History of Art
At a glance
BA: 3 years
No specific subjects
A Level: A*AA
IB: 41-42 with 776 at Higher Level
History of Art Admissions Assessment (taken at interview)
Cambridge University offers one huge advantage as a place to study the history of art: many of its university and college buildings are works of art in themselves, and its holdings of art of all sorts are famous.
The BA degree of three years exists to teach students about all aspects of art and architectural history using these great resources. The course is based on a first year Part I which acts as a foundation for those without prior training in the subject or consolidates the experience of those who have done the topic at school. Students undertake a survey-like course centred on the splendid collections of the Fitzwilliam Museum; and in addition they study topics concerning the Making and Meaning of Art, and offer a short essay on a work of art in Cambridge. After Part I students can stay with the subject, move to another, or indeed join History of Art from another subject.
The two-year Part II continues with papers on the theory of art history itself, and with Special Subject teaching which focuses on particular periods, artists, or issues. Final-year students also prepare a dissertation of 7,000-9,000 words. Each part of the course therefore has some assessment based on students' own writing and research.
History of Art at Caius
As a fairly small subject - it admits 25 students across all the Colleges each year - the History of Art is organised very largely at a Departmental level, and for this reason students at different Colleges have basically the same academic experience. Whilst every College has a Director of Studies in the subject, all supervisions, lectures and seminars are organised centrally in the Department. History of Art is in this sense one of the most integrated subjects in the University.
Why apply to Caius? One reason is that College support is still important, and tutorial and library provision particularly so. Caius is a generous College in regard to financial support for, for example, study trips abroad to encounter works of art. It has one of the largest and best-equipped student libraries in Cambridge, with over 90,000 books, of which about 1,600 cover the History of Art and Architecture. At any one time Caius has a small but lively and friendly community of undergraduate art historians, drawn from a variety of backgrounds in the UK, Europe and elsewhere.
Importantly the College also has Fellows in the subject. The most senior of them is Professor Paul Binski, a medievalist. Further details about him and the Department can be found on the departmental website. From 2013 the College welcomed as a Fellow the new Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Tim Knox, an architectural historian. It also at present has a Research Fellow, Dr James Fox, who specialises in twentieth-century British art, and who has presented BBC programmes on colour, land art and other topics.
We choose students on the basis of their entire academic record and performance in interviews and a visual test which take place in December. Applicants usually have two interviews, one of which will be a general academic interview with a Caius tutor. The subject interview with the Director of Studies will last for about 40 minutes and will be based on your record and on what you say about yourself in your application. You can expect to be questioned about your interest in the subject, motivation, knowledge gained so far, and in general in such a way as to find out about your strengths and suitability to the very high standards we expect in Cambridge.
All interviewed applicants sit the History of Art Admissions Assessment. The assessment format is standard to all colleges and consists of a structured comparison of images (60 minutes). Students do not need to register or be registered in advance for the assessment at interview – the Colleges provide details of arrangements in the letters inviting applicants to interview. Please note that your performance in the assessment at interview will not be considered in isolation, but will be taken into account alongside the other elements of your application in general.
At Caius we don’t expect a set ‘formula’ and students with all sorts of backgrounds and training are welcomed and considered. Prior training in the History of Art is not required – but whatever you have done at school, we will want to find out about your motivation and ability, and about what you are already doing to find out about your chosen subject, especially if you can’t study it at school. History of Art requires a lot of looking and even more reading and writing.