MA in Art History, Curatorship and Renaissance Culture

"The course was always inspiring and assiduously well taught, whether we were learning about picture framing and restoration, studying Michelangelo’s letters in his own handwriting, or handling rare books from the world-class library." David Daly, former MA student, 2016

students look at a painting

About the Degree

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

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

This 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.

Download the course brochure

I have kept in contact with many of The Warburg Institute staff and Fellows and I continue to collaborate with some of them on research projects, lectures or seminars. 
- Dr. Laura Popoviciu, former MA and PhD Student

Why study with us?

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

Through the Institute’s research projects, fellowship programmes and events, and its informal collegiate atmosphere, students have extensive opportunities for networking with an international community of scholars, which significantly enriches the learning experience and can provide ideal connections for the future careers.

Studying in Bloomsbury at the centre of an academic and cultural hub, students also benefit from visits and training sessions at neighbouring institutions including the British Museum, the Government Art Collection, the Wellcome Trust and the British Library, and further afield the V&A, the Dulwich Picture Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery and the Courtauld Gallery.  

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


Looking at art

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.

Teaching, learning and assessment

“The course allows students to engage each other on course material, facilitate discussion about individual academic passions, and expand understanding of Renaissance Art History in relation to museum practices.” Terra Smith, current MA student

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

All students take three core modules and two option modules. The programme is supported by an unassessed Methods and Techniques of Scholarship module that will introduce you to the nuts and bolts of the historiography and methods of scholarly work in early modern cultural history and prepare you, through a term of workshops, to choose, develop, and research the topic that forms the subject of your dissertation. 

The core module on Language, Palaeographical, Archival and Curatorial Research includes training at all levels in a range of languages which can include French, Italian and Latin.  Finally, students have the opportunity to conduct an independent research project through the dissertation which is completed in the summer term under the guidance of a supervisor from either the Warburg or the National Gallery. 

The course is examined as follows:

  1. Art History and Renaissance Culture: Image to Action – 4,000 word essay
  2. Curating at the National Gallery – 4,000 word catalogue entry on a painting held in their collection
  3. Language, Palaeographical, Archive and Curatorial Research – archive skills class test and examinations in palaeography and languages
  4. Two optional modules – 4,000 word essays
  5. Dissertation - 15,000 words

Core modules

students studying painting

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

Option modules (two to be chosen)

  • Artistic Intentions 1400-1700

  • Cosmological Images: Representing the Universe

  • Curating renaissance Art and Exhibitions

  • The History of the Book in the Renaissance

  • Islamic Authorities and Arab Elements in the Renaissance

  • Italian Mural Painting and the making of Visual Cultures

  • Mapping Worlds: medieval to Modern

  • Renaissance Material Culture

  • Renaissance Painting and the Workshop Tradition

(The availability of option modules is dependent on both student numbers (a minimum of three students required per option) and teaching staff availability.)


“A remarkable experience. It has deepened my research and curatorial skills and broadened my horizons.” -
Gemma Cornetti, former MA student

Course summary

Degree structure

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

Mode of study

12 months full-time |  24 months part-time


Please see our Fees page for full details



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


“The Warburg is a place with an extraordinary environment, one filled with complex conversation, inter-disciplinary discovery, and constant engagement.”​
Terra Smith, current MA student

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. I. In addition a reading knowledge of one European language and the desire to begin studying another. 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 30 August 2019.

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 of November 2018, but the School of Advanced Study, University of London reserves the right to alter or withdraw courses and amend other details without prior notice as required.



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Module Descriptions



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.



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

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