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Department of History of Art


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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, to be agreed in consultation with your Director of Studies.

Year 2 Core Module: Approaches to the History of Art with reference to works of criticism

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, Postmodernism, Post-colonialism and Critical Race Theory, 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.

Special Subjects:

In both Part IIA and Part IIB you choose two modules each year from a list of possible options. These options for the academic year 2020/21 are: 

Paper 3/4. Drawing in Renaissance and Early Modern Italy c. 1450-1600 

The art and practice of drawing witnessed an unsurpassed explosion of creativity in Renaissance and Early Modern Italy, galvanised by the dramatic expansion of functions, media, and techniques. Within this process, artistic centres such as Florence, Rome and Venice developed their own schools with idiosyncratic graphic practices and styles. Gradually, drawing in this period became emancipated from its role in the preparation of other types of art and acquired the characteristics of an independent art form. This special subject focuses on the protagonists of this ‘revolution’: Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, Titian, and their circles, extending to the Carracci in Bologna, who famously synthesised many of the regional styles. Including close study of original drawings in classes to be held in the Prints and Drawings Study Rooms of the Fitzwilliam Museum and the British Museum, this course embraces the practical and technical aspects of drawings, as well as the theories that informed this art.

Paper 5/6. Encountering Jerusalem: culture and crusade between East and West, c. 1050–1400

Throughout the Middle Ages, the religious wars known today as the crusades were fought in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Iberian Peninsula and on the northern borders of Europe. This course explores the visual culture of the crusading movement and traces its profound cultural consequences for the societies which undertook and experienced it. It will study the complex ways that the city of Jerusalem was understood, (re)imagined and experienced in western Christendom, in maps, illuminated manuscripts and monumental reproductions of its holy places. It will examine the visual culture of the crusader states established in the near East (‘Outremer’) and the debates surrounding the potentially ‘ecumenical’ or ‘intercultural’ nature of their artistic and architectural achievements. There will be a special focus on the crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, exploring Latin Christian interventions in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount complex and holy sites on the Mount of Olives and in Bethlehem. The uses, meanings and cultural impacts of relics and artefacts (illuminated manuscripts, icons, textiles, glass and metalwork) brought back from the East will be considered. More briefly, the course will introduce the cultural world of the Teutonic Knights, as established during their crusading conquest of the Baltic states and western Russia. 

Paper 7/8. Tudor visual culture

Visual culture flourished in sixteenth-century England. In this era of political and religious instability, English artisans and patrons experimented with new forms and motifs, forging idiosyncratic artefacts. Yet this was a period 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 tense pluralism of English visual culture in the sixteenth century. Focusing on the courts of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, we will pay close attention to the social and cultural contexts that framed and shaped the making and reception of art objects. We will study panel painting (including Holbein), miniature painting (including Nicholas Hilliard and Isaac Oliver), sculpture, printmaking, the luxury arts (glass, ceramics, and metalware), fashion, and court entertainments. The complexities and significance of gender (particularly under Elizabeth), religious confession, literature, 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”. The paper will feature opportunities for object-led study in the Fitzwilliam Museum and other collections.

Paper 9/10. Paris 1750–1815: the birth of the modern art world

Many of the features that characterize the modern art world have their origins in Paris in the years 1750 -1815, a period which started optimistically with the rule of Louis XV, saw the turmoil of the French Revolution, and ended in the defeat of Napoleon. These features include the birth of the public art gallery, in the Palais du Luxembourg and the Louvre, the rise of a new, articulate middle class public of art lovers, critics, collectors and artists, the development of new venues to discuss art, such as the Salons, and the increasing presence of female artists. The works of Winckelmann were published in French translation immediately after their first appearance in German. The rediscovery of Herculaneum and Pompeï had a great impact on the development of neo-classicism and the new discipline of archaeology. The disputes caused by the rediscovery of Paestum led to radical new assessments of the value of classical art for the present. As France became a global empire, Paris increasingly became a centre for the trade and collecting of global artefacts and art. The French Revolution led to an unprecedented use of art as political propaganda, in festivals, funerals, and popular visual culture. A common theme that links all these developments is the emergence of an educated, articulate public as a main actor in the Paris art world. 

In this seminar we will investigate how these developments interacted to make Paris in the years 1750-1815 the place where the modern art world was born. Main artists to be discussed include the painters Chardin, Fragonard, Vallayer-Coster, Vigée-Lebrun and David; the sculptors Pigalle and Bouchardon; the architects De Wailly and Soufflot; the interior designers Percier and Fontaine. We will look at major collections at the Palais-Royal, the Luxembourg and the Louvre and their dissemination through prints, the emerging global art trade, and we will read the new art history and criticism produced by writers such as Denis Diderot.

Paper 11/12. Early Renaissance Art from a Global Perspective

This course explores the dynamic artistic development in Italy in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries from a global perspective. Global art history until very recently has been traditionally focused on the origins of the modern (post-1450) era. Yet, artistic interconnectivity, transcultural exchange, and multi-ethnic diversity are present already in the early Renaissance and provide fresh perspectives to explore the development of Italian art. This period of exceptional creativity and flux enables the study of leading figures of Renaissance art, such as Giotto, Cimabue, Duccio, Arnolfo di Cambio, and Simone Martini, as well as a range of media, technique, and material. The course presents the Italian peninsula as a major artistic and social hub of the Mediterranean. Art production is considered in the broader context of communal and religious patronage, liturgy, public and private devotion, and intellectual exchange both on a global and a local level. Key centres in Italy, such as Venice, Florence, Siena, Rome, and Naples are studied both through their relation to the Italian countryside, but also through their interconnectivity with places beyond Europe, such as Crete, Armenia, Egypt, and the Silk Road. Experiencing art through pilgrimage, diplomacy, and conquest, the circulation of relics and mobile artefacts, and the global trade of artistic materials offer expedient departure points to consider the complexity of networks. Through these, this course illuminates the diverse technical, social, economic, and religious factors behind designing and commissioning art in early Renaissance Italy. 

