Aqueous Visions: Water, Meditation, and Mural Painting in Medieval China (618-907 CE)


Luce/ACLS Early Career Fellowships in China Studies – Long-Term


History of Art & Architecture


Despite being situated in arid environments, Buddhist caves around the Taklamakan desert were constructed along complex waterways. This study examines the relationship between visions of Buddhist paradise and water management in medieval China and Central Asia. Representations of Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land were famous for their expansive aerial views of a water-bound palace. Centered on the Dunhuang caves in northwest China, this project traces the development of a new type of representational space defined by convergent perspective in Chinese art, one that emerged from evolving attitudes towards hydro-engineering, aqueous materiality, and transparency in the Tang empire. Aqueous Visions traces the efforts of medieval painters to use the qualities of water to reimagine space and vision.