Introduction to Korean Art History

Korea University

Course Description

  • Course Name

    Introduction to Korean Art History

  • Host University

    Korea University

  • Location

    Seoul, South Korea

  • Area of Study

    Art, Art History, Asian Studies

  • Language Level

    Taught In English

  • Course Level Recommendations


    ISA offers course level recommendations in an effort to facilitate the determination of course levels by credential evaluators.We advice each institution to have their own credentials evaluator make the final decision regrading course levels.

    Hours & Credits

  • Credits

  • Recommended U.S. Semester Credits
  • Recommended U.S. Quarter Units
  • Overview

    Summary of course and learning outcomes:

    What is Korean art and Korean cultural traditions? This is what we will explore in this course that surveys Korean art from pre-modern times to the rise of the modern era.

    The course offers insights into the many different types of art were made on the Korean peninsula, from ceramic vessels to sculptures, paintings and textiles. The course takes its beginnings in the Three Kingdoms period (trad. 57BC-AD668) and continues with explorations of arts of the Goryeo (AD918-1392) and Joseon (AD1392-1910) periods. Presented chronologically, key artefacts and artistic traditions are discussed in relation to their political, religious and historical contexts. Within each period foreign influences and indigenous Korean traditions are explored in order to gain a greater understanding of native characteristics and aesthetic concerns.

    Using PowerPoint, classes will centre on the presentation and discussion of visual material, while weekly museum visits also form an important part of the course. In particular we will make use of the excellent collection housed on campus in the Korea University Museum, and we will also make several visits to the National Museum of Korea (please make sure you allow time to attend those visits on Wednesday evenings when the Museum is open late).

    By the end of the course, students will have an understanding of core themes and concepts pertaining to the study of Korean material culture. They will also be able to recognize the reasons behind changes and continuations of local artistic traditions and be able to assess and understand such developments within a wider East Asian context. Visually they will be able to identify and discuss key pieces of pre-modern ad contemporary works of art.

    There is no text book for this course, but a Course Reader with relevant readings will be available for purchase in the COPYMART on campus.

    Attendance and class participation:

    Active participation is an essential part of the learning process. Students are required to attend classroom lectures and participate actively in classroom discussion and presentations by peer students. For active classroom participation, students are urged to read required readings in advance.


    Course Outline (please note that this course outline may change slightly):

    Week 1: Introduction and Arts of the Three Kingdoms

    • The first session will critically assesses the study of Korean art and archaeology by Western and Asian scholars, research trends will be explored and useful publications and websites will be introduced.
    • Sessions 2-3 will covers arts of the Three Kingdoms (trad. 57BC-AD668) of Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla, focusing in particular on tomb culture and the introduction of Buddhism. We will examine the iconography and artistic significance of the paintings and objects while making comparisons to contemporary Chinese tomb constructions. We will also compare the making of Buddhist works of art to that of the Chinese mainland and consider how early Korean Buddhist sculptures were influenced by Chinese prototypes.

    Week 2: Arts of the Unified Silla Kingdom

    • In this week we will visit to the National Museum of Korea to see artefacts of the Three Kingdoms period, including the spectacular Silla gold crowns and other artefacts unearthed from the royal tombs around the peninsula.
    • Buddhism was introduced to Korea in the 4th century, and it came to flourish during the Unified Silla period. Under royal support, huge temples were constructed and votive works of art were commissioned. These include the temples of Bulguksa and Hwangnyeongsa, which we will examine closely. We will also study the rise and the maturation of the manufacture of Buddhist sculptures.
    • Wednesday’s class – Visit to the National Museum of Korea.

    Week 3: Arts of the Goryeo Kingdom

    • During this week we will also begin examining arts of the Goryeo dynasty (AD918-1392), focusing on ceramics and Buddhist paintings.  During this kingdom the making of arts and crafts flourished and reached unprecedented heights. It was during this time that the green-glazed ceramics called celadon were made and they continue to be celebrated as one of the great cultural achievements of this era. We will continue our explorations of material culture from the Goryeo kingdom. Buddhism also occupied an important role during this period, leading to the manufacture of Buddhist sutras, bells, gongs and other votive works of art. It was in particular during the latter half of the era that many important as well as beautiful Buddhist paintings were made. Some were commissioned for personal salvation, while others were made as prayers for the entire nation. Some of the best works of art from the Goryeo period are held in the National Museum of Korea and we will therefore be re-visiting the Museum to examine them closely.
    • Wednesday’s class – Visit to the National Museum of Korea.

    Week 4: Mid-Term Exam and Arts of the Joseon Dynasty I

    • The focus of this week and the next is the arts of the Joseon dynasty. The fall of the Goryeo dynasty and the subsequent rise of the Joseon kingdom (AD1392-1910) greatly affected the arts, as new consumers with different taste and preferences began influencing the making of secular and religious works of art. During this time, the secular arts flourished and developed in a new direction as reflected in paintings, ceramics, lacquer wares and textiles, among other artefacts. We will, for example, study the development and rise of punch’ŏng ceramics and porcelain wares. The two types of wares will be compared and contrasted through a discussion of key examples, and references will be made to contemporary ceramic traditions in China and Japan. Another lecture will be devoted to discussions of Choson dress and will explain how prevailing philosophical and aesthetic concerns were reflected visually in dress and dress codes for men and women.
    • We will make a visit to the Korea University Museum to see objects from the Joseon period.

    Week 5: Arts of the Joseon Dynasty II, and Exam Revision

    • A great number of paintings were made throughout the Joseon dynasty. Some were produced as records of important events, such as gatherings of scholars, a king’s birthday celebration and so on, while others resulted from purely artistic pursuits.  This week we look at the different types and styles and paintings made over the course of the 500 years that the Yi family ruled. We will also address how recently introduced painterly styles from China were adapted to Korean traditions and how local characteristics came to be developed.
    • Student presentations

    Week 6: Revision and final exam.

Course Disclaimer

Courses and course hours of instruction are subject to change.