The Shōsōin Imperial Treasury: Reinterpretations

Third Thursday lecture - Sainsbury Institute

Thursday 16 November, 2023
6:00pm GMT - 7:00pm GMT


Online lecture via Zoom.
50 min lecture followed by Q&A.
Free and open to all, booking essential.
To check your time zone conversion if you are joining from outside the UK, click here.


Professor Yukio Lippit (Harvard University)

About the Talk

The Shōsōin Imperial Treasury in Nara is Japan’s most famous art collection, preserving over 9,000 objects dating mostly to the seventh and eighth centuries. The collection is renowned for its size, state of preservation, and expansive cultural reach, which includes objects from Sasanian Iran, the Sogdian and Central Asian Kingdoms, Tang China, Silla Korea, and Nara Japan. The treasures include a dizzying array of materials and object types and are in many cases the only surviving example of their kind.

This lecture both introduces the Shōsōin Treasury and considers its transformation from a secretive, inaccessible repository to a modern institution with annual exhibitions at the Nara National Museum. Along the way it will offer a new interpretation of the nature and meaning of the original bequest, along with new readings of several individual treasures.

About the Speaker

Yukio Lippit is Jeffrey T. Chambers and Andrea Okamura Professor of the History of Art and Architecture at Harvard University. His book Painting of the Realm: The Kano House of Painters in Seventeenth-Century Japan (2012) was awarded the Charles Rufus Morey Book Award by the College Art Association and the John Whitney Hall Book Prize by the Association of Asian Studies. His article “Of Modes and Manners in Medieval Japanese Ink Painting: Sesshū’s Splashed Ink Landscape of 1495” was awarded the Arthur Kingsley Porter Prize by CAA in 2013. Other books include Conservation Thinking in Japan (forthcoming 2024, with Peter Miller), Sesson Shukei: A Zen Monk-Painter in Medieval Japan (2022, with Frank Feltens), The Artist in Edo (2018), Irresolution: The Paintings of Yoshiaki Shimizu (2017), Japanese Zen Buddhism and the Impossible Painting (2016), Sōtatsu: Making Waves (2016, with James Ulak), The Thinking Hand: Tools and Traditions of the Japanese Carpenter (2013, with Mark Mulligan), Kenzo Tange: Architecture for the World (2012, with Seng Kuan), Colorful Realm: Japanese Bird-and-Flower Paintings by Itō Jakuchū (1716-1800) (2012), and Awakenings: Zen Figure Painting in Medieval Japan (2007, with Gregory Levine).

Current research projects include a collection of essays on Japanese architecture and a book-length study on the Shōsōin Imperial Treasury in Japan, a collection of over 9,000 eight-century objects spanning numerous Silk Road and East Asian cultures.

Lippit has taught at the Universities of Tokyo, Heidelberg, Los Andes (Bogota), and Campinas (Brazil). From 2013 to 2018 he served as the Johnson-Kulukundis Family Faculty Director of the Arts at the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study. In 2018 he was appointed Harvard College Professor for a five-year term for distinguished contributions to undergraduate teaching.


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