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

History of Art

mortar boardUCAS codeV350calendarDuration3 years (BA)
pencilEntrance requirementsAAAHeadSubject requirements

 A subject involving essay writing

  History of Art, Fine Art, History, English, a language

crossAdmissions test(s)NonetickWritten workOne piece, one response
bar chartAdmissions statistics*

Interviewed: 35%
Successful: 10%
Intake: 13
*3-year average 2016-18

phoneContact

+44 (0) 1865 286830
Email History of Art

Subject requirements:       Essential       Recommended       Helpful – may be useful on course

Anything designed by human beings exhibits visual qualities that are specific to the place and period in which it originates. History of Art aims to arrive at a historical understanding of the origins, meaning and purpose of art and 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 famous Ashmolean  and Pitt Rivers museums, 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 University 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. Students are encouraged to enquire about the nature of reactions to what we call ‘art’.

students at a lecture students at a museum 
“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.”
ARTHUR
 '"I chose History of Art at Oxford because the course is unlike those taught at other institutions in that it provides not only a comprehensive understanding of the discipline, but is very self-reflective and questions the assumptions we hold when approaching ‘artworks’ and what we include in that term. I feel that not only my knowledge has expanded, but I have been equipped with the skills and frameworks to interpret and understand artwork, not only as pieces within the canon, but rather as all visual culture that operates on so many dimensions, and in and out of many different contexts."
SHAUN

A typical week

Each week you will have around two lectures, and a weekly tutorial. Teaching usually takes place in the department or in a college, as well as in one of the Oxford museums and galleries where tutors often lecture in front of actual works of art. Visits to exhibitions or historical buildings will also be part of the course. Outside the classroom most of your time will be spent preparing essays for your tutorials and working in libraries, archives or museums 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.

Course structure

YEAR 1

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.

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.

ASSESSMENT

First University examinations: three written papers and one extended essay

YEARS 2 AND 3

COURSES

Seven elements are taken:
  • Core Course: Approaches to the history of art
  • Further subject in art history, 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 Year 2 options, regularly taught options include:
    • Egyptian art and architecture
    • Greek art and archaeology
    • Art under the Roman Empire
    • Encountering South Asian sculpture
    • Gothic art through medieval eyes
    • Understanding museums and collections
    • Literature and the visual arts in France
    • 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 options include:
    • Art and culture in Renaissance Florence and Venice
    • Art and culture in the Dutch Golden Age
    • English architecture
    • Art and its public in France, 1815–67
    • The social life of photographs
    • Pop and the art of the Sixties: global perspectives
  • 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.

ASSESSMENT

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

For the latest information on all course details and a full list of current options see the History of Art website.

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

Academic requirements

A-levels: AAA
Advanced Highers:AA/AAB
IB:38 (including core points) with 666 at HL
Or any other equivalent (see other UK qualifications, and international qualifications)                                                           

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

Subject requirements

 Essential:  Candidates are required to have taken an essay-based subject to A-level, Advanced Higher, Higher Level in the IB or any other equivalent.
 Helpful: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.

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

Applying

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

Description:Two pieces of written work: one marked essay of up to 2,000 words written for an A-level or equivalent course, which will demonstrate ability to construct a sustained written argument; one personal response, written in no more than 750 words, to a piece of art, architecture or design.*
Deadline:  10 November 2019

*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 art history 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.

Careers

The cultural industries are one of the biggest employers in the world. In addition to museums and galleries, there are many governmental and nongovernmental 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.

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.)

Latest information for UK undergraduates who will begin their course in 2020 can be found here. Arrangements for EU students starting in 2020 have not yet been confirmed. Read the latest information.

The fees and funding information below relates to those who will start at Oxford in 2019.

Fees

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

Fee status

Annual Course fees

Home/EU£9,250
Islands
(Channel Islands & Isle of Man)
£9,250
Overseas£26,235

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

Home/EU

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.

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 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.

Contextual information

The Key Information Sets provides applicants with statistics about undergraduate life at Oxford. But there is so much more to an Oxford degree that the numbers can’t convey.

The Oxford tutorial

College tutorials are central to teaching at Oxford. Typically, they take place in your college and are led by your academic tutor(s) who teach as well as do their own research. Students will also receive teaching in a variety of other ways, depending on the course. This will include lectures and classes, and may include laboratory work and fieldwork. However, tutorials offer a level of personalised attention from academic experts unavailable at most universities.

During tutorials (normally lasting an hour), college subject tutors will give you and one or two tutorial partners feedback on prepared work and cover a topic in depth. The other student(s) in your college tutorials will be from your year group, doing the same course as you and will normally be at your college. Such regular and rigorous academic discussion develops and facilitates learning in a way that isn’t possible through lectures alone. Tutorials also allow for close progress monitoring so tutors can quickly provide additional support if necessary.

Read more about tutorials and an Oxford education

College life

Our colleges are at the heart of Oxford’s reputation as one of the best universities in the world.

  • At Oxford, everyone is a member of a college as well as their subject department(s) and the University. Students therefore have both the benefits of belonging to a large, renowned institution and to a small and friendly academic community. Each college or hall is made up of academic and support staff, and students. Colleges provide a safe, supportive environment leaving you free to focus on your studies, enjoy time with friends and make the most of the huge variety of opportunities.
  • Each college has a unique character, but generally their facilities are similar. Each one, large or small, will have the following essential facilities:
    • Porters’ lodge (a staffed entrance and reception)
    • Dining hall
    • Lending library (often open 24/7 in term time)
    • Student accommodation
    • Tutors’ teaching rooms
    • Chapel and/or music rooms
    • Laundry
    • Green spaces
    • Common room (known as the JCR).
  • All first year students are offered college accommodation either on the main site of their college or in a nearby college annexe. This means that your neighbours will also be ‘freshers’ and new to life at Oxford. This accommodation is guaranteed, so you don’t need to worry about finding somewhere to live after accepting a place here, all of this is organised for you before you arrive.
  • All colleges offer at least one further year of accommodation and some offer it for the entire duration of your degree. You may choose to take up the option to live in your college for the whole of your time at Oxford, or you might decide to arrange your own accommodation after your first year – perhaps because you want to live with friends from other colleges.
  • While college academic tutors primarily support your academic development, you can also ask their advice on other things. Lots of other college staff including welfare officers help students settle in and are available to offer guidance on practical or health matters. Current students also actively support students in earlier years, sometimes as part of a college ‘family’ or as peer supporters trained by the University’s Counselling Service.

More about Oxford colleges and how you choose