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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, 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 change from year to year and we can’t guarantee that all of the below will run every year, but current and recent modules have included:

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.

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 Rus.

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.

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. 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 course 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, 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, and we will read the new art history and criticism produced by writers such as Denis Diderot.

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.

British Architecture in the Age of Enlightenment, Industry and Reform

The century from c.1750 to 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 18th and early 19th centuries will be studied against the background of longstanding British traditions in building and landscape design.

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.