Arts of Goryeo and Joseon Korea

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Term 1
Module code
FHEQ Level

Module overview

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

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

  • Have an understanding of the broader underlying themes, issues and debates inherent to Korean art history and archaeology.
  • Identify and compare different approaches to understanding art traditions in 10-19th century Korea.
  • Have an understanding of the political, social and religious contexts for the production and use of art on the Korean peninsula during the periods covered in the course.
  • The ability to visually recognise significant Korean artefacts and stylistic developments in the history of Korean art and archaeology.
  • The ability to constructively criticise the approaches and methods of archaeologists and art historians.
  • Use the range of skills used in art history and develop independent study and research skills.


  • One hour Lecture, one hour Seminar

Scope and syllabus

Key themes in Korean material culture of the Koryo (AD918-1392) and Choson (AD1392-1910) periods are covered in this course. Following a chronological approach, the first half of the course covers ceramic, metal and lacquer ware traditions from the Koryo kingdom, followed by an exploration of different forms of Buddhist artefacts also from this period. The second half of the course is devoted to secular and religious arts of the Choson kingdom, focusing on ceramics and paintings.

The lectures will include discussion of the continuous interaction between Korea, China and Japan, as the production and consumption of Korean artefacts from the 10-19th 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. Koryo ceramics
2. Koryo metal and lacquer wares
3. Koryo Buddhist paintings
4. Koryo illuminated sutras
5. Museum visit and discussion of assignments
6. Choson ceramics
7. Choson landscape paintings
8. Choson landscape and genre paintings
9. Choson portrait paintings
10. Unseen examination: Slide test

Designed to facilitate an appreciation and in-depth understanding of these key themes, traditions and aesthetic concepts within Korean art and archaeological traditions from these periods, the course provides a means to assess and understand broader developments in Korea’s cultural history and to question them in relation to non-Korean practices and artistic influences. 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.

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-word essay (worth 70%)
  • One open book object analysis test (worth 30%)

Suggested reading

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

  • Ebrey, Patricia Buckley, Anne Walthall and James B. Palais. East Asia: a cultural, social, and political history. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006, pp. 65-70.
  • Grayson, James. Korea: a religious history. London ; New York : RoutledgeCurzon, 2000.
  • Itoh Ikutaro and Mino Yukata. The Radiance of Jade and the Clarity of Water: Korean Ceramics from the Ataka Collection. Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago, 1991: 151-156.
  • Jungmann, Burglind. Painters as envoys: Korean inspiration in eighteenth-century Japanese Nanga. Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, 2004
  • Kim Hongnam. Korean Art of the Eighteenth Century. Splendour and Simplicity. New York: The Asia Society, 1993.
  • Lee Ki-baik. A New history of Korea. Cambridge, Mass. : Published for the Harvard-Yenching Institute by Harvard University Press, 1984.
  • Kim, Kumja Paik. Goryeo dynasty : Korea's age of enlightenment, 918-1392. San Francisco: Asian Art Museum, 2003. (Includes chapters on sutras and Buddhist paintings).
  • Krahl, Regina (ed.).  Korean art from the Gompertz and other collections in the Fitzwilliam Museum : a complete catalogue. Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
  • Lee, Peter H (ed.). Sourcebook of Korean civilization. N.Y.: Columbia University Press, 1993-1996.
  • 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.
  • Roberts, Claire and Michael Brand (eds.). Earth, spirit, fire : Korean masterpieces of the Choson dynasty. Sydney : Powerhouse Museum ; Brisbane : Queensland Art Gallery, 2000.
  • Smith, Judith (ed.). The Arts of Korea. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1998.
  • Smith, Judith (ed.). Korean ceramics: from the Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000.
  • Sullivan, Lawrence E. Death, afterlife, and the soul. New York : Macmillan, 1989.
  • Yi Song-mi. Korean landscape painting: continuity and innovation through the ages. Elizabeth, NJ: Hollym International Corp, 2006
  • Whitfield, Roderick (ed.). Treasures from Korea: art through 5000 years. London: British Museum Publications, 1984.



Beth McKillop


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