About the degree

The Warburg Institute’s MA in Cultural, Intellectual, and Visual History (CIV) provides students with a solid grounding in the cultural, visual and intellectual history of the Renaissance, the period from 1300 to 1650. The programme equips students for interdisciplinary research with a particular emphasis on the reception of the classical tradition and its reinventions. Students will have the opportunity to study a wide range of topics and learn to interpret primary sources belonging to various disciplines stretching from the late Middle Ages to modernity. They will also be guided in the historically informed interpretation of images and texts. This unique programme of study examines the intertwined histories of art, philosophy, literature, science, and political and religious thought as these have developed, and as they have transformed Europe and the world.

The Warburg Institute is a leading centre for the study of the interaction of ideas, images, and society. It provides students with access to world-leading research, teaching and expertise. The degree is complemented by the Institute’s remarkable holdings in its Library, Archive, and Photographic Collection; its teaching and research resources in art history; its extensive interdisciplinary events programme; and a wide range of events at the other Institutes in the School of Advanced Studies.

Students will acquire research and analytical skills enabling them to follow a variety of career paths. Graduates from the programme have gone on successfully to pursue doctoral study at the Institute and other renowned universities in Britain and across the globe, leading to careers in academia. Others have gone on to work in the worlds of translation, writing, publishing, editing, museums, and libraries, as well as a range of professions. This MA will appeal to and reward those with a love of books and learning, wide-ranging interests, and an insatiable curiosity.

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

With its unrivalled collection, interdisciplinary training, and supportive community, the Warburg Institute transformed me from a dilettante of the Renaissance into a determined scholar of the Early Modern period. Thanks to the modules on languages and palaeography, I was not only able to wade through primary sources with increasing agility for the coursework, but I also acquired the skills and resources to hone my languages to greater proficiency even after graduation.

Christopher Lu, 2021 MA student

Why study with us?

Access to 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.

• Our MA programme also provides unparalleled staff contact hours with internationally renowned academics and curators. With a combined 20 to 40 graduate students admitted each year to our MA courses, you will join a tight community of peers and benefit from close discussion with expert tutors 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 skills needed for high-level primary research, as an academic or in other fields.

Extensive opportunities for networking with an international community of scholars at all levels, 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, and students 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.  

• 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.

A uniquely stimulating and rigorous place to study. Because we are a relatively small institute, we also 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 is able to advance in, and enjoy, their area of study.

Careers and Employability

In addition to key skills relating to scholarship, 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 the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, UCL, Warwick, York, Princeton, Notre Dame, Yeshiva (New York), Basel, Copenhagen, Padua, and La Sapienza (Rome).

Other students successfully pursue careers in the worlds of publishing, libraries, editing, writing, and various domains of the cultural sector and other professions in the UK and elsewhere.

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

Fees and Funding


Full-time: £8468 | Part-time: £4234 | Part-time plus: £2560

Full-time: £18000 | 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.

Funding and scholarships

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

"The Warburg has inspired my curiosity to no end and the course gives me such freedom to explore my own interests."

Lauren Steele, 2020 MA student

Degree overview

The programme combines the study of historical texts and their cultural contexts with an introduction to current academic debate and high-level linguistic, archival and research skills. Students received a rigorous training in:

  • Intellectual and Cultural History of the Renaissance, dealing with such issues as the emergence of humanism; the image of Rome in early modern Italian city-states; the religious backdrop of the Renaissance, including papal politics and the Reformation; maps and visions of the earth and universe; images and practical methods of scholarship in various institutions; scholasticism and its challenges; political philosophy from Augustine and Aquinas to Bodin and Hobbes; traditions of utopian literature; alchemy, magic, and the roots of modern science; exploration, conquest, and colonialism and their impact on views of humanity; and much else.
  • Methods and Techniques of Cultural and Intellectual History. The programme will increase students’ understanding of methods for analysing literary, philosophical, religious and scientific texts of the early modern period, including close readings as well as biographical, political, and cultural contextualisation.
  • Current scholarship and professional practice in these areas as well as new and emerging areas of research and scholarship.
  • 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. The teaching staff of the Warburg Institute are leading academics in their fields who have published widely and are involved with research related to the topics they teach. Staff members’ expertise and current research feed directly into the teaching they provide, allowing students to develop the critical skills for academic research and creative independent projects.

I was very pleasantly surprised to find a degree of support and encouragement that I had never experienced before in academic studying. There is a unique blend of academic rigour and conviviality that has made my experience of studying at the Warburg Institute very rewarding.

