Second Year (Final Honours)

Please note that not all options are available in any given year - the options below are examples.  In addition, the content and format of this course may change in some circumstances. Read further information about potential course changes.



Students also have the opportunity to undertake a Collections Placement in one of the University Museums, Libraries or Colleges. The aim of the placement is to give students a chance to put their art historical knowledge into practice and to familiarize themselves with museum-based research and curatorial practices.  Please note that placements are limited, so not all students may be able to undertake a placement.

Paper 1: Core Course


This History of Art FHS core course will build on the First Year ‘Introduction to the History of Art’ course. While the ‘Introduction’ course explored key art historical issues through a series of case studies from a variety of cultures and times, the Second Year ‘Approaches’ course will provide students with a more sophisticated set of methodological tools and an explicit historiographical apparatus for analysing the texts, images and objects encountered in the other FHS courses and when writing the thesis. By considering carefully and critically texts by writers concerned with Art History over the past century or so, as well as relevant works by archaeologists, anthropologists, historians and literary critics, students will gain an historiographical overview of the discipline of Art History and will appreciate how methodological approaches from other disciplines have been incorporated into the field. Students will also be encouraged to consider how methodological and historiographical issues underpin their own research and writing as art historians.



Paper 2: Further Subject in Art History (choose one)


In 600 the peoples who came to be known as ‘the Anglo-Saxons’ were ethnically diverse, politically fragmented and largely pagan; by 750 they had emerged as one of the major cultures of post-Roman Europe, with towns, a complex economy and a network of richly-endowed churches. The fusion of Germanic, Celtic and Mediterranean traditions produced a material culture of astonishing richness and originality, including such internationally famous works as the Sutton Hoo grave goods, the Ruthwell and Bewcastle crosses and the Lindisfarne Gospels. This is currently one of the most lively areas of medieval history, as old discoveries are reassessed, and new ones (especially in the areas of economy and settlement) overturn accepted views. The excitement of this subject is to trace the remarkable growth of English society and culture in response to external stimuli. This is the only paper in the Modern History School devoted to archaeology, and archaeology is defined in the widest sense, to include illuminated manuscripts, precious objects, coins, sculpture and buildings as well as sites and finds. 



‘Carolingian Renaissance’ is a term of convenience used to describe the cultural, intellectual and religious awakening of Western Europe in the eighth century which in due course found its natural centre in the court school of Charlemagne and thence returned, in the ninth century and under fresh stimulus, to the churches and monasteries equipped to realize its implications. It thus gathers up what of Antiquity and Patristic learning had been preserved and hands it on, transmuted, to become the basis of European thinking about the aims of society till comparatively recent times. Its range is so great, and its implications so vast, that no set of prescribed texts could in practice cover it. Those that have been chosen (all in English or French translation) illustrate some of its principal themes and some of the ways in which those themes were modified in the course of a century’s experiment, as a result, first, of the directing force of Charlemagne and his advisers and, thereafter, of the widely differing interpretations placed on the royal programme by bishops, monks and others left to their own devices. The texts include a generous selection of the revealing correspondence of two scholars at the centre of affairs, Alcuin and Lupus of Ferrières; biography and narrative material; an educational manual; several Carolingian capitularies (the programmatic foundation of the Renaissance); some charters; a little theology and liturgical material; and a selection of poetry. Special attention is paid to the artistic and architectural aspects of the Renaissance.



This subject engages with Italian society in a period of extraordinary flux and creativity. As the city-communes came to the end of their period of dominance in Italian politics, several amongst them – including Florence, Siena and Padua, studied here – produced the most elaborate manifestations of civic pride and republican identity. These took the form not simply of governmental and financial institutions, but of newly created piazzas and town halls, statues and frescoes, church building and the elaboration of civic ceremony. In addition, the writing of history and of political and religious polemic contributed to current debate about the character and purpose of life in the cities – a debate which was conducted against a background of conflict and often extreme violence. All of these aspects of urban culture are represented amongst the various texts and images prescribed for the course.

Linking many of these themes is the career and work of Dante, whose Comedy is both an extraordinary creative achievement and a sustained critique of contemporary society. The psychological realism introduced into literature by Dante’s vast panorama finds a miniature successor in Petrarch’s The Secret, the witty self-analysis of a Christian man of classical letters. The transformation of the visual arts which also occurred at this time is represented by Giotto, Duccio and their contemporaries, whose painting and sculpture is examined both with respect to its style and technique, and in relation to its patrons, setting and audience. 



