Thematic Seminars 2013-14

Thematic Seminars are ONLY open to History of Art students in their First Year. All Thematic Seminars meet on Thursday from 11 am to 1 pm ( * unless otherwise indicated).

Y1 students should sign up for ONE of the following courses in EITHER Autumn OR Spring term:

Students please take note: signup is via lists posted in Student Common Room; once course lists have been finalized towards the end of the week, you will be able to register via Portico under the generic heading HART1304 and HART1307. Please use the correct rubric to avoid complications. 


1. HART 1304: Gold, Stone, Oil, and Ink: The Materials of Devotion in the Northern Renaissance (instructor: Susan Jones)

This course is an introduction to the study of physical objects for devotional use. Taught in London museums and galleries, it will cover a wide range of media between c. 1380 and c.1530. The course begins with goldsmith work, enamel work, textiles, sculpture, print making and drawing and concludes with three classes on painting in oil, egg and glue-size. Students will study the materials and techniques of the objects both in terms of how they were made, which will entail consideration of the constraints of the materials and technologies, their properties and the perception of skill, and in terms of why they were made, their patrons and their roles within devotional rituals. A major topic will be the visual and material character of fifteenth-century devotion. We will also consider what we can learn from methods of technical analysis and the significance of historical alteration, restoration and reframing. In our study of devotional painting, we will consider how and why masters such as Jan van Eyck and Jean Gossart chose to exploit the illusionistic properties of the oil medium as a way to make systematic allusions to objects in other media.

2. HART 1307: Living with Boom & Bust: Meanings and Values in London Housing c. 1840-1970 (instructor: Tom Gretton)

“The history of Architecture is the history of the World” (A. W. N. Pugin, 1843)

By the end of the course you should have a clearer idea of the way that architectural style-history, the history of building types, the history of urban form, and the social histories of class and the family meshed together in this modernizing metropolis from the 1840s until the 1960s. You will develop this general understanding by reading about, visiting, and discussing the history of housing in London over the period, looking particularly at the growth and development of three forms: inner-city ‘social housing’, inner-city (mostly terrace) housing for the rental market, and suburban estate development, both municipal and commercial. The course will be taught in two main ways. The core of the seminar is a set of ‘site-visit’ classes looking at philanthropic and municipal ‘social housing’ from both the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries, and also at some of the range of forms of the urban terrace house to be found within walking distance of UCL; we will also visit a couple of early planned suburbs. There will also be seminars discussing the tangled relations between politics, economics, morality and aesthetics in the provision of housing in London, studying both the archival resources available (writings about housing from the period, censuses and other sociological surveys, maps and plans) and the historiography of the subject.

* This course will be offered at two different times for students who may encounter any scheduling conflicts. Please indicate option “2” for the section that meets in the regular slot (11 am – 1 pm) or “3” for the section that meets in the secondary option (2 pm – 4 pm).

* 3. HART 1307: Living with Boom & Bust: Meanings and Values in London Housing c. 1840-1970 (instructor: Tom Gretton)

* This course will be offered at two different times for students who may encounter any scheduling conflicts. Please indicate option “2” for the section that meets in the regular slot (11 am – 1 pm) or “3” for the section that meets in the secondary option (2 pm – 4 pm).

4. HART 1307: London’s Times of Destruction and (Re)construction (instructor: Eray Cayli)

This course, taught through on-site visits and classroom seminars, presents London's architecture as a medium to trace the capital's intertwined processes of destruction and (re)construction. It focuses on two milestone events in London's history and their impact on architecture: the Great Fire of London (1666) and the Blitz (1940-41) and stretches from the architectural context of London before the Great Fire to that of the post-Second World War city. These two central cases will be complemented by other examples such as the Puritan iconoclasm during the English Civil War and the destruction of country houses in twentieth-century Britain. Site visits will include St Paul's Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Charing Cross, the Monument, the Southbank Centre, the Cenotaph, Somerset House, the Guildhall, the former church of St Mary Aldermanbury and the former Northumberland House as well as the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Museum of London and the Imperial War Museum. The course aims to discuss the capital's architects as responsive to social and cultural shifts brought about by destruction. At the end of the course, students will be familiar with examples from London's history where architecture precipitated destruction, served as a tactical tool during and/or after destruction, and informed the city's (re)construction strategies.


