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Department of History of Art



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 ‘Special Subjects’ 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 modules each year from a list of possible options. These options for the academic year 2020/21 are: 

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 culturally distant forms of architecture inspired by Britain’s trading and increasingly politicised links with the Indian subcontinent and China. 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.

Representation and Recognition in Contemporary Art

This course concerns the politics of representation and recognition in contemporary art (1960–present). We focus on artists whose work engages with critical theories and methods such as feminism, anti-racism, Indigeneity, queer theory, critical race theory, trans theory and decoloniality across a range of media. The course is convened by Amy Tobin with guest lectures by Alina Khakoo and Evelyn Whorrall-Campbell, all of which will address artists working in Britain and the USA, with a further set of guest lectures by Sofia Gotti, focusing on Latin American art. Over diverse practices we will consider the valences of representation – as a practice and politically – and recognition – aesthetically and ethically – in contemporary 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.

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 leaves behind interminable attribution debates to reassess the artist’s 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 the Lorenzetti brothers, Ambrogio and 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) and placing their works in context, recovering the conditions under which their original audiences would have experienced them. We explore links between art and literature, especially through the poetry of Dante, and the emergence of new forms 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 city’s vibrant 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 course reflects the monograph I am currently writing on Giotto and taps into ongoing research on Simone Martini’s panels in the Fitzwilliam and preparations for a major exhibition on the art of medieval Siena that will open at the National Gallery in two year’s time.

Global Cinema: Histories and Theories

This special subject offers a survey of histories and theories of the moving image, forging a global perspective on cinema and its contemporary variants. Throughout the module, we will examine how moving-image works and theories engage with political questions at distinct historical junctures and across cultural contexts. Students will learn to consider the aesthetic and ideological implications of specific cinematic techniques and artistic strategies, and to engage with film critically as a distinct yet hybridising medium. We will watch and closely analyse a range of moving-image works since the inception of cinema in the late 19th century, including examples from the historical avant-garde, classical Hollywood cinema, the essay-film, contemporary video art, Third Cinema, global neorealism, East Asian art-house cinema, and postcolonial science fiction. Readings will include foundational texts in the history of film theory as well as contemporary interrogations of film and video in the context of global image politics. We will also turn to texts in decolonial and postcolonial theory to conceptualise the global production of intersecting categories of ethnicity, race, gender, sexuality, class, and citizenship status.

Painting and Patronage in Imperial Russia

From the reign of Peter the Great (1682-1725), artistic practice in imperial Russia underwent a period of accelerated development, complementing the long-standing tradition of icon painting with a wealth of experimentation in secular art. At the same time, cities acquired art collections of international repute thanks to the activities of patrons as voracious as Catherine the Great. This course examines the vibrant visual culture that resulted, from the political portraits of the 18th-century court and the remarkable works by women artists which Catherine acquired for her Hermitage, to the iconoclastic ambition of the pre-Revolutionary avant-garde. Attention is paid to artists who advanced or resisted Russia’s imperialist project, and to the institution of serfdom that underpinned the empire’s social and economic frameworks until the mid-nineteenth century. The contested history of artists born and raised in Ukraine who moved to Russian cities and were ascribed identities as lynchpins of a ‘Russian’ school of art is a central theme throughout. By focusing both on painters unfamiliar in the West and on works as canonical as Malevich’s Black Square, the course challenges standard interpretations of the modernist mainstream, and considers the ways in which imperial Russian artists confirmed or confounded wider narratives of Western European art.

Paris 1715–c. 1800: 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 1715 -c. 1800, a period which started optimistically with the rule of Louis XV, saw the turmoil of the French Revolution, and the rise 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 1715-1815 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. An excursion to the unequalled 18th-century collections at Waddesdon Manor is part of the program.

Rubens: Spirit, Ingenuity, Genius

Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) was the most inventive and prolific northern European artist of his age. This Special Subject will be an introduction to his art and life, organised around three interrelated themes: spirit, ingenuity and genius. Ranging across the artist’s entire career, we will explore Rubens’s engagement with these subjects in paintings and drawings of many genres, including mythological works, altarpieces and devotional pictures, portraits, and landscapes.

Throughout, Rubens’s art will be considered in relation to the thought and literature of his time. Students will have an opportunity to examine his work first-hand, notably through the holdings of the Fitzwilliam Museum, which houses important works by the artist. Particular attention will be given to Rubens’s complex relationship with the spiritual and the secular, especially as it pertains to ideas about inspiration, ‘ingenious’ talent and personal conduct. The latter will afford an opportunity to assess Rubens’s approach to love, lust and pleasure, including the gendered aspects of his work.

We will visit the major exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery, Rubens and Women, and will hear a lecture from its curator, Director Jennifer Scott. We will address Rubens’s attitude to art of the past, including his ideas about the imitation of classical art, and his relationship with more recent artists such as Michelangelo, Titian and Velazquez. We will consider Rubens’s travels in Italy, France, Spain and England, his engagement with diverse culture (including the Ottomans and Islam), and the questions this poses about ‘national’ style and identity.

The Chinese Tradition: Chinese Art and Visual Culture

This paper examines Chinese art and material culture from the Bronze Age to the present with a focus on dynastic and modern times. It provides an object and theme based learning experience, including lectures on important areas such as archaic bronzes and jades, early tomb art, imperial porcelain, propaganda and contemporary Chinese art. The paper explores the making and meaning of Chinese art and how it reflects the culture, religion and philosophy of the periods examined. It also introduces the history of Chinese art collecting in the 20 - 21st centuries and considers current art market trends with an examination of some of the driving forces behind them. The course ends with a day trip to the British Museum in London for a handling session and for viewing the Chinese art galleries.