Master of Arts in Art History

Degree Program

Taught by John Cabot University’s international faculty, the degree program can be completed in three semesters of full-time study (Fall-Spring-Fall) and an intervening summer. It unfolds in three phases: a structured Foundation Year (Fall-Spring); a Master’s Exam (Summer); and a Thesis Semester (Fall). 

Seminars and courses take place at John Cabot University’s campuses in the centrally-located Trastevere district of Rome and in nearby Roman museums, churches, palaces, monuments, archaeological parks, archives, rare book libraries, restoration labs, study collections, artists’ workshops, public installations, and contemporary art galleries. These venues of visual culture and documentation constitute the laboratory of the degree. Some courses involve travel to other parts of Italy—for example, to Naples, Florence, or Assisi.

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During the Foundation Year (Fall-Spring or Fall-Spring-Summer) students complete twenty-four credit hours of coursework:

  • Six graduate-level courses in the history of art and architecture (eighteen credit hours total), including at least three graduate research seminars and one seminar or topics course focused on each of four periods: Antiquity; the Middle Ages; Early Modernity (i.e. Renaissance-Baroque); and the Modern and Contemporary era. Students choose from an array of dedicated, graduate-level courses and seminars in consultation with the MA Director.
  • Two methodological foundations courses (six credit hours total): Case Studies in Art-Historical Practice (Fall); and Practicum in Art-Historical Research and Problem Solving (Spring). Required of all MA students, these courses cultivate methodological dexterity, problem solving, and technical skills as a basis for innovative research.

The Foundation Year also includes a cultural events attendance component: each student attends and reviews at least ten scholarly lectures, conferences, exhibitions, or other approved events over the course of the academic year. Rome is especially rich in opportunities for extraordinary intellectual expansion and enrichment thanks to its unique wealth of foreign scholarly academies, learned societies, universities, embassies, museums, and libraries, each with its own public programming.

By the end of the Foundation Year, students must demonstrate reading knowledge of one of the principal languages of European art history: Italian, French, or German.

During the summer (mid-May through late August), students sit for a Master’s exam (administered in June). The Master’s exam tests mastery of the basic image-repertoire, chronology, and methodologies of art history, with emphasis on Rome and related cultures. The remainder of the summer can be devoted to coursework, thesis research, research-related travel, internships in or outside of Rome, supplementary language training, or other professional or educational activities, including the Alberese Archaeological Field School. MA Students have access to JCU’s Frohring Library and other university facilities through the summer.

The degree culminates in the completion of a Master’s thesis (six credit hours) during the Thesis Semester (Fall). The thesis is typically based on a research project initiated during the Foundation Year in the context of a graduate research seminar or topics course. It concentrates on primary source material (objects, buildings, excavations, documents) and is written under the guidance of a professor from the John Cabot University art history faculty.

Thesis Colloquium (three credit hours) accompanies and structures the thesis-writing experience. Colloquium participants present and discuss their research in progress; invite prominent guest professors to speak and critique their work; and prepare and deliver public presentations of their theses. Students may register for the Master’s thesis and colloquium upon fulfilling all requirements of the Foundation Year and passing the Master’s exam with a grade of C or higher.

During this final semester (or the preceding summer), MA candidates complete an Art-Historical Apprenticeship (three credit hours). The apprenticeship may take the form of a teaching or research assistantship at John Cabot University or of an internship at a museum, research institute, historic library, school, gallery, or foundation. The University currently has internship agreements with a range of cultural entities, including the Polo Museale della Città di Roma, the British School at Rome, the Norwegian InstituteTevereterno, and the Biblioteca Angelica.

Art History MA Thesis Guidelines

  • Graduate Research Seminars are research-intensive colloquia focused on specialized themes devised to stimulate original student research. They begin with the reading of a discrete body of scholarly sources and the examination of primary source material and proceed to the development of a focused research project, presentation, and paper by each seminar participant. Weekly seminar meetings are devoted to analyzing readings; examining art and other primary materials in museums, libraries, or laboratories; and presenting and discussing the results of individual research.

    Research Seminars and their respective professors for academic year 2017-2018 are: The Syntax of Public and Private Space in Ancient Rome (Inge Lyse Hansen); Vice and Virtue in Post-Tridentine Rome (Laura Foster); Constructing Identities: Christian Funerary Art in Late-Antique Rome (Sharon Salvadori); and Modernity and Loss: Nineteenth-Century Art and Rome (Karen Georgi). See course descriptions.

  • Topics courses structure the acquisition of visual and historical information and research skills pertinent to specific artistic styles, media, genres, artists, or critical phenomena. Their formats vary. Most involve some combination of lectures, guided readings, site visits, and the researching and writing of a substantial paper.
    Sample course themes include Ancient Roman and Mediterranean mural painting; illuminated manuscripts of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages; erotic art in the Renaissance; and the valorization of contemporary visual culture. See course descriptions.

