections in Bologna and/or other Italian cities.

Assessment methods

Oral exam: three artworks among those discussed in class will be shown to attending students to be identified and briefly commented upon with reference to the notes taken in class and possibly the suggested readings at point 1., this test can be passed with at least two artworks identified, then, students will be asked to discuss the reading or group of readings chosen among those listed at point 2.for non-attending students the exam will focus on the readings listed at point 1. and 2.

Teaching tools

PPT presentations.

Office hours

See the website of Gianluca Del Monaco


Quality education Partnerships for the goals

This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.