Sijia Huo, “The Materiality and Spatial Context of the Tiantang Colossal Buddha Statue in Luoyang in the Late 7th Century”

Dear all,


We are excited to announce our fifth and last workshop of the fall quarter, taking place Wednesday, November 29, from 4:45-6:45pm CT at CWAC 152. This event will be featuring:


Sijia Huo

Visiting PhD Candidate, UChicago

National Institute for Advanced Humanistic Studies, Fudan University


Who will be presenting on:

“The Materiality and Spatial Context of the Tiantang Colossal Buddha Statue in Luoyang in the Late 7th Century”


Discussant: Wei-Cheng Lin

Associate Professor of Art History and the College, UChicago

For those who are joining on Zoom, please register at this link (password: 000000). Please see below for the abstract and bio for Sijia’s presentation.


Let’s finish the quarter strong and we ~Hope to see you there!~



Alan & Yan

Image: Archaeological fieldwork at the central pit of Tiantang in the 1970s



Not long before Wu Zetian officially ascended the throne, a magnificent building called “Tiantang” was built in the Palatine City of Luoyang, in which a colossal Buddha statue was placed. This colossus existed for only a few years before being completely destroyed by a fire. Although there are some relative historical records and archaeological evidence, it is still a challenge to depict such an object that could no longer be accessed physically. One of the most thorough previous historical studies is from Antonino Forte. After scrutinizing the text resources in detail, he proposed that the “Tiantang” was an essential part of the “Mingtang” complex, and explained its significance as a Buddhist utopia. At the time he was conducting his research, the archaeological report on the site of “Tiantang” had not yet been published. With great respect to Forte’s extraordinary work, this paper will focus on the materiality and spatial context to further explore the various details during the construction process of the colossal statue and the architecture. I contend that the colossal hollow dry lacquer statue was made in parts, and then assembled in Tiantang with the support from the central pillar structure. In this way, the designer of Tiantang succeeded in integrating a colossal Buddha statue with a great tower. By examining the relationship of Tiantang, Wucheng Hall and Mingtang, it can be concluded that Wu Zetian created a completely new ruling space for herself. On the basis of these analysis, we may expect to clarify the differences between the discourse presented in historical records and the practice of making the statue and surrounding complex.



Sijia Huo is a PhD candidate of National Institute for Advanced Humanistic Studies, Fudan University. Her research interests include Buddhist art and stone inscriptions in medieval China. She is working on her PhD dissertation about colossal Buddha statues in the Tang Dynasty.

Wei-Cheng Lin teaches in the Department of Art History at the University of Chicago. He specializes in the history of Chinese art and architecture with a focus on medieval periods. His primary interests of research are visual and material cultural issues in Buddhist art and architecture and China’s funerary practice through history. He is the author of Building a Sacred Mountain: The Buddhist Architecture of China’s Mount Wutai, published by the University of Washington Press in 2014. He has additionally published on a variety of topics, including collecting history, photography and architecture, historiography of Chinese architectural history, and contemporary Chinese art.

Lisha He, “Emperor Qianlong and His Alcove Daybed with Wall-filling Mirrors”

We cordially invite you to join us for our next meeting of VMPEA, taking place *Friday, November 17* from 4:45-6:45pm CT at CWAC 152, featuring:


Lisha He

Visiting PhD Candidate, Art History, UChicago

School of Architecture, Tianjin University


Who will be presenting the paper

Emperor Qianlong and His Alcove Daybed with Wall-filling Mirrors”


Discussant: Yan Jin

PhD Student, Art History, UChicago


*Please note the special date of this event.* For Zoom participants, please register at this link (password: 000000). And please see the abstract and bio of our presenter below.

We hope to see many of you in CWAC 152!


Image: Alcove Daybed in Changchun shuwu, Yangxindian.



With the breakthrough of plate glass-making technology in the West, and Sino-Western material exchange in the 18th century, glass mirrors were introduced to the Qing Court, and were widely used in interior design. An alcove daybed with one or two wall-filling mirrors was a unique spatial pattern created and favored by Emperor Qianlong. This design was not only found in his commissions within the Forbidden City but also in the gardens of western Beijing suburbs and the summer residence in Jehol.

As most of these buildings were destroyed, I will first provide a brief overview of the reconstruction results. While the quantity and placement of glass, along with its interaction with individuals on the daybed, may vary across cases, they consistently reflect Emperor Qianlong’s intention to construct a room enclosed by mirrors.

Finally, I will focus on the Bilin Gloriette (碧琳館) in the Garden of Jianfu Palace, where this spatial pattern was first applied. The spatial context of the Bilin Gloriette, Emperor Qianlong’s interaction with mirrors, and his insights on self-cultivation imply that this room is designed for cultivating inner vacancy. Presumably, it embodies Zhuangzi’s metaphorical concept of Vacant Room (虛室) through the strategic use of mirrors.



HE Lisha is a PhD Candidate in the School of Architecture, Tianjin University. Her research focuses on non-structural carpentry and interior space of Qing palace buildings. With special interest in the Qianlong Period, she is currently working on interior space with glass and glass mirrors commissioned by Emperor Qianlong.


Yan JIN is a PhD student in Art History at UChicago studying visual and material culture of late imperial China, with a special focus on the art of Qing court. Her research explores issues of cross-regional exchanges, intermediality, as well as objects and agency.

Paul Copp, “Deity Seals in the Securing of the Dead (First Centuries CE)”

Please join us on Wednesday, November 8, from *5:15-7:00pm CT* at CWAC 152, for our third meeting of the quarter, featuring:


Paul Copp

Associate Professor in Chinese Religion and Thought, East Asian Languages and Civilizations, UChicago

Who will be presenting the paper

Deity Seals in the Securing of the Dead (First Centuries CE)”


Discussant: Zhenru Zhou

Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Architecture, Tsinghua University

Please note that there is a pre-circulated paper for this workshop, available here under the password “sealed”.

If you wish to join on Zoom, please register at this link (password: 000000).

*Please also note the slightly later start time of this workshop due to an event hosted by the Japanese Art Society of America and featuring Chelsea Foxwell at 4pm CT, related to the exhibition “Meiji Modern: Fifty Years of New Japan” (please find more information about this webinar at the end of this post).

We look forward to seeing you in CWAC 152!




This is a chapter from an in-process book titled *The Ritualist’s Seal: Object, Practice, and Knowledge in China, ca 100 – 1000 CE.* The book covers materials from Eastern Han tombs to Dunhuang manuscripts, making an argument for the importance of seals in Chinese religious history, the ways they transformed both material ritual practices and philosophical conceptions of the nature of reality (and of the human relationship with it) in both Buddhist and Daoist texts. The chapter I’d like to present is a study of the earliest appearances of ritual seals in China: in Eastern Han tomb assemblages for the “securing of the grave” 鎮墓, whether as actual seal matrices or sealings, or as descriptions in texts included in the assemblages. It’s based in archaeological reports and seal collections (mostly from the 19th and early 20th centuries), but also draws heavily on both art historical and environmental historical studies. Among other things, the paper argues that seals were not—as they have usually been understood—the seals of local human ritualists, but instead the seals of deities placed in the tombs in order to make present their powers and intentions.


Paul Copp teaches in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. He is the author of The Body Incantatory: Spells and the Ritual Imagination in Medieval Chinese Buddhism, and the co-editor (with Wu Hung) of Refiguring East Asian Religious Art: Buddhist Devotion and Funerary Practice. His paper for the workshop is drawn from his current book project, “The Ritualist’s Seal: Object, Practice, and Knowledge in China, ca. 100 – 1000.

Zhenru Zhou is a post-doctoral fellow at the School of Architecture, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China. She recently received a Ph.D. degree in art history from the University of Chicago. She specializes in premodern Buddhist art and architecture in China and along the eastern silk roads.


*At 4pm CT, there will be a live zoom webinar “Exhibiting Meiji Art and Culture: Curatorial Perspectives”, in which Professors Bradley Bailey, Chelsea Foxwell, and Takuro Tsunoda will be giving individual presentations on Meiji Modern: Fifty Years of New Japan and the exhibition The Development of Visual Culture in the Meiji Era recently held at the Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art in Nagoya and discuss their challenges, goals, and future aspirations for exhibiting Meiji art. This event is hosted and sponsored by the Japanese Art Society of America (JASA). Please click here to register for the Zoom event.

[Co-sponsored with RAVE] Alan Longino, “Return to Character: Morita Shiryu and Work of the 1960s “

This Wednesday, October 25 at 4:45 PM, the RAVE and VMPEA workshops together will be hosting their first collaboration of the year in Room 152 of the Cochrane Woods Art Center (the Home of Art History).

