Back to: Art History major Art History major

The Art History program is the premier provider of art historical scholarship in Australia. Thematic and interdisciplinary subjects deal with the theories of art history, art and the market, prints, and other issues. Areas of specialisation include late antiquity, Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, 18th and 19th century European art, modernism and postmodernism, contemporary art, Indigenous Australian art, and international art.


  • Art curatorship
  • Arts policy
  • Arts promotion
  • Communications
  • History

Subjects you could take in this major

  • This subject introduces the study of art history by focusing on the work of art through a number of case studies drawn from a Western cultural and historical context. It develops a broad understanding of the historical and aesthetic characteristics of artworks produced during selected artistic periods (for example Medieval, High Renaissance, baroque, rococo, neoclassical, contemporary art). The subject draws attention to the varying contexts informing works of art, including the relationship between art and its methods of production and preservation. its engagement with society and installation in museum settings; and the different ways in which viewers respond to art and interpret the meanings and messages which it conveys. Students should develop a range of approaches to understanding art, from issues of censorship and art, to gender and sexual identity in art, and art and politics. The subject provides students with a fundamental grounding in art history, and in the broader critical and analytical skills necessary for the study of art in later years.

  • This subject explores a selection of artists, movements and themes in late 19th and 20th century art. It will examine such topics as cross-cultural interaction and its impact on art, the advent of new artistic techniques such as abstraction and collage, the depiction of the self in modern and contemporary art, the relationship of art to its physical, social and political context, and the ways in which visual images help to define individual and social identities. Artists studied include Paul Gauguin, Pablo Picasso, Hannah Hoch and Jackson Pollock. On completing the subject students should have an understanding of the history of modern art, have acquired a set of basic skills in visual analysis, and understand some of the principal methodologies employed in the discipline of art history.

  • This subject introduces students to the principal artists and art theorists in Europe from Romanticism to the avant-gardes of the late 19th century. Students will be exposed to a range of different models for understanding the revolutionary developments taking place in painting and sculpture during this period, tracing the progressive shift away from traditional and classical ideals in the radical innovations introduced by modern artists in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The work of artists from among several different countries in Europe, such as England, France, Germany and Italy, will be investigated. A particular focus of the subject will be the impact on art of political, social and technological change. These changes will be analysed in the light of recent scholarship on the relationship between social class, sexual identity and the representation of landscape and the human body.

  • This subject provides an introduction to the art of medieval Europe, from the Roman Empire (c. 300) to the late Middle Ages (c. 1400), surveying the major artistic developments across the period wth particular emphasis on Italy. It focuses on the function of imagery in specific historical and physical contexts, and considers the lives and motives of patrons, audiences as well as artists. Lectures introduce broad themes and topics, including: early medieval attitudes toward the classical past; European perceptions of Byzantium and Islam; political imagery in medieval courts; the cult of relics; the rise of devotional imagery; the emergence of the 'artist'; and the origins of the independent easel painting (the canonical vehicle of modern art). Tutorials focus on key art works from a range of media (including wall paintings, panel paintings, mosaic, sculpture, ivories, metalwork, tapestry, illuminated manuscripts, and stained glass), and include site visits to University of Melbourne collections and to the National Gallery of Victoria.

  • This subject deals with the creation and the reception of the work of art. It commences in 15th century Italy with an examination of the organisation of artists' workshops and concludes by analysing the relationships between contemporary artists, their materials and markets. Topics in the subject are varied but will focus around certain key issues: the changing status of the artist, the determination of authenticity and value, and the role of materials and markets in the construction of meaning.

  • This subject provides a scholarly introduction to the history of art in Australia, at the same time incorporating new perspectives, approaches and ideas. It demonstrates ways of interpreting Australian art through its relationship to historical events and contemporary thought. Topics considered will include the perceptual values known as the picturesque and the sublime in topographical and landscape painting respectively, the concept of terra nullius and how the indigenous inhabitants were represented, women artists of the 19th and early 20th centuries, Australian Impressionism, artists abroad, neo-classicism, the art of war and the Anzac legend, modernism in Sydney and Melbourne and the growing awareness of new European movements such as Expressionism, Cubism, and Surrealism. A lively and comprehensive look at what's topical in Australian art history, including the art polemics of the 1940s and 1950s, Australian Pop Art and the swinging 60s.

  • This subject examines avant-garde and postmodern art and film during the 20th century. A variety of artistic theories, movements and artists from Europe and North America will be considered. The social, historical and theoretical context in which diverse avant-garde and postmodernist aesthetics were formed will be studied using historical sources and contemporary theory. Students will become familiar with issues such as the relationship of art and politics, utopian models of art, nationalism and the arts, as well as the shifting ways in which theories of gender, race and sexuality informed artists' work.

  • The subject focuses in depth on the art and culture of Renaissance Italy, from 1300 to 1570. In part we will examine the lives and works of some of the most significant artists in that period from Giotto, Masaccio, Donatello, Leonardo da Vinci, Giorgione, Raphael, Titian and Michelangelo, in relation to the artistic theories of the period and the models they set for later artistic futures. The subject will explore the critical interpretations of works of art, spectatorship, patronage, the place of art in daily life in Renaissance Italy, the scientific analysis of works of art, restoration history and workshop practice.

