Siam Society: Thrs 29th July

Iconography of emancipation from the Body by Vittorio Roveda




This lecture examines visually the position occupied by the human body in Buddhist iconography (and doctrine), by illustrating two extreme aspects:

  1. the deceptive sensuality of the body, as shown by the physical appearances of Mara’s daughters (young and sensual) in front of the Gotama Buddha with the intent to distract him from reaching full enlightenment (event taken from the Lalitavistara text)
  2. the impermanence of the body’s features, as depicted in corpses (old and decomposed) that are the object of Buddhist meditation, emphasizing the corruptibility of the physical body (event taken from the Asubha Bhavana text).

The examples that illustrate these two aspects are taken from Cambodian and Thai murals and preah bot  (painted scrolls) studied and photographed by the speaker.
Both aspects lead us to conclude that in the Buddhist doctrine there is total emancipation from the body, both in its pleasant and unpleasant aspects. Consequently, the concept of body’s beauty has no place in Buddhist iconography.

Dr. Vittorio Roveda has been researching the iconography of South-east Asia for several years resulting in several publications. In 2009 he has published, in co-operation with Yem Sothon, a book on Buddhist paintings in Cambodia. At present, a study on the painted scrolls, called Preah Bot of Cambodia is in press.

Dr. Roveda is research associate of SOAS, Dept. Art and Archeology, London University.

Date: 29 July 2010 (Thursday)
Time: 7.30 p.m.
Place: The Siam Society, 131 Asoke Montri Rd, Sukhumvit 21

Non-members donation: B200. Siam Society members, members’ spouses and children, and all students showing valid student ID cards are admitted free of charge. For more information, please contact Khun Arunsri at 0 2661 6470-7 ext 126, fax 0 2258 3491, or e-mail Office Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 9:00am. – 5:00pm.