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Topics in South and Southeast Asian Art History


Admission requirements

Some knowledge of Art History and/or South and Southeast Asian classical cultures is recommended.


The course has two parts. The first part focuses on symbols and attribute systems in the visual iconography of the arts of India, Nepal and Tibet. How did they function? 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?
The second part focuses on the symbolism of Hindu and Buddhist sacred architecture in India, Cambodia and Indonesia. How is sacred space marked off from profane space? How is a hierarchy in sacredness established within a temple complex? How is cosmic symbolism encoded in architectural plans and structures, and in mythical themes? How does a sacred site interact with other sites and with the surrounding landscape? How did ritual practice shape the form and function of sacred architecture?

Course objectives

  • Advanced insight into the visual codes of art and architecture in India, the Himalayan regions, and Southeast Asia.

  • Advanced insight into the relationship between art and cultural and identity-shaping concepts and beliefs.

  • The ability to describe and analyse symbolic iconographic themes and motifs in South and Southeast Asian 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.



Mode of instruction

Seminar combined with individual research of source materials.

Assessment method

  • Weekly written reports of readings (50%)

  • Two case studies (25% each)

  • Reduced course (5ec): first or second part only or first and second part without case studies



Reading list

Reading materials will be made available in Blackboard, if possible.
Readings for the first meeting to be announced in Blackboard.


Registration via uSis is mandatory.
Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.

Contact information

Dr. E.M. Raven or Prof. Dr. M.J. Klokke.