  • What do pictures want in relation to sex and sexuality? How is art gendered? How do painters use the materiality of oil on canvas to make gendered critiques of the history of art and its cultures? Structured around the rich collections of the National gallery of Victoria, each class will focus upon a specific work considering what insights a gendered analysis of it can provide. Lectures will be delivered in front of the paintings in situ in the gallery. Curatorial and expert academic staff from the NGV and the University of Melbourne, as well as international experts from outside of Victoria, will provide the lectures which will address a range of works drawn from the 18 th century to the present. We will consider how gender, sex and sexuality impact on both the production and the reception of art and how artists utilise sexual codes at specific historical moments. Themes surrounding discourse, equality, ideology, and protest, will be addressed. We will consider how curatorial practises reinforce sexual difference through considering the artworks currently on display and how these produce meaning when they are taken as an aggregate in the context of an exhibition. We will study how works are conceptually framed by the information that the gallery provides about them through audio-guides, catalogue entries, hanging, and labelling. The subject will introduce you to key ideas from a number of thinkers including Judith Butler, Barbara Creed, Julia Kristeva, Luce Irigiary, Michele Foucault, W.J.T.Mitchell, Nicholas Chare, Svetlana Alpers, Michael Baxandall, Lynda Nead, Fred Orton, Griselda Pollock, carol Duncan and Lisa Tickner.

  • This subject interrogates painting, sculpture and architecture in Italy, France, Spain and the Netherlands in the 17th century. The artists on who most attention is focused include Caravaggio, Artemisia Gentileschi, Annibale Carracci, Domenichino, Guido Reni, Bernini, Velazquz, Borromini, Rubens, Rembrandt and Poussin. This subject aims to give an introduction to the main issues to be found in the art historical literature on these artists, and so the subject deals with a wide range of questions and themes. These include colour and chiaroscuro, theory, practice and the rise of academies, the representation of sexuality, interpretation/iconography, gender, biography and postmodern readings.

  • Starting with the acrylics of the Western Desert (Papunya) and ending with the most recent developments in new media, the field of contemporary Aboriginal art will be surveyed. Issues such as copyright and appropriation, the art market, women’s art practice, curating and collection policy are debated in this subject and key works in painting, sculpture, printmaking, and photography are studied and discussed. By the end of semester students should have a familiarity with the main issues concerning the interpretation of Aboriginal art in Australia and have a broad knowledge of the pictorial practices of prominent contemporary Aboriginal artists. Guest lectures by artists, academics and industry professionals, as well as visits to art galleries and museums, are a feature of this subject.

  • This subject examines international contemporary artistic practice. Through case studies of specific artworks students will be introduced to the theories that informed, shaped or were employed by critics and curators in recent decades. A broad variety of media will be considered, including painting, sculpture, installation, performance, photography, video and multimedia technologies. Students may explore issues such as: the relationship of regional and global cultures, the diversity of identities within contemporary culture, the growing awareness of the art of minority groups, the impact of new technologies, media forms and ideologies on culture, and the impact of globalisation on networks of exhibitions, artists and curators. Artists’ responses to social debate on issues such as race relations, immigration, the environment, censorship, republicanism, and gay and lesbian politics will be considered. In addition, changes in the infrastructure and institutions of the culture industry - galleries, museums, publishing and media - may be examined.

  • This subject is taught on location in a major art centre (the subject may be taught in one year in New York, or in other destinations as appropriate) using social, economic, geographical and cultural effects of the respective arts centre as a case study of culture in action. Students will be introduced to the key institutional components of the art centre studied: this may include as appropriate: urban and rural fabrics, museums, cultural sites, galleries, alternative spaces, corporate collections, auction houses, art magazines and studies, depending on the art centre. Students will study the history, context, display and consumption of art, allowing consideration of recent developments in museology, arts policy and cultural tourism. The subject develops a broad understanding of the historical and aesthetic characteristics of artworks produced during selected artistic periods. The subject draws attention to the varying contexts informing works of art, including the relationship between art and its methods of production and preservation, its encouragement with society and installation in museum settings, and the different ways in which it conveys. Students should develop a range of approaches to understanding art, from issues of censorship and art, to gender and sexual identity in art, art and politics, space and meaning. The subject provides students with a fundamental grounding in art history and/or architectural history, and in the broader critical and analytical skills necessary for the study of art in later years. Students wishing to enrol in this subject must consult the notes below.

  • This subject traces the origin and development of the concept of the image of Western medieval thought. It examines the roles images played in medieval society through a survey of the various religious, philosophical, cultural and political frameworks in which conflicting attitudes toward image-making were developed. Lectures will introduce the differing ways in which philosophical and biblical traditions regarding figurative art and its value for religion shaped contrasting attitudes and led to aniconism and iconoclasm. The complex relationship Christians, Jews and Muslims shared with the visual arts will be addressed, and the legacy of disputes. Using specific case studies, tutorials will focus on how these attitudes were manifest in particular art works or monuments, with site visits to Univeristy of Melbourne collections and to the National Gallery of Victoria.

  • This capstone subject examines the theory and practice of art history. Through a survey of the different approaches to the study of art which have emerged since the early modern period the subject will provide students with a fundamental grounding in the methodologies of the discipline. Students will also learn the broader critical and analytical skills necessary for the study of art at higher levels. The subject introduces students to the issues involved in applying art historical methods to real world contexts both within the academic environment and in industry contexts such as the museum sector. The subject will involve students in the research and interpretation of works of art encountered in University of Melbourne collections.

Entry requirements & Prerequisites

This major is available through more than one course, both of which have their own separate entry requirements.

You can read more on the the Bachelor of Arts & Bachelor of Arts Extended pages.