While keeping in mind the complexities of high-level Buddhist notions of gender identity, as explored in Panel 1, this panel examines women as historical actors through the lens of patronage. There has been considerable scholarship on female practices and roles in commissioning Buddhist artifacts. Notable studies in Chinese history, for example, have approached this subject through the perspective of cakravartin legitimacy in the rulership of Empresses Dowager Ling and Wu Zetian, or through the popular patronage of Guanyin, most recently in the work of Yuhang Li. Moreover, scholars of Japanese studies and art history have undertaken significant research into the patronage of courtly elite and nunneries. In these contexts, the commissioning of artwork was conceived as a way of accruing merit while simultaneously circumventing, or overcoming obstructions to spiritual perfection. Were artifacts necessarily commissioned by women with this reconciliation in mind? What can we surmise from these artworks about attitudes regarding artmaking and soteriology that are not preserved in writing? How does this compare across Asia? What can we glean from donor images and dedications on these commissioned works? Finally, how do religious artifacts enrich our understanding of women’s roles in society, their social networks and lineal concerns, and help us problematize the notion of female “agency”?

Presenters and Paper Titles


Discussant: Lara C. W. Blanchard

Jinah Kim - Women in Action: Gender dynamics in the art of medieval South Asia

Michelle McCoy - Notes on the Tangut Nun in Mogao Cave 61

Kate Lingley - Buddhist Women, Patronage, and Agency in Early Medieval China

Talia Andrei - The Elderly Nun, The Rain Treasure Child, and the Wish-Fulfilling Jewel: Tracing Patronage and Buddhist Networks