Academic year
2021/2022 Syllabus of previous years
Official course title
Course code
FM0308 (AF:360754 AR:190356)
On campus classes
ECTS credits
Degree level
Master's Degree Programme (DM270)
Educational sector code
2nd Term
Course year
Go to Moodle page
The course is part of the "similar or supplementary training activities" of the "Master's Degree Course in History of the Arts and Conservation of Artistic Heritage" (program: "Medieval and Byzantine"). The course aims to reflect on the genesis and evolution of some themes of medieval Christian art in circulation between the Latin world, the Holy Land and Byzantium. Attention will be paid both to the figurative dimension of the work of art and to its context, cultural and religious, in order to be able to conduct a critical reading on two levels: iconographic and iconological.
- Knowledge and understanding: assimilation of the notions, reflections and concepts transmitted during the lessons;
- Ability to apply knowledge and understanding: to be able to bring back the works of art and the artistic phenomena treated in class in the socio-cultural and spatial-temporal areas of belonging;
- Ability to judge: to be able to grasp the most significant aspects of each work of art, whether they belong to the formal, iconographic, iconological, symbolic, socio-cultural, aesthetic fields;
- Communication skills: knowing how to describe works of art and artistic phenomena treated in class using the specific terminology of the discipline; be able to express clearly, and grammatically correct, notions, reflections and concepts acquired during the lessons;
- Learning skills: at the end of the course the student must be able to provide a reading at the same time analytical and critical of the works of art and artistic phenomena treated, integrating the knowledge acquired during the lessons to read the texts indicated.
No prerequisite is required.
The course is aimed at the analysis of the Tree of Jesse, the Communion of the Apostles, and the Last Judgment, three figurative themes of Christian art that did not arise in the first centuries of our era, like most of the iconographic subjects taken from the narration biblical, but at a later time, following theological and doctrinal speculations.
The Tree of Jesse can be considered the first representation - in a religious key - of the family tree, which will have so much luck between the late Middle Ages and the modern age. It originates from the union of two biblical sources: the verse of Isaiah 11, 1-2 ("A shoot will sprout from the trunk of Jesse, a shoot will sprout from its roots") and the incipit of the Gospel of Matthew, 1, 1- 18, which lists the ancestors of Christ. The theme was born in the West during the 11th century, probably in a Benedictine environment, and then spread to Europe, the Holy Land and the Greek East.
The Communion of the Apostles meets its first attestations in Syrian-Palestinian artifacts of the sixth century (Eucharistic codes and furnishings). The scene is the result of the identification of the episode of the Last Supper with the rite of the Eucharist: Christ assumes the function of priest, and he is represented in two versions, identical and specular, to simultaneously dispense the communion of bread and wine to the apostles, the first "faithful" of the Church. Later, between the 10th and 11th centuries, when the Byzantine churches will begin to welcome the theme in the apsidal hemicycle, the subject will be enriched with the image of the angels-deacons, assistants in the celebration of the mass. From that moment on, the Communion of the Apostles will become a constant in the apse iconographic programs of the Byzantine ambit, while the West - with rare and interesting exceptions - will exclude the theme from the repertoire of sacred images, probably due to the doctrinal problems raised by the splitting of the figure of Christ.
The Last Judgment, the result of the figurative elaboration of a set of texts and traditions (Apocalypse, Gospel of Matthew and apocryphal texts), appears for the first time in the early Middle Ages, in the Carolingian context. The version painted on the counter-façade of the church of Mustair (9th century) represents the first evidence of a location choice that will be replicated countless times in the West, if one thinks of the cases of Sant'Angelo in Formis, Torcello, the Scrovegni Chapel and then, in the modern age, Michelangelo's fresco in the Sistine Chapel. But the theme of the Judgment knows great fortune and diffusion also in Byzantium, where it assumes its own iconographic characteristics. For this reason, Western examples of the Romanesque and Gothic periods, which are often influenced by Byzantine influences, cannot be understood without knowledge of the figurative language of the Greek-Eastern tradition.
During lectures the genesis, development and diffusion of the three themes in question will be taken into account, proposing comparisons between sources and images, and examining evidence from various medieval eras belonging to Western Europe, the Balkan area, Byzantium, the Holy Land and Armenia.

