Date

5-19-2020

Description

How does the image of the decrepit dead body manifest itself in art? Enlightenment thought had problematically conceived of Europe as at the forefront of knowledge while the rest of the world lagged behind. Christ's body is the original cadaver in Western images, but around the seventeenth century the trend of more secular understandings and depictions of the dead body arose. European anatomical knowledge was also making its way to East Asia around the same time. Non-Europeans were presumed to either lack the investigative spirit or more sinisterly, lack the skill. However, Japanese Buddhist art of the kusozu, or nine stages of a decaying corpse, from since the thirteenth century shows neither of these were the case. Although later development of anatomical study stalled until the incorporation of Western learning, this does not mean East Asians never had the interest or ability to observe and depict the cadaver. Different approaches in the desire to see the unseen were the result of different philosophies. Western artists turned increasingly to objectivity and realism, so the study of cadavers became secular. Contrastingly, for kusozu artists, the study of cadavers led to spirituality. Some Chinese artists focused on the external body because the internal was understood in spatial relation to it. Others had a need to create a generic schema, leading to the use of stylized elements. History is nuanced and is not teleological, and this is reflected in the study and artistic rendering of the dead body in Europe and Asia.

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May 19th, 12:00 AM

Art of the Cadaver: Spiritual and Secular in the East and West

How does the image of the decrepit dead body manifest itself in art? Enlightenment thought had problematically conceived of Europe as at the forefront of knowledge while the rest of the world lagged behind. Christ's body is the original cadaver in Western images, but around the seventeenth century the trend of more secular understandings and depictions of the dead body arose. European anatomical knowledge was also making its way to East Asia around the same time. Non-Europeans were presumed to either lack the investigative spirit or more sinisterly, lack the skill. However, Japanese Buddhist art of the kusozu, or nine stages of a decaying corpse, from since the thirteenth century shows neither of these were the case. Although later development of anatomical study stalled until the incorporation of Western learning, this does not mean East Asians never had the interest or ability to observe and depict the cadaver. Different approaches in the desire to see the unseen were the result of different philosophies. Western artists turned increasingly to objectivity and realism, so the study of cadavers became secular. Contrastingly, for kusozu artists, the study of cadavers led to spirituality. Some Chinese artists focused on the external body because the internal was understood in spatial relation to it. Others had a need to create a generic schema, leading to the use of stylized elements. History is nuanced and is not teleological, and this is reflected in the study and artistic rendering of the dead body in Europe and Asia.