MA Buddhist Art: History and Conservation - The Courtauld Institute of Art

MA Buddhist Art: History and Conservation

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MA Buddhist Art: History and Conservation


Postgraduate Taught Courses

MA Buddhist Art: History and Conservation
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This two-year programme will next run in 2021. We will open for applications in autumn 2020.

This MA is unique in combining the study of Buddhism, Buddhist art, and the techniques and conservation of Buddhist art. Offered by The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Centre for Buddhist Art and Conservation at The Courtauld, the MA was established as a one-year degree in 2013. In order to build on and expand the strengths of the programme, the MA is changing in 2017 to a two-year degree taught in collaboration with SOAS.

The MA now brings together world-famous institutions: The Courtauld for the study of art history and conservation, and SOAS for the study of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Drawing on the unique strengths of the two institutions and their exceptional faculties, the new curriculum of the MA provides detailed and systematic teaching over two years. Each discipline is introduced, expanded and integrated to allow students to obtain the best possible learning experiences and skills acquisition. Designed to provide increased specialisation over the two years, the course culminates in research and a substantial dissertation in the final months.

Offered once every two years, applications are now invited for the programme beginning autumn 2017. Taught by a wide range of specialists from both The Courtauld and SOAS, the MA also benefits from teaching by visiting experts. The course includes study trips to museums in the UK and Europe, and a longer study trip to India to develop an appreciation of Buddhist art in its original contexts. Students also benefit from conferences and public events regularly held by the Ho Centre at The Courtauld.

Drawing also on the research and conservation work undertaken by The Courtauld’s Conservation of Wall Painting Department in Bhutan, China and India, this MA is specifically designed to equip students with knowledge of:

  • the central concepts of Buddhism, and their historical diffusion;
  • the history of Buddhist art in its various religious, social and cultural contexts;
  • the materials and techniques involved in the making of various types of Buddhist art;
  • approaches to the conservation of Buddhist art, including understanding of the ethical, technical and administrative issues involved.

This MA provides a comprehensive grounding in the history of Buddhism, Buddhist art and its conservation for those intending to pursue further specialist conservation education, and for those who wish to proceed into related fields such as art-historical research, curating, and site-management.

About eight students are accepted on the MA. Applicants from different academic and geographical backgrounds are encouraged to apply. Previous experience in any of the fields covered by the MA is not required.

Please Note: Plans are being made for the redevelopment of The Courtauld’s home at Somerset House.  The project, called Courtauld Connects, will include the development of state-of-the-art teaching and research facilities. During the redevelopment the location of some teaching will move. Further information on Courtauld Connects will be published on The Courtauld’s website over the coming months.

Key facts

Status Full time
8 students
Duration 2 years
Language Skills English
Application deadline TBC

MA Buddhist Art: History and Conservation

You can download a PDF version of the prospectus below.

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This two-year MA combining the study of Buddhism, Buddhist art, and the techniques and conservation of Buddhist art, is structured to provide increased specialisation during the course, with a substantial dissertation at the end. The programme consists of interwoven strands, it includes teaching by a wide range of specialists from both institutions and from elsewhere. Some strands will be taught at The Courtauld or on-site, while for others students will join classes at SOAS.

Year 1
The objectives of this year are to provide a grounding in the concepts of Buddhism and their historical diffusion; an appreciation of the chronological development, regional variations and major themes of Buddhist art; an understanding of the making of different types of Buddhist art, and of the ethical, legal and other issues underlying the conservation and display of Buddhist art; and an interdisciplinary exposure to the imagining and presentation of Buddhas and their achievements in South Asia, juxtaposing the textual perspective with what is communicated through imagery. The formal teaching is reinforced through a study trip in the second term to museums in Paris or elsewhere in Europe, and in the third term by a longer study trip to India.

  • Strand 1: Critical Concepts in Buddhist Studies Convenor: Vincent Tournier (SOAS) This course is designed to provide a broad understanding of the major processes and dynamics at work in the growth and development of Buddhism as a pan-Asian religion, and with the key methodological tools required to approach this major cultural force in its fascinating diversity.
  • Strand 2: History of Buddhist Art
    This course provides an overview of Buddhist art with regard to its chronological development, regional variations, major themes, and the multiplicity of different media. Buddhist art in collections will also be studied, examining aspects of collecting and display.
  • Strand 3: The Making of Buddhist Art, and Conservation Principles Convenor: Giovanni Verri (The Courtauld) This course provides an introduction to the making of Buddhist art from its origins.  Primary sources and technical studies are used to understand the different types of materials employed.  It will also provide an introduction to the principles, ethics and other issues underlying the conservation and display of Buddhist art.
  • Strand 4: Imag(in)ing Buddahood in South Asia Convenors: Christian Luczanits & Vincent Tournier (SOAS) This course engages in an interdisciplinary manner with the central idea of Buddhism, as it developed within and beyond its South Asian cradle. Bringing together the expertise of an art historian and a historian of Buddhist thought, it will provide exposure to a diversity of approaches to textual, iconographic, and archaeological sources, to understand how Buddhas and their achievements were imagined, presented and encountered by Buddhist practitioners.
  • Strand 5: Study trip to museums in Europe To examine Buddhist art in major museums in Paris or elsewhere, considering art-historical, technical and conservation aspects, as well as display and management issues.
  • Strand 6: Fragile Inheritance: the Conservation of Buddhist Art
    To examine the measures directly involved in the preservation of Buddhist art in museums and in situ; and to examine particular major case studies in detail with regard to the legal, ethical, management, practical and other issues involved.
Year 2
Strand 6 continues in Year 2. More specialised teaching is introduced in a variety of areas: texts, and their relationship to Buddhist objects; the scientific examination and imaging of Buddhist art; and a choice of specialised courses in Buddhist studies and Buddhist art, allowing students to pursue particular interests and to assist in the choice of dissertation topic. The dissertation, undertaken over a period of fourteen weeks, should consider an aspect of the original techniques, conservation, management, curating, history or use of Buddhist art.

