This MA Special Option focuses on the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century’s obsession with the search for the origins of art and culture. Innumerable artists and theorists sought to mine the distant past as a source and legitimization for a new aesthetic, drawing on ‘primitive’ models in style and subject matter alike. In many instances, artists uncovered a past that was surprisingly at odds with the purist ideal of Neoclassicism. The course will explore how notions of ‘origins’ shaped a darker, idiosyncratic Romantic Classicism. The course considers a wide range of artworks, with an emphasis on Germany, France, and Britain; artists discussed will include Henry Fuseli, J.A.D. Ingres, Caspar David Friedrich, and John Flaxman. We will discuss themes ranging from hieroglyphics and sexual symbolism, to ideas of purity and the reception of prehistoric cave art. The course evaluates contemporary methodological debates on questions of anachronism, the agency of objects, and reception studies.