Jewel Beetle Ornament: Color, Power, and Ecology in Early Japanese Buddhist Art


The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Dissertation Fellowships in Buddhist Studies


History of Art and Architecture


This dissertation studies the significance of adornment in Buddhist art through close examination of a decorative technique found in early Buddhist artifacts from Japan that uses the iridescent exoskeletons of jewel beetles. This project examines the important role of jewel beetle ornament in enabling Buddhist artifacts to serve as embodiments of sacred presences as well as symbols of political authority amidst the intertwined developments of Buddhist worship and state formation in Japan. The extraction of large quantities of beetles from a limited ecological zone for ornamentation purposes also reveals the entanglement of Buddhist art with the intensifying exploitation of natural resources and expanding infrastructures of material exchange in an inter-connected East Asia.