Art History Research Paper Topics


Art is part of how a culture expresses itself to the outside world. A thorough understanding of art history often requires exploring a topic in great detail in the form of a research paper. Broad themes -- graffiti art, female photographers or body art -- are narrowed down to a specific time frame, location or culture, developing your research topic even further.

Famous Art Heists

  • A number of high-profile art heists have been perpetrated throughout history. Thieves have cleverly smuggled portraits from the masters worth millions and sold them on the black market. In 1911, a nationalistic Italian snatched the "Mona Lisa" from the Louvre museum in Paris to return her to her native Italy. Compare different famous art heists throughout history. Research the historical and contemporary trends of successful art heists and bring them into a modern context by including pop culture references, such as the art-heist films "Oceans 12" or "American Hustle."

Artists and Mental Illness

  • Art enthusiasts know Van Gogh allegedly cut off part of his ear and sent it to a lover. Another troubled soul, Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, painter of "The Scream," suffered from hallucinations. Explore the world of mental illness and insanity among the world's most famous artists. Note any parallels between the different artists who were notoriously mentally ill and examine how their insanity comes through in their artwork.

Madonna With Child

  • The Madonna with child is one of the most replicated scenes of biblical history in the world of art. These artworks range from the earliest standing Gothic Madonnas of the 13th century to Raphael's "The Grand-Duke's Madonna" of 1505. Museums devote whole wings to just the images of the Virgin Mary clutching the newly born Christ child. Select a number of paintings of this iconic scene from different centuries and also from different countries. Compare and contrast the elements found in each reproduction.

Masks Across Cultures

  • The Ibibio people of Nigeria use masks to represent good and evil spirits. In Sri Lanka, performers wear masks to assume the identities of characters during healing rituals. Throughout history, different cultures around the globe have been producing masks out of various materials. Research the history of mask-making across particular cultures. Compare and contrast both the materials used to make masks in different countries and the symbolism behind them. Examine the production and use of a culture's masks in historical and contemporary contexts.

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