University of Cambridge



History of Art

Fine collections of works of art, well-stocked libraries and the spectacular architectural environment all on your doorstep mean that studying History of Art at Cambridge is particularly rewarding.

UCAS code V350 BA/HA

Duration Three years

Colleges Available at all Colleges except Girton, Robinson and St Catharine's

2013 entry Applications per place: 4
Number accepted: 22

Open days and events 2015 College open days (arts)
Cambridge Open Days

Related courses
Contact details 01223 332975


History of Art at Cambridge

Our course covers a wide spectrum of art and architecture, from the medieval to modern periods. The aim is to foster a wide and deep understanding of art and architecture, and to help you develop visual literacy and awareness, as well as a range of critical and analytical skills.

A treasury of resources

There's no substitute for looking at the real objects and we take full advantage of Cambridge's outstanding resources, including the Fitzwilliam Museum and its picture conservation department, Kettle's Yard and the Colleges' art collections.

The Department's comprehensive library houses a rich collection of books, and you have access to the University Library and the Fitzwilliam Museum's reference library (among others) as well. During vacations, travel is encouraged and College financial support is usually available; we also organise study outings.


We advise that you visit museums, exhibitions and buildings, such as churches or country houses, and take descriptive notes or sketches of what you see. Try to analyse the effect works of art or architecture have on you.

Recommended reading

If you're thinking of applying to study History of Art, you may like to read the following books:

  • E H Gombrich The Story of Art
  • H Honour and J Fleming A World History of Art
  • D Watkin A History of Western Architecture

Some familiarity with classical mythology and the Bible is invaluable for the study of the meaning of works of art. The admissions area of the Department website suggests other preparatory reading.

Changing course

Students may join History of Art from other Cambridge courses after Part I in another subject. It's possible to study one or two years of History of Art, either before or after another subject such as Theology and Religious Studies, English, Classics or Philosophy.

After Cambridge

Our graduates are well equipped for employment in museums and art galleries, agencies for the care and conservation of monuments and heritage management, fine art dealing, publishing, advertising and the visual media, as well as for teaching.

Our prominent graduates include the artists Antony Gormley and Marc Quinn; the model and actress Lily Cole; Dr Philip Rylands, Director of the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice; Dr Charles Saumarez Smith CBE, Chief Executive of the Royal Academy in London; Sir Nicholas Serota, Director of the Tate Gallery; and the Hon. James Stourton, Chairman of Sotheby's UK.

Course outline

Teaching is provided through lectures, seminars and supervisions. First-year students typically have three hours of lectures and three hours of seminars each week.

Particular attention is paid to the first-hand study of works of art - lectures and classes are regularly held in museums, taught by curatorial staff and other visiting experts - and you receive exceptional attention and support throughout your degree.

Assessment varies according to the paper being studied, but may include written examinations, visual analysis tests (comparing and contrasting works of art), and a dissertation.

Year 1 (Part I)

Part I provides you with a broad introduction to the history of art, and to the making and meaning of art objects, with special emphasis on the collections of the Fitzwilliam Museum. These run from the art of Ancient Egypt to modern times, and include major examples of medieval, Renaissance and post-Renaissance art as well as non-Western items.

During the year you take five compulsory papers and complete a short dissertation:

  • The Objects of Art History – a survey of art and architecture that introduces the history of art from antiquity to the modern era.
  • The Making of Art – two papers covering issues of manufacture, technique and style in painting and sculpture in the context of their historical development.
  • The Meaning of Architecture and Art –- two papers concerned with how works of architecture and art are interpreted in light of cultural traditions.
  • The short dissertation is 5,000 words on a work of art or architecture in or around Cambridge.
Year 2 (Part IIA)

Part II deepens your knowledge and understanding by focusing in greater depth on specific issues

In Part IIA, you take one compulsory paper along with two pairs of papers on Special Subjects:

  • Approaches to the History of Art – the compulsory paper covers the history of the discipline and its critical methodologies from antiquity to the present day
  • Special Subjects – chosen from a range of around 10, each pair deals with a particular person, subject or period. These currently include Anglo-Saxon art, Italian medieval architecture and cities, the work of Albrecht Dürer, Italian Renaissance and Baroque painting and sculpture, Dutch art in the Golden Age, Russian painting, Surrealism, and post-1945 Modernism
Year 3 (Part IIB)

In Part IIB, you take one compulsory paper, two further pairs of Special Subjects papers and submit a dissertation:

  • The Display of Art – the compulsory paper explores the ways in which art is collected, displayed and experienced in society
  • Special Subjects – the options available are as those in Part IIA, but you take two subjects that you haven't studied before
  • the dissertation is 7,000-9,000 words on a topic of your choice, as agreed with your Director of Studies

Entry requirements

Typical offers require
A Level:
IB: 40-41 points, with 776 at Higher Level
For other qualifications, see our main Entrance requirements pages.

