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Ordinary Images

This richly illustrated book explores the large body of sculpture, paintings, and other religious imagery produced for China’s common classes from the third to the sixth centuries C.E. In contrast to the works made for imperial patrons, illustrious monastics, or other luminaries, these ordinary images-modest in scale, mass produced, and at times incomplete-were created for those of lesser standing. Because they cannot be related to well-known historical figures or social groups, these images have been considered a largely nebulous, undistinguished mass of works.

Situating his study in the gaps between conventional categories such as Buddhism, Daoism, and Chinese popular art, Abe examines works—including some of the earliest known examples of Buddha-like images in China—that were commissioned by patrons of modest standing and produced by nameless artists and artisans. Sophisticated and lucidly written, Ordinary Images offers an unprecedented exploration of the lively and diverse nature of image making and popular practices.

408 pages | 230 halftones, 5 maps, 20 line drawings | 8-1/2 x 9-1/5 | © 2001

Art: Middle Eastern, African, and Asian Art

Religion: South and East Asian Religions


“Abe treats the images as case studies of specific regional and temporal groups outside the scope of traditional surveys of Chinese art history and engages the reader with his fresh visual insights and conviction that ordinary images are significant in their own right. His focus on and respect for objects and his resistance to using them merely for rhetorical or illustrative purposes can serve as an example to art historians and those in other fields of study who work with visual materials.”

Katherine R. Tsiang | Artibus Asiae

“Abe has presented a substantive study in this book, which is written with clarity and full of insights. The thorough documentation of sources is invaluable for further investigation.”

Dorothy C. Wong | Journal of Asian Studies

“Abe’s elegant new book, packed with photographs, maps, and diagrams, follows on decades of consistent and often spectacular excavation and scholarship. . . . Abe reviews a good part of this material, describing both new finds and older ones, and presenting the new wealth of scholarship in English, Japanese, and especially Chinese on Buddhist artifacts from early medieval China.”

Journal of Chinese Religion

“This lavishly illustrated volume revises our understanding of China’s early medieval (200-600 CE) religious sculpture. Through an exhaustive analysis of run-of-the-mill religious art objects and their accompanying inscriptions, Abe skillfully demonstrates the explanatory insufficiency of previous interpretative paradigms. . . . For students of East Asian religion and culture, it is a must.”

Keith N. Knapp | Religious Studies Review

Table of Contents


OneOrdinary Images
TwoSmall Beginnings
ThreeLocal Context
ConclusionOrdinary Practice



Freer Gallery/Smithsonian Institution: Shimada Prize

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