The presenter will be Alan Longino (Ph.D. student, Art History) discussing the work of the calligrapher Morita Shiryu (b. 1912, d. 1998).

Presenting his working paper, Return to Character: Morita Shiryu and Work of the 1960s 

The session’s respondent will be Cole Gruber (Ph.D. student, Art History).

For attendees on ZOOM, please register at the link below and use the password given.

Password: 000000

We look forward to seeing many a visage there, and look forward to hosting you for more RAVE & VMPEA collaborations throughout the year.



The work and practice of Morita Shiryu—one of the founders of Bokujinkai, editor of the group’s long-running journal, Bokubi, and pioneering philosopher on avant-garde calligraphy—is difficult to pin-down. One of Shiryu’s primary goals was to elevate calligraphy to the level of abstract art being practiced in his time, such as Abstract Expressionism in New York of Art Informel in Paris. This paper looks at a critical point in the history of the artist’s work—the late 1950s to early 1960s—when his style and beliefs around calligraphy slowly turned away from the desire for abstraction and back to the formation of character-based writing. The field of research around his work at this time ties this shift to a growing dissatisfaction with artists in the West, and the limited understanding of Zen philosophies embedded in the work of calligraphy. However, while the stylistic shift in the work is apparent at this time, I argue that due to the philosophies and materials utilized and developed by Shiryu in the 1950s the work became even more progressively avant-garde, and that by developing new compound mixtures with which to paint, he was not only able to tackle even larger format works—such as multi-paneled screens—but that he was able to draw out the temporal qualities of language across these large-scale works. In this effort, he was able to imbue new dimensions into calligraphy, and by doing so achieved an abstraction of characters and language that was even more pronounced than in previous work.


Alan Longino is a Ph.D. student focusing on postwar Japanese conceptual art and global contemporary art. His research considers the artist Yutaka Matsuzawa (b. 1922 – d. 2006, Shimo Suwa) and the artist’s approach to a dematerialized practice that was hinged upon a system of quantum physics, non-Zen Buddhism, and para-psychology. In 1988, Matsuzawa published his Quantum Art Manifesto, which set out directions, instructions, kōans, and other meditations for the reader to consider their connection to art on a quantum level. This manifesto was the culmination of the artist’s decades-long practice that focused on making the “invisible, invisible” (Tomii, 2016), and is the central focus of his dissertation.  In addition to his research on Matsuzawa, he has also produced shows on the artist’s work at Yale Union (Portland, OR, 2019), and Empty Gallery (Hong Kong, 2021) in collaboration with the independent art historian and curator, Reiko Tomii.

Taylor Chisato Stewart, “Shibata Zeshin & The Construction of Kogei”

The workshop for Visual and Material Perspectives on East Asia is thrilled to jump into this calendar year, as we have a number of great presentations both from students & faculty within the university and from visiting speakers.
Starting this year off, Wednesday, October 11, is the Art History Department’s own, Taylor Chisato Stewart.
She will be presenting on Shibata Zeshin And The Construction of Kōgei.
The workshop will be held in Room 152 of the Cochrane Woods Art Center, from 4:45 to 6:45 PM CT.
Shibata Zeshin, Three Men Looking at Framed Lacquer Drawing (Edo, c. 1850)
Album leaf; lacquer on gold paper
4 3/4 x 3 1/2 in.
When he was born, Shibata Zeshin’s (1807–1891) native Tokyo was still called Edo. Trained in both painting and the laborious process of making lacquered objects, he came to invent several cutting-edge techniques in the lacquer medium, including a method of painting the viscous material—famously difficult to manipulate, even on three-dimensional surfaces—on paper while still maintaining its structural integrity. Despite the flurry of scholarship and museum activity that has surrounded Zeshin’s work for over a century, and that most of his extant works were created in the Meiji period (1868–1912), he is often relegated to a retrospective role in the vein of “the last true Edo-period craftsman.” A large amount of the Zeshin scholarship is concerned with his technical innovations in lacquer and his relationship with the Shijō school of painting. The referential and self-reflexive, perhaps modernist, streak that permeates his practice goes relatively understated.
I will examine a selection of Zeshin’s works, mainly lacquer objects, in relation to the conceptual (and linguistic) changes enacted by Japan’s imperial government concerning the category of “craft.” Uprooting previous notions of the status of and separation between mediums like painting, sculpture, and craft, the Meiji government created the word kōgei—a sort of portmanteau of the characters for “craftsmanship” and “art”—in its project to promote Japanese arts to an international audience. I argue that, far from being a lingering traditionalist, Zeshin often addressed such changes to his profession through clever visual and material play. I will also consider the word sōshoku, loosely meaning “decoration.” Sōshoku was an archaic compound that the new government adopted in response to foreign commerce. I believe that much of the self-reflexive quality of Zeshin’s work can be attributed to his interactions with these new, and volatile, concepts of craft and decorative art.
Taylor Chisato Stewart is a Ph.D. student studying art history at the University of Chicago. Her primary area of research is modern Japanese painting and decorative arts (early Meiji period). She is interested in issues of stylistic hybridity, Japanese exported self-identities and art extremities. She received her BA in English and art history at Vassar College, where she wrote her undergraduate thesis on the nihonga painter Kano Hōgai and eccentricity as a framework for artistic identity. Outside of her studies, her writing has appeared in Orientations. She also served as an assistant to contemporary artist Rirkrit Tiravanija in his capacity as art director of Okayama Art Summit 2022.

