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Art and Material Culture of South Asia and Tibet 1


Admission requirements

BA in Indian and Tibetan studies, BA in Indonesian studies, BA in art history, BA in archaeology, BA in world religions, BA in cultural anthropology. Any other admissions only after completing the pre-master programme of Indian and Tibetan studies.


How did symbols and attribute systems function in the visual iconograhpy of the arts of India, Nepal and Tibet? What kind of symbols and symbolic attributes emerged as signifiers of beliefs and concepts, as localizers, as identity-builders or as dynastic identifiers?
We study how symbols, symbolic gestures (mudras) and postures became essential signifiers within the iconography of sculptural and painted art. Case studies may come from Buddhist, Hindu or Jaina contexts. We also examine the range of forms that the artists chose, from representational on the one hand to anthropomorphic on the other. And what role did the language of symbols and symbolic attributes play in the expression of dynastic identities?
Students use primary source in the form of photographs of archaeological materials carrying or using symbols and symbolic devices, such as seals, coins, textiles, crafted objects, sculptural art and built forms. In addition selected textual materials will be read, either in original format or with the help of translations in secondary sources.

Course objectives

  • Advanced insight into the visual codes of art in India and the Himalayan regions and their links to cultural and identity-shaping concepts and beliefs;

  • The ability to describe and analyse symbolic iconographic themes and motives in South Asian and Himalayan art and interpret these in their art historical context

  • Insight into some of the problems and debates in the study of the application of symbol systems in the visual arts


To be established

Mode of instruction

Tutorial combined with individual study of source materials

Assessment method

reading assignments with written reports and a case study



Reading list

Reading materials will be made available in pdf format when possible or through links through Blackboard. Readings for the first meeting to be announced in Blackboard by August 31.8.2011


How the (various groups of) students should register for the course.

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.

Contact information

Dr. E.M. Raven (