A Level History of Art


What is it about at sixth form level?

Works of art are layered and structured things like poems and stories, built of out of symbols whose significance is not always obvious. By studying History of Art A level, you will learn how to decode them. You will look at their differing styles and the particular techniques, materials and processes that have gone into their construction. Alongside this traditional approach, you will also learn about new perspectives from which to evaluate works of art, such as considering the social context in which they existed and the gender and ethnicity of the people that created them. History of Art is a wide- ranging subject that raises many questions as it is a point of intersection between history, sociology, psychology and philosophy. It is where all the different pieces of the academic puzzle start to make sense.

Lower sixth

In the first year, you will study two units and you will develop a strong foundation in the subject. In Unit 1 (Visual Analysis and Interpretation), you will develop your knowledge and understanding of formal characteristics and terminology. You will work on mastering terminology and the formal characteristics of painting, sculpture and architecture. The unit assesses visual skills and measures how well you can interpret works of art. In Unit 2 you will acquire analytical and evaluative skills as well as developing your knowledge and understanding of art’s historical themes such as subjects and genres, materials and techniques, form and style, functions of works of art, historical and social contexts, patronage, gender, nationality and ethnicity.

Upper sixth

In the second year, you will study two further units to develop a more sophisticated understanding of how works of art may be interpreted and how art is affected by historical contexts as well as social and economic conditions. In Unit 3 (Investigation and Interpretation: Art and Architecture in 15th Century Europe), you will examine painting, sculpture and architecture in Europe during a century in which humanism caused significant developments in science and art. The work of all major artists will be studied and placed within their social, political and cultural contexts. The painting, sculpture and architecture of Italy and Flanders will provide the main area of study. In Unit 4 (Investigation and interpretation: Art and Architecture in Sixteenth Century Europe) you will pursue your studies by focusing predominately on the High Renaissance and Mannerist styles in Rome, Florence and Venice.

Why study it and what skills does it develop?

A History of Art A level is excellent preparation for degree-level study in the subject. It is also of benefit to those wishing to pursue studies in or careers in the media, art and advertising. It develops skills of analysis and interpretation that are of great value to a very wide range of subjects. Art historians are much sought after for their analytical and evaluative skills.

What prior knowledge and skills are required?

You should be interested in both art and history as well as philosophy and religion. You should be interested in ideas, as the course is about learning to understand the meaning of works of art in their historical and social context as well as issues such as style, gender, and patronage.

How is the course assessed?

AS level

For the AS, there are two exams on Units 1 and 2 respectively. Both exams are written papers. Unit 1 is worth 40% of AS level (20% of the A level) and lasts 1 hour. The questions will be based on photographic images of works of art. Unit 2 is worth 60% of the AS level (30% of the A level) and lasts 1 hour 30 minutes.

A2 level

For the A2, there are two exams on Units 3 and 4 respectively. Both exams are written papers. Both exams are worth 50% of the A2 (25% of the A level) and last 1 hour 30 minutes.


The Story of Art
By E. H. Gombrich
Published by Phaidon Press, ISBN 978-0714832470

A World History of Art
By Honour, Fleming
Published by Laurence King, ISBN 978-1856695848

Annotated Art
By R. Cumming
Published by Dorling Kindersley, ISBN 978-0751301588

Art in Renaissance Italy
By Paolettii, Radke
Published by Laurence King, ISBN 978-1856697972

Painting in Renaissance Venice
By P. Humfrey
Published by Yale University, ISBN 978-0300067156

By P. Humfrey
Published by Phaidon, ISBN 978-0714842585

Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling
By R. King
Published by Pimlico, ISBN 978-1844139323

Exam Board and Specification Codes

AS: AQA 1251, A2: AQA 2251 (legacy)


John Cameron
Head of Department