About the Degree

This MA is offered full-time or part-time.

The MA in Art History, Curatorship and Renaissance Culture is offered by the Warburg Institute in collaboration with the National Gallery, London. 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. The art historical and scholarly traditions of the Warburg Institute are linked to the practical experience and skills of the National Gallery to provide an academic programme which will equip students either as academic art historians with serious insight into the behind the scenes workings of a great museum or as curators with the research skills necessary for high-level museum work.

The course was always inspiring and assiduously well taught, whether we were learning about picture framing and restoration, studying Michelangelo’s letters in his own handwriting, or handling rare books from the world-class library.

David Daly, MA student, 2016

This programme provides a solid grounding in:

  • Museum knowledge, which covers aspects of curatorship including the technical examination of paintings, connoisseurship, materials and conservation, attribution, provenance and issues relating to display.
  • Art history and Renaissance culture to increase students’ understanding of methods of analysing the subjects of works of art and their knowledge of Renaissance artworks and the conditions in which they were commissioned, produced and enjoyed.
  • Current scholarship and professional practice in these areas as well as new and emerging areas of research and scholarship.
  • 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. 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.
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"A remarkable experience. It has deepened my research and curatorial skills and broadened my horizons."

Gemma Cornetti, former MA student

Why study with us?

As a student at the Warburg Institute, you will have access to the best resources for the study of Renaissance art and culture in London. Unparalleled staff contact hours are combined with access to the Warburg Library, with its unique cataloguing system specifically designed to aid research, and the National Gallery’s collection and archives.

Through the Institute’s research projects, fellowship programmes and events, and its informal collegiate atmosphere, students have 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.

Studying in Bloomsbury at the centre of an academic and cultural hub, students also benefit from visits and training sessions at 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.  

The Warburg Institute has a range of full fee bursaries available to both home/EU and international students. The Institute also has an excellent record in securing external funding and is happy to work with prospective students on funding applications.

Many Warburg alumni have gone on to pursue PhD study at the Institute or other 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). Discover what some Warburg alumni have gone on to do on our blog.

I have kept in contact with many of The Warburg Institute staff and fellows and I continue to collaborate with some of them on research projects, lectures or seminars.

Dr. Laura Popoviciu, former MA and PhD Student

Degree overview

The MA programme aims to provide mastery in:

  • The intellectual discipline of Art History for academic research and museum work, focusing primarily on the period 1300-1700, its objects of study and modes of interpretation
  • The intellectual and practical aspects of curatorship, with the opportunity to curate an online exhibition as part of degree coursework
  • Renaissance Culture, to enable critical evaluation of artworks and the conditions in which they were commissioned, produced and enjoyed
  • Primary source materials in original languages and translation for original research

Teaching, learning and assessment

Modules are taught by academics at the Warburg and museum professionals at the National Gallery, giving students the opportunity to blend their academic study with behind-the-scenes training on a range of curatorial practices. 

All students take three core modules and two option modules. The programme is supported by an unassessed Methods and Techniques of Scholarship module that will introduce you to the nuts and bolts of the historiography and methods of scholarly work in 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 all levels in French, Italian or Latin, as well as palaeography training in one chosen language. Finally, students have the opportunity to conduct an independent research project through the dissertation which is completed in the summer term under the guidance of a supervisor from either the Warburg or the National Gallery. 

The course is examined as follows:

  1. Art History and Renaissance Culture: Image to Action – 4,000 word essay
  2. Curating at the National Gallery – 4,000 word catalogue entry on a painting held in the National Gallery's collection
  3. Language, Palaeographical, Archive and Curatorial Research – 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, its presentation to an assessing panel and a position paper of 3,000 words
  5. Dissertation - 15,000 words

Core modules

  • Art History and Renaissance Culture: Image to Action
  • Curating at the National Gallery
  • Language and Palaeographical Studies
  • Methods and Techniques of Scholarship: Reading and Writing History (unassessed) 

Option modules (two to be chosen)

  • Classical Disorders: Architecture, Painting and the Afterlives of the Renaissance
  • Cosmological Images: Representing the Universe
  • Renaissance Political Thought from Erasmus to Campanella
  • Religion and Society in Italy
  • The World of the Book in the European Renaissance
  • Renaissance Sculpture in the Expanded Field 
  • Islamic Authorities
  • Curating Renaissance Art and Exhibitions

Option modules are subject to change. Additional modules may be offered, depending on both student numbers (a minimum of three students required per option) and teaching staff availability.

