Xuanzang’s Journey to the East: Picto-textual Efficacy in the Genjō Sanzō emaki
MetadataShow full item record
CitationSaunders, Rachel Mary. 2015. Xuanzang’s Journey to the East: Picto-textual Efficacy in the Genjō Sanzō emaki. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation asks how, in the context of elite medieval Japanese painting, matter could constitute meaning. This is attempted through a case study of one of the last great medieval illustrated handscrolls (Jp. emaki) yet to receive full treatment, the Genjō Sanzō-e (Illustrated Life of Xuanzang). Produced by the atelier of the enigmatic court painter Takashina Takakane (fl. ca. 1309–1330), the Genjō Sanzō-e has long constituted the mysterious jewel in the crown of the genre known as kōsōden emaki, or illustrated handscrolls of the lives of eminent monks. The work relates the life of the seventh century Chinese monk Xuanzang (ca. 602–664), who made an epic seventeen year pilgrimage from China to India to obtain sutras for translation into Chinese, thereby changing the course of Buddhist history in East Asia. The Genjō Sanzō-e comprises twelve illustrated scrolls that cumulatively measure almost two hundred meters. It was sequestered for hundreds of years at the spiritual heart of the Daijō-in imperial cloister of Kōfukuji, Nara, where it served as both icon and relic.
This history of hermeticism led to the generation of an auratic narrative of a hermetic handscroll that turned on the perverse charisma of the invisible object. Already intellectually quarantined as a “very special object” by virtue of its emaki format, the scroll’s ontological complexity indirectly contributed to its further art historical isolation. Its first ever full exhibition in 2011 catalyzed this study, which interrogates the composition and function of illustrated sacred biography on both the hermeneutic and non-hermeneutic levels, as both text and sacred object. Micro-readings of the scroll texts and paintings against a constellation of self-indicated lexical and pictorial sources reveals that the source of the scroll’s efficacy as a numinous object lies in an exquisitely choreographed analogical mode of explicitly intertextual composition, producing a self-canonizing object that manipulates the expressive plasticity of the picto-textual handscroll format to deliver a customized re-telling of the life of Xuanzang. These findings challenge the conventional history of medieval Yamato-e painting, the category of kōsōden emaki, and Euro-centric conceptions of iconicity and the autonomy of the artifact.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:23845439
- FAS Theses and Dissertations