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History of Art

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.


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 Twenty First 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 two chosen Special Subjects - 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, two 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. The Department balances its small size and personal approach with an ambitious programme of visiting lectures by well-known scholars in the field.

Image: A portrait by Maggie Hambling in the College’s collection

A portrait by Maggie Hambling in the College’s collection

Entry Details

Entry Requirements

The typical offer for History of Art in the English A-Level system is A*AA, with the A* to be in an essay-based subject (and not, for example, in Art and Design). Colleges have power to vary this if particular circumstances merit it, and the College's admissions office will also be able to give advice to potential applicants in case of uncertainty as to what comprises an essay-based subject

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.

Admissions Interviews 

To help us with the selection process we will ask you to send in one marked essay from School/college 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. 

Those who are invited to interview will have two interviews at St John's. Your first interview will be with the Tutor for the subject, and the second with the Director of Studies and a second College Fellow in History of Art. The aim of these interviews is to find out from you first hand about your motivation and aptitude for the course and normally includes 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. We conduct our interviews in a friendly and informal manner, and you should not feel daunted by the prospect of them. Remote interviews in History of Art would only be considered in cases of immediate, short-term health problems and if it is not possible for the candidate to come to Cambridge during the whole interview period. 

At-Interview Assessment

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.


Director of Studies
Dr Andrew Chen (Lent and Easter 2020)

Subject Fellows
Dr Frank Salmon

Research Fellows
Dr Andrew Chen 



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.

Further Information

Further Information

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