Dissertation

The Dissertation is to be focused on a single work of art or architecture, located where it can be readily seen at first hand. The final piece of work will take the form of a substantial and considered investigation of the work or works, in the light of current knowledge and current interpretations, and informed by appropriate analysis of both visual and other relevant material, such as primary textual sources which may sometimes include unpublished documentation. It will be organised in discrete chapters, each covering an aspect of the work or works in a clear, complete and coherent manner, and it will contain a full scholarly apparatus and will be suitably illustrated.

Optional modules

Michelangelo

The Michelangelo Special Subject will deal with the wide-ranging works of this artist, examining his artistic outlook and his special achievements. Particular emphasis will be placed on historical evidence and modern critical responses. The early weeks will focus on a chronological investigation of Michelangelo’s career and his main works of sculpture and painting, including the Sistine Chapel ceiling and the New Sacristy of S. Lorenzo.  These works will be carefully chronicled and interpreted with the aid of drawings and early written sources, and will then be set into their broader historical, artistic and cultural contexts.  The final part of the module will look more closely at questions of theory and artistic procedure, and particularly at Michelangelo’s own aesthetic and philosophical views, as represented in his writings and in other texts of the period.  It will compare Michelangelo’s outlook towards art with those of others of the period, and it investigate various relationships between him and his contemporaries, and also various controversies, as a means of defining his artistic objectives more closely.

The Pre-Raphaelites: Contexts, Approaches and Reputations

This module explores the painting and sculpture produced by the Pre-Raphaelites and associated artists from the 1840s to 1890s, and responses to these art works from the early twentieth century to today. It starts by questioning who the Pre-Raphaelites were, by discussing the idea of a Pre-Raphaelite sisterhood, and the notion of Pre-Raphaelitism. We’ll discuss their distinctive technique, based on visits to the outstanding collections of Pre-Raphaelite painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, and stained glass at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. The module will then proceed thematically, using recent scholarly approaches to the Pre-Raphaelites to examine their work. We’ll draw on, for example, feminist, queer, post-colonial, anthropological and eco-critical methodologies to evaluate themes such as class, race, gender, sexuality, orientalism and nature in their work. Artists to be discussed include:

  • Dante Gabriel Rossetti,
  • Elizabeth Siddal,
  • John Everett Millais,
  • Simeon Solomon,
  • Alexander Munro,
  • William Holman Hunt,
  • Edward Burne-Jones,
  • Kate Bunce,
  • Thomas Woolner.

Modernist Britain (1900-1940)

The focus of this module is Modernism in Britain during the early part of the Twentieth Century.   Acknowledging the interdisciplinary nature of Modernist practice, the module will examine the works of artists, designers and architects, including Mackintosh, Wyndham Lewis, Nevinson, Gill, Nicholson, Hill, Hepworth, Sutherland, Gabo and Moore alongside the literature, drama and poetry of writers and music of composers such as Lawrence, Woolf, Pound, Eliot, Coward, Gurney and Britten. Consequently, the scope of the module will consider a variety of cultural forms, including paintings, prints, architecture, furniture design, photography, films, musical compositions, plays, novels and poems within the frameworks of prevailing Modernist aesthetics and philosophies. Focusing on the so-called ‘epistemic trauma’ (Varnish and Mooch) of modernity, which is said to pervade Modernist practice, the module will identify and analyse British Modernism in relation to issues of industrial development, modern war and identity, such as gender, class and ethnicity. By adopting this approach, the module’s content will explore and provide an understanding of the status, aims and functions of British Modernist art, design and architecture (including patronage and exhibition cultures of the same) within not only the contexts of the socio-political circumstances of early twentieth-century Britain, its empire and continental Europe, but also the global spread of Modernism and International Style.

Beauty, Goodness and Truth: Topics in the Philosophy of Art

This module explores key debates in the philosophy of art. It does not focus on the work of particular authors, but rather on questions that have been at forefront of debates in English-language philosophy about art. These include questions such as: What is art?; What is aesthetic experience? Are beauty and ugliness relevant to the experience of art? Is intention to the meaning of art?; Is art universal? What is the relation between art and morality? What is the difference between art and pornography? How do we respond emotionally to artworks?

The module examines these questions in relation to a wide range of examples, from visual art to music and literature, but its main focus is on theoretical ideas and as such it is based on close reading of philosophical texts.

