SOAS University of London

History of Art and Archaeology

Art and Empire in Early Modern India

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2022/2023
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2, Year 3 or Year 4
Taught in:
Term 1

India is a region of great religious and cultural diversity. This course examines aspects of the visual arts of South Asia from c. 1500 to 1700. We will examine architecture, painting and sculpture produced during the dominance of the Vijayanagara Empire and its successors in south India, the great Mughal Empire at its height in the north, together with the arts of their Hindu and Muslim contemporaries at the courts of the Rajputs of Rajasthan and the Himalayan foothills, and the Deccan sultanates in the south. The material addressed will be equally balanced between architecture and other arts, especially painting. A continuous thread is the ‘Hindu-Muslim’ encounter and the interpretation of architecture and cosmopolitan court cultures across this region in the medieval and early modern periods. The architecture of the palace, mausoleum, mosque, temple and city will be examined - as monument, symbol, political arena, ritual theatre and sacred space – alongside the use of portraiture,and illustrated religious and historical narratives in the formation of political, religious and cultural identities in this dynamic period of cross-cultural encounter.

Classroom discussion will be complemented by study-visits to London's rich museum collections. This course will appeal to students interested in the history, religions and visual cultures of mediaeval and early modern South Asia and those of neighbouring regions.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to

  • demonstrate knowledge of the chronological framework for the arts of India from c. 1500-1700
  • evaluate the political, social and religious contexts for the production and use of art from South Asia from c. 1500-1700.
  • understand key themes in the study of religious and court arts in South Asia.
  • analyse paintings, sculptures, architecture and urban landscapes from India using appropriate vocabulary.
  • constructively criticise the approaches and methods of art historians.



One hour lecture, one hour seminar

Scope and syllabus

  1. Foundations – Art and Empire in early modern India
  2. Akbar’s court and the foundation of Mughal painting.
  3. Fatehpur Sikri and the Mughal palace
  4. The Mughal mausoleum.
  5. Painting the Ramayana in 17th-century Mewar.
  6. Sacred landscape at Vijayanagara, the ‘City of Victory’.
  7. Arts of the book and Deccani court-culture at Bijapur.
  8. Madurai and the Tamil temple city.
  9. Portraiture, albums and the diplomatic gift at the Mughal court.
  10. Museum visit

Method of assessment

  • One 1,500-word critical image analysis (worth 20%)
  • One 2,000-word essay (worth 30%)
  • One two-hour exam (worth 50%)

Suggested reading

  • Aitken, Molly Emma. The Intelligence of Tradition in Rajput Court Painting. London and New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010.
  • Asher, Catherine B, and Cynthia Talbot. India before Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
  • Beach, Milo Cleveland. Mughal and Rajput Painting. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
  • Guy, John, and Deborah Swallow, eds. Arts of India 1550-1900. London: Victoria & Albert Museum, 1990
  • Haidar, Navina Najat, and Marika Sardar, eds. Sultans of Deccan India: Opulence and Fantasy. New York, New Haven and London: Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University Press, 2015.
  • Koch, Ebba. Mughal Art and Imperial Ideology: Collected Essays. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2001.
  • Michell, George. Architecture and Art of Southern India: Vijayanagara and the successor states, The New Cambridge History of India 1.6. Cambridge: CUP, 1995
  • Stronge, Susan. Painting for the Mughal Emperor: The Art of the Book 1560-1660. London: V&A Publications, 2002.
  • Verghese, Anila. Archaeology, Art and Religion: New Perspectives on Vijayanagara. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules