MSt in History of Art and Visual Culture
About the course
This nine-month programme offers a unique combination of methodological depth and access to excellent primary sources for students who wish to develop and extend their understanding of how visual styles at different times and in different places can be understood in relation to the aesthetic, intellectual and social facets of various cultures.
This course draws on the established strengths of the discipline of art history in formal, iconographic and contextual analysis in the Faculty of History's History of Art Department and links them to a rigorous approach to questions of theory and method.
The course will expose you to the ways in which the subjects of visual history are being redefined on a broad base to include a much wider range of artefacts and visual media, including images and objects produced in contexts ranging from the scientific to the popular.
- a compulsory methodology paper, Issues in Art History, which is taught in a seminar series during Michaelmas and Hilary terms. There is also an associated lecture series, workshops on professional practice and object-handling sessions in Oxford collections.
- one option paper, normally taught in small classes during Michaelmas and Hilary terms.
Full details of core and optional papers are available on the course webpage on the department's website (see the Further information and enquires section for further details).
You will also write a dissertation of up to 15,000 words, which will be submitted in Trinity term (see the Assessment section below for further details).
It is expected that about 25% of a student’s time will be spent as self-directed research and study.
Example option papers
Some of the option papers will not be available every year, and new ones may be added.
Prospective students should check on the availability of specific courses during the application process by visiting the course webpage on the department's website (see the Further information and enquires section for further details).
As an example, the options papers for students enrolled in the 2021-22 academic year were:
The Politics of Modernism: Art in France, 1880-1914
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.
Gothic to Renaissance? Reframing Architecture in Europe and Beyond
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.
Histories of Photography
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.
Global Perspectives on American Art: Latinx Art and Activism
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.
The allocation of graduate supervision for this course is the responsibility of the Faculty of History's Department of 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's Department of History of Art may be nominated. Supervisors will meet with their students weekly in Michaelmas and Hilary terms to teach the option paper, and will also offer at least five hours dedicated supervision for the dissertation.
An Oxford academic’s pre-application indication of willingness to supervise an enquiring applicant is not a guarantee that the applicant will be offered a place, or that the supervisor in question has capacity in that particular year.
You will write a dissertation under the guidance of an expert supervisor, on a topic of your choice and approved by the supervisor and the chair of examiners for the programme. The dissertation is submitted in Trinity term.
In addition to the dissertation, assessment will take the form of exams and assessed essays. For the compulsory methodology paper you will write three short essays in an examination.
The option paper is assessed through one short methodological or historiographic essay and one research project. Students receive one-on-one supervision when preparing their essays.
If you wish to apply for a doctoral programme, at Oxford or elsewhere, you will be encouraged to develop your doctoral proposal during the first few months of the course so that you will be well placed to make doctoral applications during or soon after completing the course.
About a quarter of master’s students proceed directly to doctoral work at Oxford or at other institutions, with additional students applying to doctoral programmes within a year or two of completing the degree. Other career destinations include museums and galleries, the heritage sector, media/publishing (including online), fine arts and teaching, as well as fields such as banking, law and the civil service.
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 first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours in a relevant discipline in the humanities or social sciences.
Most successful applicants have a degree in a humanities subject such as history of art, history, English, modern languages, Classics, theology, philosophy, archaeology or anthropology. Graduates in fine art who have excellent research and writing skills will also be considered. Applicants with social science and sometimes even science degrees have also been admitted provided they can make a persuasive application that attests to their interest in the visual arts, broadly defined, and demonstrates excellent preparation for the course’s research and writing demands. A degree in history of art is not a requirement and approximately half of each cohort will have completed an undergraduate degree in another subject.
Your submitted written work should show your writing and research skills in their best light, as it will be important to show that you have the necessary skills required for art historical research.
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.
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 are not normally held as part of the admissions process.
Assessors may get in touch with an applicant by email in case of any queries, but this is rare.
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 is 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 AD 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) offers a stimulating range of interdisciplinary activities. You are also encouraged 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 11 million 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.
The 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, Pitt Rivers Museum, Christ Church Picture Gallery, 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.
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.
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 and living costs. However, as part of your course requirements, you may need to choose a dissertation, a project or a thesis topic. Please note that, depending on your choice of 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.
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.
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 on the MSt in History of Art and Visual Culture:
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.
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 application. However, you will not be required to specify a potential supervisor in your application and the faculty will in any case decide supervision arrangements, taking due account of workload and commitments of its academics.
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).
It is not necessary for you to identify a potential supervisor in your application.
Three overall, academic preferred
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.
Statement of purpose/personal statement:
A minimum of 500 to a maximum of 1,000 words
Your statement should convince the faculty that you have the right intellectual qualities, academic knowledge and skills to undertake the course. It should focus on how you see the course as building upon your previous study, and what you hope to do with the qualifications you gain from the University, rather than on personal achievements and aspirations.
You should discuss what kinds of problems and issues you hope to engage with; what the current state of your knowledge and understanding of these is, and how you hope to advance that.
You should clearly indicate your first and second choices for the option course and suggest a possible master’s dissertation topic, including an indication of relevant background preparation. Please check the availability of specific option courses in the academic year for which you are applying and make clear in your statement why you wish to take the specific option(s) you have selected. The list of confirmed option courses for 2022-23 can be found on the department's website. Please ensure that you select option courses only from the confirmed list for entry in 2022-23.
In your statement of purpose, you should also sketch out a preliminary research proposal and title for your intended dissertation. This should supply a research question identifying the central issue or problem with which you intend to grapple, some account of the current state of scholarship in this area and an indication of the kinds of sources you hope to use. You only need to submit one document overall, combining this research proposal into your statement of purpose.
Your statement must be written in English. A bibliography may also be provided, if relevant; if so, it is not included in the word count, though any footnotes should be included.
If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.
It is anticipated that your ideas will change and develop once you have begun the programme and have been exposed to new approaches, sources and methods. However, students applying to this course are expected to have a clear sense of the kind of research they wish to undertake.
This will be assessed for:
- your reasons for applying
- evidence of motivation for and understanding of the proposed area of study
- the coherence of the proposal, the ability to present a reasoned case in English
- commitment to the subject, beyond the requirements of the degree programme
- reasoning ability
- ability to absorb new ideas, often presented abstractly, at a rapid pace.
Your proposal should focus on the relevance of the programme you are applying for to your education, and on the academic merits of your intended course dissertation rather than personal achievements, interests and aspirations. Proposing a preliminary title for your dissertation project will be advantageous.
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.