Turning the Pages: Manuscript and Print, Past and Present

Today, books are available in multiple copies, either printed or in digital format; authors’ names appear prominently on the front cover; we scoff at those who dare to doodle in the margins or highlight the text in indelible ink. ‘Old’ books are now the preserve of libraries and special collections and are handled with gloves. However, things were very different in the past: in the middle ages, no two books were exactly the same; manuscripts were frequently left unfinished, annotated, rebound, passed on, dismembered and recycled; the author, let alone the scribe or the illuminator, was often anonymous; images in manuscripts and early printed books were kissed and touched for their miraculous powers. With the rise of print in the late fifteenth century, books became ‘mass-produced’ and helped to spread new ideas, like religious reform; illuminators had to keep up with the new medium, turning their hand to woodcuts and engraving. In the nineteenth century with the ‘Gothic Revival’, connoisseurs deliberately removed leaves and illuminations from medieval manuscripts to mount them or sell them on. John Ruskin’s diary entry in 1854 “Cut missal up in evening – hard work” would make modern researchers shudder! Nowadays, more and more libraries are digitising their collections of illuminated manuscripts and early printed books. This means that they are increasingly available for anyone to access anywhere in the world but it also means that the originals remain in the vaults, often inaccessible to all but the favoured few.

This module explores medieval and early modern books from the perspectives of art history, political and socio-cultural history, conservation and digital humanities. It introduces students to the ways in which manuscripts were made and what we can learn from them about the past as material objects. It will examine the social and political value that these often lavishly illustrated productions had for aristocratic patrons like the Burgundian dukes. It will consider the role of images in books in relation to the texts, as beyond simple ‘illustration’. Through consideration of inventories and original books themselves, it will also look at how manuscripts and printed books functioned in the everyday lives of ordinary people, as repositories of prayer, important dates, and mnemonic images. The module will also examine the fate of medieval and early modern books in the nineteenth century, and the policies/politics of libraries in the twentieth and twenty-first. The module will draw closely on the collections in the Cadbury Research Library and encourage students to engage with the numerous online archives available through institutions such as the British Library, John Rylands Library, and the Bibliothèque nationale. Students will therefore not only gain a familiarity with pre-modern sources, but will also be encouraged to engage critically with questions relating to changing notions of use, conservation, research and access.

Sculptural experiments in Britain, 1837-1901

This module examines the key debates and experiments in sculpture that shaped the ways in which sculpture was made, exhibited, experienced and conceptualised throughout Queen Victoria’s reign, from 1837 to 1901. It addresses a diverse set of discourses that were fundamental to the development of sculpture in the period, through a range of works of sculpture, from monuments to jewellery, and a variety of textual sources, from art criticism to parliamentary reports and contemporary novels. The module’s broad chronology encompasses a diverse set of ideas and experiments related to sculpture. Topics and areas of study include: the teaching and display of sculpture at the Royal Academy; sculpture and the classical ideal; sculpture at the international exhibitions; professional identity and the first sculptor societies; the emergence and promotion of ‘British’ sculpture; the origins and development of the portrait statue; the problem of clothing and dress; literature, poetry and sculpture; the influence of Christianity on sculpture; reproduction and plaster casts; art and industry; and the New Sculpture of the 1870s onwards.

Berlin 1890-1933: Symphony of a (Great?) City

This module explores the cultural topography of Berlin and considers the city – both designed and represented space - as key capital of early twentieth-century modernist debate. Examining a range of works of art, architecture and film, as well as textual sources, this module explores the ways in which some of the defining practices and theories of the ‘Modernist Metropolis’ can be used to understand changing attitudes towards Berlin during Germany’s transition from Empire to Republic 1890-1933. The module will focus in particular on:

  • Urban planning, architecture and designing modern dwelling spaces;
  •  consuming the city: sex, commodities and design of department stores;
  • the city street: the artist-writer as flaneur/flaneuse
  • murder and mental life: cultural responses to urban anonymity and surveillance.

In order to consider these themes, this module will analyse several art historical moments associated with German Modernism (including Neue Sachlichkeit, German Expressionism, German neo-Impressionism). It will explore the work of artists, film makers, designers, photographers and architects such as; Bruno Taut; Grete Schütte-Lihotzky; Ludwig Meidner; Ernst Ludwig Kirchner; Hans Baluschek; Walter Ruttmann; Fritz Lang and August Sander, amongst others. As well as developing an understanding of the city as a site of complex social and psychological negotiations, students will be encouraged to engage critically with both historical (Simmel, Kracauer, Benjamin, Endell) and more contemporary theoretical conceptions of city space and place (De Certeau, Foucault, Lefebvre) in order to frame their interpretations of visual culture.

Inside Out: Interior and Interiority in French Art, Design and Culture 1840-1940

This module analyses the changing uses and meanings of the interior and notions of interiority in French art, design and culture.  During the modern period the interior constituted more than a mere backdrop to visual representation.  It was the active subject of artistic and other forms of visual and textual culture and increasingly the object of design practice and its attendant representations.  Moreover, the interior was considered a metaphor for self, so the issues of subjective and corporeal interiority will be considered at length, as will issues deriving from feminist methodologies. We will consider a range of media, including painting, magazines and the novel; debate the practices of key art and design figures including Edgar Degas, Edouard Vuillard, Henri Matisse, Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand and analyse the interiors produced by the Nabis, Cubism and Surrealism.  The module considers visual forms in relation to textual forms including artistic and architectural theory, popular psychology, and literary fiction by J.K. Huysmans to show the range of interiors constructed by and for the modern imagination.