About the course
Art, architecture and other forms of visual culture all tell stories. But just what kind of stories depends on the approach you take in understanding them.
At Essex, you will acquire a broad foundation in the history of visual culture: both by learning about canonical forms of art and architecture and by discovering what has been overlooked or marginalised, such as medical photography, tattoos or objects from political protests. You will also develop the skills you need to make exciting new connections between the forms of visual culture you study, developments in other disciplines, and broader social and political forces.
To study on our course, you don’t need an Art History A-Level. In fact, we believe that the best art historians are those who bring fresh eyes and new perspectives to their objects of inquiry.
You will develop the skills you need to transform your excitement about art, architecture and visual culture into the ability to uncover new insights about the material you study. You will also develop a solid grounding in the history of art and other forms of visual culture, including the ideas and forces that shaped their production, distribution and reception.
For students with a particular interest in pursuing careers in curating and museumship, we also provide modules every year that explore the histories, theories and practices of museums, exhibitions and galleries, as well as more nuts-and-bolts issues, such as installing and marketing artwork.
One of the major reasons for choosing Essex is the quality of the education you will receive. Our Art History programme is ranked 6th among art history departments in the UK for research excellence (REF 2014), and you will be taught by our expert staff in your very first year, a rarity in UK art -history courses.
Our BA Art History programme offers you a variety of study abroad options. The four-year version of our degree allows you to spend the third year studying abroad without paying a fee, while otherwise remaining identical to the three-year course.
Studying abroad allows you to experience other cultures and languages, to broaden your degree socially and academically, and to demonstrate to employers that you are mature, adaptable and organised. We have established partnerships across Europe, the United States, Latin America and Asia, including with world-renowned institutions such as:
- École du Louvre in France
- University of Freiburg in Germany
- University of Bologna in Italy
Many of our partnerships are subject to language requirements and are recommended for students on joint degrees with languages, but there are also plenty of Anglophone destinations if you don’t want to pursue a second language.
Our expert staff
We are a dynamic group of art historians who investigate the production and reception of images and built environment, across cultures and media, from the early modern period to the present day.
Our staff’s research interests include activist art, modernist art and totalitarianism, the relationship of art and science, the artistic status of body modification, expressions of societal anxiety in art, as well as architecture and urbanism.
We also have significant experience in curation and public engagement. Recent projects include:
- Dr Gavin Grindon co-curated the Disobedient Objects exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, which was one of the most well attended shows in the museum’s history
- Dr Matt Lodder has acted as contributor for various television shows on body art and body modification, including the Today programme, the Jeremy Vine Show, Sky News, BBC Breakfast News, ‘Coast’, and National Geographic’s ‘Taboo’
- Dr Natasha Ruiz Gómez co-organised a major conference on Collect, Exchange, Display: Artistic Practice and the Medical Museum at the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons, London
Our outstanding facilities give you the opportunity for object-based learning, which is rare in other universities, and also enable you to gain curatorial experience:
- Our Essex Collection of Art from Latin America (ESCALA) is the most comprehensive Latin American art research resource in the UK and has a state-of-the-art teaching and research space. Many of our students gain work and research experience through our collection
- Our onsite gallery Art Exchange runs an ongoing programme of contemporary art exhibitions, talks by curators and artists, and exhibitions organised by our curatorial students
- Enjoy regular visits to London galleries, including Tate Modern, Tate Britain, the National Gallery and the Royal Academy of Arts, as well as many independent and alternative spaces
- Access our lively common room and departmental film collection
- Colchester’s iconic Firstsite gallery runs an exciting programme of art exhibitions, film screenings and talks
The visual arts and culture industries have become an increasingly significant part of the national and international economy, and our art history graduates leave Essex with the skills to take advantage of this growing opportunity.
Some of the sectors with jobs well suited for our graduates include: museums and galleries, auction houses, education (e.g., in schools, universities and cultural institutions), marketing and advertising, and new media. Our degree also prepares students to run their own galleries, to work as specialist arts lawyers and PR agents, and for positions in charities, fashion and publishing.
To help our students acquire the particular skills they need to gain employment in the museum and gallery sector--arguably the single-most important area in which our students seek jobs--we offer several modules every year dedicated to the histories, theories and practices of museums, exhibitions and galleries. We also give our students the opportunity to think creatively and proactively about life after university in our curatorial employability module.
Our recent graduates have gone on to work for a wide range of high-profile companies including:
- National Portrait Gallery
- Victoria and Albert Museum
- Sotheby’s New York
- Momart Ltd
- John Lewis
We also work with our university’s Employability and Careers Centre to help you find out about further work experience, internships, placements, and voluntary opportunities.
