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Iconography of South and Southeast Asia


Admission requirements

Successful completion of 5481VS112 Classical Cultures of SSEA: Seminar I. Please, contact the Coordinator of Studies or Mw. Dr. E.M. Raven, if you are interested in taking this course, but do NOT fulfill the abovementioned requirement.


Asia’s religious art derives much of its distinctive visual presence from an intricate iconographic vocabulary. Message and meaning are expressed through systems of gestures, postures and attributes that manage to capture the essence of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain beliefs and practices.

This class focuses on developing skills to ‘read’ this iconography by carefully looking at, describing and understanding selected works of art from South and Southeast Asia. These skills are trained by means of assignments related to selected literature dealing with iconography as a traditional science in ancient India) and with specific iconographies. Students are also introduced to a number of important digital image databases. A guided visit to a Dutch museum collection with Asian art is part of the programme.

This course is a vital component in a BA-programme of students focusing on the arts and material culture of South and Southeast Asia, but may be equally relevant for those studying Asian religions, cultural history, history or archaeology. Students of western art may consider to join and focus on a comparative approach. Students from other departments and contractstudents are most welcome to participate as well. The classes are offered in a thematic sequence.

Course objectives

  • Knowledge of the basic principles of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain iconographic language;

  • Awareness of the conceptual iconographic links between the arts of the various religious systems in South and Southeast Asia;

  • Developing skills in describing and analysing Hindu, Buddhist and Jain art;

  • Developing skills in presenting an iconographic analysis with the help of Powerpoint;

  • Overseeing the landscape of digital resources for iconographic studies of Asian art;

  • Developing skills to put the results of research into writing.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

  • Excursion

Assessment method


Students are expected to prepare each week’s classes via readings and/or written assignments related to the literature read (graded, 20% of total mark). Most of the literature is made digitally available.
At the start of the second half of the semester the students are expected to present in class an iconographic case study on which they intend to write a concise paper. It needs to focus on the iconography of a work of art in a Dutch museum collection (presentation and paper together 30% of total mark).
The series is concluded with an exam dealing with all literature and imagery discussed in class, with open questions (50% of total mark)


  • Written assignments (20%)

  • Presentation in class (30%)

  • Final exam/paper (50%)


Students submit a version 1 of their paper. After receiving feedback, they may submit a final version for final grading. This arrangement is a form of ‘resit’. Students are allowed to skip version 1 and submit only a (final) version of their paper for grading (in that case a concise explanation for the grade is provided afterwards). In order to pass the course, students must achieve a passing grade for the final version of their paper/paper combo and obtain an overall mark of “5.50” (=6) or higher.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

Selection from:

  • Martin Lerner and Steven Kossak, The arts of South and Southeast Asia (an issue of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin), 51/4 (1994), 1-88 (online, links provided via Brightspace).

  • Steven Kossak, Art from South and Southeast Asia: a resource for educators (online, linksprovided via Brightspace).

  • John Guy, Indian Temple Sculpture. London, 2007 (or later edition). Selected reading materials (information offered via Brightspace).


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website.

Registration Studeren à la carte en Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte: not applicable
Registration Contractonderwijs.