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Discover the history of the fine and decorative arts

At a Glance

  • Live online course
  • 2 hours a week
  • Wednesdays 18:30 - 20:30
  • 10 weeks: October to December
  • Tutor: Viv Lawes
  • Fees from £115 to £210
  • Imperial College attendance certificate (T&Cs apply)
Booking link

The idea of looking at the history of art - especially the history of paintings, sculptures and architecture - is well known, but what about the history of the interiors in which art was placed and the designed objects that surrounded art?

On this course Viv Lawes (Sky Arts, Sotheby's Institute) invites us to join her on a journey into the interior settings in which designed and decorative arts objects were set. We will look at a whole range of designed and decorative arts objects, from medieval tapestries to renaissance bronzes, eighteenth-century furniture to sumptuous Staffordshire ceramics and more, identifying their beautiful characteristics, exploring their influences and setting them in the context of their age, including the fine art world of painting and sculpture.

We will start with the world of ancient Greece and Rome and follow the major stylistic and cultural changes chronologically through to the end of the nineteenth century. Our journey will take in sculpture and painting, but we will look at it in the context of wider arts and crafts production, including textiles, ceramics, furniture and metalwork, as well interior design schemes.

Viv will also highlight collections and historic sites, including museums and country houses, that are easily accessible to the public so you can visit some of the work mentioned during the course.

There is no guarantee you will become an 'Antiques Roadshow' expert by the end of the course, but with Viv's expert knowledge, tuition and experience she aims to develop the inner connoisseur in everyone!

This 10-week course is aimed at complete beginners and so no previous knowledge of art or design history or practice is necessary. It is also be suitable for those who have some background in art and design history or practice.

Online access to course

This is a taught live online course which means you will be taught alongside other students on the course by a tutor at a specific time on a specific day of the week. To take part in the course you will need a suitably equipped and internet-enabled device. Please find full details and instructions below under 'Course Delivery'.

Attendance certificate

Those who attend at least 80% of the course sessions will receive an attendance certificate from Imperial College London upon completion of the course.

Course Information

Course Programme

Programme listed is indicative only and may be subject to modification

      Session 1. The Classical World

      Ever had the feeling that you’ve seen a sculpture somewhere before? This talk explains why your suspicions are correct. Starting with a selection of works by the great Greek sculptors, who remained known through the Roman tradition of replication, the lecture shows how the Renaissance created a canon for the classical world through the formation of publicly accessible collections, which cemented the Graeco-Roman tradition that still lies at the heart of fine art in the West. A visit to the garden centre will never be the same again.

      Session 2. The Romanesque and High Culture of the International Gothic

      ... to be added shortly

      Session 3. The Renaissance I: Historical hinterland, Theory and Form

      ... to be added shortly

      Session 4. The Renaissance II: Blossoming Virtuosity

      The intellectual and literary climate of 15th century Italy not only saw humanist scholars rediscover manuscripts from the ancient world but also marked a return to the principles of balance and proportion seen in Greek and Roman art. Out of this came a new identity in the fine and decorative arts of Renaissance Europe and the modern era of collecting and patronage.

      Session 5. Baroque Splendour

      Baroque style spanned the whole of the 17th century, a period in which notions of the exotic and the dramatic found fertile intellectual ground. This was reflected in the fine and decorative arts of Counter-Reformation Rome, from the virtuoso architecture and public sculpture of Bernini and Borromini to Caravaggio’s dark psychological paintings, as well as many artists’ virtuoso works in wood, ceramics, glass and precious metals.

      Session 6. The Joys of Rococo

      The unapologetic abandon of the mid-18th century’s Rococo style saw a rejection of the seriousness and grandeur of Baroque art and design. There was not a straight line in sight. This lecture immerses itself in curves, cartouches, rockwork, shells, crustaceans and the arabesque.

      Session 7. Neoclassicism and the archaeology of the Ancient World 

      After the joyous excesses of the Rococo, the sparse reserve of the Neo-Classical period presented an altogether more intellectual and rigorous schema. Publications about archeological discoveries, increasing numbers of Grand Tourists travelling into Greece and Winckelmann’s codification of ancient classical works of art all helped to revive interest in classicism at its source. Robert Adam and Josiah Wedgwood were the key figures in British design and this lecture explores both their contributions and those of their peers.

