Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

Making Sense of the World: Art, Medicine, and Science in Venice - FROM Venice!


In 1500 Venice was the place you wanted to be. It wasn't just the capital of the world: it was also its scientific center. This IntroSem explores the conversation between the arts and the sciences in Renaissance Venice, and, thanks to remote teaching, it will do so from Venice! By taking advantage of remote teaching, Prof. Lugli will travel to Venice (his paternal land) to shoot some videos that will immerse you in this dazzling city. We will then engage with a small group of students to discuss some of the most exciting innovations that were introduced in Venice at the time. We will discover the oldest anatomical theatre and learn about the architecture and workings of hospitals. (A city of the Venetian network, Dubrovnik, invented the quarantine.) We will study the making and circulations of medical textbooks and herbals, books that illustrated the plants used in pharmaceutics. We will reflect on the behavior of light, the nature of shadows, and how Venice contributed to the creation of sunglasses. Artists like Leonardo da Vinci--that is, experts in representation and difficult practices such as metal fusion--were routinely asked to contribute to the making of those experiments.

And this is why this seminar critically looks at how something is constructed either as a scientific or an artistic event. In other words, we will keep asking, is this art, or is this science? We will question whether such labels make sense for the early modern period and today. Let’s be clear: there are not always answers to these issues! As you’ll soon learn, many artists, writers, and intellectuals have addressed such problems in different ways and many of them have fallen back into essentialist definitions, anchoring science and art to specific concepts or procedures.

As the seminar deals with makers and thinkers who worked across a vast range of materials, it will be a multi- and cross-disciplinary endeavor. We will make use of whatever method—visual analysis and close reading, digital modeling, and re-enactment, proper old-fashioned handling of instruments and examination of historical sources—to lead us through an understanding of this moment in history. This course will be practical and help you to understand how maps, scientific tools, sketch-books, and medical treatises worked. We will take advantage of the many digital collections that are available online. At first, we will work in groups in order to pool our collective talents. But towards the end of the course, you’ll be working alone. 

This IntroSem has been designed to:

  • give you detailed knowledge of the history of the Venetian arts between 1300-1500 (incl. works by Giotto, Leonardo da Vinci, Giovanni Bellini);
  • give you a sound knowledge of scientific tools (measurement standards and drawing tools, scissors and scalpels, compasses and portolan maps, astrolabes and astronomical clocks, herbals and anatomical diagrams);
  • improve your analytical and interpretative skills;
  • develop an understanding of key historiographical issues;

hone your communication, presentation, teamwork, and digital skills.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Emanuele Lugli

Professor Lugli teaches and writes about late medieval and early modern Italian art, with a particular emphasis on science, trade, urban culture, and the history of fashion. He published a book on the history of objectivity (The Making of Measure and the Promise of Sameness) and numerous articles on Leonardo da Vinci, Giovanni Bellini, and Venetian painting. A native Italian and tireless traveler, Professor Lugli scouted the European peninsula in search of the overlooked story and forgotten site. He often traveled for work as, before Stanford, he interviewed artists and wrote about cultural issues for newspapers such as The Guardian and magazines like Vogue.