Art history

Mediterranean Fantasies: Revivals and Utopias, 1919-1939

Module code: V4157
Level 6
30 credits in autumn teaching
Teaching method: Seminar, Workshop
Assessment modes: Coursework, Unseen examination

In this module you study the role of the Mediterranean in art and visual culture between the two world wars (1919–1939). In particular, you focus on how modern artists re-used the Mediterranean and Levantine past and how such encounters were intertwined with political relations across Southern Europe, Northern Africa and the Near East.

Many avant-garde artists in Europe turned to classicist aesthetics and ideals in order to overcome the shocks and traumas that followed the First World War. However, rather than dismissing this shift as yet another aesthetic revival, you will look at this ‘return to order’ in relation to the historical context of the colonial re-organisation and the cultural anxieties of the period between the two world wars.

Associated with ‘sultry climates’ and sexual and political utopias, but also considered as the repository for stylistic repertoires identified with hegemony and empire, the Mediterranean represents both a symbolic signifier and an actual site for cultural exchanges. Firstly, you'll analyse how modern art was influenced by the Mediterranean as a reference for antiquity, orientalist and primitivist fantasies. This will involve the examination of diverse figures and movements such as Henri Matisse’s arabesques, Jean Cocteau’s classicism and Ithell Colquhoun’s uses of Greek mythology, Fascism’s exportation of the Renaissance, Nazi propaganda architecture and Egyptomania in art deco.

Secondly, you'll learn how to question the colour of the dominant narrative of European modernism, by looking at artistic and cultural exchanges that include such diverse cities as Paris and Algiers, Berlin and Istanbul. You also engage with the growing body of literature on Turkish and North African modernisms, and look at artists such as Cemal Tollu, Hale Asaf and Azouaou Mammeri. By taking into account the questions posed by critical race theory and postcolonial theory you develop a methodology to interrogate the hybridisation of the modernist canon and its institutions.

Module learning outcomes

  • Demonstrate detailed and coherent critical evaluation of the visual culture relating to this subject within its historical context.
  • Develop an independently researched critical approach to the subject and present it in a variety of written and oral formats.
  • Demonstrate critical understanding of the differing approaches of current art-historical scholarship about this subject.