The Great Departure of Prince Siddhārtha in the Wall Paintings of the Kucha and Turfan Oases in Chinese Central Asia
Date: Thursday, 30/11/2023, 6:00 pm
Meeting point: Museum in Dahlem / Small lecture hall at Takustraße 40
Speaker: Fang Wang, M.A.
The presentation will focus on a significant event in the life of the Buddha, namely his “Great Departure” (leaving home). Five pictorial representations of this event are preserved from pre-Islamic times in Kucha and Turfan located in the Tarim Basin. Some of these paintings are on display in the Humboldt Forum.
The discussion will start by interpreting two wall paintings from the Kizil Buddhist caves in Kucha. Then the three wall paintings found among the remains of Buddhist sites in Turfan, which can be attributed to Mahāyāna Buddhism, are reconstructed in their original decorative programme. Unlike their counterparts in Kucha, these paintings feature less emphasis on narrative representation and instead highlight the symbolic significance of great salvation. The artistic depictions of Siddhartha’s Great Departure in Kucha were influenced by Zoroastrianism or Manichaeism, which formed a community of faith along the Silk Road, despite few historical records of them existing. The stylised images produced later in Turfan offer additional evidence of parallels with these assorted religions that thrived locally.
Ms Fang Wang has a profound commitment to investigating Buddhist art in Central Asia. Upon accomplishing her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Buddhist art history in China, she pursued her doctoral studies at the University of Leipzig concentrating on the artistic depictions of the story of Buddha in Xinjiang. She is nearing the final stages of her dissertation, in which she investigates the life of Buddha depicted in the wall paintings of the staircase cave in Kizil (Cave 110). Her research examines the cultural exchange between India and China, and offers a detailed analysis of the interplay of various elements on the Silk Road.