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Picturing Europe: Representations and Definitions in the Visual Arts (1600-1850)


Admission requirements

This course is an (extracurricular) Honours Class: an honours elective in the Honours College programme. There are limited spots available for non honours students. Admission will be based on motivation.

This class is open to students from all disciplines and does not require any previous art-historical knowledge or expertise.


‘Europe has never had the same name, nor the same divisions, in the eyes of its inhabitants’ states Louis de Jaucourt in his entry on Europe in the Encyclopédie (1751-1772) and then goes on to suggest that it will be up to historians to find the thread out of the labyrinth of European self-definition. In this course, we will accept De Jaucourt’s challenge and explore how Europe has been defined in the visual arts in the period between 1600 and 1850. The course is based on the discipline of iconology, which combines principles from art history and cultural history to read images in the context of their time in order to uncover that period’s cultural, social and political ideas.

The course will start with an introduction to iconology and iconological analysis, after which we will trace the development of the visual representation of Europe between 1600 and 1850 in a wide range of images, ranging from Cesare Ripa’s 1603 emblem to 18th century satirical cartoons and early 19th century Romantic reflections. Does the image of Europe in this period, we will ask, have any stable elements, such as the cultural supremacy, economic prosperity, military valour and Christian piety found in Ripa’s image, or does it shift and develop over time, as suggested by De Jaucourt?

The first half of the course will be concluded with a hands-on class at Leiden University Library. In this class students will learn how to work with valuable, historical materials from the Special Collections and will all research and write a catalogue text for one of the collections’ images of Europe.

The course’s interdisciplinary approach is intensified in its second half, when four of the classes will be taught together with a guest lecturer from a different field. The subjects of these interdisciplinary classes will range from maps, which Sarah Hinman will introduce and analyse from her perspective as a geographer, to representations of Europe from outside the continent, such as the Japanese images discussed by historian Maja Vodopivec.

The course will be concluded with presentations of students, held at the Old Observatory room c005. After the presentations we will discuss how the cultural, social and political ideas behind visual representation of Europe of the past are connected to our own today.

Guest lecturers

Guest lecturers in this course are: drs. Martijn Storms, dr. S.E. Hinman, dr. D.A. Vicherat Mattar, dr. M. Vodopivec and dr. L.C.J. van Apeldoorn.

The course’s interdisciplinary approach is intensified in its second half, when four of the classes will be taught together with a guest lecturer from a different field: Dr. Sarah Hinman (LUC; Geography), Dr. Laurens van Apeldoorn (LUC; Philosophy), Dr. Daniela Vicherat Mattar (LUC; Sociology) and Dr. Maja Vodopivec (LUC; Japanese Intellectual History).

Course objectives

Upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • give a clear and detailed account of the development of the representation of Europe in the visual arts between 1600 and 1850, in terms of its cultural, social and political ideas;

  • research and discuss images in terms of the cultural, social and political ideas they represent and convey, using primary as well as secondary sources;

  • use their iconological skills to analyze and discuss one or more works of art in terms of a wider and longer cultural-political discourse;

  • work with historical materials and handle these in a responsible manner;

  • write a catalogue text;

  • write a structured discourse in max. 3500 words, incl. abstract, notes and bibliography, with a clear and relevant thesis and strong and well-researched argumentation;

  • give a research presentation.


This class will be given in the fourth block, from 10 April to 29 May. The regular classes and the seminar at the Special Collections will take place on Tuesdays, from 15:00 to 17:00. The final session is scheduled on 12 June from 13.00 to 16.00.


  • Old Observatory room c005

  • Leiden University Library – Special Collections


A syllabus with an overview of all classes, literature and assignments will be posted on Blackboard in advance of the course.

Course Load

This course is worth 5 EC, which means the total course load equals 140 hours.

Explanation of the course load:

  • 7 two-hour lecture/ seminars, four of which will include an interactive lecture by an LUC guest-lecturer from a different field/total 14 hours

  • 1 two-hour hands-on seminar held at Leiden University Library’s Special Collections/total 2 hours

  • Literature reading, seminar preparation & practical work: total 50 hours

  • Graded assignments & final essay: total 68 hours

  • Student symposium with guest-lecture: total 6 hours

Assessment method

  • 10% Participation assessed continually through participation in seminar and structured activities

  • 30% catalogue text (1000 words)

  • 40% research paper (3500 words)

  • 20% research presentation at student symposium

  • In order to complete the course, students must pass all graded assignments.

Blackboard and uSis

Blackboard will be used in this course. Students can register for the Blackboard site two weeks prior to the start of the course.

Please note: students are not required to register through uSis for the Honours Classes. Your registration will be done centrally.

Reading list

The following is a provisional reading list – the final version will be made available before the start of the course. All texts will be available on Blackboard or online via Leiden University Library’s digital catalogue.

  • Burke, Peter. ‘Did Europe Exist Before 1700?’ History of European Ideas 1, 1980, pp. 21-29.

  • Hylkema, Jacqueline & Han Lamers (eds), Between Emblem and Labyrinth: the Many Images of Europe in Art, Literature and Scholarship, 1500-1800, special issue European Review of History, Volume 21, Number 6, 2014.

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

  • Pagden, Anthony (ed.), The Idea of Europe: From Antiquity to the European Union. Cambridge, 2002.

  • Wintle, Michael, “Renaissance maps and the construction of the idea of Europe”, Journal of Historical Geography, 1999, pp. 137-165.


Enrolling in this course is possible from Monday November 6th until Thursday November 16th 23.59 hrs through the Honours Academy, via this link. It is not necessary to register in uSis.


Ms. Drs. Jacqueline Hylkema