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

UK

Full-time: £8892 | Part-time: £4445 | Part-time plus: £2822

Full-time: £18900 | 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 – two 2,000-word essays
  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 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

(Unassessed)

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

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.

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.

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. 
 

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 World of the Book in the European Renaissance

Taught by Professor Bill ShermanDr 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.

Part time (two years)

Year 1: one core module, one compulsory module,  Latin language and one option;

Year 2: one core module, one option module and your chosen palaeography class.

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, Latin language, one option and one compulsory module (Techniques of Scholarship - Part One);

Year 2: one core module, your chosen palaeography class and one compulsory module (Techniques of Scholarship - Part Two). You will be allocated your dissertation supervisor and begin work on your dissertation;

Year 3: one option module and your dissertation. 

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 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 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 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.

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