Italian Renaissance Art c.1400-c.1600 (Online)


From Bellini and Botticelli to tapestry and tableware, the material culture of the Italian Renaissance continues to fascinate us to this day. This course is an opportunity to explore a wide variety of art forms and to discover more about the cultural, social and historical background that made this period so unique.

The Italian Renaissance gave us some of the most popular and powerful works of art ever created. It witnessed the discovery of mathematical perspective, the refinement of different media such as oil painting and fresco, and the development of secular and classical themes, as well as religious subjects. It experienced a varied and invigorating cultural life that included the flourishing of humanism and a renewed interest in the antique world, but also strong trade links and diplomatic relationships with Northern Europe and the Mediterranean. Rather than strictly focusing on the art of big names like Michelangelo and Raphael, this course will introduce you to a wide range of 'art' that was central to Renaissance people's lives. This includes three-dimensional art objects and paintings that decorated the religious spaces and homes of Renaissance Italians. It will also give you the opportunity to learn about the works of earlier, less-known artists who shaped the culture we now know as the Italian Renaissance. The course is for anyone interested in the art, history and culture of a period that continues to influence and inspire us today.

For information on how the courses work, please click here.

Programme details

The areas you will cover in this course are:

Unit 1: The Renaissance in Italy

  • Masaccio to Mantegna: Introduction
  • Introduction to core text
  • What do we mean by ‘Italy’?
  • What was the Renaissance?
  • What do we mean by ‘art’?
  • Writing about art
  • Vasari and the Lives of the Artists
  • New Directions

Unit 2: The Production of Art

  • The production of art: introduction
  • Workshops: apprentices and masters
  • A question of collaboration
  • Drawings
  • Frescoes
  • Panel paintings
  • The changing role of the artist
  • Leonardo da Vinci and the Paragone

Unit 3: Materials and Processes

  • Materials and processes: introduction
  • Intrinsic value
  • Value in technique
  • Centres of excellence
  • Glass
  • Textiles
  • Bronzes
  • All that glitters

Unit 4: Patronage

  • Patronage: introduction
  • Foregrounding the donor
  • Magnificence and virtue
  • Contractual obligations
  • Patronage by committee
  • A hospital in Siena
  • Patronage at court
  • Women as patrons
  • First Assignment

Unit 5: Civic Power: Art on the streets

  • Art in the public eye: introduction
  • Orsanmichele
  • Art and politics
  • Engaging symbols
  • Venetian justice
  • Urban planning
  • Symbols of power
  • Pienza: an ideal city

Unit 6: Institutional Devotion

  • Religious art and iconography: introduction
  • Devotional rights and wrongs
  • The development of the altarpiece
  • Iconographic traditions
  • Reading Crivelli’s Annunciation
  • Sculpted stories: reliefs
  • Sculpted stories: figures in the round
  • Monastic art

Unit 7: Religious material culture

  • The material culture of worship: introduction
  • Private devotions
  • Copies and ready-made art
  • Prints
  • Books of hours
  • Miracle paintings
  • Religious bodies
  • Art for memory’s sake

Unit 8: Art and the Home

  • Art and the home: introduction
  • Domestic architecture: building the home
  • Second assignment
  • Reconstructing the interior
  • Secular subjects
  • Marriages and births
  • Home fires: Piero di Cosimo
  • Furnishing the study
  • Trade, travel and the Italian interior

Unit 9: Art and the Expression of Self

  • Appearances and identities: introduction
  • Portraits and the antique
  • Conversation pieces
  • Portraits and dress
  • Double portraits
  • Feminine ideals
  • Global encounters

Unit 10: Contrasts and Comparisons

  • Contrasts and comparisons: introduction
  • Geography and art
  • Beyond the Alps
  • Naples and the south
  • Transfer of skills
  • Doors of bronze: Florence
  • Doors of bronze: Rome
  • Challenging Florence

We strongly recommend that you try to find a little time each week to engage in the online conversations (at times that are convenient to you) as the forums are an integral, and very rewarding, part of the course and the online learning experience.


Credit Application Transfer Scheme (CATS) points 

To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £30 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online. If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to register and pay the £30 fee. 

See more information on CATS point

Coursework is an integral part of all online courses and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education, you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee. 


Digital credentials

All students who pass their final assignment, whether registered for credit or not, will be eligible for a digital Certificate of Completion. Upon successful completion, you will receive a link to download a University of Oxford digital certificate. Information on how to access this digital certificate will be emailed to you after the end of the course. The certificate will show your name, the course title and the dates of the course you attended. You will be able to download your certificate or share it on social media if you choose to do so. 

Please note that assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail. 


Description Costs
Course Fee £385.00
Take this course for CATS points £30.00


If you are in receipt of a UK state benefit, you are a full-time student in the UK or a student on a low income, you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees. Please see the below link for full details:


Concessionary fees for short courses


Dr Manya Pagiavla

Dr Manya Pagiavla is a Lecturer in History of Renaissance Art at the Department for Continuing Education, University of Oxford. She holds a PhD in history of Renaissance art/architecture. In the past, she taught at the University of Cambridge, the Victoria & Albert Museum and Christie’s Education. A High/Late Renaissance expert, her research is on architectural history in Venice (Serlio, Palladio and D. Barbaro's Vitruvius), and on the artists' library inventories/marginalia. Further teaching interests include the Northern Renaissance, the Dutch Golden Age and 19th-century art/architecture. Her latest publication is on the library of Leonardo da Vinci, co-authored with Martin Kemp, University of Oxford. She is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a Staff and Educational Development Association Recognised Teacher.

Course aims

This course will enable you to:

  • Increase your understanding of Italian art and culture, as well as the social, economic and geographic factors that made this period so unique.
  • Improve your ability to express reasoned and critical analyses of works of art using a variety of methods and sources.
  • Communicate your own ideas about the art of the period and widen your viewpoint through discussions with other students.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be able to understand:

  • The social, political and historical factors that gave rise to the flourishing of art in this period.
  • The variety of different artistic styles current during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in Italy.
  • The significance of so-called decorative art forms.

By the end of this course students will have gained the ability to:

  • Evaluate a variety of sources.
  • Communicate ideas and join in group discussions.
  • Think critically about established historical traditions.

Assessment methods

You will be set two pieces of work for the course. The first of 500 words is due halfway through your course. This does not count towards your final outcome but preparing for it, and the feedback you are given, will help you prepare for your assessed piece of work of 1,500 words due at the end of the course. The assessed work is marked pass or fail.

English Language Requirements

We do not insist that applicants hold an English language certification, but warn that they may be at a disadvantage if their language skills are not of a comparable level to those qualifications listed on our website. If you are confident in your proficiency, please feel free to enrol. For more information regarding English language requirements please follow this link:


Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an Enrolment form for short courses | Oxford University Department for Continuing Education

Level and demands

FHEQ level 4, 10 weeks, approx 10 hours per week, therefore a total of about 100 study hours.

IT requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.