1. HART 1307: Modernism/Postmodernism (instructor: Emilia Terrracciano)

This course based in London galleries will consider the visual culture of the periods of modernism and postmodernism (ca. 1850 up till the present). Arranged thematically around topics such as ‘(Post)modernism’, ‘Materials’, ‘Environments’, ‘Politics’, ‘Selves’, ‘Ideas’, ‘Bodies’ and ‘Others’, we will examine the meaning of modernism and postmodernism by considering the principal media employed by artists; the spaces depicted and occupied by artworks; the political beliefs and social norms these embody; the importance attached to the individual and to expression; the shifting ideas in modern and postmodernist art and the impact of post-colonial thought on contemporary art. Each class will focus on selected artistic movements and artists, closely exploring artworks created during a tumultuous period in the history of mankind. The course will consider what the major characteristics of modernist and postmodernist art may be as well as engaging with the principal representative artists and theorists of this era. Each keyword lecture is accompanied by a brief reading to be pondered before or alongside the class. A list of general readings follows, to be used at your discretion, for deepening your knowledge of the period.

2. HART 1304: Kings, Craftsmen, Palaces, and Renaissance: Art and Architecture in Tudor and Jacobean England (instructor: Ed Towne)

This course is an introduction to the art and the architecture of England during one of the most dynamic and fascinating periods in the nation’s history.  The course will chart the development of art and architecture within the context of key historical events, such as the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 and the accession of James I in 1603. At the heart of the investigation are two fundamental questions: did England have a Renaissance, and if so, how can we identify this in the painting, decorative arts and building of the period? A number of classes will be taught on site, either at palaces, country houses, museums or galleries, which will allow us to reflect on how a building’s history might affect our understanding of the building and the objects housed within it. There will also be focus on the materials and techniques used by craftsmen of the period, and we will consider how the aspirations of patrons and the skills and limitations of craftsmen came together to create what we might describe as Tudor and Jacobean style. 

3. HART 1307: Art & Society: Institutions, Ideologies and ‘isms’ (instructor: Martin Perks)

This course will investigate changing relationships between art and society during the development of ‘modernism’. Many classes will be taught in galleries and museums allowing for a consideration of how institutional collecting and display policies (and the buildings themselves) can affect the reception of art and thus have an ideological function. Consideration will be given to a range of works produced in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with particular emphasis on the ‘historical’ avant-gardes of the early twentieth (Dada, Constructivism and Surrealism) and competing claims for Realisms. Gallery visits will be supplemented by seminars in the department allowing for discussion of artistic developments not well covered by London collections, and for deeper investigations of competing theoretical claims to include concepts of the avant-garde, the role of the artist in modernism, ideology, ‘cultural capital’, and more. The historical background to these artistic and theoretical developments will be kept in mind at all times – the role of key events (including the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917, World War I, the rise of Fascism, and World War II) in changing attitudes towards the arts will be considered, as will artistic responses to these events and attempts to alter society through artistic intervention.

4. HART 1304: Skin and Bones: Medieval Bodies in London Museums and Galleries (instructor: Jack Hartnell)

Today, London’s museums and galleries are filled with medieval bodies of different types. From actual saintly bones preserved in golden reliquaries to delicately painted medieval portraits, the medieval body lives on in London, cryogenically preserved like beautiful cadavers in glass vitrines. Over 10 weeks, we will consider various theories of the body – from heavenly resurrection and the natural sciences to postcolonial theory and gender studies – training this tight bodily lens on art objects made over the long Middle Ages from the twelfth to fifteenth centuries. Playing with the clash inherent in applying contemporary theory to medieval objects, we will see how both modern and medieval conceptions of the body can be used revive these obscure corpses, bringing a newfound immediacy and understanding to old skin and old bones. Likewise, we will think about the bodily display and treatment of medieval objects by museum curators and conservators, considering how these medieval bodies are made to mirror our own through the use of modern medical technologies like x-rays, CT scans, and endoscopes.


There is no final exam for these courses. You will be marked instead on two essays: first essay 1500 – 2000 words (40%) submitted before Reading week; second 2500-3000 words (60%) by end of term. Essay topics to be determined by instructors.