Yuhang Li: “Anthropomorphizing Icons through Gendered Bodies: Rethinking Chen Hongshou’s Dharma Likeness of Cundi Buddha Mother”
In the forty-eighth year of the Wanli reign (1620), Chen Hongshou (1599-1652) created an icon of Cundi Boddhisattva (or Cundi Buddha Mother) for Mr. Chen Zhimu, a follower of Cundi Boddhisattva from Shan-yin. Unlike most icons of Buddhist deities represented as a sturdy icon or as a transcendent being in human form, this painting portrays a person probably a woman impersonating a religious figure. Scholars have discussed this painting as Chen Hongshou’s earliest attempt to bring together a religious icon with a theatrical or a ritual performance. However, the meaning of a religious icon through a performing body still remains unclear. In this presentation, I will situate this painting in the historical context of both doctrinal and material practices of Cundi Boddhisattva in the late Ming lower Yangze delta. I argue that a new meaning of religious icon emerges through the dual mediations of theatricality and gendered embodiment.