      Session 8. Egyptomania and Orientalism

      As Napoleon’s armies rampaged across North Africa, the cultural heritage of the region took hold in the European imagination, not least when Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson fought the Battle of the Nile in 1798. The realities of campaigning gave way to an imagined exotic as Egyptomania and Orientalism became a distinct theme in the arts of the West.

      Session 9. Revivalism in the 19th Century

      The late Georgian and Victorian age has suffered from being regarded art historically as a messy and unoriginal period for design, which was only remedied by the art reform movements of the second half of the 19th century. Yet in the historical reconstructions and ‘-isms’ in the first half of the century, which saw a conscious revival of past schemes of structure and ornament, there is, in retrospect, a very clear identity. This lecture explores the historicism of the Regency period, shot through with a dose of Egyptomania, along with Victorian interpretations of Gothic, Renaissance and Rococo design.

      Session 10. The Aesthetic and Arts and Crafts Movement

      ‘Art for Art’s Sake’ was the motto of celebrated aesthetes like Oscar Wilde and the Oxford academic Walter Pater, who pushed against conventional life in Victorian England. The Aesthetic Movement was all about the pursuit of beauty, resulting in the production of artworks that were unashamedly gorgeous. The Arts & Crafts Movement, like the Aesthetic Movement with which it was contemporaneous, was a reaction against the revivalist styles that dominated mid-19th century Britain. The leaders of the movement, most famously William Morris, believed in the moral purpose of art, the integrity of the craftsperson and the intrinsic beauty of materials. It became a key signatory of reformist style and its legacy is still felt in art and design today.

                                          Additional Reading

                                          There is no compulsory reading required for this course, and there is no set course text.


                                          Your Tutor

                                          Photograph of Viv Lawes Viv Lawes (Sky Arts/Sotherby's Institute/etc) is an author, journalist, lecturer and curator with over 25 years’ experience in the art market.

                                          Viv studied History at York University and graduated with an MA in Fine and Decorative Art from Sotheby’s Institute in 1997, where her thesis focused on the textile trade between England and India/ China in the 17th and 18th centuries. She is Senior UK Consultant for Singapore-based gallery One East Asia and has curated numerous exhibitions of Southeast Asian modern and contemporary art in London since 2011. She has written catalogue essays for many Southeast Asian contemporary artists, including Chang Fee Ming (Malaysia), Jane Lee (Singapore) and Andres Barrioquinto (Philippines). She recently co-authored a forthcoming book on the late Singaporean artist Teng Nee Cheong (1951-2013).

                                          As well as teching at the Sotheby’s Institute Viv lectures at the City & Guilds of London Art School, L'Institut d’Etudes Supérieures des Arts (IESA) and the University of the Arts, London. She is also a NADFAS-accredited lecturer, travelling widely in the UK, Europe and Asia.

                                          As a journalist she has written for many national and international arts publications, including The Art NewspaperAntiques Trade GazetteThe GuardianArt + AuctionCountry LifeThe Royal Academy Magazine and the British Antiques Dealers Association annual handbook. She is currently in the finishing stages of writing a book, Horse: A History of Equine Bronze Sculpture, for the Sladmore Gallery, London.

                                          Course Delivery Method: Live Online (Zoom)

                                          All our online courses are taught live which means you will be taught alongside other students on the course by a tutor at a specific time. To take part in the course you must be able to attend the online session at the time stated for the course description.

                                          All times stated are British Standard Time.

                                          To take part you will need a computer, or laptop, or tablet computer, connected to the Internet. The device you use will also need to have a camera, microphone and speakers. Most devices now have these built in, but if not you might have to buy them from a computer shop and to connect them to your device.


                                          This course will use Zoom as its online delivery method. Zoom is very easy to use and you do not need to set up a Zoom account to use it. Near the date of your first online session you will be sent an email with a web address (or URL) that will allow you to access the course. This is called the Course Link. All you need do is click on the Course Link in the email and you will be asked to enter your name. This is the name that will be seen by your tutor and other students in the class.

                                          Once you have entered your name you might be asked to enter a password to enter the class. The password will be included in the email sent to you. Once you enter the password you will either be taken directly into the class, or asked to wait in a virtual waiting room until the tutor is ready to let you into the class.

                                          We have also produced a Handy Guide to Zoom [pdf] which gives you basic information on how to use it.

                                          Course Fees and Rate Categories

                                          HoursWeeksStandard RateInternal RateAssociate Rate
                                           20  10  £210   (≡£10.50 per hour)
                                          £125     (≡£6.25 per hour) £165    (≡£8.25 per hour)
                                          All fee rates quoted and due are for the whole course. Part-payments are not possible. Equivalent to hourly rate is for comparison guidance only. There is no early-bird discount for January intake courses.

