Since its foundation in 1970, the department has educated a number of well-known figures in the worlds of academia and the arts. These include the artists Anthony Gormley and Marc Quinn; the museum directors Sir Nicholas Serota (Tate) and Charles Saumarez-Smith (Royal Academy); curators Martin Clayton (Royal Collection) and William Noel (University of Pennsylvania Manuscripts Collection); academics Martin Kemp, Gavin Stamp, Tim Barringer, and the late Michael Camille; and James Stourton, the former Chair of Sotheby's, UK. More recent graduates of the department include the television presenter, journalist and film critic Claudia Winkleman, the actor Eddie Redmayne and the actress and supermodel Lily Cole.
The university's tradition of educating leading antiquaries, artists, and historians of art and architecture, however, long predates the establishment of the history of art as a separate department. Earlier Cambridge-educated figures in the field include, the antiquarians Horace Walpole and M. R. James; the philanthropist Paul Mellon; photographers Cecil Beaton and Anthony Armstrong-Jones; illustrator Quentin Blake; art historians Michael Baxandall, Michael Jaffé, Francis Wormald, Anthony Blunt, C. R. Dodwell, Francis Haskell and T. J. Clark; and curators Nicholas Penny (National Gallery) and Sir Hugh Roberts (former Director of the Royal Collection).