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Iconography of SSEA


Admission requirements

For students South and Southeast Asia Studies: course Klassieke Culturen

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, 2 EC). 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, 1 EC). To round off the series, the students write a small iconographic paper (2 EC).

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

Time table

See the website

Mode of instruction

Participation is obligatory (except for a-la-carte participants)
140 hours in total for 5 EC:
(12×2 = 24 h seminar);
preparing the presentation (16 h);
reading for and preparing the weekly assignment (11× 5=60 h);
writing the paper (40 h)

Assessment method

  • participation and weekly assignments (2 EC)

  • presentation (1 EC)

  • paper (2 EC)


Used for providing pdfs of presentations, guidelines, links to literature and other relevant weblinks, announcements

Reading list

  • J. Guy, Indian temple sculpture. London, 2007 (or later edition)

  • Selected reading materials (offered via BB)


Registration via uSis is obligatory.

Registration A la carte and contractonderwijs

Registration for A la Carte
Registration for Contractonderwijs


E.M. Raven