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Tobunken-Seminar "A Supernatural Creature in a Transcultural and Transreligious Framework: The Case of the so-called ‘Sēnmurw’"

Date: January 26, 2018 (Fri.), 15:30 -- 17:00

Venue: First Meeting Room (3F), Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia, The University of Tokyo

Speaker: Dr.Sara Kuehn

Abstract:>
The lecture revisits the evolution of the iconographic theme and the transcultural and transreligious framework of the composite mythical animal commonly identified as ‘sēnmurw’. One of the vehicles of transmission of elements of the Western Asian world, in particular of the Sasanian and Sogdian spheres, into medieval Christian and Islamic art, the Pahlavī sēn(ē)murw (Avestan saēna-mərəgha-, New Persian sīmurgh, Old Syriac sīmur(gh), Arab ʿanqaʾ) also has traits in common with the Chinese phoenix and the Sanskrit garuḍa. Depicted in a variety of media, including architectural decoration, metalwork, textiles, glass, numismatics and glyptics, it is generally rendered in profile, characterised by a snarling canine snout with projecting (sometimes bifurcating or foliate) tongue, two paws (one raised above the other), wings and a (pea)cock-like tail. The iconography of this supernatural creature remains remarkably consistent and resilient across cultures and eras. Yet, at the same time, its signification may be multi-layered, multivalent and adaptive. In its royal, apotropaic and exalting aspect, it passes easily between cultures, often retaining similar power, prestige and meaning even if situated in very different theologies and Weltanschauungen. The discussion will show that, over more than seven centuries, and spanning civilisations from the greater Iranian world to twelfth-century Europe, this animal of fantasy has answered iconographic needs associated with themes ranging from the important, such as abundance, fertility, royalty, glory, good fortune, splendour and protection, to the most rarefied, such as ascent, salvation and delivery.


Dr. Sara Kuehn: Trained as an art historian (Ph.D. in Islamic art and archaeology, Freie Universität Berlin, 2008; M.A. in Islamic art and archaeology, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 1998; B.A. in Chinese, Japanese and Korean art and archaeology, International Christian University, Tokyo, 1991) and working on religious symbolism for more than twenty years, Dr. Sara Kuehn studies religion from a cross-cultural comparative perspective. With a dual background in Islamic and East Asian art histories, combined with a museum career, she specializes in the artistic and religio-cultural relationship between the Islamic world, East and West Asia and Europe and has conducted extensive fieldwork in Central Asia and Southeast Europe. Her book The Dragon in Medieval East Christian and Islamic Art (Leiden: Brill, 2011) won the 2013 World Prize for the Book of the Year of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Her current research focuses on religious visual culture in an interreligious perspective, especially on cosmographies and imaginary journeys, hybrid beings, angels and angelology as well as the migration and cross-cultural dimensions of objects, ideas, and images.

Contact:masuya(at)ioc.u-tokyo.ac.jp