Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2024

Course Description

What did it mean to “see” in the Middle Ages? The question is more complicated than it first appears. At all levels of society, from kings and popes to ordinary people, visions, apparitions, and dreams played a much greater role in medieval life than they do today. The act of looking itself could be a source of power, destruction, love, or religious devotion. Dreams could foretell the future or bring messages from the dead. Religious visions could alter the trajectory of a person’s life or even the course of history. This class will examine the related concepts of sight, visions, and visionary experiences during the medieval period (c.500-1500). We will focus especially on the ways that images and visual culture helped shape, interpret, and transmit medieval ideas about vision and visions, and our subjects will include, among other topics, material lighting devices, representations of nature, maps of the world, dream imagery, records of religious visions, and depictions of the apocalypse.

Student Outcomes

Students successfully completing this course will be able to:

  • Identify and describe major monuments of medieval art and culture and how they relate to discourses of vision.
  • Analyze specific images and texts critically: ie, not just as representations of the world but transmitters of meaning and ideology.
  • Formulate and craft a convincing art historical argument, supported by thoughtful, accurately-cited evidence and communicated in clear, readable prose.