Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Art of Buddhism: An Introduction to Its History and Meaning / Denise Patry Leidy -- Boston: Shambhala, 2008.

The Art of Buddhism is a beautiful and informative stroll through the history of Buddhist sculpture, architecture, and painting. The narrative follows a rough chronological order, but by the 6th to 8th century, the spread of Buddhism followed too many different paths to permit a single story. Consequently, Leidy begins describing the art of particular geographic regions chapter by chapter.

Leidy explains many of the subtle features in Buddhist art that help the reader (or viewer) to understand what personalities are represented in the art. She notes that continuity in the art forms across different regions roughly matches the continuity of Buddhist doctrine. For example the sinuous forms of early Indian sculpture appear in Southeast Asian sculpture just as the Theravada doctrine spread from early India to Southeast Asia. Along the way, she explains some of the difference between various schools of Buddhism.

The book is beautifully illustrated, with a photograph or diagram on nearly every page. Unfortunately, they are often too small to really display the full beauty of the art. Indeed, the book's 10" x 7" format makes even the largest images small. Nevertheless, the selection of paintings and especially sculptures are sometimes breath taking.

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