indian art history online courses

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history of india online course

Indian Art: A History (Online)


The god Shiva dancing in a ring of fire and the white marble Taj Mahal: two of the most famous, best-known images from the Indian Subcontinent – and all too often the only icons widely recognized from a rich artistic heritage.

Join us as we look at the great range of sculptures, paintings and buildings produced in South Asia over two thousand years, and relate them to the contemporary religious and political environment.

We will examine the Buddha image, the multitude of Hindu deities and their temples, the rich and delicately ornamented court paintings of the Mughals and Rajputs, and the impact of European colonialism on the traditional arts of South Asia.

This course will enrich the knowledge of participants who have travelled in South Asia or who wish to travel there for work or pleasure, and will appeal to anyone with an interest in the history of art outside Europe and the West.

University of Oxford Department for Continuing Education logo

Programme details

1. what is Indian Art?

  • India and South Asia
  • Themes in Indian art
  • In the image of man
  • Ornamental delight
  • Telling tales in a divine world
  • The religions of India

2. Stupas and storytelling

  • Buddhism and the Mauryan empire
  • Sanchi and the Stupa
  • Relics and the symbolism of the Stupa
  • Absence and presence: representing the Buddha in symbols
  • Narrative sculpture: the life of the Buddha

3. The image of the Buddha

  • Identifying the Buddha: the posture
  • Identifying the Buddha: the head
  • Identifying the Buddha: the hand gestures
  • Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and the Jatakas
  • Style and the development of the Indian Buddha

4. Who’s who in Hindu India

  • Hindu and Buddhist art
  • Shiva
  • Vishnu
  • Devi
  • Know your deity

5. Approaching the Hindu temple

  • The foundations of form
  • Ritual and function
  • Meaning and symbolism
  • Approaching the Hindu temple

6. Seeing God – Hindu art and ritual

  • Image and ritual in Hinduism
  • Contexts for viewing: temple and museum
  • Architecture and sculptural programmes

7. Mosques and mausolea

  • India and the Islamic mosque
  • Technology and design at the first mosque in Delhi
  • The Mughals and the Taj Mahal

8. Paintings for the Mughal emperor

  • Artists at the Mughal court
  • Buddhist and Jain painting
  • Islamic book illustration and European sources
  • Looking at Mughal painting

9. Art from the Rajput courts

  • The Mughals and the Rajputs
  • Sources and style
  • Portraits and epic tales

10. Colonialism and modernity 1750-1950

  • European encounters with South Asia
  • Indian paintings for the British
  • Colonial art and the foundations of Indian modernism
  • Architecture, empire and the Nineteenth-Century ‘Dilemma of Style’

To participate in the course you will need to have regular access to the Internet and you will need to buy the following paperback book:

Mitter, Partha: Indian Art (Oxford History of Art) (POUP, Oxford, 2001)  ISBN 0192842218


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online. If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to register and pay the £10 fee.

Coursework is an integral part of all online courses and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.

Assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail.

All students who successfully complete this course, whether registered for credit or not, are eligible for a Certificate of Completion. Completion consists of submitting the final course assignment. Certificates will be available, online, for those who qualify after the course finishes.


Course Fee£312.00
Take this course for CATS points£10.00


Dr Malini Roy

Malini Roy is an art historian and Curator of Visual Arts at the British Library. Research interests include late 17th and 18th century South Asian painting, the East India Company and art commissions, and British artists in India. 

Recent publications include, Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire, co-authored with J.P. Losty (British Library, 2012) and 50xIndiathe 50 most beautiful miniatures from the Rijksmuseum (Nieuw Amsterdam, 2008).

Course aims

This course aims to introduce students to the art of South Asia by:

  • Examining a range of approaches to understanding works of art from South Asia.
  • Discussing specific case-studies alongside directed reading.

This course will:

  • Provide an overview of the religious and cultural history of the Indian Subcontinent over 2000 years.
  • Introduce the main developments in the history of South Asian art in this period, including Buddhist and Hindu architecture and sculpture, paintings and architecture from the Rajput and Mughal courts, and the impact of European colonialism.
  • Examine the religious, ritual, social and political contexts in which these buildings and objects were made and used.

Teaching methods

  • Guided reading of texts.
  • Group asynchronous discussion of issues, vocabulary and specific objects/images.
  • Individual internet research on specific images or topics.
  • Questions to be answered in personal folders.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be able to understand:

  • The religious, social and political contexts for the production and use of South Asian art and architecture.
  • The vocabulary appropriate for the analysis of South Asian art and architecture.
  • The broad chronological and historical development of South Asian art from the 3rd century BC to the present.
  • The ways in which the presentation of South Asian art, whether in the context of a museum, temple, or exhibition, affects our perceptions of it.

By the end of this course students will have gained the following skills:

  • The ability to critically analyse sculpture, paintings and architecture from South Asia using appropriate vocabulary.
  • The ability to constructively criticise the approaches and methods of art historians.

