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Department of the History of Art and Archaeology, School of Arts

Collecting and Curating Buddhist Art in the Museum

Course Code:
Unit value:
Year of study:
Taught in:
Term 2

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

  •  identify the various contexts for the reception of Buddhist art in the West
    via the formation of private collections and the development of taste in Buddhist art.
  •  appreciate the shifting significance and values ascribed to Buddhist objects placed in different museum contexts over the past 150 years.
  •  assess the role of the museum (historically and currently) in the production of meaning and value to Buddhist objects, via practices of collecting, conservation and display.
  •  identify a range of issues specific to the display and conservation of Buddhist art in museums and the processes involved in exhibiting Buddhist objects in a selection of museums in Europe, North America and Asia.
  •  demonstrate an understanding of the biographical approach to key Buddhist artefacts in Western collections.


2 Hours per week

Scope and syllabus

Week 1: Introduction: Histories and Iconographies
Week 2: The Temple and the Museum
Week 3: Collecting in the late 19th –early 20th century (I)
Week 4: Collecting in the late 19th –early 20th century (II)
Week 5: Ethical issues in the display and conservation of Buddhist art
Week 6: Multiple interpretations of a set of Buddhist statues (from 15th century China to World
Museum Liverpool)
Week 7: Curating a Buddhism gallery
Week 8: Visit to Buddhism displays at British Museum
Week 9: Buddhism displays in Europe, North America and Asia
Week 10: Presentations

Method of assessment

  • One assignment at 80% (wordcount 5,000 words)
  • One presentation- 20%

Suggested reading

  • Arthur, Chris (2000) ‘Exhibiting the sacred’, in Godly Things: Museums, Objects and Religion, Paine, Crispin (ed), Leicester:  Leicester University Press, pp 1-27.
  • Bouquet, Mary and Porto, Nuno (2005) Science, Magic and Religion: The Ritual Process of Museum Magic, Oxford: Berghahn.  
  • Chuang , Yiao-hwei (1993) An Investigation into the Exhibition of Buddhist Objects in British Museums, PhD thesis. Leicester: University of Leicester.
  • Chuang, Yiao-hwei (2000) ‘Presenting Buddhism in Museums’, in Godly Things: Museums, Objects and Religion, Paine, Crispin (ed), Leicester:  Leicester University Press, pp 107-119.
  • Duncan, Carol (1995) Civilizing Rituals: Inside Public Art Museums. London and New York:  Routledge.
  • French, Patrick (2004) Younghusband: The Last Great Imperial Adventurer, London: Harper Perennial.
  • Gaskell, Ivan (2003) ‘Sacred to Profane and Back Again’, in Art and its Publics: Museum Studies at the Millennium, Andrew McClellan (ed) London:  Blackwell, pp 149-62.
  • Gell, Alfred (1998) Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Giebelhausen, Michaela (2003) The Architecture of the Museum: Symbolic Structures, Urban Contexts, Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press.
  • Gombrich, Richard (1966) ‘The Consecration of a Buddhist Image’ in Journal of Asian Studies 26 (1). November, pp 23-36.  
  • Grimes, Ronald (1992) ‘Sacred Objects in Museums Spaces’ in Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuse 21 (4), pp 419-30.
  • Hall, Annie (2004) ‘A Case Study on the Ethical Considerations for an Intervention upon a Tibetan Religious Sculpture’, in The Conservator 28, pp 66-73.  
  • Harris, Clare (2012) The Museum on the Roof of the World: Art, Politics and the Representation of Tibet, Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.
  • Kieschnick, John (2003) The Impact of Buddhism on Chinese Material Culture, Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.   
  • Kopytoff, Igor (1986) ‘The Cultural Biography of Things: Commoditisation as Process’, in The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, Arjun Appadurai (ed), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp 64-91.
  • Kreps, Christina (2011) ‘Non-Western Models of Museums and Curation in Cross-Cultural Perspective’, in  A Companion to Museum Studies,  Sharon Macdonald (ed). Oxford: Wiley- Blackwell, pp 457-472.
  • MacLeod, Suzanne (2011) 'Out of Time and Place: The recent history and curious double life of the Sultanganj Buddha', in Sculpture and the Museum, Marshall, Chris (ed.), Aldershot: Ashgate/Henry Moore Institute, pp 153-175.
  • Martin, Emma (2012) ‘Charles Bell’s collections of ‘curios’: acquisitions and encounters during a Himalayan Journey’, in Narrating objects, collecting stories: Essays in honour of professor Susan M. Pearce, Dudley, Sandra et al (ed), Oxon: New York: Routledge, pp 167-183.
  • Maunder, Michelle (2000) ‘The conservation of sacred objects’ in Godly Things: Museums, Objects and Religion, in Paine, Crispin (ed,) Leicester: Leicester University Press, pp 197-209.
  • McArthur, Meher (2004) Reading Buddhist Art: An Illustrated Guide to Buddhist Signs & Symbols, London.
  • O’Doherty, Brian (1986) Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press.
  • O’Neill, Mark (1999) ‘Making Histories of Religion’ in Making Histories in Museums, in Gaynor Kavanagh (ed), London: Leicester University Press, pp 188-199.
  • Paine, Crispin (2000) Godly Things: Museums, Objects and Religion, Leicester:  Leicester University Press.
  • Paine, Crispin (2013) Religious Objects in Museums: Private Lives and Public Duties, London: Bloomsbury.
  • Pye, Elizabeth (2001), Caring for the Past; Issues in Conservation for Archaeology and Museums, London: James and James.
  • Reedy, Chandra (1991). ‘The Opening of a Consecrated Tibetan Bronze with Interior Contents: Scholarly, Conservation, and Ethic Considerations’ in Journal of the American Institute of Conservation 30 (1), pp 13-34.
  • Seckel, Dietricj (1964) The Art of Buddhism, New York: Crown Publishers.
  • Seckel, Dietrich (1989) Buddhist Art of East Asia, Washington: Western Washington University.
    Tythacott, Louise (2011) The Lives of Chinese Objects: Buddhism, Imperialism and Display, New York and Oxford: Berghahn.
  • Tythacott, Louise (forthcoming) ‘Curating the Sacred: Representing Buddhism in Museums’ in Abstracta in Concreta, Harrison, Victoria (ed), London: Routledge.
  • Wang, Helen (ed) (2012) Sir Aurel Stein, Colleagues and Collections, London: British Museum Publications.
  • Wang, Helen and John Perkins (eds.) (2008) Handbook to the Collections of Sir Aurel Stein in the UK, London: British Museum Publications
  • Whitfield, Roderick (1985) The Art of Central Asia: The Stein Collection in the British Museum: Textiles, Sculpture and Other Arts, Tokyo: Kodansha International.
  • Whitfield, Susan & Frances Wood (eds.) (1996) Dunhuang and Turfan: Contents and Conservation of Ancient Documents from Central Asia, London: British: Library.
  • Wingfield, Christopher (2010) ‘Touching the Buddha: encounters with a charismatic object’ in Sandra Dudley (ed) Museum materialities: objects, engagements, interpretations, London and New York: Routledge, pp 53-70.
  • Zwalf, Wladimir (1985) Buddhism: Art and Faith, London: British Museum Press.