Master's Degree

The Department of the History of Art is a vibrant centre for postgraduate students. It offers a one-year taught postgraduate MSt degree in the History of Art and Visual Culture (MSt, ‘Master of Studies’, is the distinctive name for what elsewhere is often called ‘MA’). Students admitted to this programme do not necessarily have to have a first degree in art history, and we welcome applicants from a broad range of backgrounds. The programme is suitable both as preparation for further research and as a postgraduate qualification in its own right. In addition to a rigorous training in methodology, students take one two-term optional course, and research and write a 15,000 word dissertation on a topic they choose, approved and supervised by a scholar with relevant specialist expertise. All postgraduate students take part in the Department’s Research Seminar, and in the huge range of disciplinary and interdisciplinary seminars which make Oxford an outstandingly exciting setting for the study of History of Art.

MSt Degree in the History of Art and Visual Culture

Core Course: Issues in Art History

This MSt core course provides a theoretical and methodological interrogation of the practice of art history. It aims to address the major challenges and issues that face all art historians today, no matter what their field. The course is motivated by a single key question: what needs to be done to turn art history into a discourse that can address the most pressing issues of our time? Structured by ten two-hour seminars, the course focuses on a selection of art historical texts that are pushing the field in new directions or have opened up new possibilities for art history. It will be taken for granted in this course that art history is a mode of argument and persuasion, rather than a search for an absolute truth. Seminars will be supplemented by workshops on professional practice and by art handling sessions with a curator at the Ashmolean Museum.

Optional Courses

Applicants are asked to give a preliminary option course choice in their application, and will be asked to confirm this choice before commencing studies. Due to numbers, please be aware that it is not always possible to guarantee your first choice.  Details for 2022-23 are published below.

Dissertation Supervision

You do not need to try to recruit your own supervisor. 

The Faculty will appoint supervisors on the basis of our assessment of their fit with your research interests and their spare teaching capacity. However, you should ensure that the Faculty has the ability to support your interests by having academic staff with matching expertise. You can check what research interests Faculty staff have by visiting our People page.

Optional Courses for 2022-23

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Instructor: Costanza Beltrami

The Gothic and the Renaissance have long been viewed as two distinct artistic periods or ‘styles’ in neat succession. However, from 1450–1550 (and beyond) Gothic and Renaissance buildings often coexisted in diverse architectural landscapes. Moreover, late-Gothic buildings were erected (and decorated) beyond Europe, in newly conquered territories such as Madeira and Santo Domingo. Architecture thus embodies complex processes of cultural interweaving: innovative late-Gothic buildings continued to appear at the height of the Renaissance; master masons constructed dynamic hybrids of different architectural modes and materials, and linear conceptions of influence from the Italian ‘centre’ to global peripheries are dispelled by the intensity of artistic exchanges. This course will examine issues of adaptation, (ex)change, and hybridisation on continental (Western Europe, especially Spain) and intercontinental scales. We will study religious and secular structures as lived-in, multi-media creations at the heart of networks of production, trade, and communication. This approach to architecture will enable students to develop personal research interests in other media, such as micro-architecture, sculpture, or drawing.


Instructor: Cora Gilroy-Ware

In Western Art, so the story goes, the emergence of the Modern depends on the death of “the antique”. A dry, lifeless, academic notion of beauty had to be destroyed to make space for more exciting, democratic, and relevant modes of representation. The relics of Greece and Rome, not to mention the many tedious neoclassical objects they inspired, were stripped, once and for all, of their claim to universal aesthetic supremacy. Not only does this grand narrative risk replacing one hierarchy with another; it also works to eclipse the work of visual artists who, positioned outside or marginal to the centre of artistic discourse, take up Greco-Roman forms and figures well after the ousting of the classical. In short, it is a narrative that does injustice to the artists of colour who engaged with the classical on their own terms and in their own time.

Seeing beyond the binary of classical and modern, this course looks at the work of Black artists working in the Anglo-American world between the 18th century and the present. Rather than structured chronologically, we will look at so-called “historic” (pre-1900) material together with later work, exploring, for example, the continuity between the art of queer Harlem Renaissance artist Richard Bruce Nugent and the designs of the British sculptor and illustrator John Flaxman. The course will also touch on non-traditional media, including vinyl-cover album art, and we will deploy works of fiction and poetry as a means of illuminating both art objects and their history.

Other case studies will include the verse of Phillis Wheatley and its connection to the art of the Royal Academy, the sculpture of Edmonia Lewis and Selma Burke, Romare Bearden’s 1977 cycle of Homeric collages A Black Odyssey, the 2006 series Roaming by Carrie Mae Weems, and Kara Walker’s recent installations for the Tate Modern: Fons Americanus and Shell Grotto. In addition to exploring cases of Black Classicism in visual art, our goal will be to gauge how associations between classical form and whiteness offered a creative challenge to artists of African descent. We will also determine whether the humanist integration of classical form and liberty made the art of Greece and Rome especially appealing for artists whose humanity, and claim to freedom, had been undermined for centuries by the powers that be.


Instructors: JP Park and Simon Li

Since the 18th century the binary of “East and West” has functioned as a paradigmatic cultural comparison. In many people’s minds, these constructs represent two opposite poles of human experience. Right up to the present day, some Western writers argue the uniqueness (and thus superiority) of European art, while others have advocated learning from Asian ideals. Likewise, some scholars, such as Friedrich von Schlegel, believe that Chinese is the most primitive of languages, while other scholars believe that it is the most advanced. With increasing globalization and the rise of China as a world power, the need to stretch our imaginations beyond the constraints of traditional constructs has become a serious concern for fields ranging from business and law to anthropology and social work.

One of the major goals of this course is to offer you the tools to critically examine popular accounts of China, its art and cultures. Exposure to logical, historical, artistic, and literary modes of analysis will prepare students to recognize common misconceptions and formulate questions about Chinese art and culture in more rigorous and sophisticated ways. In addition, through a careful examination of scholarly research on both Eastern and Western arts, you can acquire a fuller appreciation for the diversity of cultural expression and shared human experience. In this process, you will gain an understanding of how the field is structured and how it has grown by tracing important debates of recent years. While providing a range of topics, this course hopes to produce future scholars who are well equipped with balanced and critical perspectives.


Instructor: Christopher Reed, Terra Foundation Visiting Professor of American Art, 2022-23

This course goes beyond modernist models of “influence” and post-modernist critiques of “primitivism” and “appropriation” in order to explore interactions between Japanese and American art and artists from the 1850s to the present. Topics will include the role of exposition and exhibition cultures in formulating national, ethnic, and regional identities; the usefulness of ethnically identified aesthetics in breaching barriers that divide art from other forms of visual culture; the way art functioned in claims for empire up to the Second World War and in projects to integrate Japan into the anti-Communist “West” after that traumatic conflict; the relationship of Asian and Asian-American aesthetics; the role of ethnic identity in defining “Regionalism” in the American context; and the ways ethnic identifications play out in relation to forms of racial, gendered and sexual identity in American art, historically and today.   ​

Current Optional Courses taking place in 2021-22 only

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Tutor: Professor Alastair Wright

The course examines modernist art produced in France in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, interrogating how diverse artistic practices engaged with the politics of class, gender, and race. Topics will include the relationship between art and mass culture; modernism’s affiliations with both reactionary and revolutionary ideologies of the ‘popular’; the gendering of modern art in period accounts and in later art historical narratives; the connections between modernism and French colonialism; and the encounter with African art and myths of the ‘primitive’. To explore these issues, the writings of artists and their contemporaries will be examined alongside recent art-historical work and a range of theoretical texts on questions relevant to the materials of the course.



Tutor: Dr Costanza Beltrami

The Gothic and the Renaissance have long been viewed as two distinct artistic periods or ‘styles’ in neat succession. But what are the chronological, geographical, and conceptual limits of Gothic and Renaissance architecture? What happens if we recast late-Gothic architecture as a global phenomenon of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries?

In addition to canonical examples from England, France, and Germany, late-Gothic buildings were erected (and decorated) in newly conquered territories such as the Canary Islands, Madeira, and Santo Domingo. In their materials and decorations, these new foundations responded to local contexts, in spite of being based on models brought from overseas. As the Gothic and other European traditions became global phenomena, they were increasingly in competition with new Renaissance designs. Architecture thus embodies a complex process of cultural interweaving: innovative late-Gothic buildings continued to appear at the height of the Renaissance; master masons constructed dynamic hybrids of different architectural modes; and linear conceptions of influence from the Italian ‘centre’ to global peripheries are dispelled by the intensity of artistic exchanges.

Challenging the perception of the Renaissance as a watershed in the emergence of architectural and cultural modernity, this course will place Gothic and Renaissance buildings not in opposition, but in dialogue. Uniquely, it will invite associations and conversations which are still relatively unexplored in architectural history. We will examine issues of reuse, communication, adaptation, exchange, and hybridisation on continental and intercontinental scales. Additionally, we will take into account the international trade networks where raw materials and luxury artworks were exported and imported, as well as the structures which enabled and enshrined commercial and territorial domination. Finally, we will study both religious and secular structures as lived-in, multi-media creations at the heart of networks of production and communication. This approach to architecture will enable students to develop personal research interests in other media, such as micro-architecture, sculpture or drawing.



Tutor: Professor Geoffrey Batchen, Professor of History of Art 

Participants in this seminar class will be invited to write a version of their own history of photography. The class will begin by looking at the history of that history, and will then consider various alternatives to it. Attention will be paid to the problems of writing such a history, a quite particular challenge given the mobility and reproducibility of the photograph, and thus its reluctance to adhere to the usual art historical categories (originality, medium specificity, chronology, nationalism, biography, style, genre, and so on). Each of these ways of doing art history will nevertheless be considered, and equivalent photographic examples critically analysed. Case studies to be considered include histories of the photography produced in Africa and in the British Empire. Participants will be asked to write research essays that demonstrate their own approach to a particular kind of history of photography.



Tutor: Charlene Villaseñor Black, Terra Foundation Visiting Professor of American Art

This course expands the definition of “American” art by examining art created by minoritized populations in the US, with a particular focus on Latinx art in the 20th Century. The class begins by querying the definition of “American” art, the inclusion of Latinx art in the canon, and the evolving terminology employed in its study (including the “x” as indicative of both gender inclusivity and indigeneity). Latinx art has always manifested an uneasy relationship with mainstream artistic institutions -- the museum, art history, art criticism. As a public art created in opposition to established elite institutions such as the museum, as well as a popular art that admits low riders and home altars as the objects of scholarly study, Latinx art raises important questions about the very nature of art history and criticism. This class will focus on 20th-century Latinx cultural production and its relationship to activism, with a particular focus on alternative cultural spaces. Topics to be considered include prints, murals, photography, sculpture, and performance in light of theories of decoloniality, feminism, the Neobaroque, rasquache aesthetics, and global modernisms/postmodernisms.


For details about the application process, please view the graduate admissions section of the History Faculty website and the History of Art page of the online prospectus

For all admissions enquiries about the Masters or DPhil programme, please email