Yukio Lippit : "Understanding Buddhist Art: Meaning and Materiality in Japanese Buddhist Sculpture"
According to sutras, sandalwood is the ideal material from which to create a Buddhist statue, because of its aroma and ability to sustain detailed carving. However, this standard created a dilemma for those Buddhist communities outside of South Asia—most notably those spread across China, Korea, and Japan— where sandalwood did not grow locally. Consequently, the concept of “surrogate sandalwood” began to gain currency in East Asia from the early 8th century onward, and Buddhist communities began to seek approximations for sandalwood in their own local environments. Recent historical investigation and scientific analysis has begun to identify with a much higher degree of accuracy the wood types for early East Asian Buddhist sculpture, demonstrating how an understanding of the materiality of sculpture can help yield new insights into the history and development of Buddhism. In this talk, Yukio Lippit will introduce the nature of such insights in the case of Japanese Buddhism from the 7th through 11th centuries, and thereby explore the dynamic intersection of religious studies, art history, and ecology.
Yukio Lippit, Professor of History of Art and Architecture, Harvard University
Yukio Lippit is the co-author of Awakenings: Zen Figure Painting in Medieval Japan, the catalogue to an exhibition celebrating the centennial of the Japan Society of New York. His newest book is a monograph on the official painting system of early modern Japan, Painting of the Realm: The Kano House of Painters in Seventeenth-Century Japan. He is currently at work on a book on Zen Buddhism and Sino-Japanese ink painting. Lippit has taught in Heidelberg and Tokyo and been a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts (CASVA) and the J. Paul Getty Research Institute. In March 2012, he will curate an exhibition on the Japanese painter Ito Jakuchu for the National Gallery of Art, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Japanese gift of cherry trees to the national capital.