About the course

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The Postgraduate Certificate in Art History and Renaissance Culture focuses on ideas and arguments related to the production and understanding of works of art and Renaissance cultural history. 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. This course builds upon the Institute’s long tradition of the study of Renaissance art and culture. It is ideal for students who have an interest in the subject, and who are looking for an intellectual challenge, but who do not want to undertake or cannot yet commit to a full MA.

I would unreservedly recommend the Institute as a place of study. It offered me a unique understanding of the interactions between image and word, art history, religion, literature and philosophy, across space and time.

Dr Laura Popoviciu, former MA and PhD 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 is 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.
  • With approximately 40 graduate students admitted to taught courses each year, you will join a tight community of peers that benefits 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.
  • Through the Institute’s prestigious 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.
  • 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. 
  • The Postgraduate Certificate at the Warburg Institute offers both an intellectually stimulating and rigorous place to 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 is able to advance in, and enjoy, their area of study.
"What I like and appreciate about the Warburg is its unique library, its history, the academic tradition of the Institute and its unique scholarly atmosphere"

Careers and Employability

In addition to key skills relating to scholarship, students also acquire important 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

The Postgraduate Certificate can provide a stepping stone for those who wish to progress to further postgraduate study, as students will gain 60 credits which can be used towards a master’s degree rather than graduating with the Certificate.

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

Degree overview

The programme is dedicated to the study of artworks and their cultural contexts and to the investigation of Renaissance culture more broadly. It provides a rigorous training in:

  • 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 scholarship and professional practice in these areas as well as new and emerging areas of research and scholarship.
  • Research and analytical skills that are highly valued transferrable skills as well as good preparation for further academic study.

An international cohort of students from diverse backgrounds made seminar discussions a stimulating and enriching experience.

Ambrosius Cicutti, 2021-22 PG Certificate student

Teaching and Learning

All students take one core module and two option modules. The modules selected are taken from those on offer on the MA programme. The course is examined as follows:

  1. Art History and Renaissance Culture: Image to Action – 4,000-word essay
  2. Two option modules – 4,000-word essay for each option

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.

Core Module

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.      

Option Modules

Classical Disorders: Architecture, Painting and the Afterlives of the Renaissance

Taught by Dr Caspar Pearson

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.

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.

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.

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 ShermanDr 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.

Course Summary

Degree structure

One core module and two option modules chosen from a range of topics.

Mode of study

Full-time (seven-month programme): one core module in the autumn term and two optional modules in the spring term

Part-time (two years): one core module in the autumn term of year one and one option in the spring term, followed by another option in the spring term of year two

Contact hours

Full-time is 2 taught hours a week in the first term and then 4 taught hours a week in the second term. Along with independent study this would come to 7 hours per week in the first term and 14 hours per week in the second term.

Part-time involves 2 taught hours a week in the first year, which along with independent study comes to 7 hours per week. In the second year, in the first term you will take a break and then there will be 2 taught hours a week in the second term, which along with independent study comes to 7 hours per week.

My expectations of the course content, teaching and materials provided were exceeded on every level. 

Ambrosius Cicutti, 2021-22 PG Certificate student


UK citizens

Full-time: £2825

Part-time: £1412

The fees listed may be subject to an annual increase.​ For further information on when and how to pay tuition fees please read the SAS tuition fee policy.

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.

Find out how to apply

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 Thalia Allington-Wood (thalia.allington-wood@sas.ac.uk).

Please note the information on this page is correct as of November 2022, 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.