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Korean Buddhist Art

Exporting Enlightenment

Wednesday, July 24, 2013
8:00 PM–9:30 PM

Presented in association with The Korea Society
Robert D. Mowry introduces the development of Korean Buddhist art from its formative phase in the late Three Kingdoms (57 bce–668 ce) and Unified Silla (668–935) periods through its maturation in the Goryeo dynasty (918–1392), emphasizing architecture and sculpture in the earlier periods and paintings and illuminated sutras in the later periods. Due to the ascendance of Neo-Confucianism, Buddhism fell into decline during the Joseon dynasty (1392–1910), so this lecture will only touch on the Buddhist art of Korea’s last dynasty. Korean Buddhist art drew inspiration from Chinese Buddhist art and thus relates closely to contemporaneous Chinese art. Even so, once they had fully mastered Chinese styles, aesthetics, and techniques, Korean artists typically transformed the subjects, formats, and styles adopted from China to meet their own aesthetic needs, thereby establishing distinctive Korean styles that reflect their Chinese origins but stand apart from them. In tracing the development of Korean Buddhist art, this lecture will explore relationships with China and will identify those characteristics that are uniquely Korean. In addition, Korea served as the bridge by which continental learning passed from China to Japan, particularly during Korea’s Three Kingdoms and Unified Silla periods. Indeed, not only do historical records relate that Buddhism was introduced to Japan from Baekje, one of Korea’s three kingdoms, but they document the importation of Buddhist sculptures from Korea into Japan and thus demonstrate the close artistic ties between early Korea and Japan.
This richly illustrated keytalk is part of Exporting Enlightenment, a ten-part series over the summer that traces the spread of Buddhism and Hinduism along these cultural and trade trajectories. For the full series that accompanies the exhibition From India East see

About the Speaker

Recently retired after more than twenty-five years as a senior curator at the Harvard Art Museums, Robert D. Mowry was Alan J. Dworsky Curator of Chinese Art and Head of the Department of Asian Art. He is Senior Lecturer on Chinese and Korean Art in Harvard’s Department of the History of Art and Architecture. Mowry has been building a collection of Korean art for the Harvard Art Museums, including paintings, ceramics, Buddhist sculptures, lacquers, and textiles. He has also been working to strengthen the Harvard Art Museums’ holdings of Chinese paintings and ceramics—particularly early Chinese ceramics, from the Neolithic through the Song periods, and modern and contemporary Chinese ink paintings. In retirement he continues work on a catalog of the Harvard Art Museums’ collections of Chinese and Korean ceramics.