History of Art

The course

History of Art is offered as a full three-year course. Students for this take Part I at the end of the first year and a two-year Part II. It is also possible to change to History of Art after taking Part I in another subject, subject to sufficiently good performance at Part I (usually defined as an average of 67% or above), and to the approval of the College Tutor and the Director of Studies for History of Art.  In that case, undergraduates study either a one-year or two-year Part II, depending on the length of the Part I course that they have taken.

Part I in History of Art offers a broad introduction to the history of art and architecture,together with detailed study of the superb works of art and architecture in Cambridge colleges and museums. Part II offers a variety of more specialised options from the medieval period onwards, as well as two compulsory courses, one on critical and methodological approaches to the subject, and one on the concept and practice of display. Both parts of the Tripos also include dissertations. Further details can be found on the Department’s website.

History of Art at Pembroke

Pembroke is close to the Department, which is just a five minute walk along Trumpington Street. We are even closer to the Fitzwilliam Museum, which has one of the finest collections of art in the country and is used extensively in teaching. Seminars and lectures are also regularly held in Kettle’s Yard Gallery, and in the world-class buildings and collections of many of the colleges. Pembroke has two Fellows in the subject: Dr Rosalind Polly Blakesley, who is involved in both Part I and Part II teaching, and is a specialist in the Arts and Crafts Movement, and in Russian Art, and the holder of the Fari Sayeed Visiting Fellow in Islamic Art, who provides specialist teaching in both the Department of History of Art and the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies.

We have a vibrant community of graduate as well as undergraduate students in the subject.  Students get to know the art historian Fellows well through formal teaching, visits to local collections and buildings, and informal social gatherings.

The College offers plenty of opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students art historians including travel grants and life drawing classes (currently every Monday evening during term time) and a college art and photography society known as PAPS. There is a well equipped college Art Room for those interested in undertaking practical art and design, while a recent bequest has made Pembroke Library one of the richest college libraries for the subject, with several thousand books on art and architectural history. These practical and financial opportunities, coupled with the presence of Fellows in the subject and the college’s own outstanding architecture, make Pembroke one of the best colleges for the study of History of Art.


Pembroke aims to admit up to two undergraduates per year for the History of Art Tripos.

No A-level subject is stipulated or deemed inappropriate. If Art and Design is offered as one of three A Levels, it is desirable that an A* be achieved in a subject other than (or in addition to) Art and Design. Achieving an A* in an academic, essay-based subject, would be preferable. No prior qualification in the History of Art is necessary, as we are keen to encourage applications from interested students from all backgrounds. Applicants should prepare for interview by reading around the subject, looking at specific buildings and works of art, and considering these in an informed and critical manner.

The admissions process consists of two interviews, one with the Director of Studies in History of Art, who will usually be accompanied by another specialist member of staff, and one with the Admissions Tutor or other non expert academic. Beforehand, applicants will be asked to send in two essays of their choice written for their A-level subjects. These may be discussed at one of the interviews. The interview with the Director of Studies will include a visual analysis test, where applicants will be presented with a couple of images of works of art or architecture, and asked to comment on these.

If invited for interview, applicants will also be asked to sit a one-hour written admissions assessment (http://www.undergraduate.study.cam.ac.uk/applying/admission-assessments). This will take the form of a structured comparison of images and, again, no specialist knowledge will be assumed. You do not need to register separately for this assessment; the arrangements will be made by the college. More information about the assessment, including some sample questions, can be found here: http://www.undergraduate.study.cam.ac.uk/files/publications/hoaaa_specification.pdf.


Recent Pembroke graduates in History of Art have embarked on careers in national and local museums and galleries, auction houses, journalism, and arts publishing or PR. Some have decided to undertake teaching or postgraduate research, and others have successfully transferred their verbal, visual, and analytical skills to non-arts-related career paths. The course offers particularly good preparation for careers that place emphasis on visual literacy, such as advertising and marketing.  Whatever their destination, students tend to become passionate about their course, and retain close ties with their lecturers and supervisors after they graduate.

Current undergraduates are happy to discuss their experience of the History of Art Tripos with prospective applicants. If you are interested in learning more about the course at Pembroke from a current student, please contact the Director of Studies in History of Art, who will  happily put you in touch: rpg27@cam.ac.uk

For further information on the specifics of the course and admissions criteria please see the page about History of Art on the University website.