This famous English saying – often misattributed to William Shakespeare, but actually a partially paraphrased quotation from William Congreve – could apply to many tragic tales from all over the world through the centuries. Here we will introduce a famous Japanese story featuring one such jilted woman, associated with the ancient temple of Dōjō-ji 道成寺 in Kii province (modern Wakayama) in Japan.
Exhibition dates: 14 Jun 2016 to 30 Oct 2016
Gallery 29 | Admission Free
2016 is the Year of the Monkey according to the traditional Chinese lunar calendar. While the lunar calendar and its twelve zodiac animals are distinct to East Asia, images of monkeys feature in the mythology, folklore, art and literature of many cultures around the globe.
This exhibition, drawn from the Ashmolean’s collections of Asian art, celebrates the Year of the Monkey by showing images of monkeys from across Asia. It includes depictions of monkeys in their natural environment and highlights two of the mythical monkey figures best known outside Asia: the Monkey King of Chinese literature and the Hindu monkey warrior Hanuman.
Monkeys in the wild
There are many different species of ape and monkey native to the forests and mountains of Asia, ranging from baboons in the Arabian Peninsula to orangutans in the rainforests of Borneo, long-armed gibbons in China and India, and many varieties of macaque across the whole region. They are widely celebrated in poetry and literature and represented in art.
Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, was brought up to become a king, but he left his life of great comfort after encountering the ‘four signs’: an old man, a sick man, a corpse, and an ascetic. After six years of hardship, working to find the right spiritual path, he attained his ‘Great Enlightenment’, and became the Buddha. During the following forty-five years of his mission until he passed into Mahaparinirvana (the state of reaching the end of suffering) at the age of eighty, the Buddha walked widely throughout the northern districts of India, delivering his teachings to thebhikkhus (Buddhist monks) and laity in the places that he visited. The sixteen lands where he spent time during his long ministry can be found illustrated in many Burmese Buddhist cosmology manuscripts.
Shown below is a depiction of the sixteen sacred lands in a Burmese folding-book paper manuscript. The Buddha is seated in Bhumisparsa mudra (earth-touching posture) on a throne under the Bodhi tree at the centre. Around him are depicted the sixteen lands, with indications of the distances between the centre and each of these regions, varying from one day to two months of travel. The sixteen lands are labelled (clockwise from the top) Mithila, Sankassa, Jetuttara, Takkasila, Savatti, Kosambi, Kalinga, Mudu, Koliya, Kapilavastu, Campa, Varanasi, Rajagaha, Vesali, Pataliputta, and Pava.
It is difficult to create art in isolation,” says master calligrapher Khwaja Qamaruddin Cheshti. The artist “needs to be surrounded by older art, and maybe he combines his skills with the inspiration he finds in older pieces.”
Cheshti is speaking through a translator from the Turquoise Mountain Institute for Afghan Arts and Architecture in Kabul, Afghanistan. A restored, 19th-century fort in the historic Murad Khane neighborhood, its alcoves topped with delicately pointed arches, it is a fitting backdrop to speak about two weeks he and more than a dozen Afghan artists and craftspeople spent in Doha, Qatar, at the Museum of Islamic Art—or mia—where Cheshti rediscovered this age-old truth.