History of Art
Clara Peeters, 'Still Life of Fruit and Flowers', WA1940.2.61 (c) Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.

History of Art

Anything designed by human beings exhibits visual qualities that are specific to the place and period in which it originates. History of Art concentrates on objects generally described as ‘art’, though in Oxford this definition is framed broadly to embrace items beyond ‘Fine art’ or ‘Western art’. History of Art aims to arrive at an historical understanding of the origins of artefacts within specific world cultures, asking about the circumstances of their making, their makers, the media used, the functions of the images and objects, their critical reception and – not least – their subsequent history. As well as educating students in the historical interpretation of artefacts in their cultural contexts, a degree in History of Art provides skills in the critical analysis of objects through the cultivation of ‘visual literacy’. The acquired skills have broad applicability in a wide range of professional settings, as well as serving the needs of enduring personal enlightenment.

 

History of Art at Oxford

The University collections, including the world-famous Ashmolean Museum, provide subjects for first-hand study under the supervision of those entrusted with their care. The historic architecture of the city and its environs supplies a rich source of study in its own right. The Oxford degree is designed to provide innovative insights into a wider range of world art than is available elsewhere in Britain in a single course, drawing its expertise from various faculties and the staff of University collections, as well as from the department itself. There is a strong emphasis upon how the primary visual and written sources from various periods and places can be analysed in different ways, as well as encouraging students to enquire about the nature of reactions to what we call ‘art’.

Careers

The cultural industries are one of the biggest employers in the world. In addition to museums and galleries, there are many governmental and non-governmental agencies that work to conserve, research and promote cultural heritage and to further the production of art. Furthermore, History of Art graduates will be especially competitive for posts in any area that requires combinations of visual and verbal skills, such as publishing, advertising, marketing and web-based media, as well as entering the wide range of professions available to all humanities graduates.

Related courses

Students interested in this course might also like to consider Archaeology and Anthropology, Classical Archaeology and Ancient History, Classics, English, Fine Art, other History courses or Modern Languages.

A typical weekly timetable

1st year
Courses

Four elements are taken:

  • Core course: Introduction to the History of Art
  • Core course: European Art 1400–1900: Meaning and Interpretation
  • Core course: Antiquity after Antiquity
  • Supervised extended essay on a building, object or image in Oxford

Assessment

First University examinations:
Three written papers and one extended essay

2nd and 3rd years

Courses

Seven elements are taken:Core Course:

Approaches to the History of Art

Further subject in Art History – choices currently include:

  • Anglo-Saxon archaeology
  • The Carolingian Renaissance
  • Culture and society in Early Renaissance Italy
  • Northern European portraiture 1400–1800
  • Flanders and Italy in the Quattrocento
  • Court culture and art in Early Modern Europe
  • Intellect and culture in Victorian Britain

Two 2nd-year options – choices currently include:

  • Egyptian art and architecture
  • Greek art and archaeology
  • Byzantine art: The transition from Antiquity to the Middle Ages
  • Art under the Roman Empire
  • Hellenistic art and archaeology
  • Gothic art through medieval eyes
  • Art in China since 1911
  • Understanding museums and collections
  • Literature and the visual arts in France
  • German Expressionism in literature and visual arts
  • European cinema
  • Modernism and after
  • The Experience of modernity: visual culture, 1880–1925

‘Special’ subject and extended essay in Art History – choices currently include:

  • Art and culture in Renaissance Florence and Venice
  • The Dutch Golden Age: 1618–72
  • Painting and culture in Ming China
  • English architecture
  • Art and its public in France, 1815–67

Undergraduate thesis

Assessment

Final University examinations:
Four or five written papers; one or two extended essay(s), one thesis

Candidates are required to have taken an essay-based subject to A-level, Advanced Higher, or Higher Level in the IB or any other equivalent. History of Art, Fine Art, History, English or a language can be helpful to students in completing this course, although they are not required for admission.

Oxford University is committed to recruiting the best and brightest students from all backgrounds. We offer a generous package of financial support to Home/EU students from lower-income households. (UK nationals living in the UK are usually Home students.)

Fees

These annual fees are for full-time students who begin this undergraduate course here in 2015.

Fee status

Tuition fee

College fee

Total annual fees

Home/EU£9,000£0£9,000
Islands
(Channel Islands
& Isle of Man)
£9,000£6,925£15,925
Overseas£14,845£6,925£21,770

For more information please refer to our tuition fees page.

Living costs

Despite what you may have heard, it's no more expensive to study at Oxford than at any other university. In fact, our world-class resources and college provision can help you to lower your living costs.

Living costs for 2015/16 are estimated to be between £950 and £1,450 for each month you are in Oxford. Our academic year is made up of three eight-week terms, so you would not usually need to be in Oxford for much more than six months of the year but may wish to budget over a nine-month period to ensure you also have sufficient funds during the holidays to meet essential costs. For further details please visit our living costs webpage.

Financial support

Home/EU

A full loan is available from the UK government to cover tuition fees for students undertaking their first undergraduate degree*, so you don’t need to pay your tuition fees up front.

In 2015 Oxford is offering one of the most generous bursary packages of any UK university to those on a family income of £42,620 or less, with additional opportunities available to those from households with incomes of £16,000 or less.  This support is available in addition to the government grants and loans.  See further details.

Islands
(Channel Islands and Isle of Man)

Islands students are entitled to different support to that of students from the rest of the UK.

Please refer the links below for information on the support to you available from your funding agency:

States of Jersey
States of Guernsey
Isle of Man

Overseas

Please refer to the "Other Scholarships" section of our Oxford support page.

*If you have studied at undergraduate level before and completed your course, you will be classed as an Equivalent or Lower Qualification student (ELQ) and won’t be eligible to receive government or Oxford funding

Fees, Funding and Scholarship search

All candidates must follow the application procedure as shown in how to apply. The information below gives specific details for students applying for this course.

Written work

Applicants are asked to submit two copies of two pieces of written work by 10 November 2015. The first is a marked essay of up to 2000 words from an A-level or equivalent course. This will demonstrate ability to construct a sustained written argument. The second is a response, written in no more than 750 words, to a piece of art, architecture or design. Applicants should have first hand access to their chosen object, and include a photograph or photocopy of the object if possible. Applicants may focus, as they wish, on the material, and/or the design, and/or the subject of their image. No special preparation or research is required. The 750-word response should demonstrate curiosity, sensitivity and clarity in response to the chosen object and visual culture more generally.

Written test

You do not need to take a written test when you apply for this course.

What are tutors looking for?

Candidates should show evidence of lively engagement with visual culture, both contemporary and historical. Prior knowledge of the History of Art is absolutely not a requirement: many successful applicants have never studied the subject before university. What is looked for in applicants is a keen and critical observation of art and of the material environment in general. At interview, candidates are invited to demonstrate willingness to engage in focused discussion and debate about visual issues, and in addition to respond to one or more photographs of unfamiliar images, which applicants will not be expected to recognise.

Selection criteria

Candidates may wish to refer to the selection criteria for History of Art.

Suggested reading

A reading list for prospective applicants can be found on the History of Art website

In addition, you may find it interesting to explore the following resources:

You may also wish to follow the department's research blog, written by its staff, students and alumni: https://oxfordarthist.wordpress.com.

Arthur, who graduated in 2013

'My only knowledge of the subject before studying it at Oxford had come from my experience as a Fine Art student at A-level, my own reading, and from visiting exhibitions and galleries. I was thrilled to be able to continue my curiosities and further my knowledge in aspects of the course like the extended essay. To be able to do a serious, in-depth, and ultimately fascinating study of Walter Sickert and a collection of his drawings at the Ashmolean with some of the world’s experts on the subject was something I had wanted to do ever since I found out about the artist. Not only was I able to embark upon the project academically, but I also went on an ‘art-pilgrimage’ across northern France in search of the casino in which the works were made.'

Contextual information

The Key Information Sets provide a lot of numbers about the Oxford experience – but there is so much about what you get here that numbers can’t convey. It’s not just the quantity of the Oxford education that you need to consider, there is also the quality – let us tell you more.

Oxford’s tutorial system

Regular tutorials, which are the responsibility of the colleges, are the focal point of teaching and learning at Oxford. The tutorial system is one of the most distinctive features of an Oxford education: it ensures that students work closely with tutors throughout their undergraduate careers, and offers a learning experience which is second to none.

A typical tutorial is a one-hour meeting between a tutor and one, two, or three students to discuss reading and written work that the students have prepared in advance. It gives students the chance to interact directly with tutors, to engage with them in debate, to exchange ideas and argue, to ask questions, and of course to learn through the discussion of the prepared work. Many tutors are world-leaders in their fields of research, and Oxford undergraduates frequently learn of new discoveries before they are published.

Each student also receives teaching in a variety of other ways, depending on the course. This will include lectures and classes, and may include laboratory work and fieldwork. But the tutorial is the place where all the elements of the course come together and make sense. Meeting regularly with the same tutor – often weekly throughout the term – ensures a high level of individual attention and enables the process of learning and teaching to take place in the context of a student’s individual needs.

The tutorial system also offers the sustained commitment of one or more senior academics – as college tutors – to each student’s progress. It helps students to grow in confidence, to develop their skills in analysis and persuasive argument, and to flourish as independent learners and thinkers.

More information about tutorials

The benefits of the college system

  • Every Oxford student is a member of a college. The college system is at the heart of the Oxford experience, giving students the benefits of belonging to both a large and internationally renowned university and a much smaller, interdisciplinary, college community.
  • Each college brings together academics, undergraduate and postgraduate students, and college staff. The college gives its members the chance to be part of a close and friendly community made up of both leading academics and students from different subjects, year groups, cultures and countries. The relatively small size of each college means that it is easy to make friends and contribute to college life. There is a sense of belonging, which can be harder to achieve in a larger setting, and a supportive environment for study and all sorts of other activities.
  • Colleges organise tutorial teaching for their undergraduates, and one or more college tutors will oversee and guide each student’s progress throughout his or her career at Oxford. The college system fosters a sense of community between tutors and students, and among students themselves, allowing for close and supportive personal attention to each student’s academic development.

It is the norm that undergraduates live in college accommodation in their first year, and in many cases they will continue to be accommodated by their college for the majority or the entire duration of their course. Colleges invest heavily in providing an extensive range of services for their students, and as well as accommodation colleges provide food, library and IT resources, sports facilities and clubs, drama and music, social spaces and societies, access to travel or project grants, and extensive welfare support. For students the college often becomes the hub of their social, sporting and cultural life.

More about Oxford’s unique college system and how to choose a college