MA Conservation of Wall Painting

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MA Conservation of Wall Painting


Postgraduate Taught Courses

MA Conservation of Wall Painting

The Courtauld is one of the leading centres in the world for education and research in wall painting conservation. Over the last 30 years, the Conservation of Wall Painting Department has had a major impact on the evolution of the discipline and the care of wall paintings globally. A considerable part of this impact derives from the Master’s programme that aims to ensure the improved care of wall paintings through providing appropriate education in their conservation.

Governed by the philosophy of minimal intervention and an interdisciplinary approach, the education seeks to impart a methodology that emphasises investigation and analysis of component materials and techniques, and diagnosis and control of the causes of deterioration. This aids design of a preventive, passive or remedial conservation strategy that is in line with accepted professional practice, and respects the integrity and significance of the object and its context.

The programme seeks to provide the student with a strong foundation in all aspects of wall painting conservation.
On completion of the programme the student will be able to:

  • contribute to the assessment of the significance of the painting and its context;
  • examine and assess the original and later materials of both the painting and its support and the implications these have for deterioration and intervention;
  • identify relevant factors of deterioration and evaluate the likely effects on the painting of measures proposed for their control;
  • contribute to the design and implementation of a programme of conservation which may include: preventative measures; passive measures; emergency and protective interventions; remedial treatments; and design and implement monitoring and maintenance programmes;
  • produce full written, graphic and photographic documentation; participate in the development of the profession, for instance through the presentation and publication of papers.

On graduation, students join a long list of Courtauld alumni who have gone on to have a major impact in the conservation of wall paintings and other aspects of cultural heritage across the world by working for heritage organisations, universities and in private roles.

About eight students are accepted on each course and applicants from different academic and geographical backgrounds are encouraged to apply. Previous experience in the field is not required.

This programme accepts new students once every three years. The next intake will be for the 2016-17 academic year. Applications will be accepted until 15 January 2016.


Watch a video introduction to the course

On graduation, you will join a long list of Courtauld alumni who have gone on to fulfil conservation work for heritage organisations and private roles across the world in practical and leadership roles.


Key facts

Status Full time
8 students
Duration 3 years
Language skills English
Fees 2016/17 TBC 2015/6 Fees (for reference):
Home/EU fee: £6,230 (returning students)
Overseas fee: £17,695 (returning students)

MA Conservation of Wall Painting

The online versions of our prospectuses contain all of the information from our printed prospectuses. You can download a pdf version below or order a print prospectus.

Apply Now Prospectus
Fieldwork 6.1
© Courtauld Institute of Art

The three-year MA programme is structured to provide a broad foundation in wall painting conservation through formal courses, closely supervised fieldwork, and research. The balance shifts over the three years with the third year devoted entirely to fieldwork and research.

Year 1

This year focuses on the acquisition of knowledge in the primary areas of science for conservation, theory and practice of the conservation, the technology and history of wall paintings, and documentation. Issues of change and deterioration are introduced, while practical work, including a substantial period of fieldwork, familiarises students with the range of conservation interventions and develops manual skills.

Year 2

Formal instruction is concentrated on diagnosis and control of environmental deterioration, on scientific examination of wall paintings and their supporting structures, and on the theory and materials of cleaning and stabilisation. Fieldwork continues in the second year, building on new competencies and furthering developing critical and manual skills.

Year 3

The third year is devoted to major fieldwork programmes and an individual research dissertation on an aspect of the conservation, examination, recording or original techniques of wall paintings.

Conservation of Wall Painting Department Staff

Fieldwork 7.1
© Courtauld Institute of Art

First year

The objective is to provide the necessary grounding in the chemical and physical properties of the constituents of wall paintings and their supporting structures, and of conservation materials; to develop an appreciation of the objects through historical study; to introduce principal conservation treatments; and to foster the development of practical and critical skills.

  • Course 1: Chemistry and physics for conservation
  • Course 2: Materials and technology of wall paintings and their supporting structures
  • Course 3: Theory and practice of conservation
  • Course 4: History of European Wall Painting and Conservation: Medieval
  • Course 5: Practical
  • Course 6: Documentation
  • Course 7: Site Visits
  • Course 11: Fieldwork

Second year

The objectives are to complete formal training with continued instruction in art history and history of conservation, and with new courses in deterioration, scientific examination, and the theory and materials of cleaning and consolidation of wall paintings; to provide for extended periods of fieldwork to allow the synthesis and application of knowledge gained through formal instruction, and the development of practical skills and judgement, and to prepare for the final-year research project by means of a literature survey and project proposal.

