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Iconography of SSEA


Admission requirements

Having successfully finished 5481VS112 Classical Cultures of SSEA: Seminar I. Please, contact the student advisor, Nicole A.N.M. van Os or Mw. Dr. E.M. Raven, if you are interested in taking this course, but do NOT fulfill the abovementioned requirement.

Course description

Asia’s religious art derives much of its distinctive visual presence from an intricate iconographic vocabulary. Message and meaning are expressed through systems of gestures, postures and attributes that manage to capture the essence of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain beliefs and practices.

This class focuses on developing skills to ‘read’ this iconography by carefully looking at, describing and understanding selected works of art from South and Southeast Asia. These skills are trained by means of assignments related to selected literature dealing with iconography (śilpaśastra) as a traditional science in ancient India) and with specific iconographies. Students are also introduced to a number of important digital image databases. A guided visit to a Dutch museum collection with Asian art is part of the programme.

This course is a vital component in a BA-programme of students focusing on the arts and material culture of South and Southeast Asia, but may be equally relevant for those studying Asian religions, cultural history, history or archaeology. Student of western art may consider to join and focus on a comparative approach. Students from other departments and a-la-carte students are most welcome to participate as well.

Students are expected to prepare each week’s classes via written assignments related to the literature read (graded, 40% of total mark). Most of the literature is made digitally available. The classes are offered in a thematical sequence. At the start of the second half of the semester the students present a case study (selected from a pre-arranged list of subjects, 20% of total maek). To round off the series, the students write a concise iconographic case-study focusing on the iconography of a work of art in a Dutch museum collection (40 % of total mark).

Course objectives

  • Knowledge of the basic principles of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain iconographic language;

  • Awareness of the conceptual iconographic links between the arts of the various religious systems in South and Southeast Asia

  • Developing skills in describing and analysing Hindu, Buddhist and Jain art

  • Developing skills in presenting an iconographic analysis by means of Powerpoint

  • Overseeing the landscape of digital resources for iconographic studies of Asian art

  • Developing skills to put the results of research into writing



Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (participation obligatory)

Course Load

  • Seminar, 12×2: 24h

  • Preparing the presentation: 16h

  • Writing the paper: 40h

  • Reading for and preparing home assignments: 60h

  • Total studieload: 140 hours

Assessment method

  • Participation and home assignments: 40%

  • Presentation: 20%

  • Paper: 40%

The final paper is written in two stages: a first version which will be commented on and a final version. Students who do not meet the deadline for the first version will lose the right to get comments and will only be graded based on their final version.

In order to pass the course, students must obtain an overall mark of 5.50 (=6) or higher.

The course is an integrated whole. The final examination and the assignments must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.


Blackboard. ### Reading list

  • J. Guy, Indian Temple Sculpture. London, 2007 (or later edition).

  • Selected reading materials (offered via BB).


Students are requested to register through uSis, the registration system of Leiden University for this course. General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch.

Registration Contractonderwijs



Mw. Dr. E.M. Raven