University of Oxford History of Art

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University of Oxford History of Art

University of Oxford History of Art

Anything designed by human beings exhibits visual qualities that are specific to the place and period in which it originates. History of Art concentrates on objects generally described as ‘art’, though in Oxford this definition is framed broadly to embrace items beyond ‘Fine art’ or ‘Western art’. History of Art aims to arrive at an historical understanding of the origins of artefacts within specific world cultures, asking about the circumstances of their making, their makers, the media used, the functions of the images and objects, their critical reception and – not least – their subsequent history. As well as educating students in the historical interpretation of artefacts in their cultural contexts, a degree in History of Art provides skills in the critical analysis of objects through the cultivation of visual literacy. The acquired skills have broad applicability in a wide range of professional settings, as well as serving the needs of enduring personal enlightenment.

The University collections, including the world-famous Ashmolean Museum, provide subjects for first-hand study under the supervision of those entrusted with their care. The historic architecture of the city and its environs supplies a rich source of study in its own right. The Oxford degree is designed to provide innovative insights into a wide range of world art, drawing its expertise from various faculties and the staff of University collections, as well as from the department itself. There is a strong emphasis upon how the primary visual and written sources from various periods and places can be analysed in different ways, as well as encouraging students to enquire about the nature of reactions to what we call ‘art’.

HOA Careers

The cultural industries are one of the biggest employers in the world. In addition to museums and galleries, there are many governmental and non-governmental agencies that work to conserve, research and promote cultural heritage and to further the production of art. Furthermore, History of Art graduates will be especially competitive for posts in any area that requires combinations of visual and verbal skills, such as publishing, advertising, marketing and web-based media, as well as entering the wide range of professions available to all humanities graduates.

Related courses

Students interested in this course might also like to consider Archaeology and AnthropologyClassical Archaeology and Ancient HistoryClassicsEnglishFine ArtHistory or Modern Languages.

A typical weekly timetable

1st year

Four elements are taken:

  • Core course: Introduction to the History of Art
  • Core course: European Art 1400–1900: Meaning and interpretation
  • Core course: Antiquity after Antiquity
  • Supervised extended essay on a building, object or image in Oxford.
    Students also have the opportunity to undertake
    a French or Italian for Art Historians course through the University’s Language Centre. No previous experience or qualifications are required for these courses and they do not form part of the assessment.

First University examinations:
Three written papers and one extended essay

2nd and 3rd years

Seven elements are taken: a full list of current options is at

Core Course: Approaches to the History of Art

Further subject in Art History – choices currently include:

  • Anglo-Saxon archaeology
  • The Carolingian Renaissance
  • Culture and society in Early Renaissance Italy
  • Northern European portraiture 1400–1800
  • Flanders and Italy in the Quattrocento
  • Court culture and art in Early Modern Europe
  • Intellect and culture in Victorian Britain

Two 2nd-year options – choices currently include:

  • Egyptian art and architecture
  • Greek art and archaeology
  • Byzantine art: The transition from Antiquity to the Middle Ages
  • Art under the Roman Empire
  • Hellenistic art and archaeology
  • Encountering South Asian sculpture
  • Gothic art through medieval eyes
  • Art in China since 1911
  • Understanding museums and collections
  • Literature and the visual arts in France
  • German Expressionism in literature and visual arts
  • European cinema
  • Modernism and after
  • The experience of modernity: visual culture, 1880–1925
  • American Art, 1560s–1960s

Special subject and extended essay in Art History – choices currently include:

  • Art and culture in Renaissance Florence and Venice
  • The Dutch Golden Age: 1618–72
  • Painting and culture in Ming China
  • English architecture
  • Art and its public in France, 1815–67

Undergraduate thesis

Students also have the opportunity to undertake a Collections Placement in one of the University museums, libraries or colleges in their second year.


Final University examinations:
Four or five written papers, one or two extended essay(s) and one thesis

History of Art Department
University of Oxford
Suite 9, Littlegate House
St Ebbe’s, Oxford
OX1 1PT, United Kingdom

t: +44 (0) 1865 286830
f: +44 (0) 1865 286831