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History of Art

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The Department is housed in the Faculty of Architecture and History of Art, sharing the building with students reading Architecture as a professional course. This is a row of converted Georgian houses, with a modern extension, just two minutes’ walk from the Fitzwilliam Museum , and fifteen minutes’ walk from St John’s.

The Director of Studies in History of Art is the architectural historian, Dr Frank Salmon.

Cambridge provides a rich legacy of architectural masterpieces from every stage of its history, and the University’s two art galleries, the Fitzwilliam Museum and Kettle’s Yard, house art collections of international importance. Many of the colleges possess fine paintings and manuscripts as well as rare books. The Department makes full use of these excellent resources in its teaching curriculum.

Jack Goody, by Maggi Hambling

Courses in History of Art

The History of Art Tripos is intended for those who wish to study the history, criticism and theory of art and architecture (primarily in Western Europe) from the Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century. Strong emphasis is placed on first-hand encounters with works of art and architecture in Cambridge , notably at the Fitzwilliam Museum, especially in the first year. The Part I course focuses on the Making and Meaning of Art and on works of art and architecture in Cambridge , including some non-western art.  In Part IIa, taken in the second year, the course offers opportunities for more advanced work in special areas - which may be devoted to an artist, a period or a theme - and in the related history of ideas.  In the final year, in Part IIb, further Special Subject courses are taken, as well as a course on the Display of Art (on collecting, museums, conservation and heritage management). In both Parts of the Tripos, students write independently researched dissertations to give them the chance to develop their individual research skills and enthusiasms. Although the Department is a small one, there is an ambitious programme of visiting lectures by well-known scholars in the field.

Our students go on to a wide range of exciting careers after graduation.  These include work in museums and art galleries, heritage and tourism, media and journalism, writing and publishing, the creative arts and drama, teaching at various levels.  Others opt for post-graduate study and further academic research.

Directors of Studies

Dr Frank Salmon - History of Art

Research Fellows

Dr Andrew Chen

UCAS Code: V350

Entry Requirements

A*AA at A-level; History of Art is not essential. If Art is taken at A-level, three academic subjects are normally expected too.

We have no special preference as to the A-levels taken by potential art historians, though Modern Languages, Classics, History, Religious Studies and English are all useful preparations.

You need, above all, to be visually responsive. Colour sense and a good memory for visual images are essential, but these improve rapidly with practice. Creative artistic ability is not in itself required, although direct experience of techniques such as drawing, painting, print-making or sculpture is extremely valuable. If you have not studied a foreign language at school, you can pick up a good reading knowledge by taking courses at the Language Centre while in Cambridge. You will not be expected to have a detailed knowledge of the History of Art, but you will need to show your motivation, curiosity and potential to excel in the subject.


Application / Interview Procedure

To help us with the selection process we will ask you to send in one marked essay that you have completed during the year.  The essay should indicate your ability to write coherently and clearly in English, and to construct a logical argument.  An essay on any subject is welcome, so long as it consists mainly of text rather than, say, mathematics.  It will be helpful if the essay demonstrates originality of thought, research skills and enthusiasm. A word limit of around 2000 words is suggested, with or without illustrations or diagrams.   You may possibly be asked to discuss aspects of the written work in the interview.   This will last about 20 minutes and will normally also include some discussion of your art historical interests.  In addition, you are likely to be shown pictures of works of art, either singly or in small groups, and asked to discuss them.  This is not a form of identification or dating test but rather a means to enable us to assess your responsiveness to images.

If you are invited to interview you will also sit the University’s At-Interview Assessment for History of Art. More information can be found on the University’s Admissions Assessments page.

Chris Born, History of Art
Chris Born grew up in Twickenham, South West London, where he attended a local grammar school, Tiffin School 2005-2012. He completed A-levels in History, French, Theatre Studies and English Literature.‘I chose to do History of Art at the University of Cambridge because of the opportunities to incorporate serious philosophical thought into my work, something which seemed (and is, to my information...
Christina Farley
'By the time I arrived for the St John’s Open Day in the September before I applied, I was sick of open days, sick of thinking about university, and sick of not knowing where I wanted to go. I had more or less already decided that the day would be pointless – that, when I got home, I’d stick a pin in the prospectus and have done with it. Then, sitting in the admissions talk and hearing about the...

Further Information

Further information about the Department is available from Mrs Francé Davies, Department of History of Art, 1 Scroope Terrace, Cambridge , CB2 1PX, by telephone on 01223 332975, on the Department website or by email.


History of Art Course Video, courtesy of the University of Cambridge

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