The lecture concentrates on Qutan Monastery, a Buddhist temple located in an isolated mountainous region near Ledu, Qinghai province, at the Sino-Tibetan frontier. The temple was founded by an influential Tibetan Buddhist lama named Sanggyé Trashi (d. 1414), who, in 1393, traveled to the Ming capital to request imperial protection for his temple. The temple took its present shape over the course of about forty years, roughly from 1390 to 1430, as a series of additive constructions. In all, it received support from four of the first five Ming rulers, Hongwu, Yongle, Hongxi, and Xuande, though imperial involvement reached its height under Yongle (r. 1402-1424). Prior to Yongle’s takeover, the temple constituted a small-scale group of buildings whose layout and decorations were designed to accommodate local ritual practices. Under Yongle, several buildings in the official Ming architectural style were added around this original group, resulting in a magnificent, palatial monastery that would have rivaled even the grandest monasteries in the capital. The talk will examine the implications of Qutan Monastery’s architectural transition from “local” to “imperial” and argue that this temple is an important example of the ability of Ming imperial architecture to both transform and adapt to the complicated setting of a borderland region.
Aurelia Campbell is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Art, Art History, and Film at Boston College. Her most recent work has focused on the architecture and material culture of the early Ming court. On this subject, she is currently completing a book entitled Architecture and Empire in the Reign of Yongle. Her forthcoming projects include studies of Tibetan stupas in the Mongol period in China and ornamentation in Chinese architecture from the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties.