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Picturing Europe: Representations and Definitions in the Visual Arts (1550-1850)




Admissions requirements

None. This is an emphatically interdisciplinary course and open to students from all the majors.


‘Europe has never had the same name, nor the same divisions, in the eyes of its inhabitants’ observes Louis de Jaucourt in his entry on Europe in the Encyclopédie (1751-1772) and then goes on to suggest that it will be up to historians to find the thread out of the labyrinth of European self-definition. In this course, we will accept De Jaucourt’s challenge and explore how Europe has been defined in the visual arts, inside as well as outside the continent, between 1550 and 1850. The course is based on the discipline of iconology, which combines principles from art history and cultural history and reads images in the context of their time in order to uncover that period’s cultural, social and political ideas.

The course will start with an introduction to iconology and iconological analysis, after which we will trace the development of the visual representation of Europe between 1550 and 1850 in a wide range of images, ranging from Cesare Ripa’s 1603 emblem to 18th century satirical cartoons and early 19th-century Romantic reflections. Does the image of Europe in this period, we will ask, have any stable elements, such as the cultural supremacy, economic prosperity, military valour and Christian piety found in Ripa’s image, or does it shift and develop over time, as suggested by De Jaucourt?

Course objectives

Upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to:


  • give a clear and detailed account of the development of the representation of Europe in the visual arts between 1550 and 1850, in terms of its cultural, social and political ideas;


  • research and discuss images in terms of the cultural, social and political ideas they represent and convey, using primary as well as secondary sources;

  • use their iconological skills to analyze and discuss one or more works of art in terms of a wider and longer cultural-political discourse;

  • work with historical materials and handle these in a responsible manner;

  • write an iconological analysis;

  • write a structured discourse in max. 3500 words, incl. abstract, notes and bibliography, with a clear and relevant thesis and strong and well-researched argumentation;

  • give a research presentation.


Once available, timetables will be published here.

Mode of instruction

This is an emphatically interdisciplinary course, with regular seminars at AvB, hands-on sessions at the Special Collections at Leiden University Library (in which students will work with valuable, historical materials), and co-taught classes and guest lectures with LUC faculty.

The subjects of these interdisciplinary classes will range from cityscapes, which Sarah Hinman (LUC) will introduce and analyze from her perspective as an urban geographer, to representations of Europe from outside the continent, such as the Japanese images discussed by historian Maja Vodopivec (LUC). The two classes on the representation of Europe in early modern cartography will be taught - from two very different perspectives - by cartography conservator Martijn Storms (SC) and sociologist Daniela Vicherat Mattar (LUC).

The course will be concluded with a small student symposium, in which the participants will present their research and we will discuss how the cultural, social and political ideas behind the visual representations of the past are connected to our own perception of Europe today.


15% Participation assessed continually through participation in seminar and structured activities
30% iconological analysis (1000 words)
40% research paper (3500 words)
15% research presentation at student symposium

In order to complete the course, students must submit all graded assignments.


There will be a Blackboard site available for this course. Students will be enrolled at least one week before the start of classes.

Reading list

A detailed reading list will be given before the start of the course. The course will not require you to buy any books: all materials will be available via Leiden University Library’s digital catalogue or, in some cases, Blackboard.


This course is open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator. Interested non-LUC students should contact course.administration@luc.leidenuniv.nl.


Jacqueline Hylkema at j.j.hylkema@luc.leidenuniv.nl