SOAS University of London

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

Buddhist Arts of Korea

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

This course questions how and why art objects and architectural monuments were produced for Buddhist worship between the Three Kingdoms period (around 300AD-668) and the Koryŏ kingdom (918-1392). The material will largely be presented chronologically, from the dissemination of Buddhism in the Three Kingdoms period to the heights of its popularity during the Koryŏ kingdom. The course will therefore commence with a discussion of early Buddhist sculpture and conclude with an analysis of works of art produced during the Koryo period.

In accounting for the introduction of Buddhism to Korea from the Chinese mainland and the subsequent spread of Buddhism from Korea to Japan, the lectures will also include discussion of the continuous interaction between the three East Asian countries. Through situating the material within the framework of East Asian cultural and art historical frameworks, the local Korean production of the arts is addressed within a wider set of questions, particularly with regards to the adoption and manipulation of foreign techniques and iconographical traditions, the development of a Korean aesthetic and the representation of local identities in material culture.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

Key objectives:
  • to critically analyse archaeological artefacts, sculpture, paintings and architecture from the Korean peninsula using appropriate vocabulary.
  • to examine a range of approaches to understanding different Buddhist works of art from Korea dating from the 3rd century AD to the 14th century.
Learning Outcomes - Knowledge; Understanding; Skills:
  • Knowledge of the chronological framework for the production and use of Korean Buddhist works of art from around the 3rd century AD to the 14 century.
  • Knowledge of key themes in the study of Korean Buddhist arts and culture.
  • An understanding of how and why objects and temples have been made for Buddhist worship.
  • 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 Buddhist works of art.
  • The ability to constructively criticise the approaches and methods of art historians.


2 hour Lecture per week.

Scope and syllabus

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 to Buddhism in Korea
  2. Buddhist sculpture of the Three Kingdoms period (around 300AD–668)
  3. Sokkuram cave temple and stone sculptures on Namsan
  4. Buddhist relic traditions
  5. Buddhist temples 1
  6. Buddhist temples 2
  7. Koryŏ (918-1392) Buddhist painting
  8. Koryŏ illuminated and printed sutras
  9. Bronze and ceramic wares made for Buddhist worship
  10. Museum visit

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.

Method of assessment

The written exam will count for 70%. Coursework 1 (10%), Coursework 2 (20%) towards the final mark.

Suggested reading

Some of the readings are in the Korean language. However, as they have abstracts and captions in English, they are important works of reference also to students who can not read Korean.

Basic Readings:
  • Barnes, Gina. China Korea Japan: The rise of civilization in East Asia. London: Thames and Hudson, 1993.
  • Barnes, Gina. State Formation in Korea: historical and archaeological perspectives. 2001.
  • Best, Johnathan. "Early Korean Buddhist Bronzes and Sui Regional Substyles: A contextual study of stylistic influence in the early seventh century," Sambul Kom Won-yong kyosu chongnyon t'oeim kinyom nonch'ong. Seoul, 1987, vol. 2, pp. 4776-512
  • Choe Songeun "Relationship between Buddhist Sculpture of Shilla and China," Korea Journal, vol. 40, no. 4, Winter, 2000, pp. 24-67 (available online)
  • Choi Eung-chon. "Korean Buddhist Metal Art," Orientations, September, 1988, pp. 34-43.
  • Dahmen-Dallapiccola, Anna Libera The Stupa : its religious, historical and architectural significance. Wiesbaden, 1980.
  • Kang Woo-bang. "Buddhistische Reliquien und Reliquienbehälter in Korea," in Korea. Die Alten Königreiche. Edited by Lee-Kalisch, Jeong-hee. München: Hirmer Verlag, 1999, pp. 37-45.
  • Kim, Kumja Paik. Goryeo dynasty: Korea's age of enlightenment, 918-1392. San Francisco: Asian Art Museum, 2003.
  • Kim Lena. "Tradition and Transformation in Korean Buddhist Sculpture," In Smith, J. Arts of Korea. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1998, pp. 250-293
  • Kim Won-yong. Art and Archaeology in Ancient Korea. Seoul, 1986.
  • Kim Won-yong, Kang U-bang. Kyongju Namsan. Seoul : Yorhwadang, 1987
  • Kim Sung-soo. History and Design of the early Buddhist Architecture in Korea. PhD Diss. University of Michigan, 1985.
  • Lee Junghee. "The Evolution of Koguryo Tomb Murals," Korean Culture, Summer 1992, 12-17, 40-44. (electronic source)
  • Mizuno Kogen. Buddhist Sutras - Origin, Development, Transmission. Tokyo, 1980.
  • Moon Myung-dae. "Glaube and Kunst des Buddhismus in alten Korea," in Korea. Die Alten Königreiche. Edited by Lee-Kalisch, Jeong-hee. München: Hirmer Verlag, 1999, pp.47-56
  • Seckel, Dietrich. Buddhistische Kunst Ostasiens. Stuttgart : W. Kohlhammer, 1957
  • Swart, Paula. "Korean Reliquaires - Votive Objects of Buddhism," Korean Culture, vol. 12, no. 4, 1991, pp. 4-11 (electronic resource)
  • 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.
  • Pal, Pratapaditya and Julia Meech-Pekarik. Buddhist book illuminations. New York : Ravi Kumar Publishers; Hurstpierpoint, England : Richard Lyon-Chimera Books, 1988
  • Pak Youngsook, "Buddhist Themes in Koguryo Murals," Asiatische Studien, XLIV, 2, 1990, pp. 177-204
  • Pak Young-sook. "The Role of legend in Koryŏ iconography (I). The Kshitigarbha triad in Engakuji," in Function and Meaning of Buddhist Art. Edited by K. R. von Kooji & H. van der Veere. Groningen: Egbert Forsten, 1996, pp. 157-165.
  • Yi Song-mi, "Problems concerning the Sokkuram Cave Temple on Kyongju," Seoul Journal of Korean Studies, vol. 1, 1988, pp. 25-47
Electronic Sources:

Online course outline.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules