University of Chicago Press
, Feb 19, 2002
- 373 pages
In this richly illustrated book Stanley Abe explores the large body of sculpture, ceramics, and other religious imagery produced for China's common classes from the third to the sixth centuries C.E. Created for those of lesser standing, these works contrast sharply with those made for imperial patrons, illustrious monastics, or other luminaries. They were often modest in scale, mass-produced, and at times incomplete. These "ordinary images" have been considered a largely nebulous, undistinguished mass of works because they cannot be related to well-known historical figures or social groups. Additionally, in a time and place where most inhabitants were not literate, the available textual evidence provides us with a remarkable view of China through the eyes of a small and privileged educated class. There exists precious little written material that embodies the concerns and voices of those of lower standing.
Situating his study in the gaps between conventional categories such as Buddhism, Daoism, and Chinese popular imagery, Abe examines works that were commissioned by patrons of modest standing in specific local contexts. These works include some of the earliest known examples of Buddha-like images in China; a group of small stone stupas from the northwest; inscribed image niches from a cavernous Buddhist cave temple; and large stele with Buddhist, Daoist, and mixed Buddhist-Daoist iconography from Shaanxi province. In these four case studies, Abe questions established notions of art historical practice by treating the works in a manner that allows for more rather than less contradiction, less rather than more certainty. Sensitive to the fragmentary nature of the evidence and his position in a long tradition of scholarly writing, the author offers a sustained argument against established paradigms of cultural adaptation and formal development.
Sophisticated and lucidly written, " Ordinary Images" offers an unprecedented exploration of the lively and diverse nature of image making and popular practices.