VMPEA Fall 2023 Schedule

The Visual and Material Perspectives on East Asia (VMPEA) workshop is pleased to announce the Fall 2023 schedule. All the in-person events will meet on selected Wednesdays from 4:45 to 6:45 pm CT at CWAC (Cochrane-Woods Art Center) 152 unless otherwise noted. For those who would like to join us remotely for the in-person events, we will send out the registration link prior to these events. You are welcome to consult the VMPEA website for further information about these events, and please subscribe to our listserv to receive event notifications.

Fall 2023 Schedule

October 11

Taylor Chisato Stewart, PhD Student, Art History, UChicago

“Shibata Zeshin and the Construction of Kōgei”

October 25

Alan Longino, PhD Student, Art History, UChicago

“Return to Character: Morita Shiryu and Work of the 1960s”

November 8

Paul Copp, Associate Professor in Chinese Religion and Thought, East Asian Languages and Civilizations, UChicago

“Deity Seals in the Securing of the Dead (First Centuries CE)”

Discussant: Zhenru Zhou, Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Architecture, Tsinghua University

November 17

Lisha He, Visiting PhD Candidate, UChicago

“An Exploration of Emperor Qianlong’s Practice with Glass Mirrors”

[*Please note the special date of the event. We will follow up with more updates on the exact location for this event.]

November 29

Sijia Huo, Visiting PhD Candidate, UChicago

“The Materiality and Spatial Context of the Tiantang Colossal Buddha Statue in Luoyang in the Late 7th Century”

Discussant: TBD

Please feel free to contact Yan ( and Alan ( with any questions you might have, and we look forward to seeing you soon!

All Best,

Yan & Alan

Susan Huang, “The Fodingxin Dharani Scripture and its Audience”

We are delighted to announce that in addition to the Smart Lecture, Professor Shih-shan Susan Huang will be at the VMPEA workshop on May 12 (Friday) from 4:45–6:45pm CT at CWAC 152 to discuss an article derived from her latest book project. We also invite you to come and ask any remaining questions you may have after the Smart Lecture.


Shih-shan Susan Huang

Associate Professor of Transnational Asian Studies, Rice University

Who will be presenting and discussing the paper

“The Fodingxin Dharani Scripture and its Audience: Healing, Talisman Culture, and Women in Popular Buddhist Print Culture”

Friday, May 12, 2023

4:45–6:45 pm CT, CWAC 152

*A light reception will follow at the department lounge.


Fodingxin Dharani Scripture. 1102 CE. Northern Song. National Library, Beijing.



This study examines the book art contained within the Fodingxin Dharani Scripture (Fodingxin tuoluoni jing 佛頂心陀羅尼經; hereafter also called the dharani text), with the broader concerns of how popular Buddhist print culture addresses healing, talisman culture, and women. The primary sources it investigates include a ninth-to-tenth century Dunhuang manuscript and other illustrated printed counterparts dated from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries. The Fodingxin Dharani Scripture, an indigenous Chinese Buddhist text traceable to medieval Dunhuang manuscript culture, synthesizes miscellaneous beliefs, turning a Buddhist scripture into a form of magical medicine. The twelfth century marks fresh illustrative and talismanic traditions in the print age. The printed text is accompanied by a frontispiece at the beginning, and three talismanic scripts at the end. The book art of the Fodingxin Dharani Scripture reached its peak in the first half of the fifteenth century. In addition to the frontispiece and talismanic scripts, the text is fully illustrated throughout, with its new illustrated repertoire highlighting the healing power of the scripture and the dharani charms, as well as the challenges women faced in childbirth. Numerous extant specimens offer valuable documentations of its donors, most of whom were residents in Ming (1368–1644) Beijing. Accompanied by lively narrative pictures and containing Daoist-inspired talismanic writs that promise to save women from birth complications, it was often printed on demand. Women and their families, preoccupied with childbirth complications or ardently desiring a baby boy, were its main donors.


