About the Degree

The MA in Art History, Curatorship and Renaissance Culture is offered by the Warburg Institute in collaboration with the National Gallery, London. The Warburg Institute is a leading centre for the study of the interaction of ideas, images, and society, and provides students with access to world-leading research, teaching and expertise. The National Gallery houses one of the world’s greatest collections of old master paintings and is staffed by museum professionals at the very forefront of their field.

Combining the art, historical and scholarly traditions of the Warburg Institute and the practical experience and professional expertise of the National Gallery, this MA offers outstanding training in art history and curatorial practice. Students have the opportunity to study a wide range of topics, to engage with Renaissance artworks first hand, to learn from working curators, and to gain skills in interpreting primary sources across a range of disciplines. Modules are offered across history of art, philosophy, literature, science, political and religious thought, and collection care and exhibition display. As such, students will acquire analytical skills enabling them to follow a variety of career paths, including progressing to a PhD and undertaking high-level work in museums and galleries.

Graduates from the programme have gone on to successfully pursue doctoral study at the Institute and other renowned universities across the globe, leading to careers in academia. Others have entered the professional art world, taking up curatorial and research roles in the museum and gallery sector at institutions such as the British Museum, Fitzwilliam Museum, and Sotheby’s Auction House. This unique MA will appeal to and reward those with a curious mind, wide ranging interests, and a love of learning, books, visual culture and exhibitions.

This MA is offered full-time only.

"A remarkable experience. It has deepened my research and curatorial skills and broadened my horizons."

Gemma Cornetti, former MA student

Why study with us?

• Access to one of the best resources for the study of Renaissance art and culture in London. Our open-stack Library, Photographic Collection and Archive are of international importance in the humanities. One of 20 libraries that changed the world, and with over 300,000 specialist volumes, it serves as an engine for interdisciplinary research and study.

• Behind-the-scenes access to one of the leading collections of European paintings and to the work that goes into the care of these artworks, from conservation to framing and display. 

• Unparalleled staff contact hours with internationally renowned academics and curators. With approximately 20 - 40 graduate students admitted each year, you will join a tight-knit community of peers and benefit from close discussion with expert tutors and museum professionals, and small-group teaching.

• Our students come from a wide range of backgrounds and areas of study, from art history to literature, philosophy, history, anthropology, classics, and more, making for a dynamic and interdisciplinary learning environment.

• A unique opportunity at MA level to develop the language and palaeography skills needed for high-level primary research, be it as an academic or a curator working with historic collections.

• Extensive opportunities for networking with an international community of scholars, which significantly enriches the learning experience and can provide ideal connections for the future careers.

• Located in Bloomsbury, you will be placed at the centre of London’s academic and cultural hub. Students benefit from access to neighbouring institutions including the British Museum, the Government Art Collection, the Wellcome Trust and the British Library, and further afield the V&A, the Dulwich Picture Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery and the Courtauld Gallery.  

• Warburg students are part of an illustrious tradition of international and interdisciplinary scholarship. Prominent scholars who have been associated with the Institute and Library include Aby Warburg, Ernst Cassirer, Erwin Panofsky, Edgar Wind, Dame Frances Yates, Ernst Gombrich, Michael Baxandall, Svetlana Alpers, Carlo Ginzburg, Keith Thomas, Georges Didi-Huberman, Giorgio Agamben, Lisa Jardine, Anthony Grafton, Umberto Eco, and many, many more.

• The MA programme at the Warburg Institute offers both an intellectually stimulating and rigorous programme of study and because we are a relatively small institute we are able to provide a welcoming and supportive academic community. Learning and research is a pleasure, and we are dedicated to ensuring that every student feels at home and able to advance in, and enjoy, their area of study.

The course allows students to engage each other on course material, facilitate discussion about individual academic passions, and expand understanding of Renaissance Art History in relation to museum practices.

Terra Smith, 2020 MA student

Careers and Employability

In addition to key skills relating to scholarship and curatorial practice, students also acquire key transferable skills that will be useful in any workplace. These include:

  • Writing in different ways for different readerships
  • Researching effectively
  • Presentation skills
  • Problem solving and analytical skills
  • Critical reading and thinking
  • Time management
  • Project management and planning

Many Warburg alumni have gone on to pursue PhD study at the Warburg Institute or other leading Universities and cultural institutions across the globe, including the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, the Bayerische Akademie, the National Library, Argentina, and Universities of Cambridge, Copenhagen, Notre Dame (US), Padua, UCL, La Sapienza (Rome), Warwick, York and Yeshiva (New York).

Other students successfully pursue careers in the professional art world, joining curatorial, exhibition, education and research departments in the museum and gallery sector.

Discover what some Warburg alumni have gone on to do on our blog. 

If you are looking for a degree that will provide you with both high level academic training as well as practical curatorial skills, the MA in Art History, Renaissance Culture and Curatorship is perfect. It will prepare you for a career in the art world, whether it be auction houses, galleries or indeed museums. Moreover, the skills that you will learn in this programme are equally transferrable to other industries that involve critical reasoning.

Isabella Schwarzer, MA student 2021-22

Fees and Funding



Full-time: £9513 

Full-time: £19480 

For further information on when and how to pay tuition fees please read the SAS tuition fee policy.


We understand that expense can often be a barrier to studying at postgraduate level. For that reason, the Warburg Institute is pleased to offer a wide range of full fee bursaries, to support both home and international students. In addition, the Institute has an excellent record in securing external funding and is happy to work with prospective students on funding applications. 

Find out more on our MA Funding page. 

Degree overview

The programme combines the study of artworks and their cultural contexts with high-level linguistic, archive and research skills for a new generation of academic art historians and museum curators.

Students received a rigorous training in:

  • Museum knowledge, and the intellectual and practical aspects of curatorship, including the technical examination of paintings, connoisseurship, materials and conservation, attribution, provenance, and issues relating to display.
  • The intellectual discipline of Art History and Renaissance culture, focusing primarily on the period 1300-1700. The programme will increase students’ understanding of methods for analysing works of art, their knowledge of Renaissance culture, and the conditions in which artworks were commissioned, produced and enjoyed.
  • Current and emerging research, scholarship and professional practice in these areas. 
  • Primary source materials in original languages and translation for high-level research

The programme is taught through classes and supervision by members of the academic staff of The Warburg Institute and by National Gallery curatorial and archival experts, providing students with the opportunity to blend their academic study with behind-the-scenes training on a range of curatorial practices. The teaching staff of the Warburg Institute are leading academics in their field who have published widely and are involved with research related to the topics they teach. The staff at the National Gallery are leaders in their field. The expertise of staff at both institutions feeds directly into the teaching they provide, allowing students to develop the critical skills for academic research, museum work and creative independent projects.

Teaching, learning and assessment

All students take three core modules (Art History and Renaissance Culture: Image to Action, Curating at the National Gallery, Language and Palaeography), one compulsory module (Techniques of Scholarship), and two option modules. Finally, they conduct an independent research project through the dissertation, completed in the summer term under the guidance of a supervisor.

The course is assessed as follows:

  1. Art History and Renaissance Culture: Image to Action –  two 2,000-word essays
  2. Curating at the National Gallery  – 4,000 word catalogue entry on a painting held in the National Gallery's collection, with supervision from National Gallery staff
  3. Language and Palaeography – examinations in palaeography and language
  4. Two optional modules – assessed by two 4,000 word essays or, if you choose the Curating Renaissance Art and Exhibitions option, through the creation of an online exhibition and a 3,000 word exhibition proposal
  5. Dissertation - 15,000 words

The Methods and Techniques of Scholarship module is unassessed; it will introduce you to the nuts and bolts of the historiography and methods of scholarly work in Renaissance and early modern cultural history and prepare you, through a term of workshops, to choose, develop, and research the topic that forms the subject of your dissertation.

The core module on Language and Palaeographical Studies includes training at various levels in French, Italian or Latin, as well as palaeography training in one chosen language.

Students are also expected to attend the Warburg’s weekly Work-in-Progress seminar, which will appear in your timetable. It is not compulsory to attend non-timetabled events, but we encourage students to take advantage of the rich resource of talks and symposia at the Institute and the wider school.

Option modules are subject to change. Additional modules may be offered, depending on both student numbers and teaching staff availability.

Core Modules

Art History and Renaissance Culture - Image to Action

This course offers an introduction to the iconological study of Renaissance art. It focuses on figures, themes and narratives depicted in paintings, sculptures, prints and other visual media, and will unpack what these subjects tell us about social, political, cultural and religious attitudes from the thirteenth to seventeenth centuries. Classes are devoted to religious art, including the critical analysis of the lives of the saints and the cult of the saints, and secular art, with topics including portraiture, mythology, allegory and literature. Italy is the main storehouse of imagery, but our paths of investigation will extend well beyond to the rest of Europe.      