Course requirements

Essential No specific subjects
Useful A Level/IB Higher Level in one or more of English, a foreign language (ancient or modern), History, History of Art (or equivalent), Religious Studies

No particular subjects at A Level (or equivalent) are required for the History of Art course but subjects should be primarily academic. Subjects like History, English, Modern Languages, History of Art, Religious Studies and Classics are ideal, and Mathematics and experimental sciences are acceptable if accompanied by one or two arts A Levels. Art/History of Art does not necessarily confer an advantage.

Hughes Hall considers a reading knowledge of German, French, or Italian to be advantageous.

St John's considers a knowledge of two foreign languages and A Level History of Art useful.

Check College websites for College specific requirements. See also Entrance requirements and our Subject Matters leaflet for additional advice about general requirements for entry, qualifications and offers.

Admissions tests and written work

The table below sets out the ways in which each College assesses applicants for this subject. For more information about these methods of assessment and why we use them, see the main Admissions tests and written work page.

College Assessment of applicant for this subject
Christ's School/college essays; Test at interview
Churchill School/college essays
Clare School/college essays
Corpus Christi School/college essay
Downing School/college essay
Emmanuel School/college essay
Fitzwilliam Interviewees will be shown works of Art to discuss
Girton Not available at this College
Gonville & Caius Interview only
Homerton School/college essay
Hughes Hall Interview only
Jesus School/college essay
King's School/college essay
Lucy Cavendish School/college essays; Test at interview
Magdalene School/college essays
Murray Edwards School/college essay
Newnham School/college essays
Pembroke School/college essays
Peterhouse School/college essays
Queens' School/college essays
Robinson Not available at this College
St Catharine's Not available at this College
St Edmund's Test at interview
St John's School/college essay; Interviewees will be shown works of Art to discuss
Selwyn Preparatory study at interview
Sidney Sussex School/college essays
Trinity School/college essay
Trinity Hall School/college essays
Wolfson Test at interview
How to apply

If you are interested in applying for this course, please see our Applying section for more details.

Further Resources

Find out more about History of Art at Cambridge

  • Course website - Explore History of Art in more detail on the course website.

Improve your knowledge of History of Art

  • Preparatory reading - Guidance on preparatory reading for applicants interested in History of Art.

Tools to help you with your History of Art application

Unistats info

Contextual Information

From September 2012, every undergraduate course of more than one year's duration will have a Key Information Set (KIS). The KIS allows you to compare 17 pieces of information about individual courses at different higher education institutions.

However, please note that superficially similar courses often have very different structures and objectives, and that the teaching, support and learning environment that best suits you can only be determined by identifying your own interests, needs, expectations and goals, and comparing them with detailed institution- and course-specific information.

We recommend that you look thoroughly at the course and University information contained on these webpages and consider coming to visit us on an Open Day, rather than relying solely on statistical comparison.

You may find the following notes helpful when considering information presented by the KIS.

  1. The KIS relies on superficially similar courses being coded in the same way. Whilst this works on one level, it leads to some anomalies. For example, Music courses and Music Technology courses can have exactly the same code despite being very different programmes with quite distinct educational and career outcomes.

    Any course which combines several disciplines (as many courses at Cambridge do) tends to be compared nationally with courses in just one of those disciplines, and in such cases a KIS comparison may not be an accurate or fair reflection of the reality of either. For example, you may find that when considering a degree which embraces a range of disciplines such as biology, physics, chemistry and geology (for instance, Natural Sciences at Cambridge), the comparison provided is with courses at other institutions that primarily focus on just one (or a smaller combination) of those subjects.

  2. Whilst the KIS makes reference to some broad types of financial support offered by institutions, it cannot compare packages offered by different institutions. Different students have different circumstances and requirements, and you should weigh up what matters to you most: level of fee; fee waivers; means-tested support such as bursaries; non-means-tested support such as academic scholarships and study grants; and living costs such as accommodation, travel.

  3. The KIS provides a typical cost of private (ie non-university) accommodation. This is very difficult to estimate as prices and properties vary. University accommodation can be substantially cheaper, and if you are likely to live in College for much or all of the duration of your course (as is the case at Cambridge), then the cost of private accommodation will be of less or no relevance for you. The KIS also provides the typical annual cost of university accommodation and the number of beds available. Note that since most universities offer a range of residential accommodation, you should check with institutions about the likelihood of securing a room at a price that suits your budget. Knowing the number of beds available is not necessarily useful: it may be much more important to find out if all students are guaranteed accommodation.

  4. Time in lectures, seminars and similar can vary enormously by institution depending on the structure of the course, and the quality of such contact time should be the primary consideration.

  5. Whilst starting salaries can be a useful measure, they do not give any sense of career trajectory or take account of the voluntary/low paid work that many graduates undertake initially in order to gain valuable experience necessary/advantageous for later career progression.

The above list is not exhaustive and there may be other important factors that are relevant to the choices that you are making, but we hope that this will be a useful starting point to help you delve deeper than the face value of the KIS data.