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Masterclass Classical Art – Definitions, Politics, Limits


Admission requirements

This class can be taken in fulfilment of the requirements of the MA and the Research MA program in Classics and Ancient Civilizations (track Classics), the MA Art History and the MA Classical Archaeology.
If you are interested in taking this course, but are not sure whether you fulfill the entry requirements, please, contact prof. Miguel John Versluys (
NB: a selection of max. 12 participants will be admitted to this masterclass. You can apply by submitting a CV and a motivation letter by 1 November 2023 (address:


When we think of ‘classical art’, we privilege the same sorts of object (Greek and Roman figurative sculpture, exquisitely carved gems, Pompeian painting, and the post-antique artworks inspired by them). Why do we do this, and is it the whole story? When did ‘classical art’ become ‘classical', and when did it become ‘art'? What about all of those artefacts that it, and its emphasis on beauty, naturalism, narrative, omit? What about aniconic, comic or ‘ugly’ images, ancient graffiti, tombstones from northern Europe or Palmyra, reliefs from Gandhara….? Archaeologists have turned to new materialist approaches, to context and object agency, to give these objects a role, but where does that leave ‘art’, form, style, iconography? Where does it leave the classical canon? What was once formative of elite identity and power in court societies and, subsequently in national museums, is at risk of being toppled, challenged for its monotony, its idealism, its racism, yet even now contemporary artists are attracted by its history. In our global world, does it have a future? What are the alternatives?
This seminar-based masterclass will explore these questions in the classroom and in Leiden’s National Museum of Antiquities to have all of its participants develop new vocabularies and see differently.
NB: this will be an intensive master class, which will take place in one week, from Monday 25 to Friday 29 March 2024, with two meetings per day (8 meetings in total), one in the morning, one in the afternoon.

Course objectives

Course objectives:

Knowledge of ongoing debates about ancient art, including key concepts like ‘the classical’, canon, style, naturalism etc.
Understanding and skills:

research skills: formulation of a complex research question, collecting materials, analyzing results, constructing arguments, formulating conclusions.

critical assessment of secondary literature according to the standards of academic debate.

oral presentation: the student will give a clear and well-argued interpretation of an ancient material object or a presentation on a problem in the history of scholarship on ancient art

written presentation: the paper will offer a clear and well-structured presentation of original research.

students must demonstrate their grasp of critical issues in recent scholarship and assess recent scholarly contributions by confronting them with the original source material.

this course aims at active participation and preparation: the student demonstrates involvement in the topic by asking well-informed and constructive questions and making contributions to the collective progress, based on antecedent independent preparation.


This will be an intensive course, which will take place in the week from Monday 27 to Friday 31 March 2023, with two meetings per day (10 meetings in total), one in the morning, one in the afternoon.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method


Paper (80%)

Oral Presentation (20%)


The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average.


If the overall mark is unsatisfactory, the student can revise the paper. There is no resit for the oral presentation.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

Introductory bibliography:
Boardman, J. (1993) The Diffusion of Classical Art in Antiquity. Princeton; Cohen, B. (ed.) (2000) Not The Classical Ideal: Athens and the Construction of the Other in Greek Art. Leiden; Alcock, S. E. et al. (2017) Beyond Boundaries: Connecting Visual Cultures in the Provinces of Ancient Rome. Los Angeles; Elsner, J. (2005) 'Classicism in Roman art' in J. I. Porter (ed.) Classical Pasts: The Classical Traditions of Greece and Rome. Princeton: 270-97; Fullerton, M. D. (2015) 'Style: applications and limitations', in Friedland, M. A. et al. (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Roman Sculpture. Oxford: 209-23; Elsner, J. (2003) 'Style' in R. S. Nelson and R. Schiff (eds.) Critical Terms for Art History. Chicago: 98-109; Settis, S. (2006) The Future of the Classical, trans. A. Cameron, Cambridge and Malden, MA; Onians, J. (2004) Atlas of World Art. Oxford; Vout, C. Classical Art: a Life History from Antiquity to the Present. Princeton; Fowlkes-Childs, B. and M. Seymour (eds.) (2019) The World between Empires: Art and Identity in the Ancient Middle East. New York; Bond, S. (2017) 'Whitewashing ancient statues: whiteness, racism And color in the ancient world', Forbes, 27 April:; Talbot, M. (2018) 'The myth of whiteness in classical sculpture, The New Yorker, 29 October:


  • … contact the track leader of Classics at Leiden University prof. A.B. Wessels (

  • You can apply by submitting a CV and a motivation letter by 1 November 2023 (address:


Apply by submitting a CV and motivation letter by 1 November to Prof. M.J. Versluys:


Students are required to attend the classes, to be fully prepared and to join the discussions. Students who fail more than one session without valid reason will be excluded from the course.