Assessment methods

You will be set two pieces of work for the course. The first of 500 words is due halfway through your course. This does not count towards your final outcome but preparing for it, and the feedback you are given, will help you prepare for your assessed piece of work of 1,500 words due at the end of the course. The assessed work is marked pass or fail.

English Language Requirements

We do not insist that applicants hold an English language certification, but warn that they may be at a disadvantage if their language skills are not of a comparable level to those qualifications listed on our website. If you are confident in your proficiency, please feel free to enrol.

Level and demands

FHEQ level 4, 10 weeks, approx 10 hours per week, therefore a total of about 100 study hours.

IT requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.

art history courses online free

Art history is a fascinating part of the liberal arts education, but how do you learn about it? Some people read books. Others take online art history courses from universities like Harvard or free eLearning websites like Wondrium.

Whether you are studying art history in college, or just looking to explore new ideas, there are many free online courses to take. Here are the top 9 free online art history courses, according to our expert research team.

Best Free Art History Course for Beginners

1. How to Look at and Understand Great Art (Wondrium)

If you are just beginning your journey into the field of art history, then you should check out the free online courses from Wondrium. The site offers many art history courses that will help you “see” art in a whole new way. This free online art history course from Wondrium includes several classes on great works of art. You will reach new levels of appreciation by looking at the artwork in different ways. And you will learn what makes some pieces unforgettable, how to tell if something is fake, and so much more.

Benefits of This Course

– Learn how to see art in a new way.

– Gain insights into the techniques of famous artists.

– Be able to appreciate artwork on a deeper level.

Best Free Course for Art History Lovers

2. The Cathedral (Wondrium)

In addition to having the best online course for beginners, Wondrium offers several free courses for art history lovers. In this course from Wondrium, you will learn how to experience art history for what it really is. Most of us have always wanted to travel the world and see all sorts of interesting places. Unfortunately, we do not get to travel as much as we would like to. This online course makes it possible for art history lovers to experience the world’s greatest cathedrals without leaving home.

In this free art history course from Wondrium, you will explore Notre Dame, Chartres Cathedral, Amiens Cathedral, and Canterbury Cathedral. And your love for art history will grow even more when you take incredible tours of over 20 cathedrals from around the globe. You can learn about these historic buildings while exploring them yourself. Each cathedral tour comes with its own unique features and stunning videos and pictures.

Benefits of This Course

– Get to know cathedrals without the hassle of traveling.

– Learn about architecture, art, and history in this online course from Wondrium.

– Explore the world’s most beautiful buildings from home. 

– Experience the awe that these structures inspire through immersive 3-D tours.

Best Free Course for Art Historians

3. Great Artists of the Italian Renaissance (Wondrium)

Many students consider art history to be easy because they only need to memorize the names of famous artists and their works. But Wondrium’s online courses for art historians prove that there is more than just that. In this course, you will learn about Renaissance art in much more detail than what your textbook or art history professor could ever tell you. The paintings are so vivid and detailed that it feels like you are standing right in front of them. You will learn exactly why these masterpieces have stood the test of time as some of the greatest pieces ever created.

Benefits of This Course

– Learn about the Renaissance and its artists.

– Gain a sense of accomplishment from studying these great works of art. 

– See how beautiful the world can be when you take time to appreciate it. 

– Expand your knowledge on some of the greatest painters in history.

Best Free Art History Course for Museum Curators

4. Tangible Things: Discovering History Through Artworks and Artifacts (Harvard University via edX)

If you are a museum curator looking for the best art history course, then you should consider this free course from Harvard. Most people think that studying art history means reading about famous paintings. But the study of art is more than what you see on the surface. Art historians have to know different things like how artists work and what historical context they were working in.

This online art history course from Harvard will teach you all these skills and more. It provides a hands-on experience where you get to explore real objects from Harvard’s collections. And you will learn how to interpret works of art through exercises and projects. By the end of this course, you will be able to read about great works of art and enjoy them.

Benefits of This Course

– Learn about the history of art museums in this free online course from Harvard University via edX.

– Gain an appreciation for art and artifacts. 

– Better understand how material objects shape academic disciplines.

Best Free Art History Course for Architects

5. The World’s Greatest Churches (Wondrium)

Architects who want to explore the world’s greatest Christian churches should consider this art history course. This course from Wondrium is a fantastic experience for both Christians and non-Christians alike. Wondrium has done all the hard work of finding great churches for this art history course. In this course, you will explore the world’s most amazing churches, basilicas, and cathedrals.

For example, you will learn about St. Peter’s Basilica, Notre Dame Cathedral, and Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. This course has high-quality video footage from inside these beautiful buildings. And you will get access to hours of video content along with detailed written descriptions, giving you everything you need to know.

Benefits of This Course

– Gain a better understanding of the history and significance of churches.

– Learn about the architectural styles, interior design, and artworks that make these buildings so remarkable. 

– Explore some of the most famous cathedrals in Europe in this online art history course from Wondium.

– Discover what makes these buildings so unique and beautiful.

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