What you will study
This module is divided into four blocks, each of which provides a theoretical and methodological introduction to a key area of investigation and debate within art history. Each block also includes two case studies exploring related themes and issues, the first with reference to an early modern topic and the second with reference to a modern or contemporary topic. Each block will require you to engage with a range of art works, textual sources and modern scholarship in order to develop your analytical and critical skills. You will also be required to use online and other resources to identify and locate additional study materials in order to prepare you to undertake independent research on a topic devised by yourself (in consultation with your tutor) in the dissertation module.
Block 1. Artists and Authorship
Individual artists have been the traditional focus of art history, but just how to evaluate the figure of the artist is now one of the most contested issues in the field. This block explores past and current approaches to the artist in terms of authorship, identity, and subjectivity, considering issues such as the relationship between the artist's life and work, the enduring notion of 'genius', and the artist as a source of meaning. It examines artistic biography and its evolution from the early modern era to the present, reviewing Marxist, structuralist, and feminist approaches. The two case studies explore the life of Raphael through sixteenth-century sources and issues of artistic copyright and intellectual property in the modern period.
Block 2. Style and History
This block explores the different ways in which art historians have grouped and ordered works of art in order to construct historical narratives of artistic development. It examines the key role played by the concept of the period style in the formation of art history as a scholarly discipline and considers the critique of style-based approaches in more recent times. It also addresses formalist and contextual approaches to the history of art. The two case studies explore the type of stylistic analysis known as connoisseurship, with reference to Byzantine art, and how concepts of style and form have been used to construct histories of modern art.
Block 3. Interpretation and Reception
This block explores the relationship between the art object and its viewers and interpreters. It considers the art historian’s attempt to find meaning in the artwork through methods developed since the early twentieth century for purposes of interpretation (from iconography to the ‘pictorial turn’). It also explores issues of spectatorship and reception more generally, with reference to the concept of the gaze and the display of art. The two cases studies explore the experience of architectural space in eighteenth-century England and the viewing of contemporary art, especially installation art and the idea of ‘the everyday’.
Block 4. Institutions and Geographies
This block follows the pattern of previous ones in this module by considering a coupling of terms: Institutions and Geographies. It explores institutional practices, whether in museums of art and ethnography, or in a broader sense in the interactions between people and material things, as well as the geographical dimension of such interactions on a more global scale. The two case studies address the role and the changing status of institutions through a focus on the collecting of objects and the emergence of the studiolo in 15th-century Italy, and the circulation of artists and artworks in the Atlantic, linking Britain with the modern and contemporary English-speaking Caribbean.
Normally you’ll need to have completed this module in order to progress to MA Art History part 2