History of Art



‘The social history of the visual arts,’ according to Bruno Latour, ‘is good at teaching a few tricks to the history of science.’ This course will explore what these tricks might be through a close engagement with art produced in England from 1600-1850. In this age of discovery art and science were practically interchangeable; for John Constable painting was indeed a science, while scientific illustrations such as one finds in Robert Hooke’s Micrographia (1665) arguably had as much impact on the history of the visual arts as did the works of any contemporary painter. With access to some of the most outstanding collections of British art from this period, including those in the National Gallery, Tate Britain, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the National Maritime Museum, students will engage critically with the works of major British artists, including William Hogarth, Joshua Reynolds, Joseph Wright of Derby, William Blake and JMW Turner. Students will be encouraged particularly to reflect on the dissemination of scientific discoveries and the impact these had on the visual arts. Along with visits to eighteenth and nineteenth-century sites of display such as the Enlightenment Room in the British Museum and Somerset House, formerly the home of both the Royal Academy and the Royal Society, students will also consider the role of printed material in bringing scientific discoveries into the public sphere.