MSt in History of Art and Visual Culture

The Department of the History of Art is a vibrant centre for postgraduate students, and offers a one-year taught postgraduate MSt degree in the History of Art and Visual Culture (MSt, ‘Master of Studies’, is the distinctive name for what elsewhere is often called ‘MA’). Students admitted to this programme do not necessarily have to have a first degree in art history, and a broad range of applicants are welcomed. The programme is suitable both as preparation for further research and as a postgraduate qualification in its own right. In addition to a rigorous training in methodology, students take one two-term optional course, and research and write a 15,000 word dissertation on a topic they choose, approved and supervised by a scholar with relevant specialist expertise. All postgraduate students take part in the Department’s Research Seminars, and in the huge range of disciplinary and interdisciplinary seminars which make Oxford an outstandingly exciting setting for the study of History of Art.

Core Course: Issues in Art History

This MSt core course provides a theoretical and methodological interrogation of the practice of art history. It aims to address the major challenges and issues that face all art historians today, no matter what their field. The course is motivated by a single key question: what needs to be done to turn art history into a discourse that can address the most pressing issues of our time? Structured by ten two-hour seminars, the course focuses on a selection of art historical texts that are pushing the field in new directions or have opened up new possibilities for art history. It will be taken for granted in this course that art history is a mode of argument and persuasion, rather than a search for an absolute truth. Seminars will be supplemented by workshops on professional practice and by art handling sessions with a curator at the Ashmolean Museum.

Optional Courses

Applicants are asked to give a preliminary option course choice in their application, and will be asked to confirm this choice before commencing studies. Due to numbers, please be aware that it is not always possible to guarantee your first choice. Optional courses tend to change on a yearly basis, and are linked to the staff members teaching the options in that particular year.  Details of options for 2024/5 will be published later in the Autumn of 2023 - the options below are for 23/24 and we cannot guarantee these will run in 24/25.  Please wait for the 24/25 options to be published.

Dissertation Supervision

The Faculty appoints supervisors on the basis of their assessment of their fit with your research interests and their spare teaching capacity. However, before you apply you should ensure that the Faculty has the ability to support your interests by having academic staff with matching expertise. Please check the research interests of Faculty staff by visiting the People page.

For details about the application process, please view the graduate admissions section of the History Faculty website and the History of Art page of the online prospectus.  For general admissions enquiries about the MSt or DPhil programme, please email

Optional Courses for 2023-2024

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Instructor: Professor Cora Gilroy-Ware

In Western Art, so the story goes, the emergence of the Modern depends on the death of “the antique”. A dry, lifeless, academic notion of beauty had to be destroyed to make space for more exciting, democratic, and relevant modes of representation. The relics of Greece and Rome, not to mention the many tedious neoclassical objects they inspired, were stripped, once and for all, of their claim to universal aesthetic supremacy. Not only does this grand narrative risk replacing one hierarchy with another; it also works to eclipse the work of visual artists who, positioned outside or marginal to the centre of artistic discourse, take up Greco-Roman forms and figures well after the ousting of the classical. In short, it is a narrative that does injustice to the artists of colour who engaged with the classical on their own terms and in their own time.
Seeing beyond the binary of classical and modern, this course looks at the work of Black artists working in the Anglo-American world between the 18th century and the present. Rather than structured chronologically, we will look at so-called “historic” (pre-1900) material together with later work, exploring, for example, the continuity between the art of queer Harlem Renaissance artist Richard Bruce Nugent and the designs of the British sculptor and illustrator John Flaxman. The course will also touch on non-traditional media, including vinyl-cover album art, and we will deploy works of fiction and poetry as a means of illuminating both art objects and their history.
Other case studies will include the verse of Phillis Wheatley and its connection to the art of the Royal Academy, the sculpture of Edmonia Lewis and Selma Burke, Romare Bearden’s 1977 cycle of Homeric collages A Black Odyssey, the 2006 series Roaming by Carrie Mae Weems, and Kara Walker’s recent installations for the Tate Modern: Fons Americanus and Shell Grotto. In addition to exploring cases of Black Classicism in visual art, our goal will be to gauge how associations between classical form and whiteness offered a creative challenge to artists of African descent. We will also determine whether the humanist integration of classical form and liberty made the art of Greece and Rome especially appealing for artists whose humanity, and claim to freedom, had been undermined for centuries by the powers that be.


Instructor: Professor Geraldine Johnson

This course focuses on the roles played by women in the production and reception of visual and material culture in 15th-,16th- and 17th-century Europe.  It also explores how the study of women and art (broadly defined) intersects with questions related to 'femininity' and 'masculinity', gender fluidity, racial identity and the de-centring of Europe within the so called 'global' middle sages and early modern period.

Drawing on an expanding field of inquiry, the course examines the careers of professional women artists such as Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith Leyster and Lavinia Fontana working in traditional media such as painting, as well as women in and out of Europe who were involved in the production of objects not always seen as 'Art', such as craft works and domestic furnishings. It considers influential women patrons and collectors such as Elizabeth I, Isabella d'Este and Maria de' Medici, and less well-known lay and religious women patrons in Europe and beyond. Another topic is the representation of gendered subjects and strategies for visually encoding - and, at times, challenging - 'femininity' and 'masculinity' in a wide range of media and diverse iconographic scenarios.  The course looks as well at gender in relation to the beholders and users of art objects, for example when paintings and decorated household furnishings were produced to be viewed and used by young brides and mothers-to-be in the domestic sphere.  The course will also consider the role played by gender in cultural exchanges between Europe and the wider world, as well as touch on the visual afterlife of early modern gendered subjects in everything from 19th-century paintings, prints and photographs to contemporary film, television and online media.


Instructor: Professor Johanna Gosse, Terra Foundation Visiting Professor of American Art, 2023-2024

This course examines the productive tensions between geographic context and international, transoceanic, and cross-border exchanges in American art history. Rather than chronological progression, the course is organised by unique regions and locales across North America and its colonial outposts, both urban and rural, major cities and “flyover” zones, from the sprawling landscapes of the Southwest and Northwest, the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Great Plains; to dense cosmopolitan hubs like Mexico City and Chicago and coastal centres like Los Angeles, Vancouver, and New York City; to oceanic nations like the Marshall Islands and the Caribbean.

Our goal is to test a working methodology that might be termed “new regionalism,” which infuses the history of art with insights from cultural, urban, economic, military, technological, and environmental histories. Eschewing hierarchies of high vs. low, popular vs. elite, and craft vs. fine art, our case studies will emphasise how regional artistic scenes and forms of experimentation have been shaped through global networks of artistic exchange, collaboration, and contact—via migration, mass communication, technology, public exhibitions, education, war, tourism, fellowship and residency programmes, diplomacy, and so forth.