History of Art: Studying the subject in Cambridge

What a Cambridge degree in History of Art gives you is – you become a member of
a fantastically vibrant, very close-knit community. You have access to
extraordinary resources – visual resources, library collections, expertise in our
Department, but also more broadly if necessary. I think you get a real sense
of the ambition of the discipline, of the many different ways in which art
historians function and how they think and how they might work. We’re never ever
complacent about the fact we’re in Cambridge – so there aren’t many better
places to be an art historian than Cambridge. In Cambridge we have the
unique opportunity to actually handle the objects that are all around us.
We have vast collections in Kettle’s Yard, in the Fitzwilliam Museum, and in College
collections as well. So this is Kettle’s Yard and it was founded in 1957 by a man
called Jim Ede and he collected Modern Art. It was really contemporary
art of his time, but now we know it as some of the leading British modernist artists.
So with the students at Cambridge, they have lots of their
lessons here – they’re able to look at the objects in the house and really think
about object based study. Just behind you there on the pewter plate is a lovely
lemon, which is replaced every week. Jim Ede
very specifically placed it there to provide some sort of juxtaposition with
this splash of yellow in the painting, so he wasn’t just thinking about where he
should hang this work but he was thinking about this whole space as one.
Our students revel in the opportunity to think and talk and write about works of
art and architecture with world-class specialists in their field.
Everybody who comes in here – as they come in – does the same thing. Which is they come in and
they look up straightaway. This is a spectacularly tall building and it’s
incredibly long. This building is very famous for its extraordinary
stained glass – you have a complete range of stained glass from the mid-16th
century and it gives the light in here this very mellow, dappled,
kind of spiritual quality. Cambridge is not just a collection of
sort of dried out objects in some museum somewhere, it is a living breathing
community of scholars who are actively engaged in producing new things.
There is new artistic patronage going on all the time – new sculptures are being produced,
new architectural projects are being planned – it really is very much a happening place
for the History of Art. The thing that makes it unique compared to every other
subject is that you get to go and look at the stuff that you study. Here you get
to come and visit these extraordinary buildings, you get to
see the works of art we’re studying. When you have such abundant resources and
collections, using them for this is wonderful.
The combination of compulsory courses that we run, together with the optional
courses, means students really can go into the Museum of Archaeology and
Anthropology regularly – into the Fitzwilliam, as well. Into all sorts of
buildings and other collections in Cambridge – to have hands-on experience of
what they’re thinking about and what they’re writing about.

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