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Visualizing Cultures (1600-1900): Political Iconology




Admissions requirements

What is Culture or permission of the instructor.


This course will focus on the question of how cultural groups have aimed to explore and define themselves in visual representations of their own culture as well as that of others. Over the course of seven weeks, we will trace and analyze this process from the representation of European culture in the visual arts in the 1600s to 19th-century paintings related to Nationalism and Orientalism. We will discuss images by a variety of artists (ranging from Anthony van Dyck, Romeyn de Hooghe and Bernard Picart to William Hogarth, Charles Willson Peale and Eugène Delacroix) and analyze these in their social and political contexts, with reference to concepts and practices such as patronage, propaganda, heritage, cultural identity and nation-building.

Although the course will focus first and foremost on paintings and prints, we will discuss a number of texts that will help us to read and analyze these images in the context of the cultures that produced them. These include contemporary texts (ranging from Cesare Ripa’s Iconologia to political pamphlets), Erwin Panofsky and Ernst Gombrich’s reflections on iconology and iconography, and a small number of works by philosophers, anthropologists and historians, most notably Ernest Gellner, Benedict Anderson and Peter Burke.

Course objectives

At the end of the course, students can: *read and analyze a political image in the context of its period *analyze and discuss how a particular image represents specific cultural ideas and values and to what purpose it was created *have a thorough grasp of the key concepts introduced and discussed in class and understand how these relate to the concept of culture *give a diachronic account of the development of the visualization of certain socio-political cultural discourses in the period between 1600-1900 *connect this development to a number of concepts and practices, including patronage, propaganda, heritage, cultural identity, material culture and nation-building


Once available, timetables will be published here.

Mode of instruction

Seminars (two per week) with presentations and discussions of the works of art and texts. Students should take note that the course will require some travel, as several of the classes will take place at Leiden University Libraries’ Special Collections and the Mauritshuis. These classes will take place at the usual class hours and should not interfere with your attendance in other courses.


Participation (in-class participation)
Percentage: 15%
Deadline: ongoing Weeks 1 – 7

Iconological analysis (1000 words)
Percentage: 35%
Deadline: week 4

Research presentation
Percentage: 10%
The date of the presentations will be announced at the start of the block. Do please note that even though this is a group assignment, students will be graded individually.

Final research essay (1500 words)
Percentage: 40%
Deadline: week 8


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 but if they so wish, students can start by reading the following two texts:

  • Erwin Panofsky, “Iconography and Iconology: An introduction to the Study of Renaissance Art” in Meaning in the Visual Arts. (Any edition but please note that digital and second-hand copies of this book are widely available online)

  • Ernst Gombrich, “Aims and Limits of Iconology” in Symbolic Images (pp 1-25). London: Phaidon, 1972.


This course is open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Registration is coordinated by the Curriculum Coordinator. Interested non-LUC students should contact


Jacqueline Hylkema at