VISA 1111: A Survey of Western Art I

This humanities course introduces the significant developments in artistic expression, from cave drawings and the monuments of ancient Egypt to the painting, sculpture, and architecture of the early Renaissance.

VISA 1111 is an introductory art history course that surveys Western art from prehistoric times to the Middle Ages. A companion course, VISA 1121: A Survey of Western Art I, carries on the survey from the Renaissance to present times.

VISA 1111 has two distinct--and possibly contradictory--purposes. On the one hand, it aims to introduce those creations and image-makers usually considered the best and the most important in their particular societies and periods. We consider both their technical and stylistic aspects. On the other, VISA 1111's second (equally important) objective is to highlight some problems that arise from selecting an array of artifacts and constructing a narrative about them that claims to tell "the story of art."


After successfully completing this course, you should have:

  • An ability to describe the principal components of a painted image, sculpture, monument, or building using specialized terminology
  • A basic knowledge of the art historical periods, styles, and movements in the visual culture of the Near East, Middle East, and Europe ca. 30,000 BCE to 1345
  • Some understanding of the iconography (i.e., particular motifs and their symbolic significance) in well-known representations from these regions, tempered by an awareness that the meanings assigned to such elements are neither definitive nor exhaustive
  • A sense of the possible or actual functions performed by such works
  • An emerging skepticism towards "official histories" and a willingness to question received traditions

Course outline

VISA 1111: A Survey of Western Art I, includes the following seven course units:

  • Unit 1: Imagery, Dwellings, and Monuments before Writing
  • Unit 2: Visual Culture in Mesopotamia and Persia
  • Unit 3: Representing Pharaonic Egypt
  • Unit 4: Structures and Images from the Aegean Islands and Ancient Greece
  • Unit 5: Architecture and Representations in Etruria, and the Ancient Rome
  • Unit 6: Byzantine, Early Medieval, and Romanesque Churches and Artifacts
  • Unit 7: Gothic Cathedrals, Sculptures, and Stained Glass

Required text and materials

Kleiner, F.S. Gardner's art through the ages (Vol. 1). 15th ed. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning, 2016.
Type: Textbook: ISBN: 978-1-285-83784-0

Additional requirements

Computer with Internet is required for the web-based version of this course.


Please be aware that due to COVID-19 safety guidelines all in-person exams have been suspended. As such, all final exams are currently being delivered through ProctorU, which has an approximate fee of $35 involved. There will be more information in your course shell, on how to apply, if your course has a final exam.

In order to successfully complete this course, you must obtain at least 50 % on the final mandatory examination and 50 % overall. It is strongly recommended that students complete all assignments in order to achieve the learning objectives of the course. The total mark will be determined on the following basis:

Assignment 1 15%
Assignment 2 20%
Assignment 3 25%
Final Examination * 40%
Total 100%

*mandatory course component

Students must pass the final exam to receive a passing grade in the course.

Open Learning Faculty Member

An Open Learning Faculty Member is available to assist students. Primary communication is through the "mail" tool in the Learning Environment or by phone. You will receive the necessary contact information when you start your course.

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