SOAS University of London

Department of the History of Art and Archaeology, School of Arts

Paintings of Korea

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2018/2019
Year of study:
Year 2, Year 3 or Year 4
Taught in:
Term 1

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

Key objectives:

  • to critically analyse secular and religious paintings from the Korean peninsula using appropriate vocabulary.
  • to examine a range of approaches to understanding the production of such works of art from Korea dating from the 3rd century AD to the 20th century.


Learning Outcomes - Knowledge; Understanding; Skills

  • Knowledge of the chronological framework for the production and use of Korean secular and religious paintings from around the 3rd century AD to the 20th century.
  • Knowledge of key themes in the study of Korean paintings.
  • An understanding of how and why paintings were produced on the Korean peninsula.
  • 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 different kinds of painted works.
  • The ability to constructively criticise the approaches and methods of art historians.


2 hours of lectures per week.

Scope and syllabus

This course covers the history of painting in Korea from the Three Kingdoms period (around AD300) to the early 20th century. Particular focus will be placed on the Chosŏn period from when the largest number of extant pre-modern paintings date. The last session of the term will place pre-modern painting traditions within a contemporary context and assess how Korean painters have contended with the introduction of Western painting traditions, including the medium of oil, uses of perspective and shading, as well as different subject matters. The lectures will include discussion of relevant theoretical issues pertaining to the uses and productions of painting, such as the social and religious uses of painting, the medium of ink, the role of the artist, the training and patronage of artists, and the aesthetic value of paintings. Throughout the course references will be made to contemporary Chinese and Japanese painting traditions, and a discussion of comparative works of art from those regions will form an important part of the lectures. This will contrast with analysis of the continuous negotiation of foreign versus local traditions, the rise of independent Korean styles and subject matters in paintings, the development of a Korean aesthetic and the representation of local identities in material culture.

The course will largely be arranged as below, though the contents may vary from year to year, depending on new publications, exhibitions and the like.

  1. Introduction
  2. The introduction of foreign traditions – mural paintings of the Koguryo kingdom (around AD300-668); their stylistic development, their contents, and their similarities and differences from contemporary Chinese traditions.
  3. Combining text and image – a discussion of illuminated sutras of the Koryo kingdom (AD918-1392), the iconography of their frontispieces and their painterly traditions.
  4. The development of Korean Buddhist paintings – the production of Koryo Buddhist paintings, their iconography and their stylistic developments
  5. The beginnings and development of literati paintings – pre-Choson traditions and the rise of Choson (AD1291-1910) secular paintings.  
  6. The emergence of a native style – Choson landscape paintings of the 17th – 19th centuries.  
  7. Choson folk paintings (minhwa) – their production, use, subject matters and stylistic developments.
  8. Choson portrait paintings – questioning local traditions, Confucian influences in paintings and the introduction of Western painterly traditions.  
  9. Museum visit
  10. The beginnings of contemporary painting – the introduction of new media and new techniques.

Active use will be made of blackboard and other electronic resources. The course will include at least one visit to collections of Korean art in London.

This course will appeal to students studying other areas of Asian and African art and archaeology as well as to students studying the history and culture of East Asia.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules