DPhil in History of Art
About the course
The DPhil in History of Art is an advanced research degree, awarded on the basis of successful completion of an individual research thesis and an oral examination.
The Department of History of Art, which operates as part of the Faculty of History, offers research degrees in a broad range of fields within the discipline of art history and visual culture.
History of Art at the University of Oxford draws on a long and deep tradition of teaching and studying the subject. The core academic staff work on subjects from medieval European architecture to modern Chinese art. Over fifty associated academic staff (eg in Anthropology, Classics, History, Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, and the Ruskin School of Art) include teachers and researchers across the full global and historical range of art and visual culture. This offers students exciting possibilities to develop their own interests in art history and to receive supervision on a very wide range of topics.
The DPhil programme enables you to acquire the research skills necessary to complete a substantial piece of original research. You will work under the guidance of a supervisor who is a specialist in their subject. As part of your doctoral research, you will produce a thesis of not more than 100,000 words.
Current DPhil students are writing theses on a diverse range of topics, including the print-making techniques of the eighteenth-century British artist Alexander Cozens; the role played by the political economy of silver in the invention of photography; the elite tombs of late Medieval Castile; the visual and material culture of pilgrimage in the Este courts of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Italy; the relationship of colour and race in late nineteenth-century French painting; the erotic in Venetian popular prints made between 1550 and 1620; the work of the twentieth-century Italian photographer Ugo Mulas; illustrated books about China published in Edo Japan; the visual culture of the British railway system in Western Anatolia; the pictorial work of the nineteenth-century English polymath John Herschel; and the function and agency of religious images in late-medieval England.
All DPhil students are expected to attend and to contribute to the wide range of research seminars, conferences and workshops organised by the department and faculty. You also have access to specialist training courses offered by the Bodleian Libraries and IT Services.
Further information about studying part time
The faculty is able to offer the programme in full-time as well as part-time mode of attendance. Please note that any published statistics as regards acceptance rates are not an indication of applicants having a better chance of acceptance in part-time mode. All DPhil applications are assessed together and compared with each other, irrespective of the mode of study.
History of Art research degrees are not available by distance learning. Although there will be no requirement to reside in Oxford, part-time research students must attend the University on a regular basis in term-time: October and November, mid-January to mid-March, and late April to mid-June. Part-time students are required to attend seminars, skills training and supervision meetings in Oxford. The dates of attendance will be determined by mutual agreement with your supervisor.
We cannot sponsor student visas for part-time study as the study patterns are not compatible with Home Office regulations on attendance monitoring. However, other options may be available and you should contact the admissions office to discuss.
The allocation of graduate supervision for this course is the responsibility of the Department of the History of Art, and it is not always possible to accommodate the preferences of incoming graduate students to work with a particular member of staff. Under some circumstances a supervisor outside the Faculty of History may be nominated.
All students for the DPhil in History of Art will be supported by a supervisor or supervisors who will help them develop a programme of research and writing. You will also benefit from the advice and support of other members of the department who will be involved in the progression of students through the transfer and confirmation stages of the degree, and can draw on the expertise of scholars and colleagues throughout the faculty and University.
Please note that if you have contacted a potential supervisor prior to submitting your application, any indication made by an academic that they may be willing to supervise a potential project, is not a guarantee that you will be offered a place or that the supervisor in question has capacity to supervise you in that particular year. It will be up to you and your supervisor to decide on the frequency of meetings, though generally speaking in the first year you should plan to meet them at least every few weeks during term time, and keep in frequent contact. As you become more engaged with your research, you may meet your supervisor less frequently, but we do encourage you to maintain regular contact with them.
All students will be initially admitted to the status of Probationer Research Student (PRS). Within a maximum of four terms as a full-time PRS student or eight terms as a part-time PRS student, you will be expected to apply for transfer of status from Probationer Research Student to DPhil status. This application is normally made in the second term for full-time students and by the fifth term for part-time students.
A successful transfer of status from PRS to DPhil status will require a statement, a piece of written work and the support of your supervisor. Students who are successful at transfer will also be expected to apply for and gain confirmation of DPhil status to show that your work continues to be on track. This will need to done within nine terms of admission for full-time students and eighteen terms of admission for part-time students.
Both milestones normally involve an interview with one or two assessors (other than your supervisor) and therefore provide important experience for the final oral examination.
Full-time students will be expected to submit a thesis of not more than 100,000 words after three or, at most, four years from the date of admission. If you are studying part-time, you will be required to submit your thesis after six or, at most, eight years from the date of admission.
To be successfully awarded a DPhil in History of Art you will need to defend your thesis orally (viva voce) in front of two appointed examiners.
A number of doctoral students in the history of art have gone on to academic teaching or research positions, have gained Junior Research Fellowships and other postdoctoral awards, or are producing work as independent scholars. Many now occupy a variety of senior roles in international museums and galleries. Other career destinations include teaching, conservation, TV production, auction houses and law.
Changes to this course and your supervision
The University will seek to deliver this course in accordance with the description set out in this course page. However, there may be situations in which it is desirable or necessary for the University to make changes in course provision, either before or after registration. The safety of students, staff and visitors is paramount and major changes to delivery or services may have to be made in circumstances of a pandemic (including Covid-19), epidemic or local health emergency. In addition, in certain circumstances, for example due to visa difficulties or because the health needs of students cannot be met, it may be necessary to make adjustments to course requirements for international study.
Where possible your academic supervisor will not change for the duration of your course. However, it may be necessary to assign a new academic supervisor during the course of study or before registration for reasons which might include illness, sabbatical leave, parental leave or change in employment.
For further information please see our page on changes to courses and the provisions of the student contract regarding changes to courses.
Other courses you may wish to consider
If you're thinking about applying for this course, you may also wish to consider the courses listed below. These courses may have been suggested due to their similarity with this course, or because they are offered by the same department or faculty.
All graduate courses offered by the History of Art Department
All graduate courses offered by the Faculty of History
Entry requirements for entry in 2023-24
Proven and potential academic excellence
As a minimum, applicants should hold or be predicted to achieve the following UK qualifications or their equivalent:
- a master's degree with distinction or a high pass; and
- a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours in any subject.
If you plan to apply without a prior degree in history or history of art you should ensure that you link your proposed thesis topic with your previous expertise when you present it in your application. You should also show that you have already done a considerable amount of background research into the topic. Your submitted written work should demonstrate that you have the necessary skills for art historical research and writing.
Professional experience in research, such as holding a research assistantship with an individual researcher or on a research project, may be an appropriate substitute for a master's degree.
For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.75 out of 4.0.
If your degree is not from the UK or another country specified above, visit our International Qualifications page for guidance on the qualifications and grades that would usually be considered to meet the University’s minimum entry requirements.
GRE General Test scores
No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.
Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience
- In the case of mature students/intended career changes professional experience in cognate areas may compensate for shortcomings in the formal academic record.
- Publications are not required.
When assessors judge that a formally qualified and otherwise promising applicant requires strictly limited further training to embark on a doctoral programme, a doctoral place may be offered but only on the stipulation that the student successfully complete relevant elements of one of the department's master's courses before attempting 'transfer' to full doctoral status, meaning that the student may be asked to attend seminars or classes intended for master’s students.
English language proficiency
This course requires proficiency in English at the University's higher level. If your first language is not English, you may need to provide evidence that you meet this requirement. The minimum scores required to meet the University's higher level are detailed in the table below.
|Test||Minimum overall score||Minimum score per component|
|IELTS Academic (Institution code: 0713)||7.5||7.0|
TOEFL iBT, including the 'Home Edition'
(Institution code: 0490)
*Previously known as the Cambridge Certificate of Advanced English or Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE)
†Previously known as the Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English or Cambridge English: Proficiency (CPE)
Your test must have been taken no more than two years before the start date of your course. Our Application Guide provides further information about the English language test requirement.
Declaring extenuating circumstances
If your ability to meet the entry requirements has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic (eg you were awarded an unclassified/ungraded degree) or any other exceptional personal circumstance (eg other illness or bereavement), please refer to the guidance on extenuating circumstances in the Application Guide for information about how to declare this so that your application can be considered appropriately.
You will need to register three referees who can give an informed view of your academic ability and suitability for the course. The How to apply section of this page provides details of the types of reference that are required in support of your application for this course and how these will be assessed.
You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application, including an official transcript and a CV/résumé. The How to apply section of this page provides details of the supporting documents that are required as part of your application for this course and how these will be assessed.
Performance at interview
Interviews may be arranged for some doctoral applicants as part of the admissions process. Interviews can take place in person or via telephone or Skype if travel to Oxford would be inconvenient for you.
How your application is assessed
Your application will be assessed purely on your proven and potential academic excellence and other entry requirements published under that heading. References and supporting documents submitted as part of your application, and your performance at interview (if interviews are held) will be considered as part of the assessment process.
An overview of the shortlisting and selection process is provided below. Our 'After you apply' pages provide more information about how applications are assessed.
Shortlisting and selection
Students are considered for shortlisting and selected for admission without regard to age, disability, gender reassignment, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy and maternity, race (including colour, nationality and ethnic or national origins), religion or belief (including lack of belief), sex, sexual orientation, as well as other relevant circumstances including parental or caring responsibilities or social background. However, please note the following:
- socio-economic information may be taken into account in the selection of applicants and award of scholarships for courses that are part of the University’s pilot selection procedure and for scholarships aimed at under-represented groups;
- country of ordinary residence may be taken into account in the awarding of certain scholarships; and
- protected characteristics may be taken into account during shortlisting for interview or the award of scholarships where the University has approved a positive action case under the Equality Act 2010.
Whether or not you have secured funding will not be taken into consideration when your application is assessed.
Processing your data for shortlisting and selection
Admissions panels and assessors
All recommendations to admit a student involve the judgement of at least two members of the academic staff with relevant experience and expertise, and must also be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Admissions Committee (or equivalent within the department).
Admissions panels or committees will always include at least one member of academic staff who has undertaken appropriate training.
Other factors governing whether places can be offered
The following factors will also govern whether candidates can be offered places:
- the ability of the University to provide the appropriate supervision for your studies, as outlined under the 'Supervision' heading in the About section of this page;
- the ability of the University to provide appropriate support for your studies (eg through the provision of facilities, resources, teaching and/or research opportunities); and
- minimum and maximum limits to the numbers of students who may be admitted to the University's taught and research programmes.
Offer conditions for successful applications
If you receive an offer of a place at Oxford, your offer will outline any conditions that you need to satisfy and any actions you need to take, together with any associated deadlines. These may include academic conditions, such as achieving a specific final grade in your current degree course. These conditions will usually depend on your individual academic circumstances and may vary between applicants. Our After you apply pages provide more information about offers and conditions.
In addition to any academic conditions which are set, you will also be required to meet the following requirements:
If you are offered a place, you will be required to complete a Financial Declaration in order to meet your financial condition of admission.
Disclosure of criminal convictions
In accordance with the University’s obligations towards students and staff, we will ask you to declare any relevant, unspent criminal convictions before you can take up a place at Oxford.
Intellectual life and community
Working as an Oxford graduate student can be an exhilarating experience. The History of Art Department brings together a tightly knit community of scholars working on a wide range of periods and subjects, including associated academics working on visual culture more widely.
Students are also integrated into the wider History Faculty, which includes scholars working from circa 300 A.D. to the present, and embraces an exceptionally broad geographical range. It comprises an active research community of up to 800 academics and graduate students. The faculty’s research is organised around historical periods, research centres, or in collaborative and individual research projects, and graduates are key participants in the wide range of seminars, workshops and conferences run by the History Faculty.
