History of Art

You need not have studied Art or History at GCSE to do A-level History of Art, but aspects of both – and indeed, other subjects that you will have studied at GCSE – will support your Art History. We will be following the Edexcel syllabus, a copy of which may be found on the internet. It covers painting, sculpture and architecture of the western tradition from Classical Antiquity (i.e. ancient Greek and Roman civilisation) to 2015 and some notable examples of non-Western art. You are not expected to know the tradition in its entirety of course but we will: (i) learn the skills used by art historians to analyse works of art and architecture across the whole span, (ii) investigate certain recurrent themes within the tradition, and (iii) investigate two of its periods in depth.

As yet, no text books have been designated since it is a new syllabus but we will be making use of two comprehensive accounts that have been recommended for an earlier syllabus: A World History of Art by Hugh Honour and John Fleming, and Thinking About Art: A Thematic Guide to Art History by Penny Huntsman.

To attain the higher grades at A-level, you are expected to take an active role in your own education. It is not enough to rely on the notes given to you by your teachers. The collection of Art History books in the library is an essential source of information, small in size but assembled comparatively recently and therefore targeted. There is a wider collection in the Art Office, where you may go without a teacher being present. However, only the yellow labelled reference books may be borrowed, although these are the ones that are likely to be most useful to you as art historians. Moreover, we subscribe to Grove on-line and we will draw your attention to other high-quality on-line sources of information.

Course Rquirements

Art History is examined by means of two three-hour examinations at the end of the course. They test your analytical skills and subject knowledge by using different question formats: short, medium, and long, extended prose.

The contents of the two papers are as follows:

Paper 1: Visual Analysis and Themes

3 hours: 50% marks: marked out of 110.

Section A: For this compulsory question, the ‘unseen’, you will be asked to comment on photographs of one painting, one sculpture, and one building. Your analytical and interpretive abilities will be tested.

Section B: For this section you will write at greater length in reply to two questions, one on each of the themes you will have studied in class: Nature and War. These two-part questions will examine your knowledge of the themes expressed through works of art, sculpture, and architecture. Your answers must address works of art selected from either side of the year 1850 and may include examples selected from beyond the European tradition. 

Paper 2: Periods

3 hours: 50% marks: marked out of 110.

You will study two art historical periods in depth and, for each of them, you will answer a single compulsory question in four parts. The periods are titled:

Invention and illusion: the Renaissance in Italy (1420‒1520)

This period spans one of the most extraordinary concentrations of artistic achievement the world has ever seen. The ideas, values and iconic works of the Italian Renaissance continue to shape ideas of beauty, perfection, and heritage today. You will consider the impact of different styles, materials and techniques of the time as well as exploring and evaluating the impact of the regional historical events, philosophical developments and the changing status of artists, architects and patrons on art and architecture. The period covers the work produced in the regions and cities of the three states of Venice, Florence, and Rome.

Brave new world: Modernism in Europe (1900‒39)

In the early years of the twentieth century, an extraordinary optimism fuelled the beginnings of the urban, machine age, and artists responded with startling ideas that challenged many of the long-established conventions in art and architecture. Gradually, this optimism gave way to the horrific events of the two World Wars. The creative work of artists both in France and across Europe demonstrate a fascinating response to profound questions about what art is, who art is produced for, and the personal and political functions it could fulfil. This option has been designed to offer an in-depth investigation into the art and architecture of France and in comparison with the art and architecture of other European countries, and the development of art and artists from these countries from the time of the 1900 International Exhibition in Paris to the outbreak of World War II in 1939.

Critical texts

For each of these themes and periods, you will examine at least one critical text. That is a written text which provides views that you may integrate in support of, or counter to, your own argument. It may derive from interpretations offered by contemporary or subsequent (named) critics and / or art historians. It is thus differentiated from a purely factual source of information about a work of art, artist or its context. It must be known in detail. Different texts may be used for individual artists, as long as you develop your knowledge and understanding from secondary sources – which is to say, text books.

Introduced as an A level subject in 2013, students have been accepted for Art History at the Courtauld Institute, and Oxford, Warwick and York Universities.