Module Descriptions

Art History and Renaissance Culture - Image to Action (Core Module)

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 and digital texts keyed to paintings on display and the art of writing a catalogue entry.

Language and Palaeographical Studies (Core Module)

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.

Methods and Techniques of Scholarship: Reading and Writing History (Core Module)


During term one, (“Reading History”) students are introduced to a range of historiographical classics that are exemplary of different approaches to late medieval and early modern European cultures. They will read selections from works by prominent cultural and intellectual historians, and are encouraged to examine the ways in which these historians framed their research questions, selected and handled their evidence (be it textual, material, or visual), organised their arguments, and constructed their narratives. Students are gradually introduced to a number of theoretical questions involved in historical research, such as periodisation, scale, evidence, interpretation, generalisation, commensurability, translatability, canonicity, agency, and teleology. Students will also develop an overview of important trends in 20th- and 21st-century cultural and intellectual history-writing. Finally, students will develop critical-analytical skills that will allow them to become more careful readers of historical scholarship, and thus also more prepared to carry out their own historical research and writing when they begin working on their final dissertation in the second term. 

During term two, “Writing History”, takes the form of a workshop guiding the students in choosing, developing, and researching a topic that will form the subject of their final dissertation. The workshop covers topics such as: “Tips for good academic writing”, “Identifying a research question”, “Identifying an ‘archive’”, “Compiling a bibliography” and “Writing an abstract & dissertation plan”.  

The world of the book in the European Renaissance (Option Module)

Taught by Professor Bill Sherman, Dr Raphaële Mouren and Dr Elizabeth Savage

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. It is jointly offered by the Warburg Institute and Institute of English Studies.

Cosmological Images: Representing the Universe (Option Module)

Taught by Professor John Tresch

This course will study cosmograms: concrete objects which represent the universe as a whole. It will explore connections between art and science, including the intellectual function of images and the aesthetics of representing the cosmos and knowledge about it, in science, religion, and folk traditions. Students will be provided methods for studying such objects in action, as part of ritual practices and political programs. 

One aim of the course will be to trace the changing form and content of cosmograms from the medieval through modern period, especially with regard to scientific images. The course will trace the gradual emergence of a cosmology said to be mechanical, materialist, and objective, and its interactions and oppositions with other views of the cosmos. The study of conflicts and controversies focused on cosmograms will ground these longstanding issues of intellectual history in concrete contexts and the making of objects and images. 

Renaissance Political Thought from Erasmus to Campanella (Option Module)

Taught by Dr Sara Miglietti

This module will explore and discuss a wide range of aspects of Renaissance philosophy and intellectual history through the prism of one key area of cultural production, i.e., political thought. Renaissance political thinkers were both the heirs of a longstanding tradition (represented by classical and medieval works such as Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Politics, and Thomas Aquinas’ De regimine principum) and innovators who deeply transformed this tradition, partly in response to specific historical circumstances (e.g. movements of religious reform, the rise of nation- states, the ‘discovery’ of America and the beginnings of the colonial race) and partly as a result of new theoretical choices. While covering such major examples of sixteenth-century political thought as Machiavelli’s Principe, More’s Utopia, and Jean Bodin’s République, we shall also hunt for less familiar sources (both textual and visual) that can reveal unexpected forms and arenas of early modern political debate. Questions for discussion will vary on a weekly basis, but they will include issues such as: How do these texts embody the broader worldview of their authors? How do they reflect the historical and social contexts from which they originate? What impact did they have in their own time, and in what forms did they circulate?  How did they appropriate and transform the classical tradition, and how (and why) have some of them been transformed into ‘classics’ in their own right?

