All posts in “Asia”

Object of the Week: Buddha

Celebrations of spring are happening all around us. It’s opening week for baseball and Masters Tournament time in golf. Here in Seattle, the sun is shining, the flowers are blooming, and all of a sudden it’s like we live in a populous city. You never have a sense for how many people live (and vacation) here until the sun comes out!

Flowers outside of the Asian Art Museum

Flowers bloomin’ outside of the Asian Art Museum

As wonderful and anticipated as these developments are, today we’re focused on another springtime celebration: It’s Buddha’s birthday!

To be precise, it’s Buddha’s birthday in the Japanese tradition; the same event is remembered on various dates in spring across the world. Many Asian countries commemorate Buddha’s birth on the first full moon of the 4th month in the Chinese lunar calendar (which falls in May). Japan adopted the Gregorian, or Western, calendar in the 19th century and moved its celebration of Buddha’s birthday up to April 8, about a month earlier.

Thankfully for both our regular visitors and out-of-towners, we have a bevy of fine Buddhist art at the Asian Art Museum to help everyone celebrate appropriately. The new installation Awakened Ones: Buddhas of Asia highlights some of the finest representations of Buddha in the museum’s collection, including this stunning wood sculpture coated with gold lacquer. Called an Amida Buddha for its symbolic form, the figure was crafted during the late Heian period (794-1185) in Japan. Its maker used the yosegi-tsukuri technique, carving wood blocks, hollowing them out, and then assembling them together. The Buddha strikes a meditative pose that exudes total peace.

Installation view of Awakened Ones: Buddhas of Asia

In Japanese Buddhist traditions special connections exist between Buddha and the flower that make celebrating him in the springtime especially appropriate. Hana-Matsuri, the Floral Festival, is a memorial service performed at temples throughout Japan on Buddha’s birthday. Those who make pilgrimages to the temples bring offerings of fresh spring flowers and libations of tea. For its original installation in a Kyoto temple, this Buddha sculpture would have been seated on a lotus pedestal.

Installation view of Awakened Ones: Buddhas of Asia

The company he keeps in Awakened Ones, where he is surrounded by sculptures and paintings from China, India, Korea, Nepal, and Pakistan, leaves one with a sense for the wide reach of Buddhist teachings and the many ways Buddha is pictured and remembered.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

IMAGES: Buddha, ca. 1130, Japanese, wood with gold lacquer, 37 1/4 x 27 x 17 in. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of the Monsen Family, 2011.39, Photo: Natali Wiseman. Photo: Natali Wiseman. Installation view of Awakened Ones:Buddhas of Asia at Asian Art Museum, © Seattle Art Museum, Photo: Natali Wiseman. Installation view of Awakened Ones:Buddhas of Asia at Asian Art Museum, © Seattle Art Museum, Photo: Natali Wiseman.
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Maps of Time and Place at the McCaw Foundation Library

A map is a visual depiction of a particular place, and it is a reflection of the perspectives of the time in which it was made. We can better understand the way people in a particular era saw the world – and their place in it – by looking at the maps they used.

A New Map of Asia from the Latest Observations: Most Humbly Inscribed to the Right Honbe. George Earl of Warrington, 1721. London: D. Browne. SPCOL G 7400 I710 S4. Donated by Frank Bayley, acquired from the collection of former SAM Curator of Japanese Art, William Jay Rathbun.

A New Map of Asia from the Latest Observations: Most Humbly Inscribed to the Right Honbe. George Earl of Warrington, 1721. London: D. Browne. SPCOL G 7400 I710 S4. Donated by Frank Bayley, acquired from the collection of former SAM Curator of Japanese Art, William Jay Rathbun.

John Senex’s (English, 1678-1740) New Map of Asia, which dates from 1721, is a representation of the technical information available at the time. It also provides insight into the way European explorers viewed the countries in Asia and their relationships to each other. Senex was a geographer to Queen Anne (1665-1714), and one of 18th century England’s best known map makers. His map of Asia contains a lot of information.

Detail from A New Map of Asia from the Latest Observations: Most Humbly Inscribed to the Right Honbe. George Earl of Warrington, 1721. London: D. Browne. SPCOL G 7400 I710 S4. Donated by Frank Bayley, acquired from the collection of former SAM Curator of Japanese Art, William Jay Rathbun.

Detail from A New Map of Asia from the Latest Observations: Most Humbly Inscribed to the Right Honbe. George Earl of Warrington, 1721. London: D. Browne. SPCOL G 7400 I710 S4. Donated by Frank Bayley, acquired from the collection of former SAM Curator of Japanese Art, William Jay Rathbun.

It spans a vast geographical area from the tip of North Africa and part of the Mediterranean in the west to Indonesia and Japan in the east; from what is now Mongolia in the north to New Holland (now called Australia) in the south. It notes the currents along the east coast of Southeast Asia, the Philippines, and the Indian Ocean. Areas that were most thoroughly explored by the 18th-century English are the ones that include the most detail; those that were not as well-known are more generally depicted, such as the “Land of Less” and “Company’s Land,” which are shown as large, indistinct land masses, as is the “Eastern Ocean” to the north of them. In the upper left corner, a cartouche includes two people in stylized Asian dress, surrounded by representations of some typical animals and plants.

Suseon Jeondo (Whole Map of Seoul), between 1861 and 1887. Seoul, Korea: publisher unknown. SPCOL G 7904 S4. Donated by Kimerly Rorschach.

Suseon Jeondo (Whole Map of Seoul), between 1861 and 1887. Seoul, Korea: publisher unknown. SPCOL G 7904 S4. Donated by Kimerly Rorschach.

Similarly, cartographer Jeongho Kim’s (Korean, active 1834-1864) Suseon Jeondo (Map of Seoul) shows us what was important in Korea in 1845, during the Joseon Dynasty. This is a map drawn by someone intimately familiar with the area and the people and practices that characterized the time in which it was made and used. The use of Chinese characters is typical of formal documentation of that time.

Detail from Suseon Jeondo (Whole Map of Seoul), between 1861 and 1887. Seoul, Korea: publisher unknown. SPCOL G 7904 S4. Donated by Kimerly Rorschach.

Detail from Suseon Jeondo (Whole Map of Seoul), between 1861 and 1887. Seoul, Korea: publisher unknown. SPCOL G 7904 S4. Donated by Kimerly Rorschach.

The wood-block print map of Hanyang (Seoul) thoroughly surveys the entire city: major roads, facilities, and villages are realistically represented more or less to scale. These precisely depicted everyday elements of the city are ringed by symbolic portrayals of larger-than-life mountains, creating a significant contrast. These mountains, traditionally a symbolic connection between the sky and the authority of the king, are intentionally drawn larger than to scale to emphasize their connection to the heavens.

We invite you to see these maps in person at the McCaw Foundation Library at the Asian Art Museum. The library’s public hours for the summer are: Thursdays and Fridays, 2 PM – 5 PM; Saturdays 10 AM – 2 PM. (Please note that the library is closed July 2-5, 2015.)

– Kate Nack, Library Volunteer, McCaw Foundation Library for Asian Art

Bibliography:
Kim, Jeongho. A map of Seoul in the period of Joseon Dynasty. Seoul: J. Kim, ca. 1845.
Senex, John. A new map of Asia: from the latest observations. London: D. Browne, 1721.

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