Open today 10 am – 5 pm

Penn Museum Asia Seminar

Buddhist Art

Penn Museum

Saturday, Apr. 13, 1:00 pm - 3:00 pm ET

Free for Registered Guests

Stone remains with carvings of people.

The Penn Museum Asia Seminar brings speakers to the Museum to present on topics related to Asian art, archeology, and history. These in-person talks relate to objects in the Museum collection or to the work of curators.

Heavenly Palaces” in Tombs: Buddhist Stupas and Funerary Art in Sixth-Century China

Speaker: Prof. Jin Xu, Columbia University

The contrasts between traditional funerary practices in China and Buddhist burials are striking. While a typical Chinese tomb is constructed to preserve the body and accommodate the soul, Buddhist burials center around cremation followed by the erection of commemorative stupas. The conflict between these two funerary traditions reached a pinnacle in China during the sixth century, when Buddhism became widespread. This talk focuses on the ingenious efforts made by the nobility and immigrants in North China to reconcile these two distinct funerary traditions. On the one hand, stupas were envisioned as “heavenly palaces” (tian gong) awaiting the arrival of the deceased’s soul; on the other, magnificently decorated stupas were introduced into tombs, transforming burial spaces into symbolic heavenly palaces. The prevalence of such funerary stupas serves as a testament to the reimagining of the afterlife under the influence of Buddhism.

From Nirvana to Filial Piety: Mourning Images in Sixth-Century China

Speaker: Xiaoyang Ma, University of Pennsylvania

Chinese Buddhist art in the sixth century CE saw a surge in the creation of sculptural ensembles, murals, and engraved images representing the death of the Buddha. This talk explores the transmission of this specific Buddhist iconography from Gandhāra (approximately modern Pakistan) to China, prompting a reconsideration of two interlinked questions: How did Buddhist subjects traverse cultural landscapes and how were they assimilated into local pictorial traditions? By investigating artistic transmission and reception in North China, this talk explains how certain motifs from the nirvana scene were repurposed for funerary commissions in the late sixth century. The incorporation of Buddhist elements into tombs, on a broader scale, highlights a growing interest in prioritizing emotional appeal within funerary settings—a tendency not seen in pre-Buddhist China.

Free for Registered guests.