Classical Disorders: Architecture, Painting and the Afterlives of the Renaissance (Option Module)

This module examines Italian Renaissance architecture and urbanism, focusing particularly on ideas about the built environment and the city. Approaching themes such as conflict, beauty, giganticism, exile, and power, the module considers how Renaissance architects, artists and writers responded to the complex problems posed by the urban societies in which they lived. It begins by considering the writing and architecture of Leon Battista Alberti, a theorist and practitioner who conducted a lifelong investigation into society, art, and architecture, which he developed across technical treatises, dialogues, works of fiction, and an array of largely incomplete buildings in Rimini, Florence, and Mantua. It then examines the works of other thinkers and practitioners of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, touching on written works such as Filarete’s Libro architettonico, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, and Palladio’s Quattro libri, as well as a range of buildings including the Villa Farnesina, the Palazzo Te and the Laurentian Library. Alongside this, the module from time to time examines historiography, taking in nineteenth- and twentieth-century debates about, and responses to, Renaissance architecture. Throughout, we will consider how buildings, texts and works of art might be related to debates regarding pictorial and tectonic qualities, order and disorder, measure and measureless, and history and oblivion.  

Curating Renaissance Art and Exhibitions (Option Module)

Taught by Dr Thalia Allington-Wood, with various National Gallery Curators and Heads of Department, and Dr Richard Gartner

Designed as a partner to the Term 1 module, Curatorship at the National Gallery, this module investigates how Renaissance paintings and other cultural artefacts are displayed in contemporary museum/gallery environments, addressing intellectual, conceptual and logistical issues. 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 seven seminars covering formative topics, including museum and exhibition history, condition and curatorship, research and catalogue writing, virtual display and education, students will organise and design an online exhibition that forms the basis of individual assessment (including a presentation and an exhibition worksheet). 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.

Religion and Society in Renaissance Italy (Option Module)

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 (Option Module)

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 understanding (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, religion, 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.

Renaissance Sculpture in the Expanded Field (Option Module)

Taught by Dr Thalia Allington Wood

With a title that borrows from Rosalind Krauss’s seminal 1979 article ‘Sculpture in the Expanded Field’, this module examines Renaissance sculpture according to broad parameters to think about how images and other media (such as drawing, print, architecture, paint) were fundamental to the creation and reception of sculptural objects. Together we will explore drawing and modelling in the artist workshop; the adaption and migration of sculpture into painting; the role of sculpture in the rituals of religious life – from mobile, polychromed crucifixes to immersive pilgrimage sites such as the Sacro Monte at Varallo; as well as sculpture within the framework of society and culture: large scale public work, portrait busts, installations within the villa garden and, finally, ephemeral sculptures made for festivities and banquets. 

In doing so, we will encounter the famous, at times monumental, artworks by sculptors such as Donatello, Michelangelo and Giambologna, but we will also consider more unfamiliar objects and materials: life-size holy dolls, votive wax figures, sculptures made from food and the colossal monsters of the Sacro Bosco at Bomarzo. We will examine how sculpture was discussed in a range of primary sources, from artistic treatise to the fictional Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, alongside recent scholarship that engages with materiality and Renaissance making practices. It will become apparent that sculpture was a varied, experimental artform, which played a key role in the embodied practices of Renaissance life.

Course summary

Degree structure

Full time (one year)

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

Part time (two years)

Year 1: one core module, one option module, one of your chosen languages and palaeography;

Year 2: one core module and one option module, and your second chosen language.

You will work on your dissertation over both summers, with one-to-one supervision during each summer.

Part time plus (two years)

Year 1: one core module, one option module and your chosen languages. Part one of the unassessed Techniques of Scholarship core module;

Year 2: one core module, palaeography and techniques of scholarship part two. You will be allocated your dissertation supervisor and begin work on it;

Year 3: one option module and your dissertation. Students will work on the dissertation over the summers of Years 1 and 2, with one-to-one supervision during each summer.

Mode of study

12 months full-time |  24 months part-time | 36 months part-time plus

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 hours per week
  • Part-time is 6-7 taught hours a week, with independent study this would come to 21-24.5 hours per week
  • Part-time plus is 4 taught hours a week. with independent study this would come to 18 hours per we


Full-time:  £8220 | Part-time: £4930 | Part-time plus: £3,290

Full-time: £16830 | Part-time: N/A | Part-time plus: N/A

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

Alumni Discount 

If you graduated from SAS you will be eligible for an alumni discount. If you progress directly without a break, you will receive a 15% discount, otherwise you will receive a 10% discount. More details are available in the SAS Tuition Fee Policy


The Warburg Institute has a range of full fee bursaries available to both home/EU and international students. The Institute also 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

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. Applications open on 1 November 2021.

Find out how to apply

Register your interest

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.

Please note the information in this guide is correct as of November 2018, 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.

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