School of History, Philosophy and Culture

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  • Teaching

    We believe that you can best understand an artwork by seeing it in the flesh. Alongside traditional lecturers and seminars, you can expect to enjoy frequent visits to museums and galleries.

    Our staff have been nominated for and won student-voted awards for the quality teaching experiences they offer to our students. Our teaching has consistently been rated highly and in 2015 95% of History of Art students were satisfied with the course (NSS 2015).

    Visit to the Tate Modern

    Ian Holgate won the Student Union award for Best Single Learning Experience at Brookes in 2013–14 for this visit.

    On Modern British Art, a first year module, one of our priorities is the analysis of the physicality of works of art themselves. The high point of the module for the whole group is the visit to Tate Britain which focuses on British works from 1900 up until around 1951. Throughout the 20th century how a work of art was made (and how it displayed the methods of its making) was a very definite point of debate and contention. It’s only by seeing works ‘in the flesh’ that we can truly appreciate and understand the ways in which they were designed to have impact.

    In the gallery, finding questions to ask is easy: how long did it take Walter Sickert to paint La Hollandaise? How does the depth and density of blue and thickness of surface achieved in Vanessa Bell’s painting Studland Beach affect our reaction to her work? Does the scale of Henry Moore’s Four-Piece Composition: Reclining Figure matter? Forming ideas in answer to such questions alongside others in a shared project always brings excitement and surprise even after years of looking.

    Ian Holgate, Senior Lecturer in History of Art

    The Altarpiece Game

    It can be hard to get into the mindset of a Renaissance patron, so in one of our seminars we play a game where the students place themselves in the shoes of such a person, or institution. Having learned about the myriad of elements which feed into the design and execution of a Renaissance altarpiece, we put our new knowledge to the test. Working in pairs or groups, students are given parameters of a real altarpiece: usually a date, name of the patron, the original church or other location and the city of origin of the piece. Based on this data, students work together to determine how this altarpiece would have looked, considering for example, whether a patron in 1520s Venice would have wanted a work in the Gothic or Classical styles, what saints they might have included and which artist they might have wanted to execute their work. Most groups produced drawings to supplement the presentation of their ideas to the rest of the class. Much fun was had comparing the drawings and ideas to the actual work.

    Marika Leino, Senior Lecturer in History of Art

    A great lecture using a helpful physical exercise involving working in pairs to think about altarpiece design, rather than just looking at a screen

    History of Art student

    Advanced Seminar: Patronage and Subject Matter in Renaissance Italy

    Handling session at the V&A

    The seminars in this module focus on thinking about how and why a work of art was created, and who was the driving force behind this – usually not the artist in Renaissance Italy. Seeing small table-top bronzes from a Renaissance scholar’s study first-hand is both exciting and illuminating. The bronze handling session held in the depths of the Sculpture Department at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London is usually one of the module’s highlights.

    During this session we sit around a table with one of the V&A curators, touching, holding, turning and inspecting a number of original Renaissance works from the museum’s collections. Students are always amazed at how much extra information is available to them through looking and touching. Bronze is, for example, very heavy, and lifting a work can dispel our assumptions about its function – a very heavy piece was more likely to sit on a table than be an object to be held and admired at close quarters. The curators also test our ‘eye’ – amidst authentic old works are scattered some fakes. As a group we debate and discuss how these could be revealed. The buzz in the room during these sessions attests to the power and excitement of seeing objects ‘in the flesh’.

    Marika Leino, Senior Lecturer in History of Art

    Venetian drawings at the Ashmolean Museum

    Students get to visit the Ashmolean museum to get a closer look at the Venetian drawings and paintings as part of their undergraduate course.