Third Year (Final Honours)

Papers 5 and 6: Special Subject and Extended Essay in Art History (choose one)


The city-republics of Venice and Florence around 1500 have continued ever since to influence both the political and the visual culture of the western world. Each experimented with republican ideals, and each produced powerful myths, in text and image, of its own significance. Both, additionally, claimed a cultural primacy based on artistic styles. Most potent has been Giorgio Vasari’s triumphalist account of Florentine art: the course gives an opportunity to dissect this influential Tuscan myth, and to compare it with its Venetian rival. The prescribed sources include both art writing of the period and a number of paintings. The course is not confined to the ‘high’ arts, and embraces a broader view of material culture, taking into consideration the market for objects and their social uses. Social distinctions (and their visual markers) will be studied, particularly in relation to gender and to migrant communities. The set texts additionally focus questions about the true relationship of Renaissance culture to Antiquity, the place of religion in this supposedly secularizing society, and changing views of human nature.



This course, which assumes no prior knowledge of Chinese art or culture, looks at the cultural role of painting as a practice in one specific historical period, that of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). It will look at painting, long sanctioned by the Ming period as one of the four canonical leisure pursuits of the elite (along with calligraphy, music and a board game of strategy) from the point of view of both its production and its consumption, and will be based on readings of the extensive literature of the period in translation, along with a wide range of surviving pictures. These include not only the culturally sanctified monuments of so-called ‘literati’ painting, associated with named elite figures for whom painting was part of a total cultural persona, but also the work of anonymous artisan painters, working for the imperial court and for clients drawn from a wider range of social statuses.

The Ming Empire was created out of the collapse of the Mongol hegemony in East Asia in the mid-14th century, and was often seen in older secondary literature as a period of nativist reaction and concomitant cultural conservatism. This stereotype is now giving way to a better understanding of the internal dynamics of the period, and their connection to a wider world. The massive commercial expansion experienced by parts of China at this period, related to the influx of New World silver to pay for Chinese luxury commodities shipped to Europe and elsewhere in Asia, caused the Ming period to be an era of considerable social and cultural change. The huge expansion in the production of art forms such as ceramics and textiles, and the growth in literacy and the publishing industry (including the production of great numbers of printed illustrated books), was the background against which developments in the art of painting in the Ming need to be understood. The range of functions for which pictures were intended, including public and private religious ritual, elite gift exchange, commemoration and the expression of group and individual identities, is inseparable from issues of the style and technique in which they were executed. It is inseparable too from consideration of the range of audiences for painting and the sites in which painting was displayed. Consideration will therefore be given during the course to understanding the ways in which those audiences were stratified and segmented, in terms of gender, of locality and region, and social and occupational status, with attention being given to the ways in which painting did not merely reflect such segmentation but acted to structure and support it in the practice of everyday life. Painting in the Ming will not be seen in isolation but as part (albeit a privileged part) of a world of visual images and material culture



This course looks at the history and (visual) culture of the Dutch Republic during a specific historical period often termed the Golden Age (1618-1672). While celebrated and much studied, the early modern Netherlands has long been regarded as an exception to the grand narratives in European history. Politically fragmented, religiously diverse, and seemingly egalitarian, Dutch society experienced remarkable economic, cultural and military progress during the seventeenth century. This course aims to encourage students to probe these ambiguous characteristics of the Dutch Golden Age and to identify their possible interconnections.

This Special Subject is interdisciplinary and combines (cultural) historical and art historical approaches in its study of the Dutch Republic. It is based on a wide range of written and visual source material, including pamphlets, diaries and travel accounts as well as prints, paintings and material objects. Attention will be given to the various ways in which documents and visual sources can be used for a deeper understanding of seventeenth-century Dutch society and material culture as a whole. Classes on political thought, religious tolerance, migration and the birth of a new bourgeois elite will alternate with sessions on the relationship between art and trade, the impact of the art market and colonial relations on the domestic sphere, and on Rembrandt as a quintessential Dutch artist whose work reveals the pride and ambitions of the Dutch Republic as well as the religious tensions and identity struggles of its citizens. 



This subject deals with an outstanding period in the history of English architecture – that of Wren, Hawksmoor, Talman and Vanburgh: the period generally known as that of ‘the English Baroque’. It saw the building of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the London churches, Greenwich Hospital, several royal palaces, most notably Hampton Court, the remodelling of the State Apartments at Windsor, and many important country houses, including Blenheim, Chatsworth and Castle Howard. Besides documents relating to the design and construction of these buildings and to the architectural thought of the time, the set texts include contemporary engravings and architectural drawings. Interior decoration and garden design may also be studied. The graphic side of the subject is as important as the documentary, and a good visual memory is desirable. No technical knowledge of architecture is necessary and the requisite knowledge of the classical orders and of foreign influences is not difficult to acquire.



This Special Subject is designed to enable students to study a wide range of artistic production in France in the period from the post-Napoleonic restoration to the international exhibition in Paris of 1867. This is an exciting period, in which most of the contours of French artistic life were subject to debate, and in which artists responded closely to contemporary political and social developments. In turn, reviews of salon exhibitions and art criticism in general provided a context for lively discussion of aesthetic and ideological concerns. The role of the state – as patron and arbiter of artistic production – was contested, as were the structures of artistic education; a series of political revolutions was refracted in visual culture; urbanization raised questions about landscape and the relations between town and country, and provided new theatres for visual display


​Paper 7: Undergraduate Thesis

Individual research project supervised one-on-one by expert tutors 

Please note that not all options are available in any given year. The content and format of this course may change in some circumstances. Read further information about potential course changes.