Aldo Miceli, former MA student

Teaching and Learning

All students take three core modules (Reviving the Past, Image to Action, 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. Reviving the Past – 4,000-word essay commenting on a passage chosen from a set of options, with supervision from academic staff.
  2. Art History and Renaissance Culture: Image to Action – 4,000-word essay
  3. Language and Palaeography – examinations in palaeography and language
  4. Two optional modules – assessed by two 4,000-word essays
  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 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 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 this resource at the Institute and the 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. Guest lectures from academic staff will introduce students to a wide range of issues, topics, and theoretical approaches in early modern art history.

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.

Reviving the Past

“Reviving the Past” introduces students to foundational knowledge and research skills for the study of the cultural, intellectual, and visual history of Europe, with a focus on the period comprised between the late Middle Ages and early modernity. It will provide students with a firm grasp on key elements of the transmission, renewal, and transformations of the classical tradition while introducing them to theory and method in intellectual and cultural history.

The module is divided into three main units. The first unit explores the concern with the legacy of antiquity spreading across Western Europe in the Middle Ages and early Renaissance. The second unit focuses on the complex cultural and intellectual changes brought about at the turn of the sixteenth century by the great geographical discoveries and by movements of religious reform. The third and final unit investigates engagements with ancient science in the seventeenth century and follows the constitution of a new, globally organized vision of the earth and cosmos into the early nineteenth century.

Students will become familiar with a range of specific historical cases and dynamics by making use of both primary and secondary texts in the Warburg Library; and they will learn to problematize keywords such as “medieval”, “Renaissance”, “Western”, “nature”, “culture”, “civilization”, “modern”, “transmission” and “translation” and their implications for contemporary understandings of the past. Throughout, students will learn through a combination of lectures and discussions, and through active engagement with authentic primary sources and relevant scholarly work.

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 supporting atmosphere where you feel comfortable sharing your work and learn how to give and receive feedback in an interdisciplinary context.

Option Modules

Cosmological Images: Representing the Universe

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, projects of knowledge, 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. By exploring these conflicts and controversies through a focus on cosmograms, we will ground these longstanding issues of intellectual history in concrete contexts and the making of objects and images.

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. This module is supplemented by visits to London museums and galleries.

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.

Renaissance Political Thought from Erasmus to Campanella

Taught by Dr Sara Miglietti

This module will explore some key political texts from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, contextualizing them historically and situating them in a longstanding tradition of moral and political philosophy that stretches back to Classical Antiquity and the Middle Ages and that has a long and complex afterlife in modern interpretation. We shall consider how Renaissance political thinkers operated within this tradition and yet deeply transformed it, partly in response to specific historical circumstances (e.g. movements of religious reform, the rise of nation-states and the development of national vernacular languages, the ‘discovery’ of America and the beginnings of the colonial race) and partly as a result of new theoretical choices (e.g. the rise of political ‘realism’). Our corpus will include both major milestones (such as Machiavelli’s Principe, Erasmus’ Education of the Christian Prince and More’s Utopia) and less familiar sources – from political emblem books to polemical pamphlets from the French wars of religion. Similarly, we shall cover both classic problems of political philosophy (such as the discussion on the best form of government) and more neglected, but nevertheless crucial, issues such as gender relations (e.g. the querelle des femmes, the debate on queenship) and colonial relations (e.g. the debate on ‘just war’ and the establishment of experimental ‘utopias’ in colonial South America).

Renaissance Sculpture in the Expanded Field

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.

The World of the Book in the European Renaissance

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.

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, Latin, palaeography, 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, Latin, and palaeography;

Year 2: one core module and one option module.

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

Part time plus (three years)

Year 1: one core module and your chosen language. Part one of the compulsory module, Techniques of Scholarship;

Year 2: one core module, one option 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 35-38.5 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 14 hours per week

Entry requirements

The normal minimum entry requirement is an upper second-class honours degree from a British university, or an equivalent qualification from a foreign 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 2023/24 are now open. Places are offered throughout the year until a course is full. The final deadline for applications is 31 July 2023, 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 on the Institute’s graduate study webpages and the School of Advanced Study's graduate study webpages.

If you have any queries regarding programme content please contact the Programme Convenor: Professor John Tresch  (john.tresch@sas.ac.uk)

Please note the information in this guide is correct as of February 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.

The course gave me the opportunity to consolidate my research skills, attend interesting classes and meet a wide range of academics in an inspiring multicultural environment at the Warburg Institute.

Valentina Cacopardo, 2017 MA Student