Studying at Essex is about discovering yourself, so your course combines compulsory and optional modules to make sure you gain key knowledge in the discipline, while having as much freedom as possible to explore your own interests. Our research-led teaching is continually evolving to address the latest challenges and breakthroughs in the field, therefore to ensure your course is as relevant and up-to-date as possible your core module structure may be subject to change.
For many of our courses you’ll have a wide range of optional modules to choose from – those listed in this example structure are just a selection of those available. The opportunity to take optional modules will depend on the number of core modules within any year of the course. In many instances, the flexibility to take optional modules increases as you progress through the course.
Our Programme Specification gives more detail about the structure available to our current first-year students, including details of all optional modules.
Explore the varied ways in which art historians, philosophers and artists have thought and written about art, from the Antiquity to the 21th century. This module examines the role of emotions in experiencing art, social and feminist art histories, the changing conceptions of what defines ‘art’, and the impact that ideas have on artistic creation itself. It will provide you with a sound foundation in the fundamental theoretical issues relating to the history of art and artistic practices.
Build on your knowledge gained from AR113, and tackle some of the biggest questions surrounding the history of art. Explore the key issues of storytelling and style, and the complex notion of “looking”, by engaging critically with seminal texts, original works of art, and architecture. Through debates and essays, you will develop your analytical and interpretive skills, and leave with a solid foundation for the study of the history of art.
Get ready to take on the ever changing graduate jobs market with this employability module, and equip yourself with the skills, competencies, and attitudes essential for success in the arts and cultural fields. By looking critically at how the industry has developed over time, you will leave with a more solid understanding of your place in the world, and the confidence to take risks and make an impact.
Slander. Vendetta. Madness. Infanticide. These and other social problems threatened the integrity of daily life in late medieval and early modern (ca. 1300-1600) Italy--pitting husband against wife, brother against brother, friend against friend. This interdisciplinary module examines a wide range of visual culture (everything from altarpieces to prints, fresco cycles to manuscripts) to discover how images shaped public perceptions of social problems (and how similar processes occur today).
Meet the rule-breakers. What is it that motivates an artist to break the mould? Focussing on French Impressionism, this module identifies not only how the political, social and economic changes during the nineteenth century affected art and creative thinking, but how this vibrant and multi-faceted group of artists, who refused to follow the crowd, influenced their world. Through analysis of primary and secondary sources, you’ll explore their historical reputation, as well as their relevance today.
In a mixture of lectures and site visits around Essex and the wider region, learn about the relationship between spaces and those who inhabit them, and how space produces and shapes culture in various ways. From prisons to power-stations, from cathedrals to piers, discover how and why the visual works, how it is affected by, and affects the context in which it sits, and the impact it has on our lives, whilst picking up some vital transferrable skills. This module is intended to serve as an introduction to concepts of visual culture, urbanism, and the critical theories of space.
Certain ideas shape the way we see ourselves and the world around us—ideas like democracy, free speech, individualism, free markets, and humans rights. These ideas took their definitive modern form during a politically and intellectually revolutionary stretch of history known as the Enlightenment (1650-1800). This interdisciplinary module examines this period and thus serves as an essential prerequisite for students who want to understand the intellectual currents that run through the world they live in. Graduating students often rank it among the most useful modules they’ve taken.
Some of the most captivating artworks in European art history have come to be known as ‘Baroque’, but what does this term mean? When did it emerge and what is at stake in calling an artwork Baroque? Originally introduced as a derogatory term, recently the stylistic and theoretical notion of the Baroque has been of much interest in art history. This course introduces these debates to students through writings that discuss key seventeenth-century artworks such as the dramatic paintings of Caravaggio, the voluptuous sculptures of Bernini, and the dynamic architecture of Borromini. 'More Art, More Ideas: Baroque and Neo-Baroque' solidifies and deepens students' understanding of the reception, theorisation and critique of art, as well as the developments and shifts of art history as a discipline over time.
What kind of societies have we created in the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries? What makes them new? Or are they simply new expressions of old ideas? Study contemporary issues such as the humanitarian treatment of people, the meaning of the self and global warming that have arisen out of the ideas behind the Enlightenment, colonialism, and capitalism.
Do our urban surroundings influence our behaviour, or is it our behaviour which affects our surroundings? This module explores the art, architecture and urbanism of Constantinople/Istanbul, Rome, and Tenochtitlán/Mexico City between 1400-1800, a period of massive change in each of these metropolises. By examining these cities we can begin to understand how urban identity is affected by art and architecture, and vice versa.
In this module, we will explore the diverse responses by individual artists working at the end of the nineteenth century to the legacy of Impressionism as the quintessential art of modern life. We will attempt to discover what it really meant to be 'modern' in turn-of-the century Europe and how artists responded to the dramatic political, social and technological changes that we call modernisation.
