Eric Huntington: "Aesthetics of Place: Buddhist Art and Its Contexts"
Eric Huntington, Post-Doctoral Fellow in Religious Studies, Stanford University
Buddhist artworks serve as focal points of religious space and place at many different scales—atop small altars, in the sanctums of shrines, across the landscapes of nations and empires, and at the destinations of continent-spanning pilgrimages. Scholars have recourse to various kinds of evidence at each level, such as ritual manuals and travelogues, but the artistic record itself also provides unique insights into issues of representation and spatiality in all of these contexts. From second-century Amaravati to twelfth-century Ladakh, sixteenth-century Nepal, and nineteenth-century Mongolia, depictions of artworks, buildings, and landscapes reveal changing conceptions of the places of art at personal, architectural, and environmental scales. These aesthetic objects serve diverse narrative, ritual, and social purposes in these different domains of religiosity, highlighting intimate connections between Buddhist visual culture and the geography of human experience.