We offer high quality, traditional Oxbridge-style teaching, which leads to our degrees being recognised around the world. The standards of degrees and awards are safeguarded by distinguished external examiners – senior academic staff from other universities in the UK – who approve and moderate assessed work.
Preliminary reading list
Please click here for the preliminary reading list.
Teaching and course structure
The programme comprises two introductory weeks on principles and methodologies followed by three 4-week taught components delivered in the Winter and Spring Terms.
Part A – Private Collectors and Collecting
This module examines the history of private collecting in Europe and America, with a focus on Britain, from the Renaissance onwards. Topics include the origins and development of the Royal Collection, the Grand Tour and collecting of classical antiquities, the seventeenth-century Kunstkammer and its nineteenth-century revival, le Goût Rothschild and Gilded Age American plutocratic collecting. Teaching will be mainly based in London with introductory days in the National Gallery and Windmill Hill archives and study sessions based around the Rothschild Collections at Waddesdon Manor. It includes visits to Windsor Castle, the British Museum and the archives of the Paul Mellon Centre in London.
Students looking at items from the Colnaghi Archives at Windmill Hill
Part B – The Art Market: Dealers and Auctioneers
This module draws upon two great London-based dealer archives: the Agnew’s archive at the National Gallery and the Colnaghi archive at Windmill Hill/Waddesdon Manor The module focuses on the European and American art markets, primarily in London, New York and Paris, from circa 1760 to the present day. Case studies, based on the Agnew’s and Colnaghi archives, will give students the opportunity to examine in depth particular art-market transactions, drawing upon primary source material such as letters, cables, account books and historic photographs. The module will also include visits to other art market archives such as those at Christie’s.
Part C – Institutional Collecting in the Public Sphere: The National Gallery and its Contexts
This module examines the origins of the National Gallery, its European counterparts (the Louvre and the influential museums in Vienna, Berlin and Munich) and its most important British precursors (the Ashmolean, the British Museum and the Dulwich Picture Gallery). It will trace its origins in earlier traditions of private collecting and analyse how it was influenced by museological theories emanating from continental Europe in the nineteenth century. This module will also use the National Gallery’s paintings collection and related archival and bibliographical holdings to highlight certain themes relating to the history of private collecting and provenance, the art market, and aspects of display within both private and public collections.
Methods of teaching and learning
These modules will provide a combination of lectures, gallery visits, workshops and seminars on the history of collecting. Additionally the MA will offer training in research, online archival research and archival study skills, including sessions on palaeography, provenance research, the reading of account books, statistical analysis and interpretation of art market price trends.
All the London-based teaching, spread over two terms, will be based at the National Gallery in London.
Students will be required to submit and pass two preliminary pieces of work – an essay and a research exercise each carrying 20 credits, which will be linked to the topics and methodologies covered in the preliminary modules, and to provide a research plan and critical bibliography, which will need to be approved by their supervisor before progressing to the dissertation. These are designed to prepare students for undertaking a 25,000-30,000 word thesis worth 140 credits for submission at the end of the December term following the beginning of the course (for January entrants) and the end of the Summer Term (mid-September) for those commencing their studies in the Autumn Term (beginning of October).
Preparation for work
All our degree courses combine academic challenge with the transferable skills that will stand you in good stead for future employment.
See the Humanities Curriculum Handbook for further course details.