This module seeks to answer the thorny question ‘What makes art modern?’ by considering different strands of European modern art from the 1900s through 1945, including Futurism, Constructivism, and Surrealism. Some key issues addressed include the birth of abstraction; the relationship between art and politics; and intersections between art, mass media, and consumer culture.
Explore the vibrant artistic culture of the Renaissance court, an environment where magnificence and splendor served to justify rule, neutralize dissent, and enforce hierarchies of power. In the courts of Milan, Ferrara, and Florence, among others, we will encounter famed artists like Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Titian. Paying particular attention to gender, this module examines the role of visual culture in shaping conceptions of ruling authority, chivalry, courtly love, virility, fecundity, and beauty.
Rome is a multi-layered, palimpsestical city with an extraordinarily rich artistic, architectural, and archaeological heritage. The trip will explore the varied life and afterlife of classical Antiquity in Rome from the time of the city’s foundation to the twentieth century. Taking in sites within the city, it will also include tips to places that are further afield.
New, exciting, and unconventional practices call for new, exciting and unconventional theories. This module deepens your existing thematic and historiographical knowledge, concentrating on contemporary art and philosophical responses to it. You’ll find out why contemporary art forced a new beginning in the way we theorise art, examine the connection between the new and the museum, and learn more about viewer participation and the role of the spectator.
All second year students following BA schemes in Art History (with the exception of the joint degree with Literature in which case students may take AR310), have the opportunity to apply to work on an independent project in their third year in place of two of the taught modules. The independent project is designed by the student, supervised by a member of the teaching staff and examined by a 8000 word project.
When artworks or artefacts have been looted, should finders really be keepers? What causes an artwork to fetch £100 million at auction? And when is it (il)legal to reproduce another artist’s work and claim it as one’s own? Study how issues of property rights, valuation, market transparency and digitisation have shaped -- and continue to reshape -- the field of art across different media.
Some of the most realistic and vivid representations of the human body were produced in northern Italy after the Protestant Reformation. From Titian’s painterly evocation of flesh to Caravaggio’s theatrical bodies, these moving images made the body come to life before the eyes of the beholder. This course focuses on these incredibly lifelike artworks, asking students to reconsider familiar ‘masterpieces’ of Renaissance and Baroque painting as well as introducing them to intriguing genres such as miraculous imprints and wax sculptures.
Roam the streets, salons and cafés of the city Walter Benjamin described as the capital of the nineteenth century, and encounter the people who lived there. Discover why Paris was considered so modern and revolutionary; immerse yourself in the rich mythologies of the city; and learn how it became the cultural hub of the west between the French Revolution and the Second World War.
From mementos on the walls of our homes to perfume ads in glossy magazines, from selfies to forensic imaging – photographs are everywhere. In this module, explore how the birth of the camera changed the way people saw themselves, their nation, and their world, and how it continues to do so. Learn about the history of photography, interpreting and analysing both photographs and texts, and see how the photograph’s status shifted over time from document to artwork.
This module follows on from AR321, and presents the artwork of the post-mechanical age. Uncover how new media, such as film and video, cybernetics, robotics, video games and the internet have been used to create art from the 1960s to the present day. Investigate the issues of production, reception, display, the acceptance of new media into the art world, whilst attempting to link the issues raised by new media artists to your own experiences of life in an increasingly digital world.
On your year abroad, you have the opportunity to experience other cultures and languages, to broaden your degree socially and academically, and to demonstrate to employers that you are mature, adaptable, and organised. The rest of your course remains identical to the three-year degree.
- Close examination of texts written by artists, critics, art historians and philosophers
- Subsidised gallery visits to work ‘in situ’ for each course
- Gain practical experience in curating, such as handling and installing artworks
- Teaching takes the form of lectures and seminar sessions or discussion classes
- Assessment methods include coursework, for example essays, analysis of source material, exhibition reviews and virtual portfolios, coursework reports, oral presentations
- Written examinations are also taken for the majority of modules at the end of each academic year
If you already have your results and want to apply for 2016 entry through Clearing, complete our Clearing application form
and we’ll get back in touch with you or give us a ring
to discuss your grades.
IELTS entry requirements
English language requirements for applicants whose first language is not English: IELTS 6.0 overall. (Different requirements apply for second year entry.)
If you do not meet our IELTS requirements then you may be able to complete a pre-sessional English pathway that enables you to start your course without retaking IELTS.
If you are an international student requiring a Tier 4 visa to study in the UK please see our immigration webpages for the latest Home Office guidance on English language qualifications.
Other English language qualifications may be acceptable so please contact us for further details. If we accept the English component of an international qualification then it will be included in the information given about the academic levels required. Please note that date restrictions may apply to some English language qualifications.