skip to content

Department of History of Art


The Slade Professorship of Fine Art at Cambridge was founded in 1869 as the result of a bequest from the art collector Felix Slade (1788-1868). At the same time, similar chairs were founded in the Universities of Oxford and London. Originally Slade Professors were elected, and sometimes re-elected, for three-year terms. In 1961 the practice changed and since then visiting Slade Professors have been elected on an annual basis. Holders of the Chair usually deliver eight public lectures and four classes for students in the department during either the Michaelmas or the Lent Term of their year in office. The Slade Professorship of Fine Art has been held by many of the most distinguished historians of art and architecture from around the world.



The Easter Term 2023 Professor of Fine Art was Professor Kavita Singh. This one-off lecture was entitled ‘Endless Prospects: View From A Terrace in 18th Century Lucknow’.

Professor Singh’s Slade Lecture series intended to take up different aspects of Mughal painting and to play with method differently in each. In this special lecture, Professor Singh brought the background into the foreground as she turned to a series of 18th century paintings that are marked by a keen and even vertiginous interest in perspective. These paintings are associated with the workshop of an artist named Faizullah, and were made in Lucknow, capital of a “Mughal-successor state” one of several former Mughal provinces whose governors had taken advantage of weak Mughal emperors to seize autonomy. As some of the most talented painters left the Mughal capital of Delhi for new centres of power, they reprised the visual language that had been used to aggrandize Mughal emperors in favour of their new patrons. Yet, certain genres of painting developed in the successor states that were unique to the time and place. Most notable of these is an interest in deep perspectival landscapes that take the eye on a journey that seems endless. Why is there such an interest in perspective in paintings made in these places at this time? What do the fantastically extended palaces and deep landscapes signify? Tucked into the backgrounds of these paintings, Professor Singh suggests, are messages about order and disorder, sovereignty and space.

The lecture is available to view here:



Photo credit: Hugo Glendinning, 2017

The Lent Term 2022 Professor of Fine Art was Maria Balshaw CBE, director of the Tate art museums and galleries. This lecture series was entitled 'The Future of Museums'.

As the world continues to endure the multiple economic and cultural consequences of living through and with a global pandemic that has disrupted social life as we have known it, museums in the UK and across the world have weathered unprecedented disruption and challenge.  The sector has seen a 24-month period where we remained closed to our public for 75% of that period.  Many also discovered new audiences and new purpose, through global digital connection, through renewed community purpose and through the revitalised interest from a public hungry for social and connection after the isolation of multiple lockdowns.  At the same time there has been fundamental debate and dissent over what museums are for, who they speak to and the histories, objects and ideas they are tasked with holding – all taking place within a public sphere that is more disputatious than ever before.

Taking a wide-ranging look across UK and international museum practice this series of lectures will explore some of the critical challenges and opportunities for museums at this point in the 21st century.  It will examine what is already in motion and look at what still needs to change.  It will look forward to the modes of thinking and practice we will need if we are to think ourselves forward a 100 years hence, as institutions committed to the long term.  It will touch on new business models and changing artistic practices, the contrary pushes and pulls of public charitable purposes and commercial imperatives.  The series will end with some thoughts about the choices museums may need to make in the next decades and the museums we might want for a better collective future.

All lectures will take place in person on Tuesdays from 1st February, apart from the last lecture which will take place on Monday14th March, from 5-6pm at the Paula Browne House Lecture Theatre at Murray Edwards College, Huntingdon Road, Cambridge CB3 0SH. For Directions to the venue click here.

Please register in advance here:

The lecture will be live streamed here: -


Photo credit: College de France

The Michaelmas Term 2021 Professor of Fine Art was Professor Philippe Descola. His lecture series was entitled 'Making Things Visible: An Anthropology of Figuration'

Beyond structuring memory, conveying information and expressing emotions, figuration is a precious index of ontological pluralism, that is, of the diversity of ways according to which humans select and organize salient properties of the worlds they inhabit. Using material from a variety of iconographic traditions, the lectures will show the cross-cultural similarities and contrasts of the patterns thanks to which these ontological properties are made visible. They will focus on the comparative analysis of the types of entities that are revealed, or omitted, in images, of the relations that their depiction renders manifest, of the formal means employed for constructing the space where they appear and of the nature of the inferential processes and pragmatic conditions through which images are endowed with agency.

The lecturer, Philippe Descola, is Emeritus Professor at the Collège de France where he held the chair of anthropology from 2000 to 2019, and Director of Studies at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris. Among former positions, he has been George Lurcy Visiting Professor at the University of Chicago, Jacques Leclercq Visiting Professor at the University of Louvain, Fellow of the Carl Friedrich von Siemens Stiftung, Munich, and Visiting Fellow at King’s College and at Pembroke, Cambridge. He obtained his doctorate in ethnology at the École Pratique des Hautes Études under the supervision of Claude Lévi-Strauss after having studied philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure. Among his books translated into English are In the Society of Nature, The Spears of Twilight, Beyond Nature and Culture, The Ecology of others. Recipient of the Gold Medal of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, he is a fellow of the British Academy and a foreign member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Michaelmas Term 2021:

1. The Embodied Sign (12th October) Watch the lecture here:

2. Animated Spirits (19th October) Watch the lecture here:

3. Templates and Tracks (26th October) Watch the lecture here:

4. Exercises in Composition (2nd November)

5. Facing the World (9th November) Watch the lecture here:

6. Having it Both Ways (18th November)

7. Forms of Transposition (23rd November) Watch the lecture here:

8. Saliency, Agency, Ostension (30th November) Watch the lecture here:


In the coming five years the Slade Professors will be:

  • 2022-2023            KAVITA SINGH, Jawaharlal Nehru University (postponed until further notice)
  • 2023-2024            PASCAL GRIENER, Université de Neuchâtel
  • 2024-2025            FARSHID MOUSSAVI, Harvard University Graduate School of Design