SOAS University of London

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

Tibetan Buddhist Monuments in Context

Module Code:
15PARH075
Credits:
15
Year of study:
Any
Taught in:
Term 1

Tibetan Buddhist monuments are known for their complexity and extremely rich artistic decoration. This course is designed to introduce into this richness by using a historically important monument or architectural complex of Tibetan Buddhism as an anchor to discuss a distinctive era of Tibetan Buddhist art from a variety of perspectives. This format allows presenting the monument in considerable detail, in relation to its geographical and temporal neighbors, and its wider relationships.
In terms of detail, particular emphasis is given to reading the architectural complex, a single monument within it, and the artistic decoration contained in their interrelationship. In addition, particular themes within the decoration are discussed in their wider cultural, religious and historical context. In terms of the wider context the monument or complex is placed within architectural history, the development of Buddhist monastic complexes and its buildings, and the purpose and usage of the buildings in relation to Buddhist practice. When appropriate, the monuments are also related to or contrasted with monuments in neighboring regions, in particular India, Nepal and Central Asia.
Regardless of the chosen key monument, the course will introduce a range of deities of the Tibetan Buddhist pantheon, and explain their function and relationship to each other using fundamental Tibetan taxonomies. It also introduces selected schools of Tibetan Buddhism in greater detail.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

The main goal of this course is to support the student in developing literacy in the interpretation of a Tibetan monument or architectural complex in terms of its architecture, its content, and its place within larger frameworks, such as the history of the art and architecture of Tibet, the development of Buddhism and Buddhist practice, and the cultural history of Tibet.
With this course the student gains concentrated knowledge on a particular period in Tibetan Buddhist art, its diverse visual manifestations, and its wider relationships. Thus, at the end of the course the student should be able to demonstrate the ability to:

  •  describe the discussed monument in architectural terms, the interrelationship of its different parts, and their respective decoration and use;
  •  situate the monument and the discussed artistic decoration within the wider nexus of the development of Tibetan Buddhist Art;
  •  reflect on and communicate the different sources pertaining to the monument and its wider historical context, the diverse research opinions discussed, and open research questions;
  •  evaluate scholarly positions in light of the evidence, and to articulate and justify ones own position within that debate.

Workload

  • One hour Lecture , one hour Seminar

Scope and syllabus

2015/16: Temples of Lo Manthang
Built in the fifteenth century at the height of a newly established kingdom controlling much of the trade between the Tibetan plateau and South Asia, two temples of Lo Manthang in Mustang, Nepal, are used to explore one of the most intriguing questions of the history of Tibetan art, namely the role of artists from the Newar community in Nepal in its creation. While the art of the Kathmandu valley can readily be distinguished from Tibetan art, a considerable part of Tibetan art is ascribed to Newar craftsmanship. This is especially true for the period from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century and the Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism and its sub-schools, which are also prominent in Mustang. In addition, the fifteenth century is also crucial for the establishment of new trends in Tibetan art, such as the emergence of landscape in Tibetan painting and expressive portraiture.

Method of assessment

  • One 1 000 words essay  (worth 30%)
  • One 2 000 words essay (worth 70%)

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