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Buddhism: Visual & Material Culture: East Asia

Last Updated: May 15, 2024 3:52 PM

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Image: One of a pair of apsaras (Jp. hiten), flying celestial beings that accompany the Buddha; late 11th to early 12th c. CE, Japan. Source/creator: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. | License: CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Declaration.

China  |  Chinese cave temples  |  Dunhuang

Japan  |  Japanese architecture  |  Zen  |  Korea


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The Ten Kings hanging scrolls at Tokyo's Seikado Bunko Art Museum are among the most resplendent renderings of the Buddhist purgatory extant, but their origin and significance have yet to be fully explored. Cheeyun Kwon unfurls this exquisite set of scrolls within the existing Ten Kings painting tradition while investigating textual, scriptural, archaeological, and visual materials from East Asia to shed light on its possible provenance. She constructs a model scheme of the paintings' evolution based on more than five hundred works and reveals channels of popularization, mass production, and agglomeration.

Wong Pilgrim-Monks cover artBuddhist Pilgrim-Monks As Agents of Cultural and Artistic Transmission by Dorothy Wong. NUS Press, 2018.

In the mid-seventh century, a class of Buddhist pilgrim-monks disseminated an art style in China, Japan, and Korea that was uniform in both iconography and formal properties. Traveling between the courts and religious centers of the region, these pilgrim-monks played a powerful role in this proto-cosmopolitanism, promulgating what came to be known as the International Buddhist Art Style. In this book, Dorothy C. Wong argues that the visual expression found in this robust new art style arose alongside the ascendant theory of the Buddhist state, and directly influenced it. Aided by lavish illustrations, Wong’s book shows that the visual language transmitted and circulated by these pilgrim-monks served as a key agent in shaping the cultural landscape of Northeast Asia. This is the first major study of the vital role played by Buddhist pilgrim-monks in conveying the notions of Buddhist kingship via artistic communication. Wong’s interdisciplinary analysis will attract scholars in Asian art history and religious studies.

Monks in Glaze cover artMonks in Glaze: Patronage, Kiln Origin, and Iconography of the Yixian Luohans by Eileen Hsiang-ling Hsu. Brill, 2017.

This book is a complete reassessment of the famous group of large glazed ceramic sculptures known as the 'Yixian Luohans'. Drawing upon hitherto-unknown epigraphic documents, Eileen Hsiang-ling Hsu proposes a new date (1511-1519) for the group's production and, for the first time, identifies the kiln centre near Beijing as its birthplace. Removed more than one hundred years ago from a massive grotto in northern China, the group's provenance disappeared after its dispersal between 1913 and 1933. Delving into the social and economic issues of religious patronage, imperial workshop practice, and nuanced style of post-Yuan Buddhist art, Hsu convincingly shows that such a large group of masterworks were products of well-developed commercial economy of the Ming dynasty.


Howard & Vignato cover artArchaeological and Visual Sources of Meditation in the Ancient Monasteries of Kuca by Angela Howard & Giuseppe Vignato. Brill, 2014.

In this work, Angela F. Howard and Giuseppe Vignato use diverse methodological approaches from archaeology, art history and religious studies to reconstruct monastic life and practices in the rock monasteries on the northern Silk Route (ca. 200-650). Analysis of the caves’ function, meditation manuals, and the cave murals highlights the centrality of meditation, a fundamental duty of Kuča monastics. This interdisciplinary study utilizes hitherto unpublished line drawings, maps, and photographs to reconstruct and interpret the architecture and décor of Kuča caves, thus revealing the close links between the spiritual and the physical, between doctrinal teaching and practice and the lay-out and décor of the monasteries.

Leidy & Strahan cover artWisdom Embodied: Chinese Buddhist and Daoist Sculpture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Denise Patry Leidy, Donna Strahan et al. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011.

The Metropolitan Museum's collection of Chinese Buddhist and Daoist sculpture is the largest in the western world. In this lavish, comprehensive volume, archaeological discoveries and scientific testing and analysis serve as the basis for a reassessment of 120 works ranging in date from the fourth to the twentieth century, many of them previously unpublished and all of them newly and beautifully photographed. An introductory essay provides an indispensable overview of Buddhist practices and iconography and explores the fascinating dialogue between Indian and Chinese culture that underlies the transmission of Buddhism into China. In addition to detailed individual discussions of fifty masterpieces, the catalogue presents a ground-breaking survey of the methods used in crafting the sculptures. A second introductory essay and several technical appendices address the question of how early Chinese bronzes, as opposed to those from Gandhara and other westerly regions, were cast; the construction methods used for wood sculptures in China, notably different from those used in Japan; the complex layers of color and gilding on works in all media and their possible significance; and the role of consecratory deposits in wood and metal sculptures.

Lee Survivng Nirvana cover artSurviving Nirvana: Death of the Buddha in Chinese Visual Culture by Sonya S. Lee. Hong Kong University Press, 2010.

The Buddha’s nirvana marks the end of the life of a great spiritual figure and the beginning of Buddhism as a world religion. This is the first book in the English language to examine how this historic moment was represented and received in the visual culture of China. It is also a study about a pictorial image that has been in use for over 1,500 years. Mining a selection of well-documented and well-preserved examples from the sixth to twelfth centuries, Sonya Lee offers a reassessment of medieval Chinese Buddhism by focusing on practices of devotion and image-making that were inspired by the Buddha’s “complete extinction.” The nirvana image, comprised of a reclining Buddha and a mourning audience, was central to defining the local meanings of the nirvana moment in different times and places. The motif’s many guises, whether on a stone stele, inside a pagoda crypt, or as a painted mural in a cave temple, were the product of social interactions, religious institutions, and artistic practices prevalent in a given historical context. They were also cogent responses to the fundamental anxiety about the absence of the Buddha and the prospect of one’s salvation. By reinventing the nirvana image to address its own needs, each community of patrons, makers, and viewers sought to recast the Buddha’s “death” into an allegory of survival that was charged with local pride and contemporary relevance.

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Constructed over a millennium from the fourth to fourteenth centuries CE near Dunhuang, an ancient border town along the Silk Road in northwest China, the Mogao Caves comprise the largest, most continuously created, and best-preserved treasure trove of Buddhist art in the world. Previous overviews of the art of Dunhuang have traced the caves' unilinear history. This book examines the caves from the perspective of space, treating them as physical and historical sites that can be approached, entered, and understood sensually. It prioritizes the actual experiences of the people of the past who built and used the caves. Five spatial contexts provide rich material for analysis: Dunhuang as a multicultural historic place; the Mogao Cave complex as an evolving entity; the interior space of caves; interaction of the visual program with architectural space; and pictorial space within wall paintings that draws viewers into an otherworldly time.

Galambos Dunhuang Manuscript Culture cover artDunhuang Manuscript Culture: End of the First Millennium by Imre Galambos. De Gruyter, 2020.

This book explores the world of Chinese manuscripts from ninth-tenth century Dunhuang, an oasis city along the network of pre-modern routes known today collectively as the Silk Roads. The manuscripts have been discovered in 1900 in a sealed-off side-chamber of a Buddhist cave temple, where they had lain undisturbed for for almost nine hundred years. The discovery comprised tens of thousands of texts, written in over twenty different languages and scripts, including Chinese, Tibetan, Old Uighur, Khotanese, Sogdian and Sanskrit. This study centres around four groups of manuscripts from the mid-ninth to the late tenth centuries, a period when the region was an independent kingdom ruled by local families. The central argument is that the manuscripts attest to the unique cultural diversity of the region during this period, exhibiting—alongside obvious Chinese elements—the heavy influence of Central Asian cultures.


Wang Mandalas cover artMandalas in the Making: The Visual Culture of Esoteric Buddhism at Dunhuang by Michelle C. Wang. Brill, 2017.

The first scholarly monograph on Buddhist maṇḍalas in China, this book examines the Maṇḍala of Eight Great Bodhisattvas. This iconographic template, in which a central Buddha is flanked by eight attendants, flourished during the Tibetan (786–848) and post-Tibetan Guiyijun (848–1036) periods at Dunhuang. A rare motif that appears in only four cave shrines at the Mogao and Yulin sites, the maṇḍala bore associations with political authority and received patronage from local rulers. Attending to the historical and cultural contexts surrounding this iconography, this book demonstrates that transcultural communication over the Silk Routes during this period, and the religious dialogue between the Chinese and Tibetan communities, were defining characteristics of the visual language of Buddhist maṇḍalas at Dunhuang.

Ning Art Religion cover artArt, Religion, and Politics in Medieval China: The Dunhuang Cave of the Zhai Family by Qiang Ning. University of Hawai'i Press, 2004.

The cave-temple complex popularly known as the Dunhuang caves is the world's largest extant repository of Tang Buddhist art. Among the best preserved of the Dunhuang caves is the Zhai Family Cave, built in 642. It is this remarkable cave-temple that forms the focus of Ning Qiang's cross-disciplinary exploration of the interrelationship of art, religion, and politics during the Tang. The author combines, in his careful examination of the paintings and sculptures found there, the historical study of pictures with the pictorial study of history. By employing this two-fold approach, he is able to refer to textual evidence in interpreting the formal features of the cave-temple paintings and to employ visual details to fill in the historical gaps inevitably left by text-oriented scholars. The result is a comprehensive analysis of the visual culture of the period and a vivid description of social life in medieval China. This work is an in-depth study of the meaning and function of an exemplary Tang memorial cave and an important contribution to studies of Chinese religion, politics, sociology, literature, and folklore as well as to Chinese art history.

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Images of the Buddha are everywhere - not just in temples but also in museums and homes and online-but what these images mean largely depends on the background and circumstance of those viewing them. In Behold the Buddha, James Dobbins invites readers to imagine how premodern Japanese Buddhists understood and experienced icons in temple settings long before the advent of museums and the internet. Although widely portrayed in the last century as visual emblems of great religious truths or as exquisite works of Asian art, Buddhist images were traditionally treated as the very embodiment of the Buddha, his palpable presence among people. Hence, Buddhists approached them as living entities in their own right-that is, as awakened icons with whom they could interact religiously.00Dobbins begins by reflecting on art museums, where many non-Buddhists first encounter images of the Buddha, before outlining the complex Western response to them in previous centuries. He next elucidates images as visual representations of the story of the Buddha's life followed by an overview of the physical attributes and symbolic gestures found in Buddhist iconography. A variety of buddhas, bodhisattvas, and other divinities commonly depicted in Japanese Buddhism is introduced, and their "living" quality discussed in the context of traditional temples and Buddhist rituals. Finally, other religious objects in Japanese Buddhism-relics, scriptures, inscriptions, portraits of masters, and sacred sites-are explained using the Buddhist icon as a model.

Fowler Accounts and Images cover artAccounts and Images of Six Kannon in Japan by Sherry D. Fowler. University of Hawai'i Press, 2016.

Buddhists around the world celebrate the benefits of worshipping Kannon (Avalokite?vara), a compassionate savior who is one of the most beloved in the Buddhist pantheon. When Kannon appears in multiple manifestations, the deity's powers are believed to increase to even greater heights. This concept generated several cults throughout history: among the most significant is the cult of the Six Kannon, which began in Japan in the tenth century and remained prominent through the sixteenth century. In this ambitious work, Sherry Fowler examines the development of the Japanese Six Kannon cult, its sculptures and paintings, and its transition to the Thirty-three Kannon cult, which remains active to this day. An exemplar of Six Kannon imagery is the complete set of life-size wooden sculptures made in 1224 and housed at the Kyoto temple Daih?onji. This set, along with others, is analyzed to demonstrate how Six Kannon worship impacted Buddhist practice. Employing a diachronic approach, Fowler presents case studies beginning in the eleventh century to reinstate a context for sets of Six Kannon, the majority of which have been lost or scattered, and thus illuminates the vibrancy, magnitude, and distribution of the cult and enhances our knowledge of religious image-making in Japan.

Glassman Face of Jizo cover artThe Face of Jizo: Image and Cult in Medieval Japanese Buddhism by Hank Glassman. University of Hawai'i Press, 2012.

Stone images of the Buddhist deity Jizo―bedecked in a red cloth bib and presiding over offerings of flowers, coins, candles, and incense―are a familiar sight throughout Japan. Known in China as a savior from hell’s torment, Jizo in Japan came to be utterly transformed through fusion with the local tradition of kami worship and ancient fertility cults. In particular, the Jizo cult became associated with gods of borders or transitions: the stone gods known as dosojin. Although the study of Jizo is often relegated to the folkloric, Hank Glassman, in this highly original and readable book, demonstrates that the bodhisattva’s cult was promoted and embraced at the most elite levels of society. This work explores the stories behind sculptural and painted images of Jizo to reveal a fascinating cultural history. Employing the methodologies of the early twentieth-century renegade art historian Aby Warburg, Glassman’s focus on the visual culture of medieval Japanese religion is not concerned with the surface form or iconographical lineages of Jizo’s images, but with the social, ritual, and narrative contexts that bring the icons to life.


Rosenfield Chogen cover artPortraits of Chogen: The Transformation of Buddhist Art in Early Medieval Japan by John M. Rosenfield. Brill, 2010.

This volume, the first in Brill's Japanese Visual Culture series, vividly describes the efforts of the Japanese monk Shunjōbō Chōgen (1121-1206) to restore major buildings and works of art lost in a brutal civil conflict in 1180. Chōgen is best known for his role in the recasting of the Great Buddha (Daibutsu) and the reconstructing of the South Great Gate (Nandaimon) of Tōdaiji in Nara and its huge, dramatic wooden guardian figures. This study concentrates on these and other replacement statues and buildings associated with Chōgen and situates the visual arts of Japan into the spiritual and socio-political context of their times. Through meticulous study of dedicatory material, Rosenfield is able to place the splendid Buddhist statues made for Chōgen in vivid new light. The volume also explores how Japan's rulers employed the visual arts as instruments of government policy - a tactic that recurs throughout the nation's history. This publication includes an annotated translation of Chōgen's memoir, completed near the end of his life, in which he recounts his many achievements. In chapters on East Asian portraiture, Rosenfield claims that surviving statues of Chōgen, carved with mordant realism, rank among the world's most eloquent portraits, and herald the great changes that were to permeate Japanese religious and secular arts in the centuries to come. While Chōgen has been the subject of major art exhibitions and extensive research in Japan; this is the first book-length study to appear in the West.

McCormick Mitsunobu cover artTosa Mitsunobu and the Small Scroll in Medieval Japan by Melissa McCormick. 2009.

This is the first book-length study to focus on short-story small scrolls (ko-e), one of the most complex but visually appealing forms of early Japanese painting. Small picture scrolls emerged in Japan during the fourteenth century and were unusual in constituting approximately half the height of the narrative handscrolls that had been produced and appreciated in Japan for centuries. Melissa McCormick's history of the small scroll tells the story of its emergence and highlights its unique pictorial qualities and production contexts in ways that illuminate the larger history of Japanese narrative painting. Small scrolls illustrated short stories of personal transformation, a new literary form suffused with an awareness of the Buddhist notion of the illusory nature of worldly desires. The most accomplished examples of the genre resulted from the collaboration of the imperial court painter Tosa Mitsunobu (active ca. 1469-1522) and the erudite Kyoto aristocrat Sanjonishi Sanetaka (1455-1537). McCormick unveils the cultural milieu and the politics of patronage through diaries, letters, and archival materials, exposing the many layers of allusion that were embedded in these scrolls, while offering close readings that articulate the artistic language developed to an extreme level of refinement. In doing so, McCormick also offers the first sustained examination in English of Tosa Mitsunobu's extensive and underappreciated body of artistic achievements.

Kaminishi Explaining Pictures cover artExplaining Pictures: Buddhist Propaganda and Etoki Storytelling in Japan by Ikumi Kaminishi. University of Hawai'i Press, 2006.

Beginning with the claim that the popularization of Buddhism in the medieval period was a phenomenon of visual culture, Explaining Pictures reexamines the history (and historiography) of medieval Japanese Buddhism. With theoretical sophistication and a full appreciation of the power of imagery to convey and control religious meaning, it investigates a range of aspects of etoki, including the particularly active role of itinerant nuns, whose performances were especially edifying to female audiences, as well as the visual hagiography of the reputed founder of Japanese Buddhism, the pictorial projections of Buddhist paradise and hell, and the explanation, through visual imagery, of sacred mountains. This is the first book-length study in English devoted to the phenomenon of Buddhist art as religious propaganda and pictorial storytelling as a form of popular culture in medieval Japan. A truly interdisciplinary study, it suggests fruitful avenues of discussion between art historians and historians of Japanese Buddhism. Scholars and students with an interest in Japanese Buddhism, art, and social and cultural history will find its examination of significant issues fresh and stimulating. It will also find an appreciative audience among those concerned with the relationship between art and religion, the mechanics of proselytization, and Asian visual culture.

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Beatrice Lane Suzuki (1878-1939) was an extremely well informed and sensitive expositor of Mahayana Buddhism. As the American wife of the influential Zen Buddhist Suzuki Daisetsu, she lived in Japan for many years, becoming very familiar with the leading temples of various Buddhist schools especially in Kyoto and Kamakura. This book brings together some of her writings from The Eastern Buddhist. The collection preserves valuable information from Suzuki s own times and the charm of her personal discovery of the temples described here. Further information is also provided to place them in their current context. The volume will be of interest to scholars of Japanese Buddhism and to the many travelers to these sites today.

McCallum Four Great cover artThe Four Great Temples: Buddhist Archaeology, Architecture, and Icons of Seventh-Century Japan by Donald F. McCallum. University of Hawai'i Press, 2008.

Few periods in Japanese history are more fascinating than the seventh century. This was the period when Buddhism experienced its initial flowering in the country and the time when Asukadera, Kudara Odera, Kawaradera, and Yakushiji (the "Four Great Temples" as they were called in ancient texts) were built. Despite their enormous historical importance, these structures have received only limited attention in Western literature, primarily because they are now ruins. Focus has been placed instead on Horyuji, a beautifully preserved structure, but not a key temple of the period. Donald McCallum seeks in this volume to restore the four great temples to their proper place in the history of Japanese Buddhism and Buddhist architecture. In his detailed analyses of each of the four temples, McCallum considers historiographical issues, settings and layouts, foundations, tiles, relics, and icons and allows readers to follow their chronological evolution. A key feature is the interweaving of archaeological and documentary data to clarify numerous historical problems that have until now resisted plausible solutions.


Fowler Muroji cover artMuroji: Rearranging Art and History at a Japanese Buddhist Temple by Sherry D. Fowler. University of Hawai'i Press, 2005.

This work is the first in-depth examination in English of the temple's art, architecture, and history. Relying on sensitive consideration of context along with traditional art historical modes of analysis, it offers a fuller understanding of a site of signal importance in the history of Japanese Buddhism. Its sophisticated blending of approaches will find an appreciative audience among art historians, historians, students of Japanese religion, and more broadly Buddhologists and others interested in the history of religion.

McCallum Zenkoji cover artZenkoji and Its Icon: A Study in Medieval Japanese Religious Art by Donald F. McCallum. Princeton University Press, 1994.

One of the most significant traditions of image-making in medieval Japanese Buddhist art is based on a large group of gilt-bronze icons representing the Buddha Amida and his two attendant Bodhisattvas. The prototype, a secret image enshrined at Zenkoji in Nagano Prefecture, served as the basis both for numerous replications found in temples throughout Japan and for a highly developed cult that promised believers various rewards, including release from the terrors of hell and ultimate salvation in the Western Paradise of Amida. Donald McCallum takes a broad, multidisciplinary approach to relating this icon tradition to broader currents in Japanese political, social, and religious history. Rather than reifying the icons as objects of art designed for aesthetic contemplation, the book focuses on the real issues that motivated their production. McCallum devotes particular attention to examining how worshipers conceived of the Zenkoji icon, which was believed by many to be actually alive. The long time span during which the Zenkoji Amida triads were made and worshiped, along with the relationship that the cult had to all levels of society, makes the tradition an interesting barometer of significant developments in Japanese history. Consequently, the work is of value to a variety of specialists, including historians of Japanese art, Japanese political and religious history, Asian art and religion, and icon-making in general.

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A stunningly beautiful, full-color book of Buddhist paintings by twentieth-century Japanese artist Iwasaki Tsuneo, interpreted by Buddhist scholar Paula Arai. Little known during his lifetime, the Japanese biologist and artist Iwasaki Tsuneo (1917-2002) created a strikingly original and exquisitely intricate body of modern Buddhist artwork. His paintings depict themes ranging from classical Buddhist iconography to majestic views of our universe as revealed by science--all created with the use of painstakingly rendered miniature calligraphies of the Heart Sutra, one of the most important scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism. In this groundbreaking book, Paula Arai presents over fifty of Iwasaki's paintings, elucidating their Buddhist contexts and meanings as well as their intimate connections to Iwasaki's life as a war survivor, teacher, scientist, and devout Buddhist practitioner. Iwasaki's paintings are sure to be regarded as an innovative and heartfelt contribution to the artistic legacy of twentieth-century Buddhism.

Winfield & Heine cover artZen and Material Culture, edited by Pamela D. Winfield & Steven Heine. Oxford University Press, 2017.

The stereotype of Zen Buddhism as a minimalistic tradition persists in the Euro-American cultural imagination. This volume calls attention to the vast range of "stuff" in Zen by highlighting the material abundance of the Soto, Rinzai, and Obaku sects in Japan. Chapters on beads, bowls, buildings, staffs, statues, rags, robes, and even retail commodities in America all shed new light on overlooked items of lay and monastic practice in both historical and contemporary perspective. Nine contributors from the fields of art history, religious studies, and the history of material culture analyze these "Zen matters" in all four senses of the phrase: the interdisciplinary study of Zen's matters (objects and images) ultimately speaks to larger Zen matters (ideas, ideals) that matter (in the predicate sense) to both male and female practitioners, because such matters (economic considerations) help to ensure the cultural and institutional survival of the tradition. Expanding on previous studies, Zen and Material Culture broadens the study of Japanese Zen Buddhism to include material inquiry as an important complement to mainly textual, institutional, or ritual studies. This groundbreaking volume is an invaluable resource for anyone whose interests lie at the intersection of Zen art, architecture, history, ritual, tea ceremony, women's studies.

Sato Shodo cover artShodo: The Quiet Art of Japanese Zen Calligraphy by Shozo Sato, translated by Alice Ogura Sato. Tuttle, 2014.

In this beautiful and extraordinary zen calligraphy book, Shozo Sato, an internationally recognized master of traditional Zen arts, teaches the art of Japanese calligraphy through the power and wisdom of Zen poetry. Single-line Zen Buddhist koan aphorisms, or zengo, are one of the most common subjects for the traditional Japanese brush calligraphy known as shodo. Regarded as one of the key disciplines in fostering the focused, meditative state of mind so essential to Zen, shodo calligraphy is practiced regularly by all students of Zen Buddhism in Japan. After providing a brief history of Japanese calligraphy and its close relationship with the teachings of Zen Buddhism, Sato explains the necessary supplies and fundamental brushstroke skills that you'll need. He goes on to present thirty zengo, each featuring: an example by a skilled Zen monk or master calligrapher; an explanation of the individual characters and the Zen koan as a whole; and step-by-step instructions on how to paint the phrase in a number of styles (Kaisho, Gyosho, Sosho). A stunning volume on the intersection of Japanese aesthetics and Zen Buddhist thought, Shodo: The Quiet Art of Japanese Zen Calligraphy guides both beginning and advanced students to a deeper understanding of the unique brush painting art form of shodo calligraphy.


Yoshizawa Waddell cover artThe Religious Art of Zen Master Hakuin by Katsuhiro Yoshizawa & Norman Waddell. Counterpoint, 2009.

A charismatic and extraordinary Zen teacher and artist, Hakuin (1686–1769) is credited with almost single-handedly reforming and revitalizing Japanese Zen from a state of extreme spiritual decline. As a teacher, he placed special emphasis on koan practice, inventing new koans such as the famous “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” He also stressed the need to extend the benefits of Zen to others. What made Hakuin even more remarkable was that he was not only a religious teacher but also a prolific artist. Using calligraphy and painting to create “visual Dharma,” his teachings were rendered on paper in pictures, characters, and images, uniquely and magnificently expressing the nature of enlightenment as he wished to impart it to his students. This book is a stunning volume containing many of Hakuin’s finest calligraphies and paintings, along with brilliant commentary by Katsuhiro Yoshizawa, the leading Japanese expert on Hakuin and his work. Yoshizawa masterfully guides the reader from one piece of artwork to the next, sharing the story of Hakuin’s life, revealing the profound religious meaning embedded in each illustration, and providing a detailed documentary of the lessons of one of Zen’s most respected teachers.

Levine & Lippit Awakenings cover artAwakenings: Zen Figure Painting in Medieval Japan by Gregory Levine & Yukio Lippit. Japan Society, 2007.

Transmitted from China to Japan in the 13th century, Zen Buddhism not only introduced religious practices but also literature, calligraphy, philosophy, and ink painting to Japanese disciples. This elegant book discusses these fields as they combined to encompass the evocative practice of figure painting within Zen Buddhism in medieval Japan. Focusing on forty-seven exceptional Japanese and Chinese paintings from the 12th to the 16th centuries--which together illustrate the story of the "awakening" of Zen art--the book features essays by distinguished scholars that discuss the life and art within Zen monastic and lay communities. The authors explore the ideology underlying the development of Zen's own pantheon of characters created to imagine the Buddha's wisdom and offer fresh insights into the role of the visual arts within Zen practice as it developed in Japan in close dialogue with the Asian continent.

