The Image of the Buddha: Buddha Icons and Aniconic Traditions in India and China

  • Claudia Wenzel (Author)
    Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften Forschungsstelle "Buddhistische Steininschriften in Nord-China"

    Dr. Claudia Wenzel

    wissenschaftliche Angestellte an der Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften, Forschungsstelle Buddhistische Steininschriften in Nord-China

Identifiers (Article)


This is a study of aniconic Buddhist art in India and China that refers back to the iconoclasm (Bilderstreit) of the 8th and 9th centuries in the Byzantine empire and the subsequent development of an image theory that justified the already well established image cult. By deliberately adopting methodological approaches and terms that have been used for some time in Byzantine art history, relevant visual and textual evidence about the Buddhist tradition will be restructured and evaluated, pointing out similarities and dissimilarities.

Anthropomorphic Buddha images and aniconic representations of the Buddha in India and China are compared; furthermore, an overview of the establishment of a Buddhist icon cult with image worship in China is given, discussing related phenomena like narratives about the First Image, the True Countenance, and miracle-working Divine Images. Against this background, Chinese aniconic tendencies and the image discourse within the Chinese Buddhist community around the time of the second Buddhist persecution (574-577) are explored, when rock inscriptions in Shandong province preferred the Buddha’s Golden Words to his image.


Academic discipline and sub-disciplines
History of Art, Buddhist Studies
image theory in Buddhist art, aniconic representations, image worship, Bilderstreit
How to Cite
Wenzel, C. (2011). The Image of the Buddha: Buddha Icons and Aniconic Traditions in India and China. The Journal of Transcultural Studies, 2(1), 263–305.