Webinar: The Buddha Image That Looks Up: “First Portraits” of the Buddha in the Mongol World, 16th to the 21st Century (by Isabelle Charleux)

Date of event:   13/04/2023 − 13/04/2023

Title: The Buddha Image That Looks Up: “First Portraits” of the Buddha in the Mongol World, 16th to the 21st Century
Format: Online via ZOOM
Lecturer: Dr. Isabelle Charleux
Date: 13 April 2012
Time: 12PM (noon) ET
Organized by: Dunhuang Foundation and Department of Transnational Asian Studies, Rice University, Houston, TX, USA

The paramount importance of icons in Buddhism is perhaps best expressed in one of the religion’s Chinese epithets, xiangjiao, or “teachings of (through) icons”. Among them, are the “first images of the Buddha”, which are believed to be authentic portraits of Buddha Shakyamuni that were made during his lifetime. They provide privileged, direct, and tangible access to the “original” Buddha, and played a fundamental role in the diffusion of Buddhism in Asia.

The Mongols, who massively converted to Tibetan Buddhism in the late 16th century, also received transmissions from China and Central Asia. They discovered the similarities of the stories of the Tibetan “first images of the Buddha”, known as “Jowo,” and of the Sandalwood Buddha (also known as Uddayana Buddha). The Mongols not only worshiped these images, but also discovered other “first portraits” and made numerous copies for politico-religious rituals and the legitimation of secular powers. The Mongol case shows how Buddhist iconography, imagery, narratives, themes, and styles were used and appropriated for particular needs at different periods.

The lecture will present the Mongol cult of these statues, the role of guidebooks, and of painted and printed images in propagating their narratives and iconography. It will particularly emphasize the role and function of the Mongol replicas, and consider the following question: could an authentic image be “copied” and still retain the same power? A close study of the replicas’ iconography, compared with Chinese and Tibetan copies, will highlight the fact that the Mongols merged characteristics of the Chinese and Tibetan “first images”. This examination may also help accurately identify statues in museums and collections around the world that are often misattributed as “Maitreya Buddha” or “Dipankara Buddha”.

The speaker is Dr. Isabelle Charleux, Director of Researches at CNRS (National Centre for Scientific Research – Group Societies, Religions, Laicities, EPHE/PSL), Paris. Her lecture, “The Buddha Image That Looks Up: ‘First Portraits’ of the Buddha in the Mongol World, 16th to the 21st Century”, is taking place on Thursday, April 13, at 12PM (noon) ET. It will be 60 minutes long and include an additional 30 minutes for a Q&A session.

Registration is required to attend via Zoom.