Loyola University Chicago

John Felice Rome Center

ENVS 398 Special Topics: Science of Italian Art

Spring 2016

Science of Italian Art

Class time/Day:Wednesdays, 2:00-4:30pm

Instructor: Stefania Galdiero

Email address: sgaldiero@luc.edu


This course will satisfy the following Scientific Literacy (Tier II) requirement


Course Description


This course will lead you on an extraordinary 14 week path where Science and Art will walk together. We are fortunate to be in Rome, since Italy is the perfect lab to understand how art and science are interconnected.


We are often taught that science and art are opposing world views.  However, we will investigate the ways in which they are intertwined in the same challenge of understanding and representing the world around us. We will explore how each has inspired the other conceptually and materially, and how scientists and artists have often been united by their shared pursuit of truth and beauty. Over the course of the semester you will consider case studies drawn from the history of Italian science and art. You will watch, read, discuss the values that underlie our distinctions between cultural categories and understand how our everyday technologies provide a space where   science and art come together.


Throughout the term, we will consider a number of questions, including how does art make use of advances in science and technology,  what are the common links between science and art,  and how might we fruitfully explore these interdisciplinary relationships as scientists, artists, or as producers and consumers of designed artifacts? How do we  define boundaries between empirical investigation and expressive creativity?


Through these and other topics we will see how natural phenomena have been observed, collected, recorded, explained, and communicated in the laboratory as well as is the artist’s studio. We will focus on the scientific methods used today in the investigation of museum objects, archaeological sites and historical buildings to uncover information such as material composition, origin, age, history, authenticity and other information necessary for preservation and conservation. We will learn fundamentals of effective diagnostics in the field of cultural heritage and the use of sophisticated instrumentation and experimental apparatus designed and developed ad hoc. We will see how nanotechnology is now being used to save masterpieces. The teaching program will also involve field trips to museums, archeological sites, conservation labs in Rome and Naples.


Course competencies and objectives


The Science of Art course proposes to develop a solid background in technical and scientific subjects with further knowledge in historical, artistic and archaeological fields using Italy as the natural Lab.

Learning goals for the course are:

  • Becoming conversant in general topics related to issues of art investigation such as pigment identification, dating etc.
  • Communicating and collaborating effectively across the art & science disciplines
  • Developing analytical and critical thinking skills
  • Acquiring knowledge of fundamental concepts, processes, and terminology in chemistry.
  • Developing skills in problem solving and use of quantitative reasoning.
  • Understanding the methods and the techniques of scientific investigation.
  • Learning how the properties of materials are applied in a variety of artistic settings


 Scientists will visit the class and will discuss their  research, discovery and innovation. The intent is to show that scientists describe their moments of discovery in similar terms as artists do about their creative breakthroughs and that, fundamentally, both deal with similar questions of the nature of reality. Students also will be encouraged to visit artists' studios and scientists' laboratories.





Course outline


  1. 1.        Introduction: What is Art? What is Science?
  2. Two Cultures/ the scientific method / the artistic "method"


  1. 2.        The famous Italian scientists:
  2. Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Torricelli, Volta, Avogadro, Cannizzaro, Marconi, Fermi.
  3. Their role in the worldwide scientific panorama.
  4. What does genius look like?
  5. Galileo and the Beginnings of Modern Natural History

3.      Natural history of Italy Geology

  1. Earthquakes
  2. Volcanoes
  3. Formation of marble, limestone, dolomite
  4. The Anatomy of Nature: geology and Italian art


  1. 4.         Materials and techniques of Italian artists
    1. Grounds
    2. Pigments: elements, minerals, vegetable extracts
    3. Vermilion, silver-blue, medieval Gold, Napolitan Yellow
    4. The Science of Art: Optical Themes in Art.
    5. The Heritage of Giotto’s Geometry


  1. 5.         Environmental pollution and art
    1. Science of art conservation.
    2. Damage to indoor and outdoor materials by air pollutants and climate change.
    3. Sources of dust and soiling in museums.
    4. Effect of air pollution on art, architecture and design.


  1. 6.         Nanoscience in modern art
    1. Nanoscience for the Conservation of Works of Art
    2. Inorganic Nanomaterials for the Consolidation of Wall Paintings and Stones


  1. 7.         Diagnostics of cultural heritage.
    1. Examples of modern methods of investigation
    2. UV/VIS spectroscopy and applications
    3. IR spectroscopy and applications
    4. Carbon dating


  1. 8.         Project Presentations


Midterm exam.

The midterm exam will comprise multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank and short answer questions. The exam will have a duration of 2 hours.

Students will be required to participate in a science and art project. This is a group project (2 students a group). Each group will report the results as a word document, a power point presentation plus a poster presentation that will be presented during a designed day at the end of the semester. This will include an oral presentation of the poster.

News briefing

Each group (2 students a group) makes a short power point presentation (4-5 minutes) on art and science using the information that they read in the news. The news can be obtained from the internet, magazines, newspapers etc. This is to encourage students to pay attention to the latest development in science and art issues around the world. To earn the points, students must present the information in class.

Final exam.

The final exam will comprise multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank and short answer questions. The exam will have a duration of 2 hours.


Grade Breakdown.

20% Mid term Exam

16% News Briefing

20% Assignments

20% Project Presentations

4% Class participation

20% Final Exam