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.

Lectures will take take place on Tuesdays from 5-7pm in room LG19.

Photo credit: College de France

The Michaelmas Term 2021 Professor of Fine Art is Professor Philippe Descola. His lecture series is 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:

Register here:

1. The Embodied Sign (12th October)

2. Animated Spirits (19th October)

3. Templates and Tracks (26th October)

4. Exercises in Composition (2nd November)

5. Facing the World (9th November)

6. Having it Both Ways (18th November)

7. Forms of Transposition (23rd November)

8. Saliency, Agency, Ostension (30th November)


In the coming five years the Slade Professors will be:

2021-2022            PHILIPPE DESCOLA, Collège de France (Michaelmas)

2021-2022            MARIA BALSHAW, Tate Galleries (Lent)

2022-2023            KAVITA SINGH, Jawaharlal Nehru University

2023-2024            PASCAL GRIENER, Université de Neuchâtel

2024-2025            FARSHID MOUSSAVI, Harvard University Graduate School of Design