                                          Rate Categories and Discounts

                                          Standard Rate

                                          • Applicable to all except those who fall under the Internal Rate or Associate Rate category, respectively.

                                          Internal Rate

                                          • Current Imperial College students and staff (incl. Imperial NHS Trust, Imperial Innovations, ancillary & service staff employed on long-term contracts at Imperial College by third-party contractors)
                                          • Individuals enrolling under our Friends & Family scheme
                                          • Staff of the English Chamber Orchestra
                                          • Current Centre for Languages, Culture and Communication (CLCC) staff, current CLCC PhD students, Science Communication (Sci Comm) postgraduate students, and students enrolled on an Imperial College 'Language for Science' degree programme should contact before completing the online enrolment form

                                          Associate Rate

                                          • Alumni of Imperial College and predecessor colleges and institutes
                                          • Austrian Cultural Forum staff
                                          • City & Guilds College Association members
                                          • Cooperative College Members
                                          • Francis Crick Institute staff, researchers and students
                                          • Friends and Patrons of the English Chamber Orchestra
                                          • Harrods staff
                                          • Historic Royal Palaces staff
                                          • Lycee Charles de Gaulle staff
                                          • Members of the Friends of Imperial College
                                          • Members of the Kennel Club
                                          • Members of the London Zoological Society
                                          • Members of the South London Botanical Institute (SLBI)
                                          • Members of the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)
                                          • Natural History Museum staff
                                          • National Health Service (NHS) employees
                                          • Residents of postcodes SW3, SW5, SW7, SW10 and W8
                                          • Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council staff
                                          • Royal College of Art and Royal College of Music tutors and other staff
                                          • Royal Geographical Society staff
                                          • Science Museum staff
                                          • Staff of Exhibition Road Cultural Group (Discover South Kensington) organisations
                                          • Students (non-Imperial College)
                                          • Teachers and other staff of UK schools
                                          • Tutors and other staff of institution members of the Association of Colleges
                                          • Tutors and other staff of other universities and higher education institutions
                                          • Victoria and Albert Museum staff

                                          Late enrolment

                                          It is possible to enrol on many CLCC Evening Class and Lunchtime Learning programmes after the course has started. For non-language courses this is subject entirely to agreement by the tutor. For language courses it is subject to agreement by the language Coordinator conducting level assessment. If you want to join a course late do bear in mind there might be work you will need to catch up on, particularly in language courses.

                                          Applicable terms & conditions

                                          Please read the Terms and Conditions [pdf] before enrolling on any course.

                                          Term Dates

                                          HoursWeeksAutumn termSpring termSummer termSummer School
                                           20  10 n/a w/c 17 Jan - w/e 26 Mar 2022 (10 weeks)* n/a n/a
                                          * This is a one-term course

                                          Enrolment Process

                                          Web enrolment starts 5 November 2021

                                          Enrolment and payment run through the Imperial College eStore. Please click on the blue booking link on the relevant course page noting below instructions:

                                          • Our rate categories are explained on the course page and your applicable rate category must be selected on the eStore
                                          • First-time eStore users please create an account by entering an email address and password. These credentials should also be used for future bookings. Imperial College users please note the eStore is not a single-signon College system
                                          • The booking process involves entering payment details after your course choice and applicant details are collected via an in-built questionnnaire
                                          • The following email notifications are sent:
                                          What is sentWhen is it sentWhat does it contain
                                          1. Payment confirmation Is sent instantaneously following submission of your online application
                                          • This is a receipt for your payment and includes payment date, order number and course title
                                          • Confirmation of your place on your chosen course will follow later
                                          2. Enrolment confirmation Is sent within 10 working daysPlease treat your payment confirmation as confirmation that your applicant details and payment have been received
                                          • Re-confirms your course choice
                                          • Shows your course's term dates
                                          • Confirms the day and time of your course
                                          3. Programme information Is usually sent on Friday late afternoon the week before term starts
                                          • Contains joining instructions for your course, incl. tutor contact details
                                          If you need further help with the above information please ring 020 7594 8756

                                          Any Questions?

                                          • Questions regarding the content and teaching of this course should be sent to the programme manager for adult education, Dr Michael Paraskos at
                                          • Questions about your enrolment and payment should be sent to the Programme Administrator,