This subject offers candidates the possibility of studying and comparing themes in cultural history which are often considered apart. Its aim is to examine aspects of the civilizations of both the ‘Gothic’ North and ‘Renaissance’ South in fifteenth-century Europe. In the North, the Low Countries witnessed the emergence of an art of remarkable naturalism (represented by Jan van Eyck, Roger van der Weyden and Hans Memling). Meanwhile, the Italian peninsula saw the development of a more idealized vision of the world, beginning with the works of Masaccio and drawing increasingly on Greek and Roman antiquity for both subject-matter and inspiration. Beside these apparently divergent tendencies, some common ground existed between the two cultures: urban life, the rise of princely courts and households, mercantile and financial contacts, and important movements in devotional religion. One purpose of the subject is therefore to examine the relationship between the visual art of these regions and the societies from which it emerged.

The prescribed texts and documents introduce the student to the theoretical literature of the arts as well as to the study of patronage and purchase: humanist treatises, contracts, inventories and correspondence between patrons and artists. Devotional trends are illustrated by saints’ lives and by texts emanating from the devotio moderna of the age. Intermediaries between North and South such as diplomatic envoys, the agents of the Medici bank and foreign observers are also represented. A selection of photographs of works of art, chosen to illustrate both differences and affinities, forms an important part of the source material. By studying visual and documentary evidence together, a reappraisal of the comparisons and contrasts between Netherlandish and Italian culture can be undertaken. In the process, material from cities other than Florence (e.g. Milan, Ferrara, Mantua and Urbino) is studied and the role of princes as patrons emphasized.

The prescribed texts (with one exception) are available in English translation and in practice no foreign language is required for the course.



This Further Subject is intended for undergraduates who wish to combine an interest in the structures of courts and court culture with an introduction to some of the major issues and methodological challenges involved in studying the history of art in a courtly context. The study of courts as the focus of political, social and cultural authority within the early modern state has been a dynamic and exciting area of historical enquiry in the last few decades. No less important has been the impact of both art-historical and historical scholarship in exploring the practical mechanisms of art patronage, the use of art by rulers and other élites to construct justifications for the legitimization of authority, and the respective role of artists, patrons and scholars in the formulation of ideological programmes within a court context. The course will seek to bring these two areas together in a study that will focus on a number of specific courts and on wider issues connected with court patronage of the arts, the resources and aims of patrons, and the reactions of both courtly and non-courtly élites to these initiatives. An introductory seminar will examine some of the historiographical and methodological problems involved in studying courts and in coming to terms with what will be for most students the unfamiliar context of arthistorical scholarship. Subsequent seminars will look at a range of European courts, from Papal Rome, through the early Stuarts, the Habsburg court at Brussels and Louis XIV’s Versailles, while additional topics will include the role of female patrons, the place of collecting in court patronage and the use of theatrical, musical or other staged performances in court culture. 



This subject aims to study the ideas and culture of the Victorians with some reference to their analytical content and social context. The topics covered range from progress and faith, through natural and social science, to fine art and gender. There are many common themes running through the texts, such as the tension between materialism and idealism, and between historical and positivist modes of thought. The set texts are grouped under headings which suggest the major issues to be explored. (1) Historical writings introduce the concept of ‘Whig’ history and the interaction between religious beliefs and the claims made for the value of the study of the past. (2) Social and economic thought examines the attempt to advance beyond the apparently wellestablished principles of political economy towards a ‘general science of society’ or sociology. (3) The religious texts embrace the spectrum from Catholicism and natural religion to agnosticism and secularism. (4) The section on art and society assesses the enormous influence of ‘cultural critics’, Carlyle, Ruskin, Matthew Arnold, and William Morris, whose perspectives were distinct from those of churchmen and sociologists. We are particularly fortunate in having a grand Ruskinian project – the University Museum – in Parks Road, and Ruskin’s own collection of drawings and watercolours, used in his teaching, in the Ashmolean Museum. (5) Education is important in raising directly the question of the role of women in Victorian culture, and shows how many of the intellectual developments of the period were reflected in the reform of the universities and public schools, and in the professionalization of study. (6) The scientific texts focus on Darwin and the impact of evolutionary thinking.


Paper 3: Classical, Pre-Modern or Non-Western Art Option (choose one)


The images and monuments of the fifth century BC made a decisive break with the visual modes of the archaic aristocracy and established the influential idea that images should try to look like what and whom they represent. This subject involves the study of the buildings and architecture of classical Greek cities and sanctuaries as well as the images and artefacts that were displayed in them, and one of its major themes is the swift emergence and consolidation of this revolutionary way of seeing and representing that we know as ‘Classical art’. The images and objects are best studied in their archaeological and broader historical contexts, and typical questions to ask about them would include: What were they used for? Who paid for them, made them and looked at them? And what ideas and priorities did they express in their local settings?

