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History of Art Cambridge Pre-U **FEES PAYABLE** at Marlborough College

Course description

History of Art is a long-established and very successful subject at Marlborough and is taught within perhaps the largest department of any leading school. We are concerned with human achievement in the sphere of visual creativity, and our programme embraces the study of painting, sculpture and architecture. Students learn to hone their critical skills by analysing works of art, develop their aesthetic sense by acquiring an overview of major artistic themes and trends, and train the eye in identifying characteristics of genres and styles. Students are taught a range of interpretative and evaluative approaches to canonical works, and are encouraged to consider the changing role of the artist and artistic production within different periods, societies and cultures.

Students learn about the currents and influences that worked upon artists in the past; they also gain insight into the materials, methods and practices that brought art into being.

A very important part of their learning concerns the appreciation of works of art as cultural artefacts belonging to specific historical and cultural moments. It is also our hope that students will come to see art as a subtle gauge of how people experienced life in the past.

Course content

Pre-U level students undertake three units of study. One concerns the essential ground rules of artistic evaluation, and is called 'Analytical Studies'. In it, students study thirty canonical works of painting, sculpture and architecture/graphic works of various media. The second and third units are called 'Historical Topics' and focus attention upon two cultural periods of Western Art: we offer courses in the Renaissance, the seventeenth century, and the transition of the nineteenth century into the twentieth. In addition, students work on an independent research topic which allows them to go off curriculum and make their own art historical discoveries. The final element of the course is a special study of Still Life that builds upon the knowledge acquired in the other parts of the syllabus. All elements are examined at the end of the Upper Sixth year. 

Art History is concerned with human expression in the sphere of visual creativity. Students gain understanding of why and how works of art and architecture were made. In this context, the course covers social, religious, political and cultural history as well as analysis of the works themselves. We seek to promote students’ critical skills in aesthetic appreciation, and foster knowledge of the formal characteristics of genres and styles. Wide reading and personal research will be required to inform essay writing. 

Entry requirements

Artistic ability is not a prerequisite to study Art History, nor is it essential that students have studied History at GCSE.


PAPER 1: Analytical Studies in Western and non-Western Art  (25%)

1 hour and 30 minutes written examination.

The study of 30 canonical works, 10 each drawn from: Painting; sculpture; and architecture.


PAPER 2: Historical Topics (25%)

2 hour and 15 minutes written examination.

The study of two historical topics from the following:

  • Topic 1: The Art and Architecture of Classical Antiquity;
  • Topic 2: Art, Religion and Society in Romanesque Europe, c. 1000-1200;
  • Topic 3: A New Heaven and a New Earth: Gothic Art and Architecture, c. 1400-1540;
  • Topic 4: Man, the Measure of All Things: The Early Italian Renaissance 1400-1600;
  • Topic 5: Faith Triumphant: Seventeenth-Century Art and Architecture;
  • Topic 6: Defining the Nation: Art and Architecture in Britain, c. 1700-1860s;
  • Topic 7: Art, Society and Politics in Europe, c. 1784-1900;
  • Topic 8: The Shock of the New: Art and Architecture in Europe and the United States in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries.


PAPER 3: Thematic Topics (25%)

2 hour and 15 minutes written examination.

The study of one theme in the History of Art, drawn from one of the following:

  • Thematic Topic 1: Art and Architecture in the City;
  • Thematic Topic 2: Landscape;
  • Thematic Topic 3: Portraiture;
  • Thematic Topic 4: The Nude;
  • Thematic Topic 5: Still Life.


PAPER 4: Personal Investigation (25%)

The Personal Investigation is externally marked and subject to a live viva with a CIE examiner.

A written assignment of approximately 3,000 words which engages the student in a piece of independent study.

Future opportunities

History of Art is a popular option with students, and we have a very proud record of sending a good number of these to read the subject at first-rate universities each year.  Former students are currently reading History of Art at Oxford, Cambridge, the Courtauld Institute, Edinburgh, Bristol, and other leading universities.

Further information

The department runs successful and popular trips to enable students to encounter key works at close hand. These range from short trips to the galleries of London, Bath or Oxford and cathedrals and country houses, to more intensive residential visits to Paris, Florence, Rome, Brussels, Antwerp, Amsterdam, Haarlem or Delft.

This year's trip was to the Low Countries to examine Flemish and Dutch art in situ; plans are underway to take students to Rome next year for close study of the great works of the Renaissance and the origins of the Baroque.

Other regular extra-curricular activities include lectures from academics, history of art students from leading universities, and, where relevant, practising artists. 

How to apply

If you want to apply for this course, you will need to contact Marlborough College directly.

Last updated date: 18 November 2016
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