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Victorian Art and Society in Britain

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The course will explore the wide-ranging and iconic art produced during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901).

Each session will focus on specific artists and artistic movements within historical, social and cultural contexts.

The module begins by exploring how classical and medieval art and culture offered inspiration for artists, designers and architects, such Leighton and Alma-Tadema. It also considers how the rise of the middle classes provided new patrons and audiences for art at the beginning of Victoria’s reign.

The course examines how visual communication displayed in prints, cartoons, advertisements and other mass-produced material provided vehicles for disseminating attitudes towards class, morals, race and gender.

Moreover, the course looks at the development of subject matter through the decades, paying particular attention to the mid-century and the social realism of the 1870-80s.

Learning and teaching

The module will be delivered through 10 two-hour sessions, made up of lectures, class discussions, small group work, and debates. Class sessions will be supplemented by resources available to students via Learning Central.

Syllabus content

  • Week 1: Introduction to Victorian art and society: this is a module overview with a group exercise and assignment brief.
  • Week 2: The past: this class will explore classical and medieval inspiration in Victorian art, design, funerary art and architecture.
  • Week 3: Physiognomy and art: this class will explore the pseudo-science that was used to judge character and personality by the shape of the head and facial features.
  • Week 4: Early Victorian art: this session explores the tastes of the new middle classes as patrons and as audience.
  • Week 5: Social commentary 1840s: this class considers satirical cartoons, illustrations and artwork relating to the decade of social upheaval.
  • Week 6: Pre-Raphaelites: this class looks at the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, examining the work and inspirations of the original founder members and their circle.
  • Week 7: Social history 1850-60a: this class considers portrayals of Victorian life that depict (realistically or not) poverty, work and leisure.
  • Week 8: Social history 1850-60b: this class considers portrayals of Victorian life that depict attitudes towards moral respectability.
  • Week 9: Social realism of the 1870s and 1880s: this class explores the realist works of artists such as Frank Holl, Gustave Dore and Hubert Herkomer.
  • Week 10: Module recap and preparing for the assignment.

Coursework and assessment

To award credits we need to have evidence of the knowledge and skills you have gained or improved. Some of this has to be in a form that can be shown to external examiners so that we can be absolutely sure that standards are met across all courses and subjects.

The most important element of assessment is that it should enhance your learning. Our methods are designed to increase your confidence and we try very hard to devise ways of assessing you that are enjoyable and suitable for adults with busy lives.

Students will produce a portfolio of writing of around 1600 words.

Reading suggestions

  • Birchall, H. 2010. Pre-Raphaelites. London: Taschen.
  • Pointon, M. 1997.History of Art: a Students Handbook. London: Routledge.
  • Prettejohn, E. 2007.The Art of the Pre-Raphaelites. London: Tate Publishing.
  • Rosenblum, R. and Janson, H.W. 2004.19th-Century Art. Harlow: Pearson.

Other useful resources

Library and computing facilities

As a student on this course you are entitled to join and use the University’s library and computing facilities. Find out more about using these facilities.


Our aim is access for all. We aim to provide a confidential advice and support service for any student with a long term medical condition, disability or specific learning difficulty. We are able to offer one-to-one advice about disability, pre-enrolment visits, liaison with tutors and co-ordinating lecturers, material in alternative formats, arrangements for accessible courses, assessment arrangements, loan equipment and dyslexia screening.