Earthly Exemplars: The Art of Buddhist Disciples and Teachers in Asia


Earthly Exemplars: The Art of Buddhist Disciples and Teachers in Asia

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Please note, this exhibition will be closed January 2 – February 3 during exhibition changeover on the second floor.

Arhats and teachers are subjects of worship as they continue the unbroken transmission of Buddhism and allow devotees to engage with the Buddha’s teachings.

During the 17th through 19th centuries, imagery of arhats and teachers circulated across Tibet, Qing China, and Edo Japan through trade, migration, and diplomatic exchange. Under these growing transnational exchanges in Asia, artists represented the transmission of Buddhism and infused new political and stylistic meanings into their depictions of lineages and arhats. To maintain a close relationship with the Tibetan Buddhist prelates, the Qing court commissioned Buddhist art projects that link the court as part of a sacred genealogy. Paintings of incarnation lineage and biographies of teachers and arhats were produced in monasteries and distributed across Tibet and China. Because the cult of the arhat reached Japan largely through Chinese monks, many Japanese artists adopted Chinese painting traditions in their depictions of these “worthy ones.” 

Bringing together sculpted and painted imagery of arhats and teachers from Tibet, Qing China, and Edo Japan, this exhibition explores how artists utilized composition, style, and media to cultivate spiritual legitimacy and construct visual lineages.


Curated by Clara Ma, she/her, 2021–2022 Barringer-Lindner Curatorial Fellow

This exhibition is made possible through support from The Fralin Museum of Art Volunteer Board. The Fralin Museum of Art’s programming is made possible through generous support from The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation. Thanks to our in-kind donors: WTJU 91.1 FM and Ivy Publications LLC’s Charlottesville Welcome Book.

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The Fralin Museum of Art at UVA