Credit points


Campus offering

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Unit rationale, description and aim

This unit will introduce students to the art and architecture of the ancient and medieval periods as manifestations of the social, political and philosophical contexts of the day. Students will come to understand how architecture can embody values and principles: for example, exploring how the notion of an ordered universe or a desire to reach the heavens was expressed in the design and proportions of buildings. Students will also consider the enormous influence of classical architecture and its symbolism in the ancient world and throughout western history, particularly with regard to how classical notions were transformed by, and absorbed into, the visual iconographies of the early Christian churches.

The aim of this unit is for students to develop an understanding of the foundation of the western philosophical and iconographic traditions through the lens of the art and architecture of the periods.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - Describe the styles, practices and contexts associated with classical and medieval art and architecture (GA4, GA5, GA8)

LO2 - Analyse the art and architecture of these periods within their historical contexts (GA4, GA5, GA6)

LO3 - Communicate ideas and findings clearly in written and/or oral form (GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9)

LO4 - Use and appropriately reference a variety of primary and secondary sources relevant to the study of classical and medieval art and architecture to develop an evidence-based narrative or argument (GA4, GA8)

LO5 - Apply critical reading and analytical skills to deepen understanding of the art and architecture of the classical and medieval periods (GA4, GA8, GA9).

Graduate attributes

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA6 - solve problems in a variety of settings taking local and international perspectives into account

GA8 - locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information 

GA9 - demonstrate effective communication in oral and written English language and visual media 


Topics will include: 

  • Major classical architecture: how space and proportion was used to convey the notions of citizenship, democracy and virtue. 
  • Architectural features of classical Greece.  
  • The reinvention of the built environment in Rome and how they reflected the values of the Republic and then the Roman Empire.  
  • Ancient sites such as Pompeii and Herculaneum: reflections of everyday life. 
  • The complex relationship between the classical world and the beginning of Christianity in the design of the Romanesque and gothic styles.  
  • Byzantine and medieval styles: the highly decorative art of Italy and France and other parts of Europe such as the Celtic world. 
  • The influence of classical architecture and its symbolism in western culture to the present day.  
  • Normally at least one field trip to the Nicholson museum and an exploration of ACU’s collection of art and artifacts. 

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This unit operates as a Socratic circle where images of the art and architecture of the period under consideration are discussed and modes of visual analysis modelled for students. Through questioning and discussion students develop knowledge about the social contexts, styles and practices of the art and architecture of the classical and medieval periods. Via engagement with primary and secondary sources inside and outside of the classroom, students develop skills in visual analysis. These skills will then be applied in the context of not only analysing previously unseen images of relevant art and architecture, but also in the context of a field trip to the Nicholson museum and appropriate pieces from the ACU collection.

The small sizes of each class reinforce a more reflective and interactive style of teaching in which students participate in a direct way in their learning process and encourage the development of the Learning Outcomes in each student’s knowledge acquisition. Assessments are also designed to develop and demonstrate Learning Outcomes for students. 

This is a 10-credit point unit and has been designed to ensure that the time needed to complete the required volume of learning to the requisite standard is approximately 150 hours in total across the semester. To achieve a passing standard in this unit, students will find it helpful to engage in the full range of learning activities and assessments utilised in this unit. The learning and teaching and assessment strategies include a range of approaches to support your learning such as reading, reflection, discussion, webinars, podcasts, video etc.

Assessment strategy and rationale

Assessments have also been constructed in a way that inspires good critical practice, develops analytical and research skills, cultivate oral presentation and communication skills, and engage the imagination. Students will deliver a presentation accompanied by images of relevant art and architecture to demonstrate their knowledge of unit content and provide them with an opportunity to develop skills in visual analysis. Informed by feedback on this first assessment, students will undertake a research essay which functions to give them a forum to construct an argument, and finally undertake an in-class test which requires them to analyse works that have not been previously discussed or seen in class. This type of assessment draws together the knowledge and skills developed through the unit.

The assessment tasks for this unit have been designed to contribute to high quality student learning by both helping students learn (assessment for learning), and by measuring explicit evidence of their learning (assessment of learning). Assessments have been developed to meet the unit learning outcomes and develop graduate attributes consistent with University assessment requirements. These have been designed so that they use a variety of tasks to measure the different learning outcomes at a level suitable for first-year students in the relevant subject area.

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Oral presentation focussed on a particular period or piece of work. 

Students will deliver a presentation accompanied by images of relevant art and architecture to demonstrate their knowledge of unit content and provide them with an opportunity to develop skills in visual analysis


LO1, LO2, LO3, 

GA4, GA5, GA6, GA8, GA9

Research essay

Students will have the opportunity to research a topic and construct an argument for the reader


LO2, LO3, LO4, LO5

GA4, GA5, GA6, GA8, GA9

Slide test in which students will analyse works that have not been previously discussed or seen to demonstrate their knowledge of the period


LO1, LO2, LO5

GA4, GA8, GA9

Representative texts and references

Beard, Mary and John Henderson, Classical Art from Greece to Rome. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. 

Elsner, Jas, The Art of the Roman Empire. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018. 

Duits, Rembrandt and Angeliki Lymberopoulou, Byzantine Art and Renaissance Europe. London: Routledge, 2016. 

Rudolph, Conrad, A Companion to Medieval Art: Romanesque and Gothic in Northern Europe. Blackwell Publishing, 2006. 

Stokstad, Marilyn, Medieval Art. Taylor and Francis, 2018. 

Wallace-Hadrill, Andrew, Houses and Society in Pompeii and Herculaneum. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1994.

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