“The Church,” as John Paul II affirmed in his Letter to Artists (#12), “needs art” that can assist the proclamation of the Gospel by making “perceptible, and as far as possible attractive, the world of the spirit, of the invisible, of God.” Inspired by the Holy Father’s teaching and hoping to contribute to the renewal of Catholic culture, the History Department has integrated the teaching of art history into the Core Curriculum.
Beginning with the frescoes of the Roman Catacombs and ending with the paintings of the Spanish master Murillo, the new art history curriculum will introduce students to some of the leading monuments and artists of the Christian cultural patrimony. The curriculum consists in eleven digital slide shows and accompanying student readings. The new material has been tested by members of the department for several semesters, and developed by the department chairman Dr. Christopher O. Blum with the help of the Library and Computer Services staff. It will now become a required part of the curriculum beginning with History 102 in January 2007.
The art-historical component of The Building of Christendom, as History 102 is known, begins with the consideration of the two most important early-Christian churches, Constantine’s Old St. Peter’s in Rome and Justinian’s Haggis Sophia in Constantinople. The next two classes introduce students to the Benedictine contribution to Christian art with the Lindisfarne Gospels and the architecture of the Orders of Cluny and Cîteaux. The “French style,” as Gothic architecture was originally denominated, will be considered in its origins at the Abbey Church of St. Denis (pictured above), near Paris, and then in one of its most celebrated monuments, the Cathedral of Notre-Dame at Chartres. The semester concludes with the Sienese masterpieces of the early Fourteenth Century: Duccio’s Maesta and Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s Allegory of Good Government.
In the Dividing of Christendom (History 201), students will be introduced to the new art of the Renaissance in the persons of Leon Battista Alberti, Sandro Botticelli, and Albrecht Dürer. The second of the four classes is devoted to the sculpture of Tilman Riemenschneider, at once the last and arguably the purest representative of the medieval tradition of sculpting. The final two classes treat the efflorescence of Catholic art during the century and a half following the Council of Trent. The sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini represents the energy and splendor of the Baroque style, while the paintings of Bartolomé Esteban Murillo serve as testimony to the period’s deep and renewed spirituality. Occupying center stage with Murillo in the curriculum’s final class is that monument beloved by several generations of Christendom students and professors: the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo at El Escorial.
The works and figures studied in the art history curriculum take their place beside the core texts already employed in the core courses and, of course, Carroll’s History of Christendom. The members of the History Department are certain that the new addition to the curriculum will greatly assist its fundamental purpose of communicating to the students an understanding of and love for the historical reality that was Christendom. The Department expects that the curriculum will be expanded in the future to include materials for History 101, Ancient & Biblical World, and History 202, Church & World in the Modern Age.