  • Methodological Foundations Courses required of all MA students:
    - Case Studies in Art-Historical Practice is a team-taught course focused on exemplary works of art-historical scholarship. Readings are selected to illustrate the diverse methods developed for studying the arts of different eras (Ancient, Medieval, Early Modern, and Modern/Contemporary), with their distinct problems and bodies of evidence, and to bring out possibilities for useful methodological borrowings across traditional chronological boundaries.
    - The Practicum in Art-Historical Research and Problem Solving provides a hands-on introduction to research from the primary record, with units on media and materials, object handling, documentation and record-keeping, archive and library navigation, palaeography and transcription, and bibliographic, digital, and technical resources for the professional art historian.

  • Reading Knowledge of a Foreign Language: Given the polyglot nature of art-historical literature, before registering for the Master’s thesis MA students must demonstrate the ability to read Italian, French, or German at the B2 (upper intermediate) level or higher in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). This component can be satisfied by passing a language exam administered by the John Cabot University Foreign Language Resource Center or by presenting a B2-level certificate from an approved language school or testing service (CILS, DELF/DALF, etc.)

    Applicants whose first language is Italian, French, or German or who hold a BA or the equivalent from a university where the language of instruction is Italian, French, or German are exempt from this requirement. Although language courses do not count toward the MA, students needing further language preparation may register for JCU courses in Italian, French, or German.
Fall semester   
Course or requirement                  
Credit Hours Spring semester
Course or Requirement         
Credit Hours
Case Studies in Art Historical Practice  3 Practicum in Art-Historical Research and Problem Solving  3
Research Seminar  3 Research Seminar   3
Topics Course   3 Research Seminar    3
Topics Course    3 Topics Course   3
Cultural events attendance    Cultural events attendance    
Italian, French, or German reading comprehension test (Fall or Spring)      

Summer: Master’s exam (June), followed by opportunities for thesis research, research-related travel, internships, supplementary language training, and other professional or educational activities, including the Alberese Archaeological Field School.

Fall Semester   
Course Credit hours
Master's Thesis Registration 6
Thesis Colloquium 3
Art-Historical Apprenticeship* 3

*Apprenticeships may also be completed in summer between the Foundation Year and the Research Term.

Fall Semester I      
Practicum in Art-Historical Research and Problem Solving (3 credit hours) Research Seminar (3 credit hours) Research Seminar (3 credit hours) Topics Course (3 credit hours) Cultural events attendance Italian, French, or German reading comprehension test (Fall or Spring)
Fall I  Spring I  Summer  Thesis Term 
Practicum in Art-Historical Research and Problem Solving (3 credit hours) Case Studies in Art-Historical Practice (3 credit hours)  MA exam (June) Master's Thesis (6 credit hours)
Research Seminar (3 credit hours)  Students opting for this format are free to devote the summer to independent thesis research; research-related travel; supplementary language training; or other professional activities, including the Apprenticeship (3 credit hours). Thesis Colloquium (3 credit hours)
Research Seminar (3 credit hours)  Professional Apprenticeship (3 credit hours), if not completed during the Summer term
Topics Course (3 credit hours)   
Cultural events attendance   
Italian, French, or German reading comprehension test (Fall or Spring)      

Fall Semester I

• Practicum in Art-Historical Research and Problem Solving (3 credit hours)
• Research Seminar (3 credit hours)
• Research Seminar (3 credit hours)
• Topics Course (3 credit hours)
• Cultural events attendance
• Italian, French, or German reading comprehension test (Fall or Spring)

Applicants who are EU citizens or who have an Italian permit of stay (permesso di soggiorno) are eligible for admission as part-time students. Part-time students take between three and nine credit hours per term and are allowed four years to complete all degree requirements.
Inverting conventional practice, John Cabot University’s MA in Art History begins by scrutinizing material objects and built environments in person, rather than through photographs. With this point of departure, it cultivates visual-contextual analysis and skills for primary research while stimulating alternative perspectives on deeply rooted disciplinary habits. What happens, for instance, when we turn away from comparisons chosen to demonstrate clear patterns and chronological sequences and attend instead to the untidy fragments that emerge from a newly excavated archaeological site? How does the experience of a building in continuous use for two thousand years challenge ideas about historical periodization or the ways objects acquire and convey meaning? 
The degree is designed to serve as a foundation for art-historical careers in museums, galleries, schools, art consultancies, art publishing houses, and related entities; as preparation for Ph.D. (doctoral) level study in the history of art at other institutions; as continuing education for teachers of art history, history, classical studies, and related subjects; or as career enhancement for current and future professionals in areas where primary research skills and expertise in Roman visual culture offer creative advantages and possibilities for specialization. Examples include library and information science, cultural heritage management, historical fiction and script writing, scenography, art conservation, and game design.

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