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Buddhist Art and its Conservation: New MA programme at The Courtauld Institute of Art
Detail of a 17th-century painting in the Lama Lhakang, Trongsa Dzong, Bhutan. Image © The Courtauld and the Department of Culture of Bhutan.

LONDON.- The Courtauld Institute of Art announced the creation of a new MA programme in Buddhist Art: History and Conservation. Generously funded by an endowment of £2.5 million by The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation of Hong Kong, the programme will operate in collaboration with School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).

Recognising the global significance of the vast cultural heritage of Buddhism, this innovative MA will, for the first time, combine the separate studies of Buddhism, Buddhist art and its conservation. This multidisciplinary challenge will be met by combining the international expertise of The Courtauld and SOAS, both colleges of the University of London . By advancing understanding and scholarship of what objects mean, how they are made, used and deteriorate, the MA will foster appreciation of their significance and need for preservation. The MA will address issues of the conservation of Buddhist art in varied contexts – in continuing use, at archaeological and historical sites, and in collections – throughout Asia and beyond. This diversity of modern context is matched by the wide range of types of object, from painted cave temples along the Silk Road , to colossal sculptures, delicate porcelain and illuminated manuscripts.

Professor Deborah Swallow, Märit Rausing Director of The Courtauld, and previously Keeper of the Asian Department at the Victoria and Albert Museum , said: “The new MA integrates The Courtauld’s strengths in conservation, art history and curating in a remarkably innovative manner. I am delighted that this initiative, which draws on the international excellence of our partner SOAS, reflects our long-term goals and those of The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation, as well as The Courtauld’s expansion into the field of Asian art.”

“Until now, Buddhism and Buddhist art and its conservation have been studied separately,” Mr Robert Y. C. Ho, Chairman of the Board of The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation, said. “We are delighted to support the integration of these fields in a new programme that will impact not only on academia but on the preservation of irreplaceable treasures around the world, treasures we see disappearing on a daily basis. For the first time, the conservation of Buddhist art will be the focus of academic and practical study rather than relegated to a sideline or ignored completely. The concept behind the project is a direct reflection of the Foundation’s express interests in promoting education in the arts, nurturing talent, encouraging cross-cultural understanding and preserving traditional Chinese and Buddhist arts and cultural heritage.”

The one-year MA includes teaching and research in the three principal areas of Buddhist studies, Buddhist art history, and conservation theory and approaches. Taught by a wide range of distinguished professionals, the programme also includes extended visits to important Buddhist sites and collections for first-hand study. A research dissertation allows the eight students to explore subjects of particular interest. The MA leads to careers or further study in conservation, art history, site management, curating, and Buddhist studies.

The new MA will build on research, conservation and teaching in Asia – in Bhutan , China and India – by The Courtauld’s renowned Conservation of Wall Painting Department, under the direction of Professor David Park and Sharon Cather. This work is the focus of a TV documentary, The Hidden Art of the Buddha, now being made by Mark Stewart Productions. The genesis of the MA is another innovative venture sponsored by The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation in collaboration with The Courtauld: The Buddhist Art Forum, being held at The Courtauld from 11 to 14 April 2012. Likewise addressing issues of the production, use, study, display and conservation of Buddhist art, the Forum brings together varied specialists and stakeholders from around the world to explore their connection.

The MA initiative forms part of The Courtauld’s expansion beyond the Western tradition, marked also by the recent appointments of two new teaching posts in Asian art history, supported by Manuela and Iwan Wirth, and by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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