Levine Daitokuji cover artDaitokuji: The Visual Cultures of a Zen Monastery by Gregory Levine. University of Washington Press, 2005.

The Zen Buddhist monastery Daitokuji in Kyoto has long been revered as a cloistered meditation centre, a repository of art treasures, and a wellspring of the "Zen aesthetic." Levine's book unsettles these conventional notions with groundbreaking inquiry into the significant and surprising visual and social identities of sculpture, painting, and calligraphy associated with this fourteenth-century monastery and its enduring monastic and lay communities. The book begins with a study of Zen portraiture at Daitokuji that reveals the precariousness of portrait likeness; the face that gazes out from an abbot's painting or statue may not be who we expect it to be or submit quietly to interpretation. By tracing the life of Daitokuji's famed statue of the chanoyu patriarch Sen no Riky-u (1522-91), which was all but destroyed by the ruler Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-98) but survived in Rashomon-like narratives and reconstituted sculptural forms, Levine throws light upon the contested status of images and their mytho-poetic potential. Levine then draws from the seventeenth-century journal of Kogetsu Sogan, <em>Bokuseki no utsushi,</em> to explore practices of calligraphy connoisseurship at Daitokuji and the pivotal role played by the monastery's abbots within Kyoto art circles. The book's final section explores Daitokuji's annual airings of temple treasures not merely as a practice geared toward preservation but also as a space in which different communities vie for authority over the artistic past. Illuminating canonical and heretofore ignored works and mining a trove of documents, diaries, and modern writings, Levine argues for the plurality of Daitokuji's visual arts and the breadth of social and ritual circumstances of art making and viewing within the monastery.

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This is the first major publication outside of Korea to survey the artistic production of the world’s longest-ruling Confucian dynasty, which reigned on the Korean peninsula from 1392 to 1910. The Joseon dynasty left a substantial legacy for modern Korea, influencing contemporary etiquette, cultural norms, and societal attitudes. Beautifully illustrated with color images of some 200 masterworks from major Korean public and private collections, this important volume offers readers a detailed look at the fascinating art of the Joseon, from the exquisitely crafted pieces used by the court to scholarly implements, ritual items, and Buddhist arts. A variety of mediums, including prints, paintings, calligraphy, books, ceramics, sculptures, metal works, and costumes and textiles, are organized around five key themes: the king and his court, Joseon society, ancestral rites, Buddhism in a Confucian society, and Joseon in modern times.

Kim Architecture cover artBuddhist Architecture of Korea by Sung-woo Kim. Hollym, 2007.

The easiest way to learn about Korea's Buddhist culture is to visit the temples where the traditional practice of asceticism is still carried on today. People no longer live in other examples of traditional architecture, such as palaces and Confucian schools and academies; but in temples the monks and nuns eat, sleep and live in the traditional way, wearing traditional robes. Of all the countries in East Asia that share Buddhist culture, only in Korea is the traditional practice of asceticism strongly maintained. This book aims to discuss the part architecture plays in this traditional temple culture. While temple life and the practice of asceticism are integral to each other, this books attempts to isolate the architecture as a physical entity.


Pak & Whitfield cover artHandbook of Korean Art, Volume 1: Buddhist Sculpture by Youngsook Pak & Roderick Whitfield. Yekyong, 2002.

This new multi-volume series is designed to provide the reader with a comprehensive, up-to-date and readable introduction to major aspects of Korea's rich artistic heritage: Buddhist sculpture, folk painting, earthenware and celadon, and white porcelain and punch'ong ware. Other topics will follow in successive volumes. Based on their extensive knowledge and research, the various authors have sought to cover new ground in their choice of pieces and to provide a wealth of detail concerning their manufacture and historical importance, with the aid of pictures of comparative pieces, maps, tables and glossaries, and a selected bibliography.

Kim Korean Arts cover artKorean Arts of the Eighteenth Century: Splendor & Simplicity by Hongnam Kim. Asia Society Galleries, 1993.

The arts of Korea - painting, screens, furniture, ceramics, lacquerware, and sculpture - entered a latterday golden age in the 18th century. This book, and the exhibition organized by The Asia Society Galleries that it documents, illuminate three key aspects of 18th century Korean art: the royal arts, emblematic of the authority and ceremonial dignity of the king; arts of leisure and self-cultivation, patronized by an emerging class of wealthy professionals and artist-craftsmen; and religious art, which included Confucian, shamanic, and Buddhist lineages.