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Political Iconology: Art & Diversity (1600-1800)


Admission requirements


  • What is Culture?, or

  • permission of the instructor


This course will focus on how early modern images reflect the development of religious, social, gender and ethnic diversity in the period between 1600 and 1800, and how different groups explored and defined themselves in the visual arts of this period. Over the course of seven weeks, we will trace and analyze these different processes in a wide range of paintings, prints, and other visual representations. The course will primarily focus on the visual culture of the Dutch Republic but several classes will present English artists and their art as counterpoints. We will explore how different religious groups in the Dutch Republic (particularly Mennonites, Jews and Muslims) and social classes were represented, by themselves as well as by others, in prints and paintings. 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 the century, art became an increasingly important instrument to build bridges between the city’s various groups. Other subjects include the visual representation of black people in early modern art and the development of the artist as a social commentator and activist. Although our focus will be on what early modern images meant to their contemporary audiences and the role that they played in the discourses of their period, we will also discuss how the early modern understanding of diversity relates to our own and how it features – or not, as the case may be – in today’s art historical narratives and museums.

The course will focus first and foremost on paintings and prints, but 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.

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.


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2020-2021 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

Seminars (two per week) with presentations and discussions of the works of art and texts. One of the classes will take place at Leiden University Libraries’ Special Collections and the course will include a special class at the Mauritshuis.

Assessment Method

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

Iconological portfolio (2 assignments):

  • Percentage assignment 1: 15% (week 2)

  • Percentage assignment 2: 15% (week 4)

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.

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

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.

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, Brightspace.


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,


Dr. Jacqueline Hylkema,