This course will provide students with an understanding of the issues involved in curating, conserving and presenting paintings in a great art museum or gallery context including: the technical examination of paintings; how questions of attribution and style are debated; the materials and techniques of paintings; issues raised by the conservation of paintings; how to investigate and establish provenance; the History of Collecting and its impact on museums; the display of paintings, including framing, lighting and hanging; an understanding of how to write interpretative texts supporting the display of paintings, such as labels and audio, digital texts keyed to paintings on display, and the art of writing a catalogue entry.

Language and Palaeographical Studies

The core module on Language and Palaeographical Studies includes training at all levels in European languages, which includes Latin, as well as palaeography training in one chosen language.

Compulsory Module

Methods and Techniques of Scholarship: Reading and Writing History


The main goal of the module is to introduce you to the nuts and bolts of scholarly work in late medieval and early modern cultural history (broadly conceived), and to prepare you for undertaking original research in this field.

In the Autumn Term ('Reading History'), our team of instructors will introduce you to a series of seminal articles and studies on different 'objects' (text, artworks, concepts, problems), showing you how each object can be - and has been - approached from a variety of perspectives. This will help you form a broad sense of the field of cultural history, its historical development, different methodologies, and open possibilities. We will also have skills-oriented sessions on topics such as reading scholarship, using and writing book reviews, conducting bibliographical research, and writing in an effective academic style.

The Spring Term (‘Writing History’) is a dissertation prep seminar that will guide you through the process of choosing, developing, and researching a topic for your final dissertation. Activities will range from tutorials to individual and small-group work to self-reflection and journal-keeping. In the final sessions of term you will each give a short oral presentation on your proposed dissertation topic. Throughout the workshop the focus will be on creating a supportive atmosphere where you feel comfortable sharing your work and learn how to give and receive feedback in an interdisciplinary context.

Option Modules

Art and nature in northern Europe, 1500–1700

Taught by Dr Thomas Balfe

This course examines the connections between the visual image and understandings of nature in early modernity. It concentrates on northern Europe (primarily the Netherlands, Britain, Germany and France) and its colonies in Asia and North and South America, exploring a series of case studies that focus on depictions of land, plants, animals and insects, and on the entanglement of these phenomena with human beings. The visual materials will include works in artistic genres such as landscape and still life painting, but also artefacts such as maps, travel books, automata, and anatomical and ethnographic depictions that challenge the modern distinction between artistic and scientific images. Rather than situating these materials within frameworks of art and collecting narrowly defined, the course asks how they were also connected to changes in social life, to widening patterns of trade and exploration, and to developments in dietetics, medicine, philosophy and other forms of knowledge.

The course begins by considering period understandings of nature, and their relationship to categories such as the human, the creatural, the supernatural and the preternatural. We will also think about how ecocritical and ecological approaches might deepen a historical investigation of our materials. The main run of classes will explore the interwoven empirical, political and symbolic meanings conveyed by early modern images of nature. Possible topics include: Dürer’s watercolour nature studies; Bruegel’s depictions of the months and seasons; early modern microscopy; visual cultures of human and animal anatomy; sottobosco painting; the early modern ménagerie; hunting scenes and gamepiece still life; Altdorfer’s depictions of the German forest; and European artists’ responses to the environments of the Atlantic world, Asia and the Arctic.

Curating Renaissance Art and Exhibitions

Taught by Dr Thomas Balfe , with various National Gallery Curators and Heads of Department.

Designed as a partner to the Term 1 module, Curatorship at the National Gallery, this module moves from the care and research of a permanent collection to the intellectual, conceptual and logistical issues of curating a Renaissance display. It is designed to allow students to further develop their skills in research and writing about paintings in the collection, alongside objects from other institutional collections, while shifting the emphasis to technical training that will help prepare students for professional careers as curators, or as academics who might work with museums on exhibitions, both physically and virtually.


Following a series of seminars covering formative topics such as museum and exhibition history, condition and curatorship, research and catalogue writing, and education, students will produce a detailed exhibition proposal, including wall texts, labels and layout, for a show in the National Gallery. The exhibition project also has a virtual component, focusing on layout and visual impact, among other things. The module is co-taught by the National Gallery and Warburg Institute, with staff expertise covering art history, curatorship, exhibition design, education and digital humanities, and provides students with practical and theoretical training in curatorial practice.