This paper looks at the full range of ancient artefacts, from bronze statues and marble temples to painted pots and clay figurines. The Ashmolean Museum has a fine collection of relevant objects, especially of painted pottery, and the Cast Gallery houses plaster copies of many of the key sculptured monuments of the period, from the Delphi Charioteer and the Olympia sculptures to portrait statues of Demosthenes and Alexander the Great. The examination paper reflects the broad division of the evidence into (A) architecture, urbanism, buildings; (B) statues, reliefs, and other sculptures; and (C) wallpaintings, mosaics, painted pottery, and other artefacts. A wide range of lectures and classes are given throughout each academic year - on sculpture, wallpainting, vase-painting, and architecture. 



The Macedonian conquest of Asia brought a forced expansion of the Greek imagination and environment that has left an abundant and varied trace in the visual and material culture of the period. The course studies major themes, contexts, and media of Hellenistic art, set against the dense archaeology of the best-preserved cities and sites of the period – from Macedonia to Bactria, from the Aegean to central Italy. The material includes distinctive categories of object, such as bronzeware, clay seals, gems, glassware, grave stelai, jewellery, mosaics, silverware, statues in bronze, statues in marble, terracottas, and wall paintings. Major subjects include: (1) the art and cities of the kings at the height of their power in the late fourth and third centuries BC, (2) the visual remains of Greek-local interaction in Egypt and Iran, (3) the monuments of the old city-states that flourished within and between the Macedonian kingdoms, and (4) the complex process of acculturation by which the apparatus and technology of Hellenistic art and material culture were adopted in Italy. 



Art in South Asia presents a remarkable case study in the creation of a visual vocabulary and language of meaning. Students will be encouraged to explore a range of visual material from the Indian subcontinent, its long figural tradition, the issue of an icon in the Indian context, as well as artistic versus textual traditions, besides other relevant issues. Art will act as a focus, but the function of the sculptures will in large part be the subject.

The Ashmolean collections have some of the earliest sculptures from South Asia to arrive in any Western collection. As a University Museum with sumptuous objects from India, the Ashmolean is second to none. The students will have the opportunity to use the rich resources of the Museum’s collections to explore issues surrounding the use of art within ritual and as socio-political tools in South Asia.




This course introduces students to Byzantine art by surveying a representative selection of its monuments. Eight lectures will discuss some major topics in the study of the formative period of Byzantine art, ca. 500-1100 AD. These lectures will be supplemented with tutorials in which students would be able to examine in greater detail a Byzantine object individually chosen by themselves (preferably, among the holdings of the Ashmolean Museum).

Lecture Topics:

- Secular Architecture and Urbanism: The Transformation of Public Space

- Church Buildings: Architecture and Ritual

- Monumental Church Decoration: Art and Ritual

- Religious Iconography: The Life of Christ

- Secular Iconography: Imperial Imagery

- Byzantine “Minor Art”: The Social Life of Things



The long imperial Roman peace has left the densest and most varied record of artistic and visual representation of any period of antiquity, and at the height of the empire more cities, communities, and individuals than ever before came to invest in the 'classical' culture of monumental representation. The course studies the art and visual culture of the Roman Empire in its physical, social, and historical contexts. The period saw the creation of a new imperial iconography—the good emperor portrayed in exemplary roles and activities at peace and war. These images were deployed in a wide range of media and contexts in Rome and around the empire, where the imperial image competed with a variety of other representations, from the public monuments of city aristocrats to the tombs of wealthy freed slaves. The course studies the way in which Roman images, self-representation, and art were moulded by their local contexts and functions and by the concerns and values of their target viewers and ‘user-groups’.

Students learn about major monuments in Rome and Italy and other leading centres of the empire (such as Aphrodisias, Athens, Ephesus, and Lepcis Magna) and about the main strands and contexts of representation in the eastern and western provinces. They will become familiar with the main media and categories of surviving images - statues, portrait busts, historical reliefs, funerary monuments, cameos, wallpaintings, mosaics, silverware, and coins and learn how to analyse and interpret Roman art and images in well-documented contexts and how to assess the relation between written and visual evidence.



This course is a historical introduction to American visual arts from European colonization to the Cold War four centuries later. Focusing primarily on fine art painting, but also sculpture, architecture, furniture, printmaking, and photography, the course tracks recurring themes and motifs across the generations as American artists used their skills to advance the interests of the social groups to which they belonged or wished to belong. These topics include: contact between civilizations; throwing off colonial domination; exploring the wilderness; justifying or opposing slavery; evolving attitudes toward children, family, and domesticity; confronting the Darwinian threat; treating the self as an aesthetic object; embracing or rejecting capitalism; contending against inequality and injustice; fighting or resisting wars of expansion; and negotiating social and sexual difference. The relatively little-known earlier history of North American art is thus an important element in the course. On the other hand, there is a strong emphasis on the twentieth century.