  • Course 8: Environmental Causes of Deterioration of Wall Paintings and their Supporting Structures: Diagnosis, Prevention and Control
  • Course 9: Scientific Examination
  • Course 10: Cleaning and Consolidation of Wall Paintings: Theory, Materials and Practice
  • Course 11: Fieldwork

Research Project

In preparation for the final-year research project, the students select a topic, undertake a literature survey and submit a proposal for consideration by the International Advisory Board at their July meeting.

Third year

The objectives are to develop diagnostic, analytical, practical and communication skills related both to conservation and research. Examination is by oral examination at the end of the year.

Research Project

The objectives are to identify and structure a research topic, and to demonstrate the acquisition of the requisite methodological and communication skills to carry out the project. The research may be on any aspect of either the materials and techniques of wall paintings or of the methods or materials used in their conservation, examination, or recording. Many incorporate skills that have been developed throughout the formal teaching while developing additional expertise in research, planning, implementation, information management and networking. The resulting research leads to acquisition of highly transferrable skills which can lead directly to specific career paths, as well as providing a significant contribution to research in the field.

Students are allocated approximately three months during term in the third year for work on their research project. Supervision is provided on a structured basis, and for specialist areas may also involve an external supervisor in additional to the departmental supervisor. A dissertation of 18,000 words (excluding appendices) is examined by the Board of Examiners and also forms part of the oral examination at the end of the year. For examples of MA research carried out in the department, please follow this link.


The objectives are to continue to develop practical and diagnostic skills as well as critical judgement within the context of participation in an expanding range of conservation programmes, and to provide an interpretative link between conservation theory and its field application. The balance of the year is taken up with field projects. Students produce reports on these projects, and, as appropriate, specialist reports for particular aspects of related investigations. Examination is by oral examination at the end of the year.

Teaching methods

© Courtauld Institute of Art
© Courtauld Institute of Art

Continuity in instruction and supervision is provided by permanent staff, but considerable advantage is also taken of supervision and teaching by established practitioners and leading international specialists.  The various teaching methods and types of work required of the students are related to the objectives of each component of the programme and include:

  • lectures: to impart factual information;
  • seminars: to provide a forum for open discussion, and to allow assessment of the development of the individual student’s critical abilities;
  • student seminars: to develop skills in gathering, organising and presenting a body of information, including visual material;
  • essays: to develop skills in written communication and research methodology;
  • reports: to assess the student’s ability to undertake investigations and present results;
  • practical work: to develop manual skills, to apply information imparted in the formal teaching to the analysis and solution of practical problems, and to enable the student to exercise judgement in diverse situations;
  •  tutoring: to provide individual guidance, and to allow monitoring of the student’s progress.

The programme not only accommodates students from different disciplines, but benefits from the interaction and teamwork of students from diverse backgrounds. The curriculum takes account of their different strengths. Thus, in the first year, science graduates are exempted from the conservation science examination, and similarly art history graduates are exempted from the history of wall painting examination.

© Courtauld Institute of Art
© Courtauld Institute of Art

Most of the Department’s fieldwork projects involve conservation, research and teaching, though a minority are devoted purely to research. Projects have been undertaken in many countries, including China, Cyprus, Jordan, Malta, Spain and the UK. A high supervisor to student ratio ensures that the students benefit from an excellent level of supervision. The MA is exceptional in that all the travel and accommodation costs for fieldwork are paid by the Department.

Past projects include the conservation of medieval and later paintings in Ibiza, of Baroque paintings in Malta, and of Byzantine paintings in four churches in the Troodos Mountains in Cyprus. In China, we work in collaboration with the Dunhuang Academy and the Getty Conservation Institute at the extraordinary site of Dunhuang, with some 500 painted cave temples, dating from the 5th to the 14th centuries.

Current projects include:

Fieldwork 2.1
© Courtauld Institute of Art

Bhutan: conservation of 16th-century and later wall paintings at Tamzhing Monastery, and of 17th- and 18th-century wall paintings at Tango Monastery. Tamzhing retains the earliest surviving wall paintings in Bhutan, while those at Tango are considered to be the finest surviving paintings in the country. Both projects are being undertaken in collaboration with the Department of Culture of the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs of Bhutan, and follow on from a major survey of Bhutanese wall paintings undertaken by The Courtauld and the Department of Culture in 2008-12.

Georgia: conservation of the internationally important late 12th-century wall paintings in the Church of the Dormition in the cave monastery of Vardzia, undertaken in collaboration with the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia and the Tbilisi Ap. Kutateladze State Academy of Arts. This project, begun in 2012, follows on from the Conservation of Wall Painting Department’s involvement with training and other aspects of conservation in Georgia since 1997.

© Courtauld Institute of Art
© Courtauld Institute of Art

Malta: this project on the Baroque ceiling paintings of the Church of Our Lady of Victory in Valletta, undertaken in collaboration with Din L-Art Helwa (National Trust of Malta), follows on from other projects on 16th-century and later paintings in the Presidential Palace and St John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta.

India: two major projects are currently being undertaken in Rajasthan. At Nagaur, the Conservation of Wall Painting Department has undertaken study and conservation of the splendid 18th-century wall paintings since 2005 in collaboration with the Mehrangarh Museum Trust. Previously supported by the Helen Hamlyn Trust and the Getty Foundation, since 2012 this work has been supported by the Leon Levy Foundation (New York). In 2013 the Leon Levy Foundation for Conservation Studies at Nagaur was established with laboratories and other facilities. Conservation training is provided here each year for conservators from South Asia and elsewhere, under the direction of Professor Sharon Cather of the Conservation of Wall Painting Department. In association with the work at Nagaur, a new project in Rajasthan started in 2015 with the support of AkzoNobel. This is a technical and conservation study of the paintings at Bundi, which include the finest surviving wall paintings in Rajasthan, dating from the 16th century and later.

© Courtauld Institute of Art
© Courtauld Institute of Art

The Conservation of Wall Painting Department is equipped with its own laboratories and specialist library. The Department is equipped with state-of-the-art facilities for multispectral imaging as well as portable microscopy, and FTIR, XRF and Raman spectroscopy. It houses major collections of wall painting fragments and samples from around the world, the archive of the National Survey of Medieval Wall Painting, and a specialist library including many rare items.

Students benefit from access to a wide range of research facilities at both the Institute and other parts of the University of London, as well as other major libraries nearby. Close collaboration with scientists and conservators in the national museums and heritage organisations offers further opportunities for training and research.

The Department is also closely linked with The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Centre for Buddhist Art and Conservation at the Courtauld, with its own specialist library on Asian art. Both the Wall Painting Department and the Ho Centre periodically hold conferences and public lectures in association with the Research Forum and museums and other institutions from outside The Courtauld, and benefit from contributions by Visiting Conservators. The Wall Painting Department also acts as a centre for conservation and art-historical advice to outside conservators, scholars and the public.

International Advisory Board 2013-2016

An International Advisory Board, meeting twice yearly, advises on the academic and teaching standards of the course through monitoring the content and organisation of the curriculum, and by advising on development and assessment. The Board also reviews and advises on the supervision of students engaged in research degrees.

Members are appointed for 3-year periods, coinciding with the triennial intake of students, though appointment of new members is staggered to provide continuity. The interdisciplinary and international nature of the course is reflected in the membership of the Board.

  • Dr Ravit Linn **
    Head, Conservation MA, Department of Archaeology, Haifa University, External Examiner
  • Dr Charlotte Martin de Fonjaudran
    Private Conservator, Paris
  • Dr Austin Nevin
    Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche – Institute of Nanotecnologies and Photonics (CNR-IFN), Milan
  • Stephen Rickerby
    Private conservator, Ross-on-Wye
  • Dr David Saunders
    Emeritus British Museum, Keeper
  • Dr Wenny Teo
    The Courtauld Institute
  • Dr Giovanni Verri
    Coordinator, MA in Buddhist Art and Conservation, Courtauld Institute
  • Timothy P. Whalen
    Director, The Getty Conservation Institute
  • Dr Paul Williamson
    Keeper of Sculpture, Metalwork, Ceramics and Glass, Victoria and Albert Museum

ex officio, Courtauld Institute

  • Prof Aviva Burnstock *
    Head, Department of Conservation and Technology
  • Prof Sharon Cather *
    Conservation of Wall Painting Department
  • Prof David Park, Chairman *
    Conservation of Wall Painting Department
  • Amarilli Rava  *
    Conservation of Wall Painting Department
  • Prof Deborah Swallow
    Director, Courtauld Institute
  • Sibylla Tringham *
    Conservation of Wall Painting Department

* Board of Examiners   ** External Examiner

Fieldwork 8.1
© Courtauld Institute of Art

Both formal and informal mechanisms of assessment are used. Formal assessment comprises written examinations and practical oral examinations administered by a Board of Examiners. Informal, continuous assessment is carried out by the staff, and is based on didactic exercises—essays, seminars, revision questions, etc.—and supervision of practical work. Students must demonstrate competence in each of the subject areas in order to be advanced in the programme.

At the end of the first year students sit written examinations (with adaptations for first-degree subjects) in:

  • chemistry and physics for conservation;
  • materials and technology of wall paintings and their supporting structures;
  • theory and practice of conservation; and history of European wall paintings and conservation;
  • and are given an oral examination on all aspects their performance.

 At the end of the second year students sit written examinations in:

  • environmental causes of deterioration;
  • scientific examination; and
  • cleaning and consolidation;
  • and are given an oral examination; this oral examination involves a much more significant component of individual work, allowing a more informed assessment of the development of skills and judgement.

Final assessment at the end of the third year is based on the examination of the dissertation and the oral examination on all aspects of the student’s performance. For the final assessment of the MA, students receive a distinction, pass, or fail.

Informal, continuous assessment, which includes written evaluations by extra-mural fieldwork supervisors, allows staff to monitor a student’s progress in each subject area, and to make adjustments in the curriculum and supervision as necessary. Consequently, not only deficiencies but also strengths can be accommodated within the relatively small group of students.

Fieldwork 9.1
© Courtauld Institute of Art

A major component of the MA is an 18,000 word dissertation as part of the final-year research project.

Students select a research topic from a very wide range of areas and each project considers in detail a particular aspect of the technology, recording, examination, or conservation of wall painting. Many incorporate skills that have been developed throughout the formal teaching while developing additional expertise in research, planning, implementation, information management and networking.

The resulting research leads to acquisition of highly transferrable skills which can lead directly to specific career paths, as well as providing a significant contribution to research in the field.

Topics are varied and have included:

  • studies of the deterioration and cleaning of external murals;
  • correction of UV-induced fluorescence imaging;
  • assessment of ELISA (Enzyme-linked ImmunoSorbent Assay) for wall painting samples;
  • technical studies of Buddhist wall painting in India and medieval wall painting in England;
  • removing non-original varnishes from oil-based wall painting.
  • the visualisation of air flow in historic buildings,
  • the reburial of archaeological wall painting.

The range demonstrates the scope for students to find research avenues that build on and significantly develop their individual interests and skills. A list of dissertation titles and an archive of research reports can be found on our Research Projects page.

Candidates should normally: have at least an upper second honours degree, or an international equivalent recognised by the University of London in an appropriate subject in the humanities or sciences; be able to demonstrate manual dexterity; have normal colour vision; be competent in the English language to a recognised international standard.  An appropriate subject is interpreted broadly, since diversity of prior education is highly desirable in this multidisciplinary field involving so much teamwork. Previous conservation experience is not required, though some understanding of the nature of wall painting conservation is desirable.

Additional criteria that would be taken into account are: evidence of commitment to the field which might include previous conservation experience; likely ability to work well in a team; knowledge of more than one language.

Selection is normally based on: an online application that includes a personal statement; written references; and an interview.

The interviewing procedure includes: a personal interview before a board; tests of manual dexterity and colour vision; a brief written test requiring comment on a variety of wall paintings, allowing assessment of how the candidate approaches the tasks of observation and analysis in an unfamiliar situation.

The Department is always glad to advise potential applicants on the types of preparatory work which they might most usefully undertake.

For applicants whose first language is not English, we require proof of English proficiency – for details, please see the English Language Requirements page. If you hold a qualification from outside of the UK, please feel free to contact the Academic Registry; however, please be aware that our staff are unable to confirm whether you will be invited to interview, as candidates are judged on the strength of their applications as a whole.

Funding a three-year course of study in London is a substantial financial commitment and requires careful thought and planning. The MA in Conservation of Wall Painting is full-time and involves significant periods of fieldwork throughout the course. These typically last about six to eight weeks and are often abroad; travel and accommodation expenses are paid by the Department.

Fees 2016/7 TBC

Fees 2015/16 (for reference only):

Home/ EU fee £6,230

Overseas fee £17,695

Fees are subject to change each academic year. Fee info, including what qualifies as home, EU, and overseas fees, can be found here.

Financial support for your studies

Find information about loans, grants, and bursaries to support you during your  studies at The Courtauld here.

Apply for this course

Apply for this course or download a prospectus for more information.

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