Course Guide - MA Art History, Curatorship and Renaissance Culture

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 working of a great museum or as curators with the research skills necessary for high-level museum work.


About the Degree


This twelve-month, full-time programme provides an introduction to:

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 art works 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.




Degree overview

The MA programme aims to:

Foster and develop student knowledge of and research into art, art history and curatorship.

Provide linguistic, archive and research skills to enable graduates of the programme to research, catalogue and curate works of art held in collections of national and international standing.

Build understanding of and ability to comment on primary source materials, both visual and textual.

Enable students to read academic papers and publications in European languages, and to undertake scholarly research at a high level and write up the results in an accurate and rigorous way.

Help students to acquire a familiarity with the principal sources of information in a variety of historical disciplines.



The course begins in early October with a Foundation Week, in which students will be introduced to the main topics and themes to be covered over the year.

The course is structured around five related activities:

Core modules explore European early modern social and religious life, intellectual ideas and visual culture. Students develop skills in the analysis of primary texts, images and key secondary material in the field of cultural and intellectual history. An introduction to central debates on the writing of cultural and intellectual history involves students with methods of engaging with the historical record.

All students take three core modules and two elective modules. In addition there is a regular series of classes throughout the three terms on Techniques of Scholarship, which include description of manuscripts, palaeography, printing in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, editing a text, preparation of dissertations and photographic images. Students are also required to attend the weekly research seminar and encouraged to attend any of the other regular seminars held in either Institute that may be of interest to them. The third term and summer will be spent in researching and writing a dissertation, under the guidance of a supervisor from the academic staff of the Warburg Institute or a member of staff from the National Gallery.

Core modules include language and palaeography classes and are spread over two terms. Language training is provided at all levels from beginners to advanced. The optional subjects vary from year to year and students must select at least one in an art historical field. The following courses are those from which students may select in 2016-17.


Core modules

  • History of Art – Image to Action (WI)
  • Curating at the National Gallery (NG)
  • Language, Palaeographical and Archive Skills (WI and NG)


Optional modules (two to be chosen)

  • Artistic Intentions 1400 to 1700
  • Curating Renaissance Art and Exhibitions (NG and WI - tbc)
  • The History of the Book in the Renaissance
  • Islamic Authorities and Arabic Elements in the Renaissance
  • Music and the Arts in the Late Middle Ages and the Renaissance
  • Italian Mural Painting and the Making of Visual Cultures
  • Mapping Worlds: Medieval to Modern
  • Renaissance Material Culture
  • Sin and Sanctity in the Reformation

(The availability of optional modules is dependent on both student numbers (a minimum of three students required per option) and teaching staff availability. All courses are taught by Warburg Institute staff except where indicated above - NG = National Gallery; WI = Warburg Institute.


Teaching, learning and assessment

The usual format for classes is a weekly seminar. All students are required to submit three essays of 4,000 words, one at the beginning of the second term and the remaining two at the beginning of the third term.* The National Gallery module is assessed by a 4000-word catalogue entry on a painting in the collection, this is submitted at the end of term one. A dissertation of 15,000 words, on a topic agreed by the student and supervisor, has to be submitted by 22 September. The course is examined on these five pieces of written work and examinations in language, palaeographical and archive skills modules. Students are allocated a course tutor but are encouraged to discuss their work with other members of the staff at the Warburg Institute and the National Gallery.

Contact hours: Because of the small numbers involved (places are limited to 12 per year), students have frequent contact, formal and informal, with their teachers (an average of 12 to 15 hours in terms 1 and 2).

* Curating Renaissance Art and Exhibitions will have different modes of assessment.


Course summary

Degree structure

Three compulsory core modules and two additional modules chosen from a range of options, plus a dissertation of 15,000 words.

Mode of study

12 months full-time

Fees 2018–19 (please see Fees & Funding section for full fee details)

Home and EU Students: £7,450 | Overseas students: £16,020

Course Handbook

The full course handbook is available here.


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. In addition to a good knowledge of Art History, especially related to the Renaissance, a reading knowledge of one and preferably two European modern languages, apart from English, is required. All students whose first language is not English must provide recent evidence that their written and spoken English is adequate for postgraduate study. Applications should be submitted by 31 July 2018.

Why choose this degree?

The Warburg Institute is the premier institute in the world for the study of cultural history and the role of images in culture. It is cross-disciplinary and global. It is concerned with the histories of art and science, and their relationship with superstition, magic, and popular beliefs. Its researches are historical, philological and anthropological. It is dedicated to the study of the survival and transmission of cultural forms – whether in literature, art, music or science – across borders and from the earliest times to the present. The Warburg Institute is based at the School of Advanced Study, University of London and houses a world-famous library, archive and photographic collection.

The National Gallery houses the UK’s national collection of over 2,300 Western European paintings from the 13th to the 19th centuries. Its collection contains famous works, such as The Wilton Diptych, Leonardo’s Madonna of the Rocks, van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait, Velázquez’s Rokeby Venus and Turner’s Fighting Temeraire. The gallery’s aim is to care for the collection, to enhance and to study it, while encouraging access to the pictures for the education and enjoyment of the widest possible public now and in the future.

In taking this MA with the Warburg Institute and the National Gallery, students will have unrivalled access to the best resources and expertise for academic study in London. Alongside our official programme we organise visits and training sessions at neighbouring institutions, such as the British Museum, Government Art Collection, Welcome Trust and British Library, and further afield the V&A, Dulwich Picture Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery and the Courtauld Gallery. Students have the opportunity to speak with artists, curators and academics, many of whom are Warburg alumni to enrich their learning experience and develop research projects.

