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Years 2 and 3

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Years 2 and 3 are known as ‘Part II’- Year 2 is ‘Part IIA’ and Year 3 is ‘Part IIB’. In both years you will take one year-long, core module (Year 2- Approaches to the History of Art and Architecture, Year 3- The Display of Art) and two ‘Special Subjects’ (one in each term) that you will choose from a list of options. In your final year you will also complete a 9,000 word dissertation on a research topic of your choice.

Year 2 Core Module: Approaches to the History of Art

Spread over two terms, this course investigates the ways in which art has been written and thought about throughout history. Among other topics it considers: the philosophical arguments of classical antiquity; religious debates about images in the Middle Ages; approaches to art and architecture in the Renaissance; the birth of aesthetics in Europe; and the emergence of the History of Art as a discipline in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The second half of the course explores more recent developments: twentieth-century ideas about Art and Art History, such as formalism, iconography and New Art History, the influence of broader intellectual trends, such as Marxism, Feminism, Psychoanalysis and Postmodernism, and the future of the History of Art in a changing academic landscape.

Year 3 Core Module: The Display of Art

Spread over two terms, this course explores how art is collected, displayed and experienced. In Michaelmas (Autumn) Term, 'The Birth of the Museum' will explore the evolution of the Western art museum up to the end of the nineteenth century. In the Lent (Spring) Term, 'The Critique of the Museum' will focus on the twentieth century, examining the avant-gardes' radical challenge to the museum and the ways in which the institution changed in response to such critique.

In both Part IIA and Part IIB you choose two modules each year from a list of possible options. These change from year to year and we can’t guarantee that all of the below will run every year, but previous modules have included:

Gothic Art and Architecture in France 1100-1300

This special subject examines the exceptionally fertile period of French medieval art and architecture between the era of monastic reform and the end of the building boom at the end of the 13th century. Starting with Romanesque art in such areas as Normandy and Burgundy, we will examine the major sources of art comment in the 12th century including the writings of St Bernard and Abbot Suger. We will then use the Parisian art environment of c. 1150, including Saint-Denis, as a springboard to further explore Gothic architecture in northern and eastern France (Notre-Dame, Paris, Laon, Soissons, Chartres, Bourges etc.) as well as developments in metalwork, portal sculpture and illumination. We will then turn to High Gothic Art and Architecture (Reims, Amiens), looking in particular at the portfolio of Villard d’Honnecourt, before returning to the Paris with an examination of Gothic architecture and ‘scholasticism’, the Sainte-Chapelle and Court art under Louis IX and the emergence of Rayonnant. Topics for discussion will include Gothic sculpture, theology and ‘moralitas’, the reception of French art and architecture in Western Europe more generally, and the of the loss of authority of French architecture to the geographical ‘margins’ from 1300.

English Renaissance Art and Architecture

The reigns of Elizabeth I and James I saw an unprecedented flourishing of the visual arts in England. In this era of political and religious instability, English artists and patrons experimented with new forms and motifs, forging a unique and idiosyncratic style. Yet this was an art full of contradictions: it revelled in a revived medieval chivalry while grappling enthusiastically with classicism, celebrated grandeur in the country house and royal portrait while embracing the intimacy of the portrait miniature. This special subject will examine the tensions and pluralism of English art ca. 1550-1625, paying close attention to the social and cultural contexts that framed and shaped it. We will study panel painting and limning, architecture, sculpture, printmaking, the luxury arts, and the court masque alongside the period developments in literature and theatre with which they were imbricated. The complexities and significance of gender (particularly under Elizabeth), religious confession, and courtly self-fashioning for the arts will be addressed. Throughout, English art’s relationship to continental models – at the time and in subsequent historiography – will be critically assessed, as will its connection to the idea of Renaissance. 

Art and Architecture in Paris from the first to the second Empire, 1799- 1870

Art and architecture in Paris from the rise to power of Napoleon Bonaparte to the defeat of Napoleon III has long been overshadowed by the Impressionist revolution and the break with the Academic tradition. In fact in this period many major French artists worked, from Géricault and Ingres to Delacroix et Courbet, or from Percier and Fontaine to Labrouste and Garnier. The art world and its institutions changed profoundly: the Académie, though revived as the Ecole des Beaux-rts lost its authority; the classical past was no longer accepted as the model for contemporary art and architecture; where the Louvre originally had been devoted to Western high art, the  Expositions d'art industriel and the World Exhibitions introduced the public to high and low art, unique works and mass-produced manufactures, from all over the world; the most influential voices in art criticism were no longer the members of the Académie or Ecole des Beaux-Arts, but poets, novelists, journalists and collectors such as Musset and Baudelaire, Stendhal, or the Goncourt Brothers.

