The Complex Rules of Unpretentious Pictures: Narrative Paintings in Kucha

Narrative Visions and Visual Narratives in Indian Buddhism - Naomi Appleton

Monika Zin [+-]
Leipzig University
Monika Zin is an art historian based in the Institute for Indology and Central Asian Studies at Leipzig University. She has published extensively on a range of Indian Buddhist sites, including studies of Kucha, Kizil, Amaravati, and the art of Gandhāra. She has been involved in pioneering work on the relatively newly discovered Kanaganahalli, and is the author of The Kanaganahalli Stūpa: An Analysis of the 60 Massive Slabs Covering the Dome (New Delhi: Aryan Books International, 2018).


Moving from text to art, this chapter seeks to explore the role of images and imagery through a study of one of the most interesting early Buddhist artistic sites. Nowhere else in the Buddhist world are so many narratives illustrated as in the cave temples in Kucha. Jātakas, conversion stories, venerations of the Buddha(s), praṇidhis, scenes from the Buddha’s life, particularly from the parinirvāṇa cycle, and Maitreya preaching in Tuṣita heaven – we find as many as 100 narrative representations in a single cave. The settings of depictions located indoors are preset, and they reoccur in the settled iconography. The jātakas are usually reduced to the single most dramatic moment of action. This is often also the case for scenes including the Buddha, but not for all. The sophisticated pictorial conventions make it possible to represent complex contents, even when the manner of depiction is very minimalistic. One pictorial unit can incorporate portrayals of the same person in different rebirths, or an illustration of the very narrative about which the Buddha, depicted in the same scene, is preaching. These considerations shed light on how images of narratives were being used at this key site, with wider implications for our study of Buddhist narrative art.

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Zin, Monika. The Complex Rules of Unpretentious Pictures: Narrative Paintings in Kucha. Narrative Visions and Visual Narratives in Indian Buddhism. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. Oct 2021. ISBN 9780000000000. Date accessed: 13 Jul 2020 doi: 10.1558/equinox.39990. Oct 2021

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