Art History Dissertation Topics

Art History, the study of objects made by humans for the purposes of aesthetic pleasure is a wide and varied area for study. Clearly, there is a huge scope for art historical study with many different ages of man being taken into account, the below areas give an indication of possible dissertation topics within some of the main areas of study today.


Gothic Art through Medieval Eyes

The 1100’s-1500’s was the time of the Gothic period, moving toward the era of the Renaissance. There was a flowering of Gothic architecture and the movement crossed into stained glass and medieval town buildings. With current fascination in the Gothic, and the Victorian revival of Gothic architecture a feature of our landscape, returning to the eyes of the medieval artists can be very interesting.

  • How was Humanity’s desire to touch God exemplified in the medieval Cathedral?
  • How does the Gothic link with the Romanesque in medieval architecture?
  • Florentine historiographer Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574) was the first to label the architecture of preceding centuries “Gothic,” to what was he referring to? Analyse what Vasari meant and how his definition may be different to ours today.
  • Is Gothic architecture more than a pointed arch?
  • An analysis of the stories and purpose of Gothic stained glass.

Egyptian Art and Architecture

Many universities now include Egyptian art and architecture as part of the History of Art Courses. As a module it connects to the early development of Art in one of the Ancient World’s greatest civilisations. It also is a feature of global perspectives of art, and Egypt and the Nile transported ideas and culture as much as material goods into the rest of Africa. The time frame involved is 31st century BC and the 4th century AD although there is a certain fluidity around these dates.

  • A comparison between the development of Byzantine and Egyptian art.
  • How can contemporary feminism allow new insights into Egyptian art forms?
  • Analyse the development of the human body in Egyptian art and architecture.
  • Is it true that Egyptian art changed very little over time?
  • Iconoclasm in Ancient Egypt, was this a forerunner to Black Live Matter modern day protests?
  • Trace the development of Amarna Art (c.1350 BC) and comment on the use of movement and activity new to Egyptian art.

Spanish Painting of the Golden Age

The mid fifteenth to late sixteenth century is the time period known as the Spanish Golden Age. The art of the period has received deserved attention from University modules in both undergraduate and Master’s levels.

  • Examine how the cult of the virgin influenced the art and style of the Golden Age.
  • Situate the Spanish Golden Age painters within a wider European context of what was happening in art development.
  • How were social attitudes and religious beliefs absorbed into the art and style of the leading Golden Age painters.
  • A discussion of reformed naturalism in the decoration of El Escorial.
  • What created the paradox in how the visual culture and literary arts in Spain thrived amid a time of political instability and economic crisis.

Art History Theory

The theory and practice of art theory is often explored as a module in the final year of undergraduate study.

  • How is it possible for distinct art periods to create a definitive style, yet share stylistic similarities?
  • Are art and aesthetic appreciation necessarily matters of convention?
  • When Marcel Duchamp displayed an upturned urinal in the 1917 exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists, what connected his gesture to the work of his peers was the assertion of the artist’s role in choosing what got to count as art. Discuss what constitutes art?
  • A discussion of the biomorphic in twentieth century painting.
  • How did Miro contribute to the surrealist movement?
  • Examine Picasso in light of the political and social movements of the day.
  • How does Picasso’s picture of Gertrude Stein mark a development in his work as an artist?

Art and Politics

Politics and art have always gone together. From the political paintings of the Tudor court to the use of art from the fascist regimes of the 1930’s, art has often been a political tool because of the fact that there is often political patronage of the artists. The art often reflected the paymaster. In any art analysis looking toward who the patron is matters, it shows how the artist would move to show the wider aims of the time period.

  • How did the architecture of Albert Speer show the wider politics of the Third Reich?
  • With a focus on Holbein’s The Ambassadors, was Holbein purely a political artist?
  • Was Russian Art during the Cold War an extension of the communist state?
  • A discussion of the degenerate art exhibition put on by the Third Reich, why was it degenerate and how did the German people really feel about it?
  • To what extent was Hieronymous Bosch presenting the perspective of his patrons?
  • Has sculpture been appropriated for political display?

Indian Art in the Colonial and Post-Colonial Era

India is a huge subcontinent with art styles pulling from many religious and cultural traditions. Study of Indian art is ever fascinating and in art history allows the art historian to track a lineage of art development and style. With its central adherence to Hinduism, India is home to many other faiths, and the influence of Mughal and British eras helped style the cities that formed the centres of their Empire.

  • Reflect on the development of Hindu and Buddhist Temple Art in Indian tradition.
  • How did the political message of the Mughals infuse with the Hindu culture of India?
  • Did the British era lead to a repression or development of Indian art?
  • An analysis of the history and development of the miniature painting in Indian art.
  • How does the Zain tradition contribute to Indian temple art?
  • Discuss the impact of the natural world in Indian painting.
  • How does British architectural style frame the centre of Delhi today?
  • An analysis of the contribution of Indian culture to the Catholic churches of Goa and the South of India.



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