HART Professors to Lecture at Tsinghua University in Beijing

1A3-G-D-5-A3Betsey Robinson, associate professor of the history of art, and Tracy Miller, acting chair of the history of art department, will deliver comparative lectures on Thursday, May 23, in the School of Architecture at Tsinghua University, Beijing. Their overarching topic is Sacred Landscapes Real and Imagined: Role Reversals in the Study of Pre-modern Greek and Chinese Ritual Space.

Greece and China are the sources of two of the most idiosyncratic, recognizable, and influential architectures of the world. Yet, when taught in survey courses, they are usually characterized in very different terms. Discussions of the Greek temple often emphasize geometry present in stone remains: the beauty of a marble temple derives from monumental materials, harmonic proportions, and carefully calculated optical illusion. By contrast, the unique qualities of Chinese architecture have often been represented in their relationship to nature and ephemeral materials: monumental palaces of the distant past are lost because they were built of timber; the literati garden denies geometry in its efforts to accurately represent landscape.

Robinson’s lecture is entitled Sacred Mountains of Ancient Greece: Monuments, Landscape, and Imagination. Miller will address Naturalizing Buddhist Cosmology in the Temple Architecture of China. These two lectures will illustrate how the architectural traditions of Greece and China can be read in terms usually used to characterize the other. Through a discussion of the importance of natural landscapes in Greek religious practice, and the use of geometry in the creation of sacred stone monuments in China, Robinson and Miller provide a forum to discuss the way in which sacred space was discovered and defined in the early centuries of the Common Era across Eurasia.

Robinson will discuss architecture and landscape at two central Greek sanctuaries from the second century BCE into the first century CE. The Mouseion on Mount Helikon marked the place where the Muses (goddesses of inspiration) were said to have appeared to the poet Hesiod, but its development came centuries afterwards, supported by eastern Mediterranean dynasts and later, elite Romans. Despite broad interest, the sanctuary never grew beyond a small cluster of buildings overshadowed by their mountainous surroundings.

The ancient oracular sanctuary at Delphi on Mount Parnassos, in contrast, was already densely developed by the period in question, leading new benefactors to make their marks with striking monuments in prominent places. “I shall compare settings, sites, and monuments, reading sacred landscapes against a backdrop of contemporary literature and art,” said Robinson. “In so doing, I hope to shed light on a crucial period, in which Mounts Helikon and Parnassos evolved into potent symbols of inspiration in Western culture.”

yicihui_pillarMiller will address the manner in which a new cosmology, that of Buddhism, was adapted to the environment of the Yellow River valley during the first centuries of the Common Era. “When Buddhism was introduced into East Asia, we see indigenous populations naturalizing the forms of ritual architecture by translating concepts of altar, palace, and temple from South Asia into the local architectural language,” said Miller.

By focusing on a single monument, the stone Yicihui Pillar (ca. 567 CE), Miller will show how the ritual diagrams associated with the vāstupurusha mandala were applied and adapted to an architecture emphasizing different geometries than those in the homeland of the Buddha. “The use of the mandala to reorganize morphemes such as the palace/temple hall allowed for the creation of a new, and symbolically potent, architecture—one that could encompass the space and time of a cultural tradition as rich as that of early medieval China.”

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