Further opportunities for exchange are provided by the interdisciplinary communities fostered within individual colleges, which also offer dedicated support for graduates by means of personal advisors. The department’s Centre for Visual Studies and The Oxford Centre for Research in the Humanities (TORCH) offer a stimulating range of interdisciplinary activities. History of art graduates are also encouraged to join the Oxford History Graduate Network (OHGN), which fosters friendships, conversations and collaboration.
The Oxford environment provides a unique opportunity to develop intellectual curiosity whilst remaining focused on one’s own work without becoming blinkered - an integral part of a successful graduate career.
Libraries and archives
Graduates in Oxford are fortunate in having access to over a hundred libraries. The University's core research resource in the humanities are the Bodleian Libraries, whose combined collections contain more than 11m printed items, in addition to more than 50,000 e-journals and a vast quantity of manuscripts, maps, music and other materials, including the Sackler Library, a major research centre for the study of art history and the ancient world. Bodleian Libraries’ Special Collections Department attracts scholars from all over the world. Further strengths include the countless databases and digital resources currently offered by the Bodleian and being developed through Oxford’s Digital Humanities programme.
Graduates are also able to draw on the specialist resources offered by the Bodleian History Faculty Library which provides dedicated support and training courses for all graduates. They also have access to the many college libraries and to college archives which can house significant collections of personal papers as well as institutional records dating back to the middle ages. There are also major research libraries as well as libraries attached to faculties, departments and other institutions.
Museums, collections and galleries
Few universities in the world boast the quality and range of Oxford’s collections, which provide an invaluable basis for the study of all forms of art. The Ashmolean Museum, the Pitt Rivers Museum, , Christ Church Picture Gallery, the Museum of the History of Science, Modern Art Oxford and other museum collections – together with the wealth of architectural monuments in the city – are an integral part of studying at Oxford. The department’s own Visual Resources Centre is available for student use. Students have the opportunity to work closely with curators on individual objects from many cultures. From drawings by Raphael to totem poles, the range of possibilities is vast.
This range of resources for art historians differentiates the Oxford programme from others.
The University expects to be able to offer around 1,000 full or partial graduate scholarships across the collegiate University in 2023-24. You will be automatically considered for the majority of Oxford scholarships, if you fulfil the eligibility criteria and submit your graduate application by the relevant December or January deadline. Most scholarships are awarded on the basis of academic merit and/or potential.
For further details about searching for funding as a graduate student visit our dedicated Funding pages, which contain information about how to apply for Oxford scholarships requiring an additional application, details of external funding, loan schemes and other funding sources.
Please ensure that you visit individual college websites for details of any college-specific funding opportunities using the links provided on our college pages or below:
Please note that not all the colleges listed above may accept students on this course. For details of those which do, please refer to the College preference section of this page.
Further information about funding opportunities for this course can be found on the department's website.
Annual fees for entry in 2023-24
Annual Course fees
Further details about fee status eligibility can be found on the fee status webpage.
Annual Course fees
Further details about fee status eligibility can be found on the fee status webpage.
Information about course fees
Course fees are payable each year, for the duration of your fee liability (your fee liability is the length of time for which you are required to pay course fees). For courses lasting longer than one year, please be aware that fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on changes to fees and charges.
Course fees cover your teaching as well as other academic services and facilities provided to support your studies. Unless specified in the additional information section below, course fees do not cover your accommodation, residential costs or other living costs. They also don’t cover any additional costs and charges that are outlined in the additional information below.
Following the period of fee liability, you may also be required to pay a University continuation charge and a college continuation charge. The University and college continuation charges are shown on the Continuation charges page.
Where can I find further information about fees?
The Fees and Funding section of this website provides further information about course fees, including information about fee status and eligibility and your length of fee liability.
There are no compulsory elements of this course that entail additional costs beyond fees (or, after fee liability ends, continuation charges) and living costs. However, please note that, depending on your choice of research topic and the research required to complete it, you may incur additional expenses, such as travel expenses, research expenses, and field trips. You will need to meet these additional costs, although you may be able to apply for small grants from your department and/or college to help you cover some of these expenses.
Please note that you are required to attend in Oxford for a minimum of 30 days each year, and you may incur additional travel and accommodation expenses for this. Also, depending on your choice of research topic and the research required to complete it, you may incur further additional expenses, such as travel expenses, research expenses, and field trips. You will need to meet these additional costs, although you may be able to apply for small grants from your department and/or college to help you cover some of these expenses.
In addition to your course fees, you will need to ensure that you have adequate funds to support your living costs for the duration of your course.
For the 2023-24 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,290 and £1,840 for each month spent in Oxford. Full information, including a breakdown of likely living costs in Oxford for items such as food, accommodation and study costs, is available on our living costs page. When planning your finances for any future years of study in Oxford beyond 2023-24, it is suggested that you allow for potential increases in living expenses of 5% or more each year – although this rate may vary significantly depending on how the national economic situation develops. UK inflationary increases will be kept under review and this page updated.
If you are studying part-time your living costs may vary depending on your personal circumstances but you must still ensure that you will have sufficient funding to meet these costs for the duration of your course.
All graduate students at Oxford belong to a department or faculty and a college or hall (except those taking non-matriculated courses). If you apply for a place on this course you will have the option to express a preference for one of the colleges listed below, or you can ask us to find a college for you. The Colleges section of this website provides information about the college system at Oxford, as well as factors you may wish to consider when deciding whether to express a college preference. Please note that ‘college’ and ‘colleges’ refers to all 45 of the University’s colleges, including those designated as Permanent Private Halls (PPHs).
For some courses, the department or faculty may have provided some additional advice below to help you to decide. Whatever you decide, it won’t affect how the academic department assesses your application and whether they decide to make you an offer. If your department makes you an offer of a place, you’re guaranteed a place at one of our colleges.
The following colleges accept students for full-time study on this course:
The following colleges accept students for part-time study on this course:
Before you apply
Our guide to getting started provides general advice on how to prepare for and start your application. Check the deadlines on this page and the information about deadlines in our Application Guide. If it's important for you to have your application considered under a particular deadline – eg under a December or January deadline in order to be considered for Oxford scholarships – we recommend that you aim to complete and submit your application at least two weeks in advance.
Application fee waivers
An application fee of £75 is payable per course application. Application fee waivers are available for the following applicants who meet the eligibility criteria:
- applicants from low-income countries;
- refugees and displaced persons;
- UK applicants from low-income backgrounds; and
- applicants who applied for our Graduate Access Programmes in the past two years and met the eligibility criteria.
You are encouraged to check whether you're eligible for an application fee waiver before you apply.
Readmission for current Oxford graduate taught students
If you're currently studying for an Oxford graduate taught course and apply to this course with no break in your studies, you may be eligible to apply to this course as a readmission applicant. The application fee will be waived for an eligible application of this type. Check whether you're eligible to apply for readmission.
Do I need to contact anyone before I apply?
You are encouraged to familiarise yourself with the research expertise within the faculty when preparing your research proposal.
You are free to consult one specialist in your field for advice on your project, if you think that would be helpful, but please be aware that the faculty will ultimately determine supervision arrangements, taking due account of workload and commitments of its academics, rather than applicants or prospective supervisors.
If you are not sure who to contact, or if you think your topic is out of the ordinary and/or requires a specialist supervisor, please contact the History of Art Department.
Completing your application
You should refer to the information below when completing the application form, paying attention to the specific requirements for the supporting documents. If any document does not meet the specification, including the stipulated word count, your application may be considered incomplete and not assessed by the academic department. Expand each section to show further details.
Proposed field and title of research project
Under the 'Field and title of research project' please enter your proposed field or area of research if this is known. If the department has advertised a specific research project that you would like to be considered for, please enter the project title here instead.
You should not use this field to type out a full research proposal. You will be able to upload your research supporting materials separately if they are required (as described below).
If known, under 'Proposed supervisor name' enter the name of the academic(s) who you would like to supervise your research. Otherwise, leave this field blank.
Three overall, generally academic
Whilst you must register three referees, the department may start the assessment of your application if two of the three references are submitted by the course deadline and your application is otherwise complete. Please note that you may still be required to ensure your third referee supplies a reference for consideration.
References should generally be academic, though if you are returning to study after extended periods of non-academic employment then you are welcome to nominate professional referees where it would be impractical to call on your previous university tutors.
Your references will support intellectual ability, academic achievement, motivation, ability to work in both a group environment and sustained individual and self-motivated investigation.
Your transcripts should give detailed information of the individual grades received in your university-level qualifications to date. You should only upload official documents issued by your institution and any transcript not in English should be accompanied by a certified translation.
More information about the transcript requirement is available in the Application Guide.
A CV/résumé is compulsory for all applications. Most applicants choose to submit a document of one to two pages highlighting their academic achievements and any relevant professional experience.
A minimum of 500 words to a maximum of 1,500 words
Your research proposal must be written in English. Any footnotes should be included in the word count. A bibliography may also be provided and is not included in the word count.
If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.
This should be a developed proposal of your individual research project. It will provide crucial evidence of your readiness for doctoral research. Your proposal should cover all of the following:
- a research question: the central issue or problem with which you intend to grapple, and a working title;
- historiography: some account of the current state of scholarship in this area. You may want to explain why you are dissatisfied with existing scholarship: is it limited, dated or unconvincing? What kind of contribution will your work make?
- sources: an indication of the sources you expect to use, where these can be found, how they will contribute to your research, what if any technical skills you will need to work with them (eg language, quantitative, use of specialist software), and whether you already have, or will need to acquire, those skills; and
- method: some discussion of your approach to dealing with sources and constructing your thesis. Some of the following considerations may apply. At what level is your inquiry: micro or local, regional or national, comparative or transnational? Will you be using qualitative or quantitative techniques? Samples or case studies? Will your research draw on a body of theory? Does your approach draw on the agenda or methods of related disciplines such as anthropology, or literary studies?
This will be assessed for:
- your reasons for applying
- the coherence of the proposal
- the originality of the project
- evidence of motivation for and understanding of the proposed area of study
- the ability to present a reasoned case in English
- the feasibility of successfully completing the project within three years
- preliminary knowledge of research techniques
- capacity for sustained and intense work
- the ability to contextualise, and analyse the evidence.
It will be normal for your ideas subsequently to change in some ways as you investigate the evidence and develop your project. You should nevertheless make the best effort you can to demonstrate the extent of your research question, sources and method at this moment.
One writing sample of anything up to 4,000 words or two writing samples, totalling no more than 4,000 words
Academic essays or other writing samples from your most recent qualification are required, but the work does not need to relate closely to your proposed area of study.
You can submit one complete essay, or two shorter essays.
Extracts from a longer dissertation are welcome, but a preface which puts the work in context is expected.
The work will be assessed for understanding of problems in the area, the ability to construct and defend an argument, your powers of analysis, and your powers of expression.
The written work must be submitted in English (if this work has been translated, you must indicate if the translations are your own, or what assistance you had in producing the English text).
Any footnotes should be included in the word count.
A bibliography may also be provided and is not included in the word count.
If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.
Instructions for submitting one long piece of work instead of two short pieces
To submit one longer piece of work in your application instead of two shorter pieces, you should upload this document in the first 'Written work' slot on the 'Supporting Documents' tab of the Application Form. In the second 'Written work' slot, you should upload a PDF document with the following statement:
'I have included one long essay in lieu of two short essays. I have checked the course page to confirm this is permitted for this course.'
Start or continue your application
You can start or return to an application using the relevant link below. As you complete the form, please refer to the requirements above and consult our Application Guide for advice. You'll find the answers to most common queries in our FAQs.