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Political Iconology: Art and Diversity 1600-1800




Admissions requirements

What is Culture?

Note: In 2017-18 this course was titled Art & Diversity: Political Iconology (1600-1800); students who already completed that class cannot enroll in this course.


This course will focus on how early modern images reflect the development of the religious, social, gender and ethnic diversity in their respective societies and how different groups aimed to explore and define themselves in the visual arts of this period. Over the course of seven weeks, we will trace and analyze these different processes in a visual tale of two cities: Amsterdam and London.

The first part of the course will focus on 17th century Amsterdam and explore how different religious groups in this city (particularly Mennonites, Jews and Muslims) and social classes were represented, by themselves as well as by others, in images produced in the city’s Golden Age. We will also discuss how a number of aspects of the visual arts, such as genre and agency, related to the concept of diversity in 17th-century Amsterdam and how in the course of this period, art became an increasingly important instrument to build bridges between the city’s various groups. In the second part, we will turn to London and trace the visual representation of various groups from the Restoration in 1660 to the rise of the Abolition Movement in the late 18th century. We will pay particular attention to William Hogarth’s prints and analyze how his political and social activism related to the various cultural, social and ethnic groups in the city as well as the notion of diversity itself.

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 iconological theory by Erwin Panofsky and Ernst Gombrich as well as a number of art historical articles and texts on modern theoretical concepts, such as Stephen Greenblatt’s notion of self-fashioning and Laura Mulvey’s Male Gaze.

Course objectives


  • Read a visual image in the context of its period.

  • Analyze and discuss how this interpretation relates to the image’s creation, reception and stakeholders, and how the image engages with specific social and cultural discourses of its time.

  • Write a substantial and well-structured iconological analysis of a small set of related images, and support the argumentation with historical sources and modern theory.


  • Have a thorough grasp of the key concepts introduced and discussed in class and understand how these relate to the concept of diversity and its visual representation.

  • Give a diachronic account of the development of different kinds of diversity in the Dutch Republic and England in in the period between 1600-1800.

  • Give a detailed account of the various ways in which the visual arts were involved in these developments.


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: one of the classes will take place at Leiden University Libraries’ Special Collections and the course will include a field trip to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.


  • Participation (in-class participation, ongoing weeks 1-7): 15%

  • Final research essay (3500 words, due in week 8): 40%

  • Research presentation (15%); 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.

  • Iconological portfolio (3 assignments)
    Percentage assignment 1: 5% (week 2)
    Percentage assignment 2: 10% (week 3)
    Percentage assignment 3: 15% (week 6)

Please note that all assignments need to be submitted in order to pass the course and that penalties will apply to work that is handed in after the deadline.


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


Jacqueline Hylkema