Art Histories Seminar
Di 11 Nov 2014 – Mo 10 Nov 2014

“Relief Painting”: Buddhist Mural Arts and Their Beholders in Early Medieval China

Yudong Wang (Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts/ Art Histories Fellow 2014/15)

Forum Transregionale Studien, Wallotstr. 14, 14193 Berlin

Main Wall, Mogao Cave 275, Dunhuang, China, Northern Liang Dynasty (c. 401-439 CE)
Main Wall, Mogao Cave 275, Dunhuang, China, Northern Liang Dynasty (c. 401-439 CE).

The main topic of this presentation concerns the “Relief Painting” (Sanskrit: Nattonatacitra; Chinese: aotuhua; literally “Receding and Protruding Painting”), a type of painting with a possible Indic origin that first arrived at China in the early 5th century CE. The presentation will primarily analyze the interrelations between painting and sculpture in medieval China, an issue that was ensued by the Chinese Indic-philes when they fervently pursued every authentic thing Indic. More specifically, the introduction of the “Relief Painting” into China in the fifth and sixth centuries meant for some Chinese communities not only an issue of accepting a foreign painting style, but also a new way of both thinking about and practicing the visual arts, as witnessed in the simultaneous emergence of a new relief sculpture style and the pursuit of the “sculptural look” through the modeling method at the time. By comparing relevant art works (chiefly Buddhist mural painting and polychrome clay reliefs on the wall) and their possible facture in early medieval Buddhist temple sites in northwestern China with their Indian and Central Asian parallels, I attempt to reveal an underlying hierarchy that determined the direction of art making in middle period China. In this hierarchy, sculpture in relief (and in the round) remained as an art medium structured in the matrix of pictorial aesthetics and always functioned as a painted component on planar surfaces of architectural and painterly ensembles, such as Buddhist chapels and underground decorated tombs.

Yudong Wang is Professor at the School of Arts and Humanities at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, Guangzhou, China. He studied Art History at the Universities of Chicago, Indiana and Beijing and obtained his PhD degree in 2007 in Chicago.

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