Shih-shan Susan Huang (PhD, History of Art, Yale) is an Associate Professor at Rice University’s newly-founded Department of Transnational Asian Studies. Her book, Picturing the True Form: Daoist Visual Culture in Traditional China (Harvard Asian Center, 2012), translated into Chinese by Dr. Zhu Yiwen, was published by Zhejiang University Press in 2022. She co-edited Visual and Material Cultures of the Middle Period China with Patricia Ebrey (Brill, 2017). Her recent articles explore Song-to-Ming book art of the Lotus Sutra and Diamond Sutra, Buddhist printing under Tangut Xi Xia rule, and painting and printing connections. Huang’s new monograph, The Dynamic Spread of Buddhist Print Culture: Mapping Buddhist Book Roads in China and its Neighbors, forthcoming in the Brill series Crossroads – History of Interaction across the Silk Routes, examines printed images and texts as objects “on the move”, as they were transmitted along networks and book roads in a transnational context. For more information, visit

Alice Casalini, “The Malleable Space of Gandhāran Art”

We cordially invite you to join us next Wednesday, May 10, from 4:45-6:45 pm CT for a VMPEA & RAVE joint workshop, featuring:


Alice Casalini

PhD Candidate, Art History, UChicago

Who will be presenting the paper

“The Malleable Space of Gandhāran Art”

Discussant: Andrew Ollett

Neubauer Family Assistant Professor, South Asian Languages and Civilizations, UChicago

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

4:45–6:45 pm CT, CWAC 152

*You can also use this link to join the talk on Zoom. No registration is required. The password is “malleable”.

A light reception will follow at the department lounge.


“Three architectural elements from Gandhāra,” digital collage, 2023.



The monasteries of Gandhāra were teeming with an incredible array of images that adorned virtually every available surface. From carved panels that covered the walls, to icons and stelae that were installed in chapels and encroached the space of corridors and passageways, every monument was adorned with stone and stucco reliefs, while statues were meticulously gilded and painted. These objects, along with the perishable materials that did not survive in the archaeological record, came together to create an aesthetic of visual abundance.

The talk seeks to explore the role of this aesthetic in the context of the early Buddhist schools of Gandhāra. While textual sources are often used to shed light on these debates, the visual program in the monasteries  played a significant role in shaping the Buddhist path to liberation in its own right and in a parallel fashion to the textual sources.


Alice Casalini received her BA and MA in Languages and Civilizations of Asia and Mediterranean Africa from Ca’ Foscari University of Venice and studied Buddhist archaeology at the School of Archaeology and Museology of Peking University. She has conducted archaeological work in Italy, China, and Pakistan. Her research focuses on early Buddhist art and architecture of Northern India, Central Asia and Western China. Her dissertation, tentatively titled “Paradigms of Beholding: the architecture of religious experience in Gandhāra,” explores the ways in which sacred spaces and religious objects create avenues for spiritual transformation. Alice is also a visual artist and illustrator.


Andrew Ollett is Neubauer Family Assistant Professor in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations. He studies the literary and intellectual traditions of South Asia, including works composed in Sanskrit, Prakrit, Apabhramsha, and Kannada, mostly falling within the first millennium of the common era. His research has focused on the “question of language”: the availability and choice of certain languages for certain purposes, and the role of language in cultural production and change.  He is the author of Language of the Snakes: Prakrit, Sanskrit, and the Language Order of Premodern India (2017). His current projects include an edition and translation of the Prakrit romance Lilavai a book on the beginnings of manuscript literacy in South Asia, a book on context-dependency in South Asian philosophies of language and, with Sarah Pierce Taylor, an edition and translation of The Way of the Poet-King, a ninth-century manual of poetics in Kannada.