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Political Iconology: Art and Diversity (1600-1800)


Admission requirements

Required course(s):

  • What is Culture? (for CHS students) or permission of the instructor

Recommended course(s):

  • Cultural & Visual Analysis


This course will focus on how early modern images reflect the development of religious, social, gender and ethnic diversity in the Dutch Republic from 1550 to 1700, and how different groups explored and defined themselves through 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.

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 women and black people in the Dutch Republic and society’s perception of female artists. Although we will focus 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 early modern notions of diversity relate to our own and how they feature – 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 also 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 an image in the context of its period

  • Do historical research in a number of different archives and databases

  • 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 in in the period between 1550-1700.

  • 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 2022-2023 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

Seminars (two per week) with presentations and discussions of works of art and texts. The course also includes a class at Leiden University Libraries’ Special Collections and one 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%)

The fine print: 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. Corrupted files do not count as submissions – if I cannot open a file, the assignment will be considered as still outstanding and penalties will be applied according to the rules described in the syllabus.

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.


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,