  • Strand 6: Fragile Inheritance: the Conservation of Buddhist Art Continued from Year 1
  • Strand 7: Texts on and around Buddhist objects
    This course will explore the many ways by which texts inform, respond to, and accompany Buddhist objects across Asian societies. It will, in particular, explore the Text-Image relationship, examining how textual and visual narratives respond to each other. It will introduce students to the methods of epigraphy and codicology, including the increasing use of imaging technologies.
  • Strand 8: Analysis and Imaging of Buddhist Art Convenor: Giovanni Verri (The Courtauld) This course provides an introduction to methods of examination and analysis through the use of visual observations and scientific instruments, and an introduction to and basic instruction in the technical imaging of Buddhist art including multispectral imaging.
  • Strand 9: Choice of one of the following specialised courses in Buddhist Studies and one in Buddhist Art at SOAS Students will select these courses in consultation with their tutors, on the basis of their previous background and career objectives; options will also depend on availability at SOAS. This further specialism will aid students in their choice of dissertation topic. Presentations and discussions at The Courtauld will enable students to harmonise their experience.

Specialised Course in Buddhist Studies

  • Buddhism in Tibet (Ulrich Pagel)
  • Chinese Buddhism in the Pre-modern Period (Antonello Palumbo)
  • East Asian Buddhist Thought (Lucia Dolce)
  • The Buddhist Conquest of Central Asia (Ulrich Pagel)

Specialised Course in Buddhist Art

  • Buddhist and Hindu Art of the Maritime Silk Route (Peter Sharrock)
  • Collecting and Curating Buddhist Art in the Museum (Louise Tythacott)
  • Illustrated Manuscript Cultures of Southeast Asia (Anna Contadini & Farouk Yahya)
  • Sacred Art and Architecture of Ancient Korea (Charlotte Horlyck)
  • The Figure of the Buddha: Theory, Practice and the Making of Buddhist Art History (Ashley Thompson)
  • Tibetan Buddhist Monuments in Context (Christian Luczanits)
  • Strand 10: Dissertation A major component of the MA is a 12,000-word dissertation, undertaken in the second and third terms of Year 2. The dissertation topic should focus on the original techniques, conservation, management, curating, history, or use of Buddhist art. Students are encouraged to design their research to reflect the interdisciplinary nature of the MA. Selection of the topic will be undertaken in the first term of Year 2 in consultation with course tutors, and will include assessment of the state of research, and production of an illustrated outline proposal with references.Topics have been varied; those of the previous one-year MA have included:
  • 19th– and early 20th-century copies and photographs of the Ajanta murals;
  • narrative and biography in early Tibetan teacher portraits;
  • tree and forest imagery in Buddhist Yamato-e handscroll paintings;
  • technical study and investigation of Nagthangs;
  • materials and techniques of red dyed gold from Southeast Asia;
  • the influence of Tibetan Buddhism on Ming Imperial porcelains;
  • examination and assessment of the environmental conditions of the Textile Museum of Bhutan.This range demonstrates the scope for students to research avenues that significantly develop their individual interests and skills, while also providing a contribution to the field.

Teaching Methods

Teaching methods and work required of the students are related to each strand and include:

  • lectures: to impart factual information;
  • seminars: to provide a forum for open discussion, and to allow assessment of the development of the individual student’s critical abilities;
  • student seminars: to develop skills in gathering, organising and presenting a body of information, including visual material;
  • essays: to develop skills in written communication and research methodology;
  • reports: on the study trips;
  • tutoring: to provide individual guidance, and to allow monitoring of the student’s progress.
Both formal and informal mechanisms of assessment are used. Formal assessment of the two-year MA is based on:

  • Strand 1: essay; response paper;
  • Strand 2: essay; examination;
  • Strand 3: essay; examination;
  • Strand 4: 2 essays; 2 response papers;
  • Strand 5: oral examination;
  • Strand 6: essay; presentation;
  • Strand 7: essay;
  • Strand 8: essay; practical imaging exercise;
  • Strand 9: 2 essays;
  • Strand 10: dissertation.

Students must pass all formally assessed elements of Year 1 in order to proceed to Year 2. Any formally assessed elements failed in Year 1 may be retaken prior to Year 2. Formal assessment is administered by a Board of Examiners, which meets at the end of each year. For the final assessment of the MA, students receive a distinction, merit, pass, or fail.


The next cohort’s fees will be determined will be determined in due course.

Fees 2017/18

Home/EU: £9,500 per year
Overseas: £19,750 per year

Fees 2018/19

Home/EU: £9,500 per year
Overseas: £19,750 per year

Fee information, including what qualifies as home, EU, and overseas, can be found here. The fees are payable at the start of each academic year. Travel and accommodation costs for the study trips are paid by the Ho Centre at The Courtauld. Financial support for your studies Find information about loans, grants, and bursaries to support you during your studies at The Courtauld here.

Apply for this course

Apply for this course or download a prospectus for more information.

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