Daitokuji’s Art History/Art History’s Daitokuji
In the late nineteenth century, as the art history of East Asia was emerging as an academic field, works of painting, sculpture, calligraphy, and ceramic art preserved at the Zen Buddhist monastery Daitokuji, located in Kyoto, assumed prominence in the formalist projects of art historians and in Japan’s emerging corpus of government-registered cultural patrimony. Throughout the twentieth century, exhibitions at national and private museums in Japan and abroad, glossy picture books, specialized and popular writings in varied languages, and cultural property designations enriched knowledge of the monastery’s prestigious “art collection,” generated scholarly debate regarding the authorship and style of individual works, and established Daitokuji’s place in Japan’s artistic canon. Particular paintings such as the triptych of Guanyin, Gibbons, and Crane by the Chinese Song painter Muqi (c. early 13th c.) and calligraphies by the “Zen eccentric” Ikkyū Sōjun (1394-1481) attained masterpiece status as National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties and have since been imprinted indelibly upon the art historical eye and installed permanently into the national storehouse of Japan’s artistic past. In both scholarly and popular minds, Daitokuji remains a repository of exquisite and unmatched paintings, statuary, calligraphy, ceramic works, architecture, and landscape gardens, many viewed as quintessential examples of “Zen art and architecture.”
This seminar—which will make use of a new collection of digital images—explores the art and architecture of Daitokuji through a selection of objects, buildings, episodes, and narratives. It works from the canon and established art historical discourse on the monastery’s art and architecture but seeks other objects and frames of analysis. In some regards our discussion will be situated within the broader art historical study of Buddhist sites and their diverse icons, images, sanctuaries, communities, and practices. We will trace the narratives that accumulated around such sites and tempt definitions of “Buddhist visual culture.” We will likewise take issue with “Zen art” and explore recent revisionist writings within religious studies and art history.
Graduate students from History of Art, Buddhist Studies, EALC, History, and other departments are welcome to participate for 2 or 4 units. Advanced undergraduate students may also be considered for enrollment. Participants will be asked to prepare weekly position papers on books and articles and, for students enrolled for 4 units, a substantial research paper of approximately 20-25 pages and presentation. The paper, developed with each participant’s research area in mind, should address specific objects, architectural settings, or contexts of reception, and it should demonstrate thoughtful assessment of existing scholarship and theoretical/methodological perspectives.