Past Event

Bettman Lecture Series: Dorothy Wong, “First Images of the Buddha: the Case of Udayana Buddha Statues”

March 21, 2022
6:15 PM - 7:45 PM
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In Buddhist cultures across Asia, the “First Images” of the Buddha hold a special status. Derived from the prototype allegedly commissioned by King Udayana and made in the likeness of the Buddha, the prototype and its copies possess attributes commonly associated with miraculous images, including supernatural forces in creation, mobility or immobility, light emission, and protective power as palladia. From China to Japan, Mongolia, and Tibet, the so-called Udayana Buddhas were widely worshiped. Acquisitions of Udayana Buddha statues enabled monastic institutions to claim religious orthodoxy and empowered royal patrons to assert legitimacy. Artistically, two very distinct types of Udayana Buddha images exist, one seated and the other standing with stylized drapery. This paper is part of a larger project studying miraculous images in China, employing the case study of Udayana Buddha images to analyze what accounts for miraculous attributes, contexts for cultic developments, the intersections (or lack thereof) of textual and visual records, artistic sources, and how recent discourse on material religion can shed light on this phenomenon.

Dorothy C. Wong is currently Professor of Art History and Director of the East Asia Center at the University of Virginia. Specializing in Buddhist art of China during the first millennium CE, her research addresses topics of art in relation to religion and society, and of the relationship between religious texts/doctrine and visual representations. In addition to many articles, she has published Chinese Steles: Pre-Buddhist and Buddhist Use of a Symbolic Form (2004; Chinese edition 2011), Hōryūji Reconsidered (editor and contributing author, 2008) China and Beyond in the Medieaval Period: Cultural Crossings and Inter-regional Connections (co-editor with Gustav Heldt, and contributing author, 2014), Buddhist Pilgrim-Monks as Agents of Cultural and Artistic Transmission: The International Buddhist Art Style in East Asia, ca. 645–770 (2018; Chinese edition forthcoming), and Miraculous Images in Asian Traditions, vol. 50 of Ars Orientalis (editor and contributing author, 2020). She just completed editing a volume entitled Interregional Exchanges in East Asian Buddhist Art (forthcoming). Currently she is working together with about two dozen international scholars researching the topic of “miraculous images” in global perspectives, trying to understand what “miracles” mean in different cultures and how and when people ascribe material objects with spiritual agency.