Paper 4: Modern Art Option (choose one)


The paper offers students the opportunity to explore the different relations between literature and the visual arts from medieval times to the 19th century, focusing on a wide range of writers, artists and movements. Among the topics explored will be the way(s) language conveys images, and images tell stories; the uses of realism and fantasy in literature and art; and the links between word, picture and ‘message’ (including book illustration in manuscripts and early printed editions). Writers and artists examined include Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, Guillaume de Machaut, the Limbourg brothers, Poussin, Lebrun, Watteau, Marivaux, Diderot, Greuze, David, Baudelaire, Manet, Zola and Courbet.



This course explores Expressionism (1910-1922), which ranges across literature, the visual arts and architecture, and is a major German avant-garde movement of the socalled ‘Modernist’ period (1885-1933).

In order to take this course, students should have German to A-level standard or the equivalent. 



The course, which runs over Michaelmas and Hilary Terms, provides an introduction to methods and issues of film criticism, and to the work of some of the most important European filmmakers. Students will be encouraged to consider formal thematic and historical aspects of a range of European films (all screened in subtitled versions). The first term outlines European art cinema from 1920 to the 1970s, focusing on the great movements—Russian formalism, German expressionism, Italian neo-realism, French New Wave, presenting the main concepts of film form and introducing each of - 48 - the chosen films in its historical context. The lectures and seminars in Hilary Term will focus on European cinema from the 1970s to the present, including countries not discussed in the first term.



This course on the history and theory of visual culture since 1900 is taught across three terms, focusing on themes such as ‘Feminism and the Artist’s Body', ‘The Currency of the Image’ and ‘Photography and Globalisation’. Students are taught alongside Fine Art undergraduates from the Ruskin School of Art.



The course will examine how European artists grappled with modernity between c.1880 (the moment of the “Impressionist Crisis”) and c.1924 (the year of Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto). During the later 19th and early 20th centuries a range of social and ideological formations emerged that constitute the ground of what we now recognize as modernity. The period bore witness to the rapid growth and transformation of the great Western metropolises; increasing industrialization; the expansion of consumer and leisure culture; the final expansion of the European colonial empires; and the emergence of mass cultural and political formations, both reactionary and revolutionary. Concentrating primarily on Paris, but taking in also other centres of European artistic production (Berlin, London, Moscow, and so forth), we will examine how artists developed new pictorial forms and strategies capable of capturing their experience of the shifting cultural and political environments within which they worked.

Our approach throughout will be to consider the development of modernism in the context of the wider cultural and social history of the period. Themes will include the relation between modernism and politics; the impact of war and revolution on the arts; modernist “primitivism” and histories of colonialism; relations between art and mass culture; the rise of abstraction; and the anti-art rhetoric of post-Cubist artistic production.



This course is a historical introduction to American visual arts from European colonization to the Cold War four centuries later. Focusing primarily on fine art painting, but also sculpture, architecture, furniture, printmaking, and photography, the course tracks recurring themes and motifs across the generations as American artists used their skills to advance the interests of the social groups to which they belonged or wished to belong. These topics include: contact between civilizations; throwing off colonial domination; exploring the wilderness; justifying or opposing slavery; evolving attitudes toward children, family, and domesticity; confronting the Darwinian threat; treating the self as an aesthetic object; embracing or rejecting capitalism; contending against inequality and injustice; fighting or resisting wars of expansion; and negotiating social and sexual difference. The relatively little-known earlier history of North American art is thus an important element in the course. On the other hand, there is a strong emphasis on the twentieth century.


This course will set out to examine two origin stories simultaneously: one concerns the invention of photography, a process that we will trace from the late eighteenth century up until about 1860, and the other, the invention of a history to explain this process, a discursive effort that first emerges in 1839, when photography was announced, and continues up until today. Photography’s conception and realisation depended on a confluence of profound social, cultural and technological changes, including revolutionary developments in the experience of time, space and subjectivity. Photography’s historisation depends on the priorities of the historian, be they nationalist, biographical, technological, or philosophical. A close examination of particular photographs will be accompanied by a critical study of historical texts about such photographs. How should one write a history of photography’s invention and what is at stake in any attempt to do so? Where and when does photography begin (and end)? Participants in this class will seek some answers