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Cambridge University Students' Union
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Cambridge CB2 1RX
History of Art
Boasting architectural masterpieces and the outstanding Fitzwilliam collection, Cambridge is an artistic treasure trove and without a doubt the best place to study History of Art.
The first year gives you a broad overview of the history of art and architecture, from ancient times through to the modern day. Your eye is trained to identify techniques and recognise symbols and motifs in artworks. One of the great things about the subject is that, although the primary focus is art, you learn about history, religion and literature at the same time. In the second and third years you choose special subjects, with options ranging from Venetian Renaissance Architecture to Surrealism, Art in Medieval Europe to French C19th Painting. Inevitably, some subjects are more popular than others and as priority is given to third years you may find yourself doing a course in your second year that wasn’t your preferred option. Don’t worry too much though: this happened to me and I ended up thoroughly enjoying a course I had initially been sceptical about.
“ Cambridge is an artistic treasure trove... really bringing the subject to life ”
Alongside your choices, you study a compulsory course, teaching you to examine critically art historical theory though the ages, the running of museums and galleries, the conservation of paintings and the staging of exhibitions. Undoubtedly the best thing about the subject is the firsthand experience of works or art through the Fitzwilliam Museum. Many first year lectures and classes take place there, in front of paintings and artefacts. You’ll handle ancient Greek vases, study the architecture of College gatehouses and examine the Medieval Corpus Christi manuscripts. This really brings the subject to life, as you can see the authentic objects right before you eyes. Work mainly takes the form of essays, although you may occasionally prepare presentations for seminars. A genuine interest in the subject is essential as the weekly essay requires much self-motivated reading.
College libraries may not have particularly large collections of History of Art books but the faculty library is well-stocked, with art journals and bulletins, as well as a small assortment of rare books. As an Art Historian you will also trek to the sixth floor of the University Library, which is veritable attic of delights for the artistically minded.
Best thing? Afternoon trips to local cathedrals, museums and galleries
You will get more out of the subject if you have a reading ability in one or two modern languages. The Cambridge University Language Centre is excellent for improving or learning a language from scratch. I took weekly Italian classes with a group of art historians which was great fun and beneficial.
With only 25 to 30 people in a year, you’ll know everyone and foster a community feel with fellow students. The disadvantage is that you might be the only Art Historian in your year at your College, which can be quite difficult at times. However, it does mean that there’s less fighting over books!
Worst thing? Few fellow art historians at your College