Mapping Worlds: Medieval to Modern

Taught by Dr Alessandro Scafi

The aim of this course is to explore how maps have served to order and represent physical, social and imaginative worlds from around 1200 to 1700. The focus is on the iconographic character of maps and the complex relation between art and science that is found in mapmaking throughout history. Students will be introduced to a wide range of images from different time periods and made for a variety of purposes, with the intent of drawing together art history, literature, philosophy and visual culture. Theoretical issues will be approached concerning, for example, the association of word and image, the definition of maps and their difference from views and diagrams, but the background and purpose of individual examples will be also discussed. These include medieval world maps produced as independent artefacts or drawn as book illustrations, mural map cycles of the Italian Renaissance, early modern prints made to identify and describe lands mentioned in the Bible or the archaeological mapping of cities.  The course will investigate the creative and projective power of maps and their value as historical testimonies. Mnemonic, thematic, allegorical and pilgrimage maps will be also approached. 

Religion and Society in Renaissance Italy

Taught by Dr Alessandro Scafi

The aim of this module is to identify and explain the significance of religious culture in late medieval, Renaissance and early modern Italy, providing a basic understanding of the interactions between politics, social life, cultural expression, and religion. From the late Middle Ages to the early modern period politics and religion were inextricably bound together, the Church was involved in temporal matters, and religious beliefs and practices were powerful motivating factors in contemporary policy making; religion was expressed both in rituals and in texts and works of art and formed a significant dimension of Italian culture and scholarship. Students are encouraged to develop a sound knowledge and critical understanding of Italian cultural history through the discussion of specific themes: the relation between pagan philosophy and Christian faith, Church and Empire, Church and Papacy, faith and space, sex and sanctity, Islam and Christianity, Jews and Christians, Church Councils and spiritual renewal, secular and religious utopias. Religion and Society in Renaissance Italy aims to critically assess the development of religious thought and practice by looking at texts and works of art, reaching – beyond factual information – a critical and unbiased assessment of the past and its complexities.

Islamic Authorities

Taught by Professor Charles Burnett

This course aims to accustom students to using a wide range of primary materials to assess how one culture can understand (or misunderstand) another. The student should gain a wider knowledge of Islam, a basic understanding of the Arabic alphabet and the structure of the Arabic language, an acquaintance with the texts in philosophy, medicine, mathematics, and magic that were translated from Arabic into Latin, and a view on the reaction of Latin translators, theologians, philosophers, doctors and scientists to Arabic learning. The student will learn how a period in which Latin culture assimilated much Arabic material into mainstream learning was followed by a period in which Latin readers started to appreciate Arabic culture in its own right, and to explore its poetry, music and architecture. Above all the course shows how one culture can enrich another and how ideas and techniques can spread irrespective of religious and ethnic differences.

The Classical Renaissance: Greco-Roman rediscovery, reception and resurrection

Taught by Dr Lucy Nicholas

This module places the spotlight on a major and vital dimension of the Renaissance: the revival of the classical tradition. We will begin by considering the quest for and rediscovery of ancient texts, and their subsequent diffusion and assimilation into humanist curricula across Europe. Students will be encouraged to consider how classical literature, rather than superseding a largely scholastic and Christian framework, was integrated into it, and also the extent to which the Church Fathers and medieval writers had already laid some of the groundwork for a much more extensive phenomenon of absorption. Students will be invited to take into account developments such as standardization and canon formation, but also regional and chronological trends.

The process of reception will be assessed from a number of different perspectives, but always in way that prioritizes full contextualization and the complexities of textual transmission. Areas of reception that will feature in the course include: the concept of imitatio (itself an ancient practice and idea), generic organization, literary modes (such as metre), the use of prose vs poetry, and preferences for Latin or Greek texts. The reception of certain classical authors whose influence was particularly profound will also be charted through case-studies, and these authors will include Cicero, Virgil, Ovid, and Plutarch. In parallel, students will be encouraged to explore the impact of ancient works that are in modern times less familiar but that were regularly consulted in the early modern period, such as the output of Late Antiquity. Another complicating factor will be the repackaging and mediation of classical literature in repositories which meant that early modern writers did not always need to return to the original source. A further key consideration in our discussions about reception will be Christian belief systems and also the Reformation, and a significant part of the course will be devoted to the question of the relationship between paganism and Christianity, and the degree of harmonization that was possible between the two. The course will further cover a range of areas in which reception occurred, from the world of art to the realms of diplomacy and nation-building.

