Online Course

Deepen your knowledge and expand your horizons by registering for an online, interactive art history course taught by Elaine Ruffolo.

Upcoming class:

Art and Society in Renaissance Italy

(part one: 1250 to 1500)


The six-week course will consist of lectures, discussions, and suggested readings. Please see class description and full syllabus below. 

Contact Elaine to register: 


Registered students can access supplemental class information and recordings here:


Course description:
Giotto, Brunelleschi, Donatello, Masaccio, Botticelli, Leonardo and Michelangelo have come to be regarded as major figures at a pivotal juncture of the history of western art. Even within their own lifetimes, their art was seen as embodying a “rebirth” of painting and sculpture. This course explores early Renaissance art in the context of the culture of Italian city-states in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. We will reflect on how art was deployed by individuals and communities to project social and spiritual authority.  We will explore in depth the historical, political and cultural evolution of Italy between the 14th and the 15th centuries. This overview will not be confined to works of art but will include social and patronage issues - i.e. the role of the guilds, the differences in private, civic and church patronage - that affected the style, form and content of the Italian rich artistic output, which reached a peak often nostalgically referred to by later generations as the “golden age”. 

The course begins with an analysis of the historical and social background of the beginning of the Renaissance during the 14th century and the impact of patronage on art. It then focuses on the early 15th- century art in Italy and the power and patronage of the Medici family. Lastly, it analyzes the ‘golden age’ of the Renaissance, specifically focusing on Verrocchio, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio and the young Michelangelo. By the end of this course, you will have gained a thorough knowledge of the social, political and artistic situation during the Italian Renaissance.

Suggested Reading List:
Paoletti, John, and Gary Radke, Art in Renaissance Italy, 4th ed., London: Laurence King, 2011.
Baxandall, Michael, Painting and Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy, Oxford, 1988.
Cole, Alison. Art of the Italian Renaissance Courts, London, 1995.
Partridge, Loren, Art of Renaissance Florence. 1400-1600, Berkeley and Los Angeles, University of California

Wednesday, November 18:  The Rise of the City-State 
Topics to be discussed: the economics, politics, art and architecture of late Middle Ages in Pisa, Florence and Siena. Artists to be considered: Nicola Pisano, Arnolfo di Cambio, Duccio and Simone Martini.


Wednesday, November 25: The Dawn of the Renaissance to the Tumultuous 14th century

Topics to be discussed: Mendicant orders (Franciscans and Dominican) and the Bubonic Plague of 1348. Artists to be considered: Giotto and Taddeo Gaddi and Andrea del Orcagna. 

Wednesday, December 2: Expressions of the Republic of Florence
Topics to be discussed: Competition, Florence Cathedral, Orsanmichele, linear perspective and realism.
Artists to be considered: Ghiberti, Brunelleschi, Donatello, Nanni di Banco and Masaccio. 


Wednesday, December 9: Splendor and Magnificence in the Renaissance Court
Topics to be discussed: Art Reflecting the rulers of Mantua and Urbino. Experiments in style outside of Florence.
Artists to be considered: Alberti, Mantegna, and Piero della Francesca.


Wednesday, December 16: Medici Patronage
Topics to be discussed:  Civic and personal commissions under the Medici, usury, and the rising social standing of artists.
Artists to be considered: Brunelleschi, Donatello, Fra Angelico, Michelozzo, and Benozzo Gozzoli. 


Wednesday, December 30:  Lorenzo il Magnifico and the Golden Age of Florence
Topics to be discussed: motivations for art patronage, Neoplatonism, diplomacy, conspiracy and protest.
Artists to be considered: Botticelli, Verrocchio, Ghirlandaio and the young Michelangelo. 

Optional final exam

Art and Society in Renaissance Italy
(part one: 1250 to 1500)


COST: $395 or €350 per person 

($180 discounted fee for additional household members)

WHEN: Wednesdays starting on November 18th at
7:00 pm - 8:30 pm (Florence)
1:00 pm - 2:30 pm (New York)
12:00 pm - 1:30 pm (Chicago)
11:00 am - 12:30 pm (Denver)

10:00 am - 11:30 am (Los Angeles)