Levels of Understanding

"The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding." - Leonardo da Vinci

Writing Art History Activity and Class Presentation Sign-Up Now Due on Canvas!
First Project due on Monday, September 27!!
Hugo van der Goes, Adoration of the Magi, Monforte Altarpiece, c. 1470.











Chicago Manual of Style Footnote citations (no Bibliography)

1. Author’s First name, Last name, Title of Book (Place of publication: Publisher, Year of publication), page number.

Single Author Book

2. Steven T. Brown, Tokyo Cyberpunk: Posthumanism in Japanese Visual Culture (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 124.

Magazine or Journal Article

3. Bill Wasik, “#Riot: How Social Media Fuels Social Unrest,” Wired, January 2012: 76-83, URL.

Journal Article Accessed through Online Database or Website
4. Erwin Panofsky, “Jan Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait,” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 64, no. 372 (1934): 117-119, & 122-127, http://www.theslideprojector.com/pdffiles/art261/janvaneycksarnolfiniportrait.pdf
Additional Resources:
Purdue OWL CMS style guide
UC Berkeley's guide to evaluating sources











Exemplary Student Infographic on the Merode Altarpiece


Exemplary Student Timeline on Hank Willis Thomas's Career


Exemplary Student Video on St. Peter's Cathedral


Exemplary Student Essay on Bellini's Agony in the Garden, 1458 - 1460











Group Think

Please log in to our activity Google Doc

Each group is asked to research the following objects in the Van Eyck painting and develop a short (3 to 5 sentence) explanation of their meaning:

  • Group 1 - Dog, fruit on the window ledge, the couple's hands
  • Group 2 - Mirror, scene reflected in mirror, chandelier, candle, woven rug
  • Group 3 - Signature on back wall, beads by the mirror, woman's pose (left hand holding up dress)
  • Group 4 - Green dress, fur coat, broom on the bedpost, carving on the bedpost
  • Group 5 - Bare feet, the man's shoes, the woman's red slippers











Jan van Eyck, Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and His Wife, Giovanna Cenami, 1434.











Jan van Eyck, Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and His Wife, Giovanna Cenami (detail), 1434.


glaze = a thin layer of translucent oil paint











Panofsky's Three Levels of Art Historical Understanding:
  • Primary or natural subject matter

the most basic level of understanding; identification of objects and subjects in a work without cultural understanding of the elements.

  • Secondary or conventional

considers the cultural context of a work and its iconographic or symbolic meaning.

  • Tertiary or intrinsic

considers the personal, technical, and cultral context of the work along with its iconographic meaning. This level of understanding sees the work as a product of a socio-cultural environment and seeks to synthesize multiple layers of understanding.

Jan van Eyck, Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and His Wife, Giovanna Cenami, 1434.











Rogier van der Weyden, Deposition, c. 1442.











Van der Weyden's style:
  • Solid, dimensional figures
  • Individualized portraits
  • High emotionalism
  • Balanced color scheme
trompe l'oeil = "fools the eye," a form of illusionistic painting that attempts to represent an object as existing in three dimensions at the surface of the painting
Rogier Van der Weyden, Crucifixion, c. 1440.











Hugo van der Goes, Portinari Altarpiece, c. 1474 - 1476.









Andrea del Castagno, Last Supper, c. 1445 - 1450.











Filippo Brunelleschi, Dome of Florence Cathedral, 1417 - 1436.











the dome of the Florence Cathedral incorporates Gothic and Renaissance elements:
Gothic elements:
Renaissance elements:
  • Pointed arch
  • Oculus
  • Ribs
  • Lantern
  • Octagonal outer shell
  • Self-buttressing










Architectural View, Wall painting from a villa at Boscoreale, near Naples, 1st century BCE.