Visual Analysis Essay

In this assignment you will describe and analyze a work of art, and integrate knowledge from multiple resources to write a well-composed essay that places the work in its historical context.

Step 1:  Select Your Work
Use the Metropolitan Museum collection database or Google Art Project to locate a work of Netherlandish or Italian Renaissance (dating from the 15th century).  Be careful to select a work that is very similar to works that we studied in class so that you can apply what you have learned (if you choose a work that is un-typical, you will get into trouble!).   But do not choose a work that was already covered in class (like the Merode Altarpiece); I want to see what you can do on your own, using what you have learned.

Step 2:  Work Identification
Insert your image into your document, and identify it properly, using the following information from the museum label:

Artist (if known)
Title (note that titles of works of art should be underlined or italicized, like book titles)
Museum Collection

Step 3:  Introduction
Begin your essay with a general introduction that places the work in historical context. Explain the changes that were taking place in the time period, and its impact on art.  Your introduction should have a general thesis stating how the example you are discussing exemplifies these changes.

Step 4:  Description and Analysis
The body of your essay should focus on a description and analysis of the work.  Using what you learned from the tutorial on “The Skill of Describing,” your description should be vivid and detailed, and it should be guided by a sense of purpose or opinion about the work (i.e. a “thesis”):  what are you trying to show your reader about the work?  Your analysis should also demonstrate your knowledge about the stylistic characteristics and innovative techniques that were common in the period the work belongs to, and why these techniques were significant.

Step 5:  Conclusion
Your conclusion should summarize the characteristics that make this work “typical” of the period to which it belongs, and demonstrate your understanding of how it relates to its cultural context.

Step 6:  List of Resources
You must include a list of resources that you used to develop your essay.  Your resources should include relevant chapters from the online course textbook, Smarthistory videos, assigned web resources, and any resources that you consulted for the essay (for example, the museum object page).  Beyond that, no outside research is required for this essay — you should be able to develop your essay using the resources that have been provided to you.

Formatting Guidelines

  • Your assignment should be typed and double-spaced, using 12pt font, and 3-5 pages in length
  • Your assignments should be thoughtfully organized, with a clear thesis, and coherently developed ideas
  • Your assignment should be written in your own words (i.e. do not simply paraphrase source material), though the use of block-quote and in-line quotations is encouraged

Pre-Writing Exercise:
Click here to download a Pre-Writing Exercise and sample:
Visual Analysis Outline
Visual Analysis Outline SAMPLE

Sample Student Essays
Click here to see sample student essays from past semesters:
Sample Student Essay 1:  Jan Van Eyck, Madonna in the Church
Sample Student Essay 2:  Fra Filippo Lippi, Madonna and Child

Visual Analysis Tutorial
Click here for a Visual Analysis Tutorial:

Writing Tutorial Requirement
For this essay, you are required to visit the WCC Writing Tutorial for assistance.  Click here for more details:

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