Institute of Archaeology

Making and Meaning in Ancient Roman Art

This course is designed to develop in students the skills of careful looking, and detailed visual analysis, grounded in a strong awareness of the major theoretical issues, which are central to research in the history of Roman art. It will take the form of a series of seminars addressing key themes in the history and historiography of Roman art through detailed consideration of specific works of art in the British Museum and other London museums, where most classes will be held. Alongside traditional concerns with issues of style and iconography, a particular emphasis will be laid on questions of ‘facture’, ‘materiality’ and ‘agency’ which have been at the centre of recent discussions in archaeology, the anthropology of art and art history. Particular themes and classes may vary from year to year to reflect students own research interests, new publications and special exhibitions.

Provisional list of topics: 1. The question of Roman art: Roman art and Roman identities; 2: Class and culture: patrician and plebeian art. 3. Roman Glass: technology and cultural form. 4. Luxury art and commodity culture: silver ware and ceramics at the dinner table. 5. Portraiture and the making of identities in the high empire. 6. The problem of propaganda: looking at Trajan’s Column (V&A). 7. Death and commemoration: the social lives of sarcophagi. 8. Provincial arts: looking East and West. 9. Late antique transformations.

Aims and Objectives of the course

  • To provide a proseminar for the study of Roman art at an advanced level, preparing students to develop dissertation research at MA level and beyond.]
  • To provide an advanced level exploration of classic and contemporary theoretical frameworks and methodologies for the understanding of Roman art.
  • To provide a basis in skills of problem definition and visual analysis prerequisite to developing innovative research in Roman art.
  • To offer the possibility studying at first hand some of the major monuments of Roman art through the collections of the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum
  • To address a range of key problems in the history of Roman art through close engagement with collections of museums in London.

Learning Outcomes

  • Students will develop and advanced critical understanding of a range of key issues in the history and historiography of Roman Art.
  • They will develop an active mastery of key theoretical frameworks and methods of analysis in contemporary approaches to the history of Roman art.
  • They will develop key skills of close looking and detailed visual analysis through first hand engagement with objects from the collections of London museums, especially the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
  • They will acquire the ability to identify significant research problems in the history of Roman art, as a preparation for developing their own independent research projects.

Teaching Methods

Weekly two-hour seminars, comprising discussion based on prepared readings, and involving student presentations. As many classes as possible will be taught primarily in the galleries of London Museums (British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum etc.), in order to promote detailed engagement with primary material, and make best use of the unique resources afforded by London.

Course information

  • Code: ARCLG341
  • Credits: 15
  • Coordinator: Jeremy Tanner
  • Prerequisite: Students should normally have some background in classical art history and/or archaeology
  • Handbook: open>

For registered students

  • Moodle page: open>
  • Reading list:


  • New course available in 2017-18

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