- SCHRADER Jack L., Antique and early Christian sources for the Riha and Stuma Patens, in "Gesta", XVIII/1, 1979, pp. 147-156.
- WALTER Christopher, Art and Ritual of the Byzantine Church, London 1982, pp. 184-221.


- MILANOVIC Vesna, The Tree of Jesse in the Byzantine mural paintings of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, in "Zograf", 20, 1989, pp. 48-60.
- PIAZZA Simone, Genesi e fortuna dell’Albero di Iesse nel XII secolo: Sant’Eusebio prima di Saint-Denis, in "Le plaisir de l’art du Moyen Âge: commande, production et réception de l’œuvre d’art. Mélanges en hommage à Xavier Barral I Altet", a cura di R. Alcoy et alii, Paris 2012, pp. 819-825.


- PACE Valentino, ANGHEBEN Marcello, Alfa e Omega. Il Giudizio Universale tra Oriente e Occidente, Castel Bolognese 2006, spec. pp. 9-195.

And, in addition, 2 essays to be chosen from the following:

- BARRAL I ALTET Xavier, Otranto (mosaico della navata sinistra) e Conques (timpano): osservazioni su un poco noto parallelo iconografico del Giudizio universale, in "Tempi e forme dell’arte. Miscellanea di studi offerti a Pina Belli D’Elia", a cura di L. Derosa e C. Gelao, Foggia 2011, pp. 95-103.
- CVETKOVIĆ Branislav, Intentional asymmetry in byzantine imagery: the Communion of the Apostles in St Sophia of Ohrid and later instances, in "Byzantion", 76, 2006, pp. 74-96.
- GERSTEL Sharon E. J., Apostolic embraces in Communion scenes of Byzantine Macedonia, in "Cahiers archéologiques", 44, 1996, pp. 141-148.
- HAYES WILLIAMS Jane Anne, The earliest dated Tree of Jesse image: thematically reconsidered, in "Athanor", 18, 2000, pp. 17-23.
- JOHNSON James R.,The Tree of Jesse Window of Chartres, in "Speculum", 36, 1961, pp. 1-22.
- PASTAN Elizabeth Carson, 'And he shall gather together the dispersed': the Tree of Jesse at Troyes cathedral, in "Gesta", 37, 1998, 232-239.
- PIAZZA Simone, L’Albero di Iesse nel XII secolo fra Occidente e Oriente: note sul perduto mosaico della basilica della Natività a Betlemme, in "Hortus artium medievalium", 20, 2014, 2, pp. 763-771.
- PIAZZA Simone, Trois figures du Christ au milieu de la Communion des Apôtres: nouvelles considérations autour du cas de Cimitile (XIe siècle), in "Travaux et mémoires", 20/2 (Mélanges Catherine Jolivet-Lévy), 2016, pp. 415-433.
- TAYLOR Michael D., A Historiated tree of Jesse, in "Dumbarton Oaks papers", 34/35, 1980/81, 125-176.

The oral exam will focus on the contents of the lessons and the exam texts (see above, "Reference texts").
Classroom-taught with PowerPoint projection containing documentary and illustrative material, specially prepared by the teacher.
Use of the Moodle multimedia platform, for the provision of documentary and illustrative materials in pdf format.

If, for health reasons, distance lessons become mandatory, the course will be delivered via Hangouts Meet, always with the support of documentary and illustrative material in Power Point (access can take place both in real time and through video-audio recordings).
Frequency of the course is highly recommended.

Ca 'Foscari applies the Italian law (Law 17/1999; Law 170/2010) for support and accommodation services available to students with disabilities or with specific learning disabilities. If you have a motor, visual, hearing or other disability (Law 17/1999) or a specific learning disorder (Law 170/2010) and request support (assistance in the classroom, technological aids for carrying out exams or exams individualized, accessible format material, notes retrieval, specialized tutoring to support the study, interpreters or other) contact the Disability and SLD office
Definitive programme.
Last update of the programme: 07/07/2021