Tianlongshan Caves Project

Cave1-LeftWestWallThe Center for the Art of East Asia in the Department of Art History at the University of Chicago initiated the Tianlongshan Caves Project “to pursue research and digital imaging of the caves and their sculptures. The Project seeks to record and archive the sculptures and to compile data that can identify the fragments and their places of origin. In carrying this out, the Project aims to foster better understanding of the sculptural art, the history, and the meaning of the Tianlongshan Caves through creation of this website and through an exhibition of the results of the Project based on digital information.”

Puja and Piety: Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist Art from the Indian Subcontinent

Puja and Piety: Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist Art from the Indian Subcontinent
Pratapaditya Pal (Editor), Stephen P. Huyler (Contributor), John E. Cort (Contributor), Christian Luczanits (Contributor), Debashish Banerji (Contributor)
Available worldwide
Hardcover, 256 pages
ISBN: 9780520288478
April 2016
$65.00, £48.95

Puja and Piety celebrates the complexity of South Asian representation and iconography by examining the relationship between aesthetic expression and the devotional practice, or puja, in the three native religions of the Indian subcontinent. This stunning and authoritative catalogue presents some 150 objects created over the past two millennia for temples, home worship, festivals, and roadside shrines. From monumental painted temple hangings and painted meditation diagrams to portable pictures for pilgrims, from stone sculptures to processional bronzes and wooden chariots, from ancient terracottas to various devotional objects for domestic shrines, this volume provides much-needed context and insight into classical and popular art of India. Featuring an introduction by the eminent art historian and curator Pratapaditya Pal; accessible essays on each religious tradition by Stephen P. Huyler, John E. Cort, and Christian Luczanits; and useful guides to iconography and terms by Debashish Banerji, this richly illustrated catalogue will provide a lasting resource for readers interested in South Asian art and spirituality.

Published in association with the Santa Barbara Museum of Art

Exhibition organized by Susan S. Tai, Elizabeth Atkins Curator of Asian Art

Exhibition dates: Santa Barbara Museum of Art, April 17–July 31, 2016

Preserving the Dharma:Hōzan Tankai and Japanese Buddhist Art of the Early Modern Era

Preserving the Dharma:Hōzan Tankai and Japanese Buddhist Art of the Early Modern Era
John M. Rosenfield
Paperback | 2016 | $72.00 | £53.95 | ISBN: 9780691163970
160 pp. | 7 x 10 | 4 maps.


In this beautifully illustrated book, eminent art historian John Rosenfield explores the life and art of the Japanese Buddhist monk Hozan Tankai (1629–1716). Through a close examination of sculptures, paintings, ritual implements, and primary documents, the book demonstrates how the Shingon prelate’s artistic activities were central to his important place in the world of late-seventeenth-century Japanese Buddhism. At the same time, the book shows the richness of early modern Japanese Buddhist art, which has often been neglected and undervalued.

Tankai was firmly committed to the spiritual disciplines of mountain Buddhism—seclusion, severe asceticism, meditation, and ritual. But in the 1680s, after being appointed head of a small, run-down temple on the slopes of Mount Ikoma, near Nara, he revealed that he was also a gifted artist and administrator. He embarked on an ambitious campaign of constructing temple halls and commissioning icons, and the Ikoma temple, soon renamed Hōzanji, became a vibrant center of popular Buddhism, as it remains today. He was a remarkably productive artist, and by the end of his life more than 150 works were associated with him.

A major reconsideration of a key artistic and religious figure, Preserving the Dharma brings much-needed attention to an overlooked period of Japanese Buddhist art.

John M. Rosenfield (1924–2013) was the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Professor Emeritus of East Asian Art at Harvard University and curator emeritus of Asian art at the Harvard University Art Museums. His recent publications include Portraits of Chogen: The Transformation of Buddhist Art in Early Medieval Japan and extensive entries in Unrivalled Splendor: The Kimiko and John Powers Collection of Japanese Art.

Table of Contents:

Foreword and Acknowledgments 9
Author’s Acknowledgments 13
Notes to the Reader 15
Historical Dates and Places 17
Maps 19
Introduction 23
CHAPTER 1 Birth and Training 39
CHAPTER 2 Sacred Mount Ikoma 55
CHAPTER 3 Head Priest 79
CHAPTER 4 Sculpture 93
CHAPTER 5 Pictures 109
CHAPTER 6 Eminence 127
APPENDIX A Hōzanji Archive 143
APPENDIX B Shingon Priests 147
Notes 153
Bibliography 161
Glossary 171
Index 191
Image Credits 199

Book Review – Image Problems: The Origin and Development of the Buddha’s Image in Early South Asia


Review by Jon Ciliberto

Image Problems: The Origin and Development of the Buddha’s Image in Early South Asia
Robert DeCaroli
March 2015
280 pp., 44 b and w illus., 1 map, 1 chart, 7 x 10 in.

One of the earliest questions Western scholars of Buddhist art asked was: why were there no images of Shakyamuni Buddha for hundreds of years following his death? This question brings up another: what caused such images to begin to appear, and become so pervasive throughout Buddhist culture?

Robert DeCaroli‘s Image Problems revisits these questions and offers that the sudden emergence of images in the 1st century A.D. in South Asia was due to a general, cultural shift in attitudes toward anthropomorphic visual representation rather than to the development of specifically Buddhist approaches to images.

At least since Coomaraswamy’s “Elements of Buddhist Iconography” (1935), the transition from symbolic, or stand-in images of the Buddha to anthropomorphic ones has been placed in the much deeper historical context of Indian art. That is, it is an error to see the shift from an aniconic to a representational image use as one that occurred strictly in the Buddhist traditions, and thus that one ought to look in Buddhist texts or practices exclusively for explanations for the change. Similar changes occurred in Brahmanical and Jainism at the time.

More to the point, early Buddhists’ responses to images in religious settings were framed and developed as a result of cultural positions with respect to images that had developed over many centuries in India, and through its interaction with neighboring (often invading) cultures.

The nature of the Buddha to those living after his exit from the world is a theme threaded through the book, often revealing itself as an explanation for the variety of responses Buddhist in South Asia reacted to Buddhist images. The myriad manifestations and existentially complex nature of the Buddha serves both to justify, and undercut, the devotional use of images.

A frequently-cited and quite specific theoretical basis for excluding images of the enlightened Buddha is that once enlightened, the Buddha was entirely absent. If absent, what is there to represent visually? This underpinning raises a question addressed initially by DeCaroli: did images of the Buddha follow doctrinal changes, or did the appearance of images lead to shifts in doctrine? No clear answer exists, for the historical is irregular, inconstant, or nonexistent. Instead, the author looks to changes in cultural understanding of images that developed independently of Buddhism.

The author devotes significant space to the use of images in South Asian art generally, both upon the inherent “power, agency, and authority” of images (8), and upon the use of such images by foreign powers who entered the region to bolster their political authority over a native population. Images in ancient South Asia were considered powerful, even magical, in ways that it is difficult for our image-saturated culture to grasp. They were often utilized in rites aimed toward specific worldly goals: for gaining wealth or health, for causing illness in another, for inflaming romantic desire, to influence the weather, and so on. Meanwhile, rites whose goals were non-secular (as practiced, for instance, by Brahmans and Sramana) were generally less image-oriented. DeCaroli therefore speculates that early the lack of early Buddhist figural images was based on the understanding that Buddhist practice was meant to pursue transcendental rather than worldly goals.

In parsing the views of other scholars on the philosophical justification for image-prohibition, the author takes the position that the motive is based on the inherent potency of anthropomorphic images, rather than either the idea that symbols in aniconic are substitutions for the Buddha (Foucher/Cunningham), or that the symbol represents, or is a reminder, of the Buddha (Rhys David/Anderson). DeCaroli’s view is thus connected with his thesis that early Buddhist thought on images was highly influenced by pre-Buddhist ideas regarding the magical power of images.

Image Problems recognizes that the Buddhism of any era is not a monolithic belief-system, and that sects made differing responses to the proliferation of images in the 1st century. The volume offers an selection of Buddhist texts speaking against image use, although none are explicitly prohibitory. (One exception is the prohibition found in all vinayas (and in Brahmanic literature) against images of living things.)

It is refreshing to read a scholar who presents the authors of ancient texts not simply as authority figures, or even as persons locked into a specific school or tradition, but rather as individuals grappling with the startling fact of images suddenly coming into vogue, and seeking philosophical justification or proscriptive.

Beyond philosophical prohibitions of image use, one finds a “you couldn’t do it even if you tried” approach, in texts that posit the impossibility of creating an image of the Buddha’s body due to its “elusive and inexpressible nature.” In a similarly deflective rather than prohibitory way, some texts claim that images are simply less effective than other means.

A fascinating section of the book describes non-Buddhist prohibitions against image-making, including one based on the premise that image-makers are thereby taking money away from the gods depicted. (This seems almost an ancient version of modern celebrities’ legal recourse against unlicensed use of their images.) The reaction illustrates the sense of potency and life early Buddhist ascribed to images, as do many examples of the active agency of images: driving off apsaras by painting a picture of a prettier apsara, learning archery from the clay image of a teacher of archery, resurrecting a dead person by means an image of the person. All of these ideas around the power and agency of images made it imperative that the Buddha, whose parinirvana brought up utter cessation, be absent in images.

Image Problems includes a survey of the history of figural representation in Southeast Asia, to place the appearance of figural images in Buddhist art in context. Gradually, figural images became more specific, such that individuals rather than generalized figures were portrayed. Portraiture is of course closely connection with royal images. The author contends that royal portraiture was not an innovation of the foreign Kusana kings, but that they “introduced the new social customs that allowed for this type of artwork to be used in a wider range of contexts.” (93) The Kusanas, from Central Asia, had a relationship to figural imagery different from South Asians. In general, the Kusanas used specific physiological styles, “representing gods and other religious figures anthropomorphically, even if those deities had little or no prior history of being represented in such a fashion.” (97) Further, Kusanas, by placing images of themselves in close proximity to images of religious figures, further enhanced political figures’ prestige and legitimization.

While DeCaroli notes that this usage must have shocked locals, he does not explore significantly reverse legitimization resulting from the sudden appearance of images of the Buddha and other figures, including their usurping the place of other deities. That is, once anthropomorphic images of political figures began to appear on statues, reliefs, and coins, Buddhist artists by crafting anthropomorphic images of the Buddha and other figures co-opted the “image power” of such secular images.

The overlap between images of foreign kings and religious figures is summarized: “the centuries in which reigning kings began to display their own images are the same periods in which new modes of representing religious figures was also pioneered.” (112) Thus, the innovation of figural images appearing in Buddhist art is posited to a general trend in figural imagery at the time. Rather than a causal connection between royal portraiture and Buddha images, the author points to the emergence of “a specific attitude toward the use of figural art as a means of establishing authority.” (112)

Later chapters in Image Problems examine the reactions of Buddhists to “validate or justify” Buddha images, which generally speaking are tied to the power or efficacy of such images, and thus to their ability to help practitioners. Such justifications are also undercut by stories in which devotion to images is chastised as inferior to or a distraction from the dharma. This back-and-forth is a pattern that is repeated with respect to various stories concerning Buddha images: “In each instance, when a renowned member of the saṃgha […] demonstrates the value to be found in devotion to the embodied Buddha, a response is drawn from those who feel the need to amend, alter, or undermine their successes.” (126) Thus, the varied expressions of understanding regarding image use persists, even as image use proliferated. Too, these responses indicate the underlying tension that South Asians felt toward figural images’ power.

Image Problems thoroughly surveys image use, devotion, the merit of making and donating to images, miracle images, and the problem of copies of images. The book extends consideration of image use to meditative practices, linguistics, and parallel reactions in Jain and Brahmanical traditions.

Cave Temples of Mogao at Dunhuang: Art and History on the Silk Road

9781606064450_grandeCave Temples of Mogao at Dunhuang: Art and History on the Silk Road
Roderick Whitfield, Susan Whitfield, and Neville Agnew

The Mogao grottoes in China, situated near the town of Dunhuang on the fabled Silk Road, constitute one of the world’s most significant sites of Buddhist art. The hundreds of caves carved into rock cliffs at the edge of the Gobi desert preserve one thousand years of exquisite art. Founded by Buddhist monks as an isolated monastery in the late fourth century, Mogao evolved into an artistic and spiritual mecca whose renown extended from the Chinese capital to the Western Kingdoms of the Silk Road. Among its treasures are miles of stunning wall paintings, more than two thousand statues, magnificent works on silk and paper, and thousands of ancient manuscripts, such as sutras, poems, and prayer sheets.

In this new expanded edition, Cave Temples of Mogao at Dunhuang, first published in 2000, combines lavish color photographs of the caves and their art with the fascinating history of the Silk Road to create a vivid portrait of this remarkable site. Chapters narrate the development of Dunhuang and the Mogao cave temples, the iconography of the wall paintings, and the extraordinary story of the rare manuscripts—including the oldest printed book in existence, a ninth-century copy of the Diamond Sutra. The book also discusses the collaboration between the Getty Conservation Institute and Chinese authorities in conservation projects at Mogao, and the ways in which the site can be visited today.

Roderick Whitfield is Percival David Professor emeritus in the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. Susan Whitfield is head of the International Dunhuang Project, British Library. Neville Agnew is a principal project specialist at the Getty Conservation Institute.

160 pages
8 x 10 inches
155 color & 25 b/w 
1 map
ISBN 978-1-60606-445-0

Getty Publications
Imprint: Getty Conservation Institute
Series: Conservation and Cultural Heritage


Recently Published on Academia.edu

The depiction of Hindu and Pan-Indian Deities in the Lo tsa ba lHa khang at Nako
by Christian Luczanits

Seven Weeks after the Buddha’s Enlightenment Contradictions in Text, Confusions in Art by Osmund Bopearachchi

The Tibetan Book of Proportions

13086233095_32e18f1e88_bThe Public Domain Review offers a series of images from “an eighteenth-century pattern book consisting of 36 ink drawings showing precise iconometric guidelines for depicting the Buddha and Bodhisattva figures.”

Original text at the Getty.