The Kōfukuji Nan’endō and its Buddhist Art: Building a Realm of Death, Memory, and Family

Third Thursday lecture - Sainsbury Institute

Thursday 18 June, 2020
6:00pm BST


Dr Yen-Yi Chan (Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Fellow at the Sainsbury Institute)

June’s Third Thursday Lecture will be presented online on 18 June.
You can enjoy the lecture live from the comfort of your own home, complete with slides and an audience Q&A. We look forward to seeing you there virtually, and we particularly welcome new attendees.

About the Talk

How was memory of a family conveyed and sustained in ancient Japan? This talk investigates this inquiry by examining the creation of the Nan’endō (Southern Round Hall) at Kōfukuji temple in Nara and its Buddhist images in the early ninth century. Situated at the heart of the city, the Nan’endō is busy with tourists and pilgrims all year around. The history of the hall began in 813 as a Buddhist memorial for the Northern branch of the Fujiwara clan, who utilised it to commemorate departed family members for centuries. In what ways did the visual program of the Nan’endō engage with commemorative practices of the family? How was memory of the dead conveyed through the material form of the building and its images? To answer these questions, I will analyse the images of the Nan’endō—consisted of eleven sculptures and eight paintings—along with their architectural setting and performance of memorial rituals. Attention is also given to the architecture of the building and its symbolic meanings. In doing these, this talk reveals the power of visual space in anchoring memories of the dead, marking lineage and kinship, and transferring departed spirits from the realm of humans to that of buddhas.

About the Speaker

Dr Yen-Yi Chan is a current Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Fellow at the Sainsbury Institute. Yen-Yi obtained her Ph.D. from the University of Kansas in 2018, specializing in Japanese Buddhist art in the Heian and Kamakura periods. Her research focuses on the roles of religious spaces and icons in the creation of ideas, social relations, and collective memory as well as identity. At the Sainsbury Institute, she is revising her dissertation into a book manuscript, which investigates how the architecture of the Nan’endō (Southern Round Hall) at Kōfukuji and its Buddhist images served as a mnemonic technique to construct ancestral memory, familial history, and communal identity of the Northern Fujiwara clan from the ninth through twelfth centuries. Another of her projects examines the reconstruction of Kōfukuji in both the medieval (12th-13th centuries) and contemporary times. This project aims to show how individuals and groups imagined the past, revived tradition, and engaged with the heritage site through the utilization of visual spaces, religious images, and mass media. She is also interested in artistic exchanges between Japan and China as well as icon worship and production in the medieval time, in particular, Song-style (sōfū) sculptures and icons of “living Buddhas (shōjin butsu).” Yen-Yi also has worked at the National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan and Spencer Museum of Art.

This event is part of the Japan-UK Season of Culture 2019-2020

Image: Nan’endō (Southern Round Hall) at Kōfukuji, Nara, Japan

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The Third Thursday Lecture series is funded by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation and Yakult UK.