Art History

Academic Program Introduction

Our internationally recognized art history program, one of the oldest in the country, focuses on critical visual literacy for all liberal arts students through a wide variety of innovative courses analyzing images, objects, and architecture. Our historical, critical, and thematic courses provide a deep and rich understanding of our discipline as well as the critical tools every undergraduate needs to navigate an increasingly complex visual world; learning to look closely and analyze is essential to a liberal arts education in the 21st century. Our close relationships with the other programs in our department, as well as Wellesley’s own Davis Museum and Special Collections, are essential to our goals, as are field trips to museums and other institutions in the Boston area and beyond.

Learning goals

  • Acquire knowledge of major art and architectural traditions across the globe from antiquity to the present day.

  • Apply interdisciplinary methodologies, critical theories, and professional ethical codes to interpret art and architecture.

  • Develop the critical skills of visual, formal, material, and spatial analysis.

  • Analyze the important ways in which visual and material culture intersects with, and contributes to, the social, philosophical, scientific, and political spheres.

Programs of study

Art history major and minor

Students will gain a critical awareness of visual culture and knowledge of art in its historical and global contexts. Explorations in practice enable students to make unexpected and transformative connections among images, ideas, materials, and histories.

Course Highlights

  • This seminar will analyze the role of food in the art and life of early modern Italy. We will examine the historic and economic context of food as the basis of our investigation of its representation in paintings, sculptures, and works on paper from circa 1300 to 1800. This will entail a close look at food as subject and symbol, as well as the material culture surrounding its production and consumption. The seminar will investigate illustrated herbals and cookbooks in Special Collections, dining habits and etiquette, and food as sexual metaphor through a wide range of interdisciplinary sources; Wellesley's Botanic Gardens will grow Italian fruits, vegetables, and herbs for us to incorporate in Renaissance-era recipes.
  • Art matters. Because images, buildings, and environments shape our ways of understanding our world and ourselves, learning how to look closely and analyze what you see is a fundamental life skill. Within a global frame, this course provides an introduction to art and its histories through a series of case studies from the ancient world to the present day. Through the case studies, we will explore concepts of gender and race, cultural appropriation, political propaganda, materials and media, questions of cultural ownership and repatriation, and other historical issues relevant to our current art world.  Site visits and assignments will engage with the rich art and architectural resources of Wellesley's campus.

Research highlights

  • An exhibit piece with a description on the side titled “The Amatuer Photographer.”

    Professor Patricia Berman curated the international exhibition The Experimental Self: Edvard Munch’s Photography, which appeared at eight venues in Europe and the U.S. (2018–22).

  • 5 Wellesley arts, english, and arts history faculty pose for a photo.

    Martha McNamara, senior lecturer and director of the New England Arts and Architecture Program, is a co-principal investigator for a three-year, $1.5 million grant from the Mellon Foundation to transform the humanities at Wellesley through curricular revision, student/faculty research, and public programs.

  • Art history faculty stand in front of a painting in the Davis Art Museum.

    James Oles, senior lecturer in art, curated the major transnational traveling exhibition Diego Rivera’s America, which was on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2022–23) and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (2023).

  • Sepia photograph of Madonina stroking her hair.

    Professor Jacki Musacchio's forthcoming book examines the artist, translator, and philanthropist Francesca Alexander (1837-1917), a Bostonian who lived most of her life in Italy; Alexander was a celebrated member of Florence's Anglo-American community and her books, three of which were brought to press by the English critic John Ruskin, made her an international celebrity.


  • Study abroad

    More than half of our majors and minors study abroad for a semester or a year, allowing them to experience art and architecture around the globe. In recent years, our students have studied in Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Italy, Japan, and Spain.

  • Summer opportunities

    The Davis Museum Summer Internship provides a paid opportunity for students to work with museum professionals, gain broad exposure to museum operations, practices, and policies, and develop professional skills and experience. The Grace Slack McNeil Internships and the Slade Summer Fellowships provide funding for summer work at museums, galleries, historical societies, and other nonprofit organizations.

  • Boston-area museums

    Our curriculum incorporates the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the Harvard Art Museums, and the Institute of Contemporary Art through specialty courses, class visits, writing assignments, behind-the-scenes tours, and archival research. All Wellesley students are entitled to free admission to the MFA and the Gardner with their ID cards.

  • Funding

    The Alice T. Friedman Endowed Fund supports research, travel, internships, or special projects intended to help students prepare for careers in the arts. The Marion Elizabeth Burr Sober ’30 Fellowship provides funds for art majors working on senior theses.

  • Graduate fellowships

    The Mary Clothier Slade Graduate Fellowship is an annual competition that provides funding for our graduates to pursue their art historical studies. Graduating seniors can also apply to the Liliane Pingoud Soriano ’49 Curatorial Fellowship at the Musée du Louvre, Paris, an exchange program between the Davis and the Louvre.

Beyond Wellesley

Beyond Wellesley

Our graduates are nationally and internationally known. They are academics, museum professionals, experts in auction houses, art conservators, authors, art detectives, and practitioners of art and intellectual property law, among other professions.

Art History Program

Jewett Arts Center
106 Central Street
Wellesley, MA 02481
Liza Oliver
Program Director
Samara Pearlstein, Meghan Murray
Academic Administrators