Art is a form of communication and an exploration of what is to be human. It works against our forgetting the values/things we love after they have disappeared, it makes us more optimistic in a sometimes rough world and it teaches us how to suffer with dignity by means of sublimation. Art can offer us some of the emotions and moods which we miss or we lack. These are several of the functions of art which we shall explore through British examples. Visual arts in Britain have particular characteristics, whether we look at medieval illuminated manuscripts, Renaissance miniature and state portraits, gardens or 19th century photography.

Instructor: Dr James Brown


Week 1: Introduction: The functions of art and what makes British art British

Weeks 2 and 3: Love in the Middle Ages: Gifts, Signs and Places of Love

Reading: Camille, Michael. The Medieval Art of Love. London: Laurence King, 1998, pp. 3-42

Weeks 4 and 5: The Renaissance English Miniature Portrait compared to the state portraits of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I

Readings: Murdoch, John, et al., The English Miniature,Yale University Press, 1981, pp.1-24; Gent, Lucy and Nigel Llewellyn ed. Renaissance Bodies: The Human Figure in English Culture c. 1540-1660. London: Reaktion Books, 1995, pp. 11-35

Week 6: The Lavishness of Court Masques

Readings: Rogers, Pat, ed.,  An Outline of English Literature, Oxford University Press, 1992, 150-175; Peacock, John. “Inigo Jones as a Figurative Artist” in Renaissance Bodies: the Human Figure in English Culture c. 1540-1660,  ed. Lucy Gent and Nigel Llewellyn, Reaktion Books, 1995

Week 7: Strategies of staging one of Ben Johnson’s court masque

The students divide into groups and offer their vision and logic on setting, costumes, music of a court masque.

Week 8: British Rococo and the Vauxhall Gardens

Readings: Hind, Charles ed. Rococo in England: A Symposium. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1984, pp. 113-132; Enge, Torsten Olaf, Garden Architecture in Europe, Taschen, 1990, pp. 5-15

Week 9: Etching and Engraving: David Allan and Thomas Bewick

Week 10: 19th Century Photography in Britain: Art or Science?

Readings: Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. London: Vintage, 2000, pp 9-18; Macdonald, Gus. Victorian Witnesses. London: B.T. Batsford Ltd., 1979, pp. 15-45

Weeks 11-12: The Impact of William Morris’ Arts and Crafts on Britain and the Continent

Readings: Arts and Crafts Movement: a Superb Visual Guide to This Significant Period of Design Reform: 1850-1920. London: Grange Books, 2002, pp. 67-79, 95-110, 155-170; Graham-Dixon, Andrew. A History of British Art. London: BBC Worldwide, 1999, pp192-194

Week 13: Victorian heritage in 20th Century: British Modern Art

Readings: Gombrich, E. H. The Story of Art. Oxford: Phaidon, 1984, 442-476; Bowness, Alan. Modern European Art. London: Thames and Hudson, 1989, pp. 129-157

Week 14: Revision and conclusions


  • A minimum of 50% attendance
  • Participation in class discussions, counting for 25% of the final mark
  • An end-of-term oral presentation, counting for 75% of the final mark