Curriculum Vision and Intent
It is particularly rare to find a state school Sixth Form that offers A-level History of Art, and this course has a history of excellent student results. History of Art encourages students to develop sophisticated analytical skills and an ability to structure and present their ideas in an effective manner.
KS5 Curriculum and assessment
There is no specialist requirement beyond the standard for entry to Lady Margaret’s Sixth Form. However, a grade 6 or above in English Language is preferred, and to pursue this subject at a more advanced level a modern language is highly desirable. Above all, an enquiring mind and enjoyment in looking and analysing are essential.
Exam board: Edexcel
Students will be studying the visual world of painting, sculpture and architecture. They will develop a toolbox of analytical skills that give them the ability to analyse and interpret a variety of works of painting, sculpture and architecture. Alongside this, students will gain an understanding of some of the major themes of art history, such as patronage, the status of the artist, historical and cultural contexts of art, and issues of gender, nationality and ethnicity. There are five parts to the course, as follows:
Visual Analysis and Interpretation. Students gain extensive analytical skills to enable them to discuss and interpret key aspects of examples of painting, sculpture and architecture, whether they have seen them before or not. Among many other things, students are able to explain how artists and sculptors use materials and techniques, compose images, use light and tone and colour, and create illusions of depth and space. They are also able to discuss the characteristics and architectural features of buildings and explain why and how buildings look and function as they do.
Theme 1: Identities in Art and Architecture. Art and architecture have long been used to express identity, whether that of the artist or architect, the patron commissioning the work or the location that it was intended for. In this fascinating topic we look at issues of the representation of the Divine, portraiture, gender identity, ethnicity, hybridity and nationality in relation to a number of key examples including the Benin Bronzes, portraits by Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun and Frida Kahlo, and works for the Fourth Plinth by Marc Quinn and Yinka Shonibare, Süleymanie Mosque in Istanbul and buildings by contemporary architect Richard Rogers, among many others.
Theme 2: Nature in Art and Architecture. A source of inspiration, a symbol of belonging or as an ideal of perfection, the natural world has always played a vital part in shaping our art and architecture. This theme covers the ways in which the motifs, messages and materials of nature have been used across time and place. We look at the aesthetics of the Sublime in Romantic and contemporary artists, we explore the fascination that idealised representations of Arcadia has had on Western landscape painters and we also study how nature has inspired painters, sculptors and architects in other artistic traditions, from Japanese woodblock prints to Mesoamerican mosaics.
Historical Study 1: Power and Persuasion: the Baroque in Catholic Europe (1587-1685). This dynamic topic permits us to examine works by some of the greatest artists of all time, including Caravaggio, Rubens, Velázquez and Zurbarán, as well as the remarkable sculptures of Bernini and the architecture of Borromini. We consider how historical events of the 16th century Counter-Reformation had an impact on the art and architecture of the 17th century, and how the Baroque style was used by the Catholic Church to win back the hearts and minds of defectors.
Historical Study 2: Invention and illusion: the Renaissance in Italy (1420‒1520). This option spans one of the most extraordinary concentrations of artistic achievement the world has ever seen. The ideas, values and iconic works of the Italian Renaissance continue to shape ideas of beauty, perfection and heritage today. Beginning with the innovative challenges of Masaccio in Florence, students can explore the cultural contexts of the Renaissance through, among others, the work of Donatello, Brunelleschi, Bellini and Michelangelo. Students must consider the impact of different styles, materials and techniques of the time as well as exploring and evaluating the impact of the regional historical events, philosophical developments and the changing status of artists, architects and patrons on art and architecture. This option covers the work produced in the regions and cities of the three states of Venice (which can include Padua and Mantua), Florence (which can include Siena) and Rome.
How will I be assessed?
Visual analysis and interpretation are fundamental, and students will be assessed on their ability to apply these skills to a wide variety of paintings, sculptures and works of architecture. They will also be assessed on their knowledge of the artists and periods covered, as well as an ability to discuss a range of relevant themes and topics.
There are two exam papers at the end of the second year, each taking 3 hours.
Paper 1 covers Visual Analysis and the two Themes.
Paper 2 covers the two Historical Periods.
History of Art combines with almost any other A-level subject, for example Chemistry (art restoration), English and/or History (art critic, historian, publishing, advertising), Mathematics (architects, graphic designers), Modern Languages and Religious Studies. It combines particularly well with Art and Design, Textiles and related visual subjects.
Future opportunities (careers, university courses)
We have many students who successfully apply to study History of Art at degree level, including at Oxford University and the prestigious Courtauld Institute.
This is an excellent subject for those interested in culture or history in the broadest sense. Depending on combinations of A-level subjects, History of Art can lead to a variety of degree courses including architecture, history of art, visual culture and museum/gallery studies.
Careers include publishing, the heritage industry, working for auction houses, journalism, curator and other museum/gallery work.