SOAS University of London

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

Sacred Art and Architecture of Ancient Korea

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

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course, a student will be able to:

  • Critically analyse Korean religious and secular arts from the Three Kingdoms (trad. 57 BC-AD 668) and Unified Silla (AD668-932) periods using appropriate vocabulary.
  • Examine a range of approaches to understanding Korean material culture from these periods.
  • Demonstrate understanding of the chronological framework for the development of pre-modern Korean art, archaeology and architecture.
  • Assess critically the political, social and religious contexts for the production and use of art on the Korean peninsula during the periods covered in the course.
  • To place the development of pre-modern Korean art, archaeology and architecture within the context of East Asian history and culture.
  • To understand key themes and approaches to the study of secular and religious arts in Korea, using appropriate vocabulary.
  • To visually recognise significant Korean artefacts and stylistic developments in the history of Korean art and archaeology.
  • To constructively criticise the approaches and methods of archaeologists and art historians.


  • One hour Lecture, one hour Seminar

Scope and syllabus

Key themes in Korean material culture of the Three Kingdoms (trad. 57 BC-AD 668) and Unified Silla (AD668-932) periods are covered in this course. Following a chronological and thematic approach, the first half of the course discusses tomb art, through the examination of murals, ceramics, metalwares and other surviving material that enable us to gain an understanding into early Korean elite culture and artistic traditions. The second half of the course addresses the introduction and dissemination of Buddhism in the Three Kingdoms and Unified Silla periods through a discussion of early Buddhist sculpture, followed by two sessions on Buddhist architecture.

The lectures will include discussion of the continuous interaction between Korea, China and Japan, as the production and consumption of Korean artefact's from the 4th to 10th centuries will be examined against a cross-cultural milieu that is formed by religious interaction, political networks and trade relations particularly within East Asia as well as within Asia as a whole. 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. The course will also include discussions of Korean art and archaeology as an academic discipline and will question how the field has developed with regards to current and past trends in methodological orientation and subject interests:

  1. Introduction
  2. Tombs of the Koguryo Kingdom
  3. Tombs of the Paekche Kingdom
  4. Tombs of the Silla Kingdom
  5. T-ombs,of the, Unified Silla kingdom
  6. Museum visit
  7. Early Bud,dhist sculpture
  8. Pagodas and relics
  9. Temples
  10. Unseen examination: Slide test

Designed to facilitate an appreciation and in-depth understanding of these key themes, traditions and aesthetic concepts from these periods, the course provides a means to assess and understand developments in Korea's pre-modern cultural history and to question such changes in relation to non-Korean practices and artistic influences.

Active use will be made of blackboard and other electronic resources. One lecture will include a visit to a collection 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 cultures of East Asia.

Method of assessment

  • One 2 000 words essay (worth 70%)
  • One presentation (worth 30%)

Suggested reading

NOTE: All volumes are available in the SOAS library.
Further reading lists will be handed out during the course

  • Alphen, Jan Van (ed.) The Smile of Buddha. 1600 Years of Buddhist Art in Korea.
  • Brussels: Centre of Fine Arts, 2008.
  • Barnes, Gina l. The rise of civilization in East Asia: the archaeology of China.
  • Korea and Japan. London: Thames & Hudson, 1999.
  • Ebrey, Patricia Buckley, Anne Walthall and James B. Palais. East Asia: a cultural, social, and political history. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006, pp. 65-70.
  • O Grayson, James. Korea: a religious history. London; New York:
    RoutledgeCurzon, 2000.
  • Kqng Woobang. Korean Buddhist Sculpture. Art and Truth. Youlhwadang Publisher, 2005.
  • Kim Chewon. "Two Old Silla Tombs: A Preliminary Report on an Excavation in Ky6ngju in 1946" ,Artibus Asiae, Vol. 10, No. 3 (1947), pp. 169-192
  • Kim Wonyong. Art and Archaeology of Ancient Korea. Taekwang publishing, 1986.
  • Lee Ki-baik. A New history of Korea. Cambridge, Mass. : Published for the Harvard-Yenching Institute by Harvard University Press, 1984.
  • Lee, Peter H (ed.). Sourcebook of Korean civilization. N.Y. : Columbia University Press, 1993-1996.
  • Nelson, Sarah M. The Archaeology of Korea. Cambridge University Press, 1993. Oxford Art Online. Korea.[Electronic Resource) Portal, Jane. Korea. Art and Archaeology. British Museum, 2000.
  • Pratt, Keith and Richard Rutt. Korea: a historical and cultural dictionary. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press, 1999.
  • Smith, Judith (ed.). The Arts of Korea. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1998.
  • Whitfield, Roderick (ed.). Treasures from Korea: art through 5000 years. London: British Museum Publications, 1984.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules