History of Art | University of Oxford
Students on a field trip
Students on a field trip.
(Credit: History of Art Department)

History of Art

History of Art aims to arrive at an historical understanding of the origins, meaning and purpose of artefacts from a wide range of 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 art in its 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.

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 wide range of world art, 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’.


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 ArtHistory or Modern Languages.

A typical week

Each week you will have around two lectures, classes, and museum visits as well as a weekly tutorial. Outside the classroom most of your time will be spent preparing essays for your tutorials and working on longer research papers. Tutorials are usually up to three students and a tutor. Class sizes may vary depending on the options you choose, but there would usually be no more than around 16 students.

Most tutorials, classes, and lectures are delivered by staff who are tutors in their subject. Many are world-leading experts with years of experience in teaching and research. Some teaching may also be delivered by postgraduate students who are studying at doctorate level.

To find out more about how our teaching year is structured, visit our Academic Year page.

1st year


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.
    Students also have the opportunity to undertake
    a French or Italian for Art Historians course through the University’s Language Centre. No previous experience or qualifications are required for these courses and they do not form part of the assessment.


First University examinations:
Three written papers and one extended essay

2nd and 3rd years


Seven elements are taken: a full list of current options is at www.hoa.ox.ac.uk

Core Course: Approaches to the History of Art

Further subject in Art History – regularly taught options 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 – regularly taught options 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
  • Encountering South Asian sculpture
  • 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
  • American Art, 1560s–1960s
Special subject and extended essay in Art History – regularly taught options 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
  • The social life of photographs
  • The South Seas in European and American art and literature

Undergraduate thesis

Students also have the opportunity to undertake a collections placement in one of the University museums, libraries or colleges in their second year.

Visit the History of Art website for more information.


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

The content and format of this course may change in some circumstances. Read further information about potential course changes.

If English is not your first language you may also need to meet our English language requirements.

Wherever possible, your grades are considered in the context in which they have been achieved.  (See further information on how we use contextual data.) 

Candidates are required to have taken an essay-based subject to A-level, Advanced Higher, 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.

If, and only if, you have chosen to take any science A-levels, we expect you to take and pass the practical component in addition to meeting any overall grade requirement.

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.)


These annual fees are for full-time students who begin this undergraduate course here in 2019.

Fee status

Annual Course fees

(Channel Islands & Isle of Man)

For more information please refer to our course fees page. Fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on likely increases to fees and charges.

EU applicants should refer to our dedicated webpage for details of the implications of the UK’s plans to leave the European Union.

Living costs

Living costs at Oxford might be less than you’d expect, as our world-class resources and college provision can help keep costs down.

Living costs for the academic year starting in 2019 are estimated to be between £1,058 and £1,643 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


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

In 2019 Oxford is offering one of the most generous bursary packages of any UK university to those on a family income of around £42,875 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 living costs support.  See further details.

(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


Please refer to the "Other Scholarships" section of our Oxford Bursaries and Scholarships 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

Additional Fees and Charges Information for History of Art

There are no compulsory costs for this course beyond the fees shown above and your living costs.

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

Written test

You do not need to take a written test as part of an application for this course.

Written work

Applicants are asked to submit two pieces of written work by Saturday 10 November 2018 to the college to which they are applying. 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 personal 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 so that they may examine it closely in person and include a photograph or photocopy of it if possible. In writing their response applicants may focus, as they wish, on whichever aspects of the object they consider to be most significant. These might include the medium, the design or style, the technique, the subject matter, and/or the location. 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. It should be a new piece of writing, not previously submitted for another programme.

For more information, and to download a cover sheet, please see our further guidance on the submission of written work.

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.

For more detail on the selection criteria for this course, please see the History of Art website.

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.


Watch a series of short videos of students talking about some aspect of their time at Oxford.


'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

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