History of Art


The material taught in the History of Art Tripos will appeal to those with a particular interest in the history and criticism of art and architecture in Western Europe. Cambridge is an ideal place in which to study History of Art, since it has a rich legacy of architectural masterpieces. Trinity, in common with other colleges, possesses many fine paintings, illuminated manuscripts, and rare books. The Fitzwilliam Museum, the whose staff contribute to teaching in the Department of History of Art, has a collection of international importance.

The Tripos consists of a one-year Part I and a Part II which may be studied over one or two years; the one-year option is designed for those who have already taken a two-year Part I in another subject. Emphasis throughout the course is placed on first-hand contact with works of art and architecture. Travel is therefore encouraged and the College offers grants for this purpose.

A good memory for visual images is needed for success in the subject, but this improves rapidly with practice. Creative artistic ability is not in itself required, although direct experience of techniques such as drawing, painting, print-making, and sculpture is valuable. A reading knowledge of at least one foreign language – especially Italian, German, or French – is essential, and Latin is important for those studying medieval or Renaissance topics.

There are many choices of A-levels that are suitable for History of Art, although Italian, German, Greek, Latin, French, History, or English would all provide a useful preparation for the course. An A-level in History of Art is not necessary: what the interviewers will be looking for in candidates is not specialist knowledge but intellectual potential, visual sensitivity, and evidence of enthusiasm for the subject.

History of Art is one of the smallest subjects at Cambridge and Trinity would expect to accept about two or three applicants each year. The College’s Director of Studies is Dr Alyce Mahon, the Department’s specialist in Modern and Contemporary art. Applicants will normally have a subject-based interview with Dr Mahon and a general academic interview with the Tutor for Admissions. The standard conditional offer is A*AA.

More information about the Tripos is given in the course brochure; if you would like a copy, please write to the Secretary, Department of History of Art, 1 Scroope Terrace, Cambridge CB2 1PX. You can also visit the departmental website.

Teaching Staff

  • Dr Alyce Mahon

Admissions Assessment

All applicants for History of Art are required to take a written assessment at interview, if interviewed.

Assessment format

  • Structured comparison of images (60 minutes)

PDF icon History of Art Admissions Assessment Specification

You do not need to register or be registered in advance for the assessment at interview – the College will provide details of arrangements in the emails inviting applicants to interview.

Please note that your performance in the assessment at interview will not be considered in isolation, but will be taken into account alongside the other elements of your application.


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