This course will not rehearse existing overviews of this period in Paris. Instead it will reconstruct the art world and the visual culture as it developed in these years. It will reconstruct the object scapes that emerged after the major upheavals of 1799, 1815, 1830, 1848 and 1851, the successor state behaviour that motivated official art politics, major art and architectural commissions, and the transformations of the Louvre and other major museums. The course is structured around a series of major ensembles: the Hôtel de Beauharnais, Dampierre, the completion of the Louvre, the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, the Maison Pompéïenne and the Hôtel de la Païva. This enables us to see how the greatest artists, architects and sculptors of the period -- Percier and Fontaine, David, Géricault, Ingres, Hittorff, Labrouste, Duban, Gérôme, to name but a few -- collaborated to create these monuments. But we will also look at a few major outsiders, such as the animal sculptor Barye and the visual work of Victor Hugo, and we will look at the art criticism produced by some of the greatest French writers.

Italian Art and Architecture in the Age of Giotto

Italy’s artistic culture underwent a revolution in the decades around 1300 – a seismic shift towards more naturalistic modes of representation most strongly associated with Giotto di Bondone (c.1267-1337). This course disentangles the Florentine master from Vasarian myth and modern attribution debates, reassessing his achievements within the context of his own time. We consider Giotto alongside other leading painters (his Florentine compatriot Cimabue and the Sienese Duccio, Simone Martini, and both Lorenzetti) as well as the architect-sculptor Arnolfo di Cambio, setting them against the dynamic backdrop of Tuscany’s burgeoning urban centres (Florence, Siena, Pisa). We explore links between art and literature, especially through the poetry of Dante, and the emergence of pictorial allegory capable of communicating complex philosophical and political concepts. Beyond Tuscany, the course examines several other major artistic centres where Giotto worked: Rome, where the papacy energetically renewed the eternal city’s early Christian past; Assisi, headquarters of the Franciscan Order and site of the peninsula’s most intensive concentration of fresco cycles; Padua, where the university encouraged artists to engage with classical antiquity and the new science of optics; and Naples, whose Angevin kings refashioned their southern capital with Gothic architecture imported from France.

The poetics and politics of Surrealism

This course will cover the history of the Surrealist movement from its birth in Paris in 1924 to the dissolution of ‘historical Surrealism’ in 1969. It will focus on the developments of Surrealism during this fascinating period of French history and explore its revolutionary role in art, literature and politics in France in the inter- and post-war years: from its birth in the aftermath of World War I, to its engagement with Marxism and psychoanalysis in the 1930s, to its exile in New York during World War II, to its post-war international exhibitions. Students will be encouraged to examine Surrealist art from a number of thematic perspectives - including desire, mythology, occultism and utopianism, and to generally consider the relationship between Surrealist art and politics (gender, racial and national) so that its successes and failures, and its legacy today, can be critically assessed.

Painting and Patronage in Imperial Russia

From the reign of Peter the Great (1682-1725), artistic practice in Russia underwent a period of remarkably accelerated development, complementing the long-standing tradition of icon painting with a wealth of experimentation in secular art. At the same time, the country acquired art collections of international repute, thanks to the activities of patrons as ambitious as Catherine the Great. This course examines the vibrant visual culture which resulted, from the imposing portraits of the eighteenth-century court, to the iconoclastic antics of the pre-Revolutionary avant-garde. By focusing both on painters unfamiliar in the West and on works as canonical as Malevich's Black Square, we will challenge standard interpretations of the modernist mainstream, and consider the role which Russia played in the wider development of Western European art.

Vision and Representation in Contemporary Art

This course explores the changing status of the art object from the mid 1980s to the current day, considering how vision and representation took centre stage. While the optical had been fundamental to the Modernist project, with the rise of Minimalism and Conceptualism in the 1960s and 1970s these concerns had been displaced. By the 1980s artists and theorists, influenced by political breakthroughs in the decades before, returned to the visual field to explore the limits of representation in a changing world. Beginning with feminist and post-colonial critiques, then moving through to recent returns to image-making in post-internet art, as well as queer experiments with alternative forms of portraiture and critical race theory, we will trace the politics of looking and being looked at.

This course will also address changes in technology, exploring artists' investigations of digital and analogue media, as well as the return to painting. We will also analyse artists' use of performance, cinema and photography to evade both appearance and disappearance. More broadly this course will provide a framework to consider Contemporary Art in our work as art historians. We will not only address the history of art-making over the last thirty years, but also to think through how we might approach the unstable and changing world of contemporary practice.

From Amateurs to Museums: Collectors, Collections, and Displays of Islamic Art

This course offers a broad examination of the emergence and development of the field of Islamic art from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century. It will begin with an exploration of the rich artistic output of individuals like Owen Jones and Jules Bourgoin whose borrowings of patterns from sites like the Alhambra almost instantaneously sparked global interest in Islamic ornament and architecture. The course will go on to examine the effects of these discoveries on artisanal productions worldwide and their role in major movements such as the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau. It will navigate through the rooms of collectors like Frederic Leighton and Albert Goupil, look closely at the Orientalist oeuvre of artists like Jean-Léon Gérôme and his one-time disciple Osman Hamdi Bey, and cast a critical eye on modern modes of displaying Islamic art in exhibitions and museums. Through these examples, participants will have the opportunity to discuss such concepts as Orientalism and Islamic aniconism and look in depth at the complicated history of archaeology and the circulation of objects that affected the formation of the field. The course will include visits to the Fitzwilliam Museum to study its Islamic art collections onsite.