China Seminar | 10 February 2011

Fragments of Lost Perfection: The Buddhist Caves at Tianlongshan, The Early Caves (Eastern Wei Period, 534-550)

Shawn Eichman Shawn Eichman

As the imported religion of Buddhism spread through China, it brought about dramatic changes in the arts. From the passes into Central Asia to the Chinese heartland, monumental cave chapels were carved into living stone, as testaments of faith, symbols of political power, and acts of filial piety. One of the most distinctive groups of Buddhist caves was located on Tianlongshan (TLS), the “Mountain of the Celestial Dragon”. While the caves are largely destroyed today and only exist in a fragmentary state, over a thousand years ago they were one of the crowning glories of Chinese Buddhist art.

This lecture will introduce the Buddhist caves at TLS, focusing on the earliest period of construction during the Eastern Wei dynasty (534-550). Photos of the caves taken during a field trip to the site in April 2010 will be compared with photos of the same caves taken during the early 20th century. Sculptures removed from the caves before WWII and now in public and private collections will be discussed along with the presence of TLS sculptures in the recent art market.

Dr. Shawn Eichman received academic degrees from Georgetown University, the UHM, and Waseda University in Tokyo. An expert on Chinese art, he has worked at The Art Institute of Chicago, the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Since 2007, he has served as Curator of Asian Art at the Honolulu Academy of Arts.