In addition to the MA programme, there is a varied and exciting range of public lectures, conferences, events and talks available to students at the Warburg Institute and National Gallery. They have the opportunity to consult and exchange ideas with the community of academic art historians who use the Warburg Institute as their base and provide access to networks which will support them in their future profession. See the website for more details on our annual programme:


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 graduate study webpages at

Please note the information in this guide is correct as at October 2017, 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.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Back to the top

Term 1
ART HISTORY – IMAGE TO ACTION (Dr Joanne Anderson)  

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 the 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


This course aims to improve the skills of students preparing for a career in academic art history or curatorship. It recognises that the ideal of mastering four foreign languages will be difficult for students to achieve and it aims to encourage and reward students who work hard to enhance their linguistic skills and thereby acquire habits which will assist them (in further study and in the workplace) in reaching that long-term goal.

A key element of this module will be the individual skills assessment which will take place at the beginning of the module at which staff will assess the skills which each student already possesses and thus enable the selection of training in languages and palaeography suited to improve those skills.

two to be chosen from :
ARTISTIC INTENTIONS 1400 to 1700  (Dr Paul Taylor)


This course will investigate what early modern art literature (mainly in Italian and French but also in Dutch, English and German), combined with a close analysis of pictorial practices, can tell us about the visual and artistic aims of painters in Europe. This assessment is intended to give an enhanced appreciation not only of the construction of early modern paintings, but also of issues connected with condition and conservation.


(Availability To Be Confirmed) OPTIONAL SUBJECT

The aim of this module is to investigate how Renaissance paintings and other cultural artefacts are displayed in contemporary museum/gallery environments, addressing intellectual, conceptual and logistical issues, with the goal of providing practical and theoretical training in curatorial practice. 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 a virtual exhibition that forms the basis of individual assessment (a presentation and report). 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.



The aim of the course is to provide an understanding of the history of the printed book from its invention to c. 1600, with special focus on the learned book, the material aspects of its construction, and the cultural and intellectual context of this history, particularly the relationship between the principle players in the field: authors, editors, publishers, printers, proof-readers, etc.



Starting from selected Renaissance texts, this course will explore, on the one hand, the continuing importance of the texts in Arabic philosophy, science and magic translated into Latin in the Middle Ages, and, on the other hand, the beginnings of the study of Arabic itself and the production of new translations. Topics will include the problem of translating from Arabic, attitudes towards Islam, the Arabic contributions to philosophy, mathematics and medicine, and the ‘Antarabism’ of the humanists. No knowledge of Arabic is required.



This course takes up some musical themes in the arts and sciences in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance.  Musical concepts are explored in themselves, and in relation to different arts and sciences.  The class will include practical sessions as well as the reading of original texts.  No prior knowledge of music theory or practice is required.



The art of wall painting in Italian churches, palaces and streets reached new heights across the fifteenth century. From the single-point perspective of Masaccio's Trinity (c.1425) in Florence and the astrological scheme in the Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrara (1466-74) to the grand typological scheme of the Sistine Chapel (c.1490), the monumental proportions and architectural character of this art lent presence and authority to religious and political ideologies. It equally gave expression to ideas of learning, culture and pleasure. To step inside their constructed and performing worlds was an embodied experience that played upon all the senses, creating connections with other objects present, such as glass, altarpieces, metalwork, furniture or tapestries.

This course focuses on sacred and profane wall paintings in central and northern Italy, exploring their role in the making of visual cultures. It begins with materials and modes of production, utilising artistic treatises, contracts and visual sources to enhance knowledge of theory and practice. This lays the foundations for case-study seminars dedicated to meaning in context: from sacred to domestic, interior to exterior, urban to rural. Students will explore the significance of works created for key sites and patrons, including those adapted according to shifts in taste or regime. With an eye on displacement or destruction, the latter weeks will focus on ideas about permanence, originality and function of murals during the Renaissance but also in modern times with the museum- like environment (e.g. Padua, Arezzo) and the real museum (e.g. Castelfiorentino). Visits to London sites (National Gallery, Eton College Chapel) will help contextualise the connection between objects and belief, the life spans of artworks and display strategies.



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.



The aim of this course is to offer a perspective on Renaissance art that is at once much wider and much more focussed than most traditional accounts. Much wider in the sense that it covers a broader range of artefacts - from lead pilgrim's badges to pieces of goldsmith's work and from wax ex votos to gold-brocaded fabrics. And much more focussed because it discusses works of art as material objects with an economic and social value, dealing not with the intricacies of individual styles but with the social and economic mechanisms that caused styles to differentiate, not with the details of specific commissions but with the larger trends in the production and consumption of art within different social classes. Using a series of case studies and documents such as inventories, accounts and anecdotes recorded by chroniclers and travellers, the course will offer an insight into how art functioned within the material world of the Renaissance and among a variety of patrons, including not just the usual male oligarchs of art-historical convention, but also poor people, artisans themselves, and women.



This course is intended as an introduction to some of the main issues which came to the fore at the time of the Reformation in Protestant and Catholic Europe. The survey will range from the Middle Ages to the early seventeenth century, and the emphasis will be on the standard teaching on sin and salvation before the advent of Protestantism, humanist ideals of human perfection, Protestant views of the justified sinner, heretical adaptations of such views in Southern Europe, and the Catholic reaction.