The importance of the languages of Latin and Greek will constitute a further focus. As the primary vehicles for classical learning, we will assess the extent to which Greco-Roman sources enjoyed a hegemony even as the production of vernacular literature burgeoned. At the same time, students will be asked to reflect on the ways in which the growing vernaculars were able to harness classicizing approaches in ways that might be yet more inventive. A major theme of the module will be issues of bilingualism and multilingualism, and students will be introduced to macaronic texts and also tracts which expressly confront linguistic choice.

The World of the Book in the European Renaissance

Taught by Professor Bill Sherman , Dr Matt Coneys and  Dr Giles Mandelbrote

The aim of the module is to provide an understanding of the culture of the book in Renaissance Europe—a time and place that saw the invention of printing, the growth of both private and public libraries, the development of bibliographical protocols, the advent of the humanist printer, and new techniques for active reading. It also saw the beginnings of colonialism and conquest, cultural revolutions, religious reformations, and profound social upheavals. What role did the book play in these changes—or did it? How can it help us to understand the changing world of the European Renaissance? Through seminars, collection visits, and practical training at a historically appropriate printing press, this module will offer an overview of the history and the historiography of the book, with a special focus on the material aspects of production, dissemination, and use. 

Time and Narrative in Renaissance Painting

Taught by Dr Caspar Pearson

This module focuses on storytelling in Renaissance painting, focusing on the interrelated ideas of narrative and time. The module begins by exploring the revolution in narrative brought about by Tuscan painters at the start of the fourteenth century. Examining some key works by Duccio and Giotto, it considers how these artists brought highly sophisticated techniques of storytelling to bear on the depiction of religious histories. It next considers a number of case studies and themes relating to different times and places. These include: fifteenth-century theories of narrative painting and perspective; the varied poetics of Italian mythological paintings and Persian book illuminations; exchanges between print culture and monumental art in the sixteenth century; the transformation of the Renaissance tradition of history painting by Baroque artists such as Caravaggio and Artemisia Gentileschi; and the meeting of European and non-European forms of narration in Aztec and Mixtec screenfolds, lienzos, and codices in Mexico. In so doing, the module considers how narrative art, as well as seeking to captivate the souls of its viewers with well-wrought stories, often touched upon pressing contemporary issues relating to religion, colonialism, social order, gender relations, and more.

Course summary

Degree structure

Full time (one year)

Three core modules, one compulsory module, and two option modules chosen from a range of topics, plus a dissertation of 15,000 words.

Mode of study

12 months full-time 

Contact hours

For every taught contact hour you should allow 2.5 hours of independent study

  • Full-time is 10-11 taught hours a week, with independent study this would come to 35-38.5 hours per week

The modules offered allow students to build their academic confidence and curiosity, pairing fascinating content with stimulating class discussion, while also fostering individual interests.

Eleanor Lerman, 2021-22 MA student

Entry requirements

The normal minimum entry requirement is an upper second-class honours degree from a British university, or an equivalent qualification from a non-UK institution, in any discipline in the humanities which is related to the course. All students whose first language is not English must provide recent evidence that their written and spoken English is adequate for postgraduate study. 

How to apply

Applications for the academic year 2024/25 are now open. Places are offered throughout the year until a course is full. The final deadline for applications is 31 July 2024, though this may move should all places be taken on a particular programme before this date.

Prospective students should fill in an application form through the School’s webpages. For more information on how to apply, including the documentation you will need to provide on the application form, visit the School of Advanced Study's How to Apply page.

Apply here

Learn more

For details of entry requirements, tuition fees, funding opportunities, English language requirements, disability support, accommodation and how to apply, please consult the School graduate study webpages. Detailed course descriptions and information about assessment are available here on the Institute’s graduate study webpages and on the School's graduate study webpages.

If you have any queries regarding programme content please contact the Programme Convenor: Dr Caspar Pearson (caspar.pearson@sas.ac.uk).

Please note the information in this guide is correct as of November 2023, but the School of Advanced Study, University of London reserves the right to alter or withdraw courses and amend other details without prior notice as required.