Guest Lecture: Shaping the World, Mirroring the Heaven: Cosmological and Astral Images in Early Buddhist Mural Paintings in Chinese Border Regions

Cave 285, view of the interior, Western Wei dynasty (535–556 CE). Mogao caves, Dunhuang, China. Photo: Wu Jian. © Dunhuang Academy

Speaker: Satomi Hiyama (JSPS/Ryukoku University (Kyoto))

When: 5 pm, Thursday, August 31, 2017

Venue: Harvard University, CGIS South S050  


Central Asia played a crucial role in the process of transmitting Indian and Greco-Babylonian astral science to East Asia, where foreign and native cosmological concepts mixed and interacted with each other in a dynamic way. In this regard, early Buddhist mural paintings in Kucha and Dunhuang dated in the 5th-6th century are worth special consideration, since they show an interesting contrast in their manner for visualizing cosmological and astral notions. The first part of this talk will feature the cosmological images illustrated in Kizil Caves 118 (Hippokampenhöhle) and 207 (Malerhöhle), while the second part will be dedicated to a new interpretation of the astral icons represented on the western wall of Dunhuang Cave 285 and the search for their literary sources.

About the Speaker:
Satomi Hiyama is an art-historian specializing in the iconography of Central Asian Buddhist paintings. She completed her BA in Art History at Keio University in 2007, her M.A. in Comparative Literature and Culture at Tokyo University in 2009, and her Ph.D. in South Asian Art History at Freie Universität Berlin in 2014. Her academic training in Tokyo, Beijing, Munich and Berlin covers Art History, Archaeology, Sinology and Indology, providing the background for her unique interdisciplinary approach on Central Asian Buddhist paintings. Above all, she is deeply in debt to Prof. Akira Miyaji and Prof. Monika Zin for her methodology in Buddhist iconography. With her first article on the iconography of Kizil Cave 118, she was the youngest to be awarded the Bijutushi Article Price in 2011. After two short-term post-doctorate projects at Ludwig-Maximilians Universität (Munich) and the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz of the Max-Planck-Institute (Florence), she is currently engaged on various projects on Central Asian Buddhist art as the SPD research fellow at JSPS/Ryukoku University (Kyoto) since April 2016.  


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