SOAS University of London

History of Art and Archaeology

Royal Arts of Korea

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2022/2023
FHEQ Level:
Taught in:
Term 1

From the erection of enormous pagodas to the commissioning of elaborate manuscripts and paintings, in Korea members of the royal family had a paramount influence on the production of the arts. This is the focal point of this new course which examines how and why art objects and architectural monuments were made for and by the royal court between the Three Kingdoms period (trad. 57BC-AD668) and the Chosŏn kingdom (1392-1910). Architectural structures and artefacts of archaeological and art historical interest will be discussed within their historical, religious and social contexts, and the reasons behind their making and use will be examined. Comparisons will be made with Chinese and Japanese cultural and art historical traditions and we will assess how foreign techniques and iconographical traditions were introduced and adopted. In doing so we will also question how Korean aesthetic traditions developed and how local identities are represented in material culture.

The course is offered in Term 1 only.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

Key objectives:
  • To critically analyse archaeological artefacts, ceramics, sculpture and paintings from the Korean peninsula using appropriate vocabulary.
  • To examine a range of approaches to understanding works of art from Korea, focusing on arts produced for and because of the royal court.
Learning Outcomes - Knowledge; Understanding; Skills
  • Knowledge of the chronological framework for the arts of Korea from around the 3rd century BC to the 19th century.
    Knowledge of key themes in the study of Korean material culture.
  • An understanding of how and why art objects have been made for the Korean royal court.
  • The ability to recognise the reasons behind changes and continuations of local artistic traditions and the ability to assess and understand such developments within a wider East Asian context.
  • Knowledge of the political, social and religious contexts for the production and use of art.
  • The ability to constructively criticise the approaches and methods of art historians.

Scope and syllabus

The course is divided into four broad themes which will be introduced chronologically:

  • Early Korean funerary traditions
  • Spread of Buddhism
  • Koryŏ and Chosŏn arts and crafts
  • Paintings and scriptures

The course will include several visits to collections of Korean art in London. This half unit course is assessed by one term paper, one book review and an unseen exam. Students are also expected to actively participate in class discussions and to read all required readings.

Method of assessment

  • One annotated bibliography (3 sources - 4-5 lines for each) - 10%
  • One 1,800-2,000 word essay - 40%
  • One two hour exam - 50%
  • One annotated bibliography (5 sources - 5-6 lines for each) - 10%
  • One 2,000-2,250 word essay - 40%
  • One two hour exam - 50%

Suggested reading

  • Kim, Kumja Paik. Goryeo dynasty: Korea's age of enlightenment, 918-1392. San Francisco: Asian Art Museum, 2003.
  • Nelson, Sarah M. The Archaeology of Korea. Cambridge University Press, 1993.
  • Portal, Jane. Korea: art and archaeology. London: British Museum, 2000.
  • Smith, Judith (ed.). Arts of Korea. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1998.
  • Washizuka Horimitsu et al.Transmitting the forms of divinity: early Buddhist art from Korea and Japan. New York : London: Harry N. Abrams, 2003.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules