History of Art 270: Ornament and Alterity

Instructor: Professor Todd Olson

This seminar will explore the early modern origins of three closely interrelated stylistic categories, the Gothic, grotesque, and arabesque, and the ways in which they engage with the perceived alterity of ornament.  Both the Gothic and grotesque were defined in terms of bodily deformity, femininity, perverse hybridity, and lack of regulation and control, and used to characterize the foreignness of the arabesque, and vice versa.  This course will interrogate the anxieties (and perhaps latent desires) underlying the formation and perception of these categories, including xenophobia, misogyny, and fear of the irrational and exotic.  We will closely examine illustrated books, prints, and buildings of the early modern world (e.g. France, Italy, colonial Latin America, South Asia).  The seminar will draw from other fields (such as anthropology and ethnomathematics) to consider the persistence of these categories in the uncontrollable reproduction and dissemination of ornament.

  • Elective Requirement: This course fulfills the Critical Approaches and Methodology requirement for the DE in REMS. It may also count as an elective.