Images: the white marble Śvetāmbara Jaina Temple in Antwerp, Belgium, with three śikharas and a pronounced terrace that mirrors the essential Māru-Gurjara features, photo courtesy of Verena Bodenstein; “Shore” temple at Mamallapuram with proto-gopura within east wall; Nahalvār temple group, Kadwāhā, from the east, circa 10th century (from left: Viṣnu temple, Śiva temple); Parasurameśvara temple, Bhubhaneshwar, Orissa, photo courtesy of the American Council of Southern Asian Art (ACSAA) Collection, University of Michigan, History of Art Department, Visual Resource Collections
Each fall, the Freer|Sackler and the University of Michigan copublish Ars Orientalis, a journal of the latest research in art of the Middle East and Asia. A collection of scholarship that crosses academic disciplines, the publication aims to connect researchers, institutions, and ideas using one central theme per volume. This month marks the release of the 45th volume of Ars Orientalis—and of our second digital volume.
The current issue takes a close look at temple architecture of South Asia, but the essays move beyond recording architectural features. Each year Ars Orientalis seeks content that approaches the study of art history in innovative ways, combining a range of scholarly perspectives and subject matter. The essays within this year’s volume not only explore temple building techniques, but the methods of communication that allowed this knowledge to travel over widespread geography and generations of architects. Ultimately, AO 45 aims to trace the triumph of architectural knowledge over boundaries of space and time. The essays ask and answer questions about the mysteries behind medieval architectural achievements: Who were the temple builders, for example, and how did they pass on their knowledge? In doing so, the volume relates to larger questions about the formation of artistic traditions and consistent visual cultures.
The issue is organized in a special format in an effort to encourage dialogue among readers. Four initial essays are followed by two sets of responses that together form a conversation over the course of the journal’s pages. We hope the response-based format, in combination with the special features in the digital edition, spark new conversations and ideas at the intersection of art, history, and innovation.
Both formats of AO 45 are now ready and waiting to be explored. Take a look at the digital edition, and order a print copy for your bookshelf.
Frontal from the base of a funerary couch with Sogdian musicians and dancers and Buddhist divinities;
550–77; China; Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1915.110
Rachel Bissonnette, a student at the University of Michigan, recently interned in the Scholarly Programs and Publications Department at Freer|Sackler.
The Freer|Sackler and the University of Michigan jointly publish an annual periodical called Ars Orientalis, which celebrates its sixtieth anniversary this year. Ars Orientalis isn’t exactly “light reading,” but it is an esteemed academic journal that produces pioneering articles on the arts of Asia, the Islamic world, and the ancient Near East. Ars Orientalis themes each of its issues, and Volume 44’s theme is “Arts of Death in Asia.” This exciting issue examines pan-Asian cultures, religious traditions, and the art that honors the deceased and warns of death’s inevitability. The print volume has just been released, and the first digital version of Ars Orientalis will be released soon!
However, you don’t have to wait for the publication to learn about some amazing funerary art. The Freer Gallery has a wonderful Sogdian funerary couch base on display. The couch, called a shichuang, is made of multiple marble slabs. The museum has three slabs on display, which were purchased by Charles Lang Freer in 1915; five other parts of the shichuang are now dispersed throughout various museum collections. Our couch dates to 550–77 CE, which was prime time for Silk Road trade between the Middle East and China. The ancient kingdom of Sogdiana (present-day southern Uzbekistan and western Tajikistan) traded luxury goods with the Tang dynasty in China. This profitable trade resulted in our wonderful funerary couch.
Shichuangs were used as burial furniture for the repose of the deceased. The couches were typically decorated with elaborately carved scenes inspired by teachings of Confucius or protective spirits to guide the dead in the afterlife. However, the Freer Gallery’s funerary couch is decorated with Buddhist themes, musicians, and dancers. The characters are in non-Chinese garb (boots, tight pants, and belted jackets). These costumes and Buddhist themes are likely due to the Sogdian influence from the Silk Road.
Explore the couch along with other spooky objects during our Halloween-themed Fear at the Freer event tonight!
The Peacock Room Comes to America
The Peacock Room has had quite a few adventures since artist James McNeill Whistler painted the London dining room in 1876. From its journey to Detroit, where it was installed in Charles Lang Freer’s home in 1904, and then to Washington, DC, where it found its permanent home in the Freer Gallery of Art in 1923, the room has many stories to tell. The museum’s recent installation The Peacock Room Comes to America shows the Peacock Room as it appeared in 1908, when Freer used it to organize and display more than 250 ceramics that he had collected throughout Asia. As opposed to the blue-and-white wares favored by previous owner Frederick Leyland, Freer preferred to fill the shelves with pots with textured surfaces and subtle green and gray glazes from Egypt, Iran, Syria, China, and Korea.
In honor of the exhibition, we’ve just published The Peacock Room Comes to America, a 64-page paperback with more than 80 color illustrations. Curator of American Art Lee Glazer takes a fresh look at the Peacock Room’s many lives, while focusing on the recent reinstallation. The book also provides insight into Whistler’s Princess from the Land of Porcelain, the conservation of the room, and the curator’s perspective on the project. New photography, bolstered by archival images, makes the book a valuable—and handsome—treasure for the Peacock Room’s many fans.
Copies of The Peacock Room Comes to America are available in the Sackler gift shop for $16.