History of Art

History of Art is a rigorous, cosmopolitan and cross-disciplinary subject which calls upon many other areas of knowledge, including philosophy, literature, history, psychology and science. In doing so it provides insights into the ways in which artworks have helped to shape us as human beings and our collective history.

Through close analysis of paintings, sculptures and buildings from a period spanning more than two millennia – as well as of more recent examples of video, performance, photography and installation art – our A Level students build up a ‘visual toolkit’ with which they can question their immediate surroundings and the world at large.

The course begins with an introduction to the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the History of Art; the principles of visual analysis which, once acquired, can be applied to artworks and buildings from Classical Greece to the present day. Students learn to decode and discuss confidently historical and contemporary artefacts without prior knowledge of the artists or subject matter. No gallery visit – or even a casual walk around central London – will be the same again!

We also adopt a thematic approach towards our study in the first year, investigating developments in art across the globe and connections between movements and periods before and after 1850 in relation to such key themes as Nature, War, Identities and Journeys.

The second year of the course permits in-depth study of the art and architecture of specific localities over significant periods in their cultural history. We explore ‘Invention and Illusion in Renaissance Italy’ between 1420 and 1520, as well as contemporary art in Britain and the USA from the 1960s to the present day. Students consider in greater detail the lives and careers of individual artists and architects, as well as delving deeper into social, historical and economic contexts, and contemporaneous philosophical and critical concepts: from the guild system in the Florentine Republic to second-generation feminism and artistic responses to the Vietnam War.

We take advantage of our London location to visit permanent collections, temporary exhibitions and relevant lectures on a frequent basis as a class, with our ever-enthusiastic student History of Art Secretaries also arranging regular out-of-hours trips. Students also have the opportunity to travel further afield, with recent international destinations including Paris, Rome and Nice.

History of Art classes are generally small, to allow for a lively and discursive atmosphere. Students are encouraged to participate in co-curricular activities, such as the ARTiculation Prize and SPOKE documentary film competition. Many Notting Hill girls have gone on to study the discipline at university, with recent applicants successful at Cambridge, Edinburgh University and the Courtauld Institute of Art.