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Abstracts: Korean Buddhists Arts of the Koryŏ and Chosŏn Kingdoms

Here are the abstracts for the series of talks on Korean Buddhist arts at SOAS on 19 May 2011:

SOAS Buddhist Arts flyer

Gyeongwon Choe (Kansas University)
Marginalised yet Devoted: Buddhist Paintings Commissioned by Nuns of the Early Joseon Palace Cloisters

This lecture examines the three extant Buddhist paintings commissioned by Buddhist nuns in the palace cloisters of the sixteenth-century Joseon dynasty. The examination of the theme, iconography and composition of each painting is incorporated to interpret their religious significance from the perspective of the social status of their patrons. The nun-patrons are identified either as widowed royal concubines or officially ordained practitioners from non-royal families. The royal concubines were removed from their residences and the position of influence in the inner quarters to live with fellow concubines in a common royal residence-turned-cloister on the outskirts of the palace, after their rohal husbands died. These women certainly experienced a multifaceted marginality at the centrum of the patriarchal Confucian polity in the religion, gender, family and marriage systems. Interpreting the theme of each painting as a prayer for “salvation from punishment”. “salvation to paradise”, and “the salvation of a specific individual”, this lecture presents the paintings as a visualisation of the salvational aspirations of Buddhist women of the sixteenth-century Joseon court.

Youngsook Pak (Research Fellow, Centre of Korean Studies, SOAS)
Leading to Paradise – Amitabha paintings in the second half of the Koryo dynasty

Buddhism in the Koryo period (918 – 1392) provided spiritual guidance for rulers and commoners alike. Numerous accounts in historical records facilitate our understanding how heavily the court relied upon Buddhism. Koryo kings visited temples so frequently that almost the entire Koryo History appears to be records of Buddhist rituals and prayers. The patronage of temple buildings and the production of implements for private and public rituals (images, censers, vessels for food offerings) dominate the records and the remaining Koryo Buddhist artifacts testify to their accuracy. Especially the very icons of worship, the sculptural and painted images were installed in all religious environments and were produced for every occasion. The unfortunate historical circumstances of the Koryo dynasty, often invaded by her powerful neighbours, caused the destruction of almost all Buddhist art of the first half of the Koryo dynasty. The remaining Buddhist icons are mainly from the 13th and 14th century. Images of Buddha Amitabha characterise the Buddhist belief of the later Koryo period, directed above all towards personal salvation. The lecture will show this aspect with specific examples of Buddhist icons.

Eunwoo Jeong (Department of Archaeology and Art History, Dong-A University)
Foreign Exchanges and its Influence on Korean Buddhist Sculpture – The Buddhist Sculptures of Goryeo and China.

The Buddhist scultures belonging to the Koryo period (918-1392) can be summarised as having few distinctive features. Firstly it inherited traditional style from the Unified Silla period. Then it accepted new styles in Buddhist art that came into Koryo through foreign exchanges. Despite such influences, Koryo also had its own original aesthetics. These facts can be understood as the diversity of Koryo art and it is stronly related to the introduction of the new styles from Chinese dynasties. While the Koryo dynasty lasted over 500 years, China experienced frequent changes in their dynasties: Five Dynasties, Liao and Song, Jin and Southern Song, Yuan, and Ming. Whenever a new dynasty appeared in China, Koryo formed relationships with them. It was especially close with the Song, Liao and Yuan dynasties, and accepted various Buddhist art from those countries. From the point of Buddhist sculpture, statues were depicted wearing new atttires with new postures, along with new ritual ceremonies as enshrinement of relics and votive objects stored inside Buddhist statues, and this remained popular until the introduction of the Joseon dynasty.

This talk will explore how such relations influenced the production and formation of Buddhist sculpture during the Koryo dynasty. Discussions of the new ritual ceremonies that emerged during the Koryo period will also be included, focusing in particular on the enshrinement of relics inside Buddhist statues.

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