Paper 13/14. The poetics and politics of Surrealism

Born out of the ashes of World War I, Surrealism dominated the world from the 1920s through to the post-war period and continued to play a leading role in the cultural arena up to the events of May 1968. Emphatically international, and spreading across the globe from Paris to London, Berlin, Prague, New York and Mexico, Surrealism attracted artists of all sexes, genders, race and nationalities who came together thanks to a shared belief in art as a weapon for socio-political change. Through the eight week course, we will explore many poetic themes and political agendas across individual artists’ work in a range of media – novels, automatic drawings, paintings, objects, collage, photography, film and installation art. We will particularly focus on how Surrealist artists harnessed erotic desire to subvert the status-quo and the role of women artists in the movement and its legacy. 

Paper 15/16. Russian Art c.1850-1925: Innovation and International Dialogue

This course explores the development of modernism in Russia through artistic connections and creative exchanges between Russia and Europe in the second half of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Students will be introduced to the many strands of modernism that emerged alongside periods of historical revival throughout Russia and Europe at a time of tremendous social and political upheaval that was brought on by colonisation, industrialisation, the rise of the middle class, the First World War, and political revolution.

During the nineteenth century Russia found itself torn between its European identity and a desire to assert its ‘Russianness’, or what was perceived as a distinctly Russian national character. Rather than focus on an east/west dichotomy, the course will focus on Russian artists, exploring their involvement and exchange with international developments in art through travel, emigration, or cultural export, and their use of exhibitions and publications to connect with the international art world. We will position Russian art within a global context and critically examine artistic influence. 

The course material will span the formation of the first ‘national school’ of Russian painting with the Peredvizhniki in 1863 up to the aftermath of the First World War and the early days of the Russian Revolution in 1917. We will engage with painting, sculpture, prints, art collections, architecture, photography, textiles, design objects, exhibitions, theatre design and publications, and address not only stylistic and theoretical evolutions in art and cultural production, but also themes including imperialism, industrialisation, social class, gender, modernity, trauma, and revolution. The emergence of the avant garde in Russia will be discussed along with parallel strands of the avant garde throughout Europe. Students will gain an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the history of Russian art and culture from this period while also critically engaging with the dominant European art movements of the century including realism, symbolism, impressionism, cubism and futurism. 

Paper 17/18. Vision and representation in contemporary art

This course explores the changing status of the art object from 1968 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 these concerns were displaced by interests in the object and space. Through that decade and shaped by political activism and dissent, artists and theorists returned to the visual field to explore the limits of representation in a changing world. Beginning with situationism and feminism and moving through to recent returns to image-making in digital art, painting and moving image as well as queer experiments in performance and installation touching on post-colonial and critical race theory, as well as trans studies, 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 both appear and disappear.  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 fifty years, but also to think through how we might approach the unstable and changing world of contemporary practice. 

Paper 19/20. British architecture in the age of enlightenment, industry and reform

The century from c. 1750–c. 1850 was one of almost unprecedented development in British architecture. New relationships with the ruined buildings of the ancient Graeco-Roman world emerged in response to the effects of the Grand Tour and of the incipient science of archaeology, while an indigenous antithesis was represented by surviving or revived Gothic forms. The ideologies of the Picturesque and of Romanticism incorporated both classicism and medievalism, as well as more exotic forms of architecture inspired by Britain’s trading links with the Far East. This was also the period in which Britain emerged as the world’s first industrial nation, leading not just to new building materials and building types but also to rapid expansion of cities. In this Special Subject, the architectural effects of changing political and social imperatives in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries will be studied against the background of longstanding British traditions in building and landscape design. 

Paper 21/22. The Chinese tradition: Chinese art and visual culture

This course covers Chinese art and material culture stretching from the Neolithic period up to the present with a focus on dynastic and early modern times. The course will provide an object and theme based learning experience, including lectures on important media and developments in Chinese art as well as handling sessions of Chinese art collections. The lectures will explore the making and meaning of Chinese art and how it reflects the culture, religion and philosophy of its period. Finally, the course will also examine the history of Chinese art collecting from the 19th century to the present and introduce students to major collections held privately and in museums worldwide. Students will be given the opportunity to experience a Chinese art auction. 

Paper 23/24. Alternative Art and Politics in Latin America, 1928-1988

This special option course explores Alternative Art in Latin America through a series of lectures focused on experimental art practices across the continent. It begins with the 1928 Antropofagia movement in Brazil, and ends with the 1988 Chilean national plebiscite against the re-election of President Augusto Pinochet. During each class we will investigate art’s efforts to foster cultural renewal, to challenge totalitarianism and to navigate identity politics. The course proposes a double understanding of alternative art. One is connected to political activism: it considers countercultural art practices positioned in contrast to, or outside of market systems and institutional funding streams (i.e. by publicly funded exhibition spaces or private foundations). The second is tied to notions of alterity and non-normativity by featuring lesser known practices by artists who were women, of indigenous descent, or LGBTQ+, working with media connected to craft (weaving, pottery, embroidery). While the course is focused on the Latin American continent, the applications of the course’s theoretical apparatus are manifold. De-colonial and feminist theory are its connecting tissue. Concepts ranging from indigenism, radicality, hybridity, multiculturalism and difference will guide us in the process of moving away from a Eurocentric view of art history. Each week readings will include a sample of historical, art historical and theoretical texts that will offer critical perspectives on the project of Western modernity which has entered a period of crisis.