January 23, 2023 In Person at 5:00 in the Stanford Department of Art and Art History, Room 350 and on Zoom

Bárbaro Martínez-Ruiz, Tanner-Opperman Chair of African Art History in Honor of Roy Sieber, Indiana University.

Ndinga i Sinsu: A Quest for Kongo Art

The lecture will focus on agency in Kongo society, exploring a complex state of social development in which legal, political, religious and visual systems motivate responses to and interpretations of Kongo cultural principles in the Atlantic world. Martinez-Ruiz will argue that the myriad forms of communication known as Ndinga i Sinsu seamlessly integrate into a wide range of audio and visual communicative techniques that he terms ‘graphic writing systems’. Such systems also include proverbs, mambos, syncopated rhythms, a large variety of written symbols, and oral traditions that are rich sources of cultural and social histories, religious beliefs, myths, and other expressions of the shared Bakongo worldview. The lecture will incorporate key examples gathered through fieldwork among the Kongo people in northern Angola, southern Democratic Republic of the Congo and within Kongo-based religious traditions in the Americas.

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December 5, 2022 In Person at 5:00 in the Stanford East Asia Library, Room 224 and on Zoom:

Wen-shing Chou, Associate Professor of Art History at Hunter College and the Graduate Center

Taming Nature on Mount Wutai: Buddhist Visions of an Earthly Paradise

For as long as the sacred mountain range of Mount Wutai in northern China has been a famed international pilgrimage destination, its pictures have circulated across the Buddhist world, serving as souvenir, guide, and surrogate for the mountain. Surviving examples from the ninth century onward have attracted much scholarly decipherment for their mediation of a thriving pilgrimage and devotional culture. But what has been ignored is a conspicuous lack of pictorial attention towards the landscape of the mountain itself. This lecture rethinks the place of “nature” among pictures of Mount Wutai. By bringing to the fore a visual narrative that celebrates the subjugation of natural forces and the transformation of natural resources. I explore alternative ways to understand the relationship between ecology and sacred geography.

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Detail of the Panoramic View of Mount Wutai, Mogao Cave 61, Dunhuang, China. 947- 951.

October 31, 2022 on Zoom: Jelena Bogdanović, Associate Professor of History of Art and Architecture at Vanderbilt University

Theoretical House in Byzantine Sacred Architecture

This talk builds upon the forthcoming study on the Type and Archetype in Late Antique and Byzantine Architecture and highlights the relevance of the theoretical house in Byzantine sacred architecture. In architectural discourse, a theoretical house may be presented through the lenses of the ‘primitive hut’— the essential architectural unit and the ideal principle for architecture—first outlined by Vitruvius in the 1st century BCE, further theorized by Laugier in the 18th century, and elaborated as a hut-tent-cave by Quatremère a century later. By probing interrelations between the material and non-material, the representational and conceptual, I advocate for a canopy—an architectonic object of basic structural and design integrity, most often comprising four columns and a roof—as the theoretical house in Byzantine sacred architecture. The meaning of a canopy as a perennial architectural unit, a hut-tent, examined within the concepts of sacred space and place of the Byzantines, may be extrapolated from biblical texts, pervasive influences of Platonic, Aristotelian, and Stoic philosophies, as well as from preserved 6th-century texts by Dionysius the Areopagite, Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon (2nd century), and Germanos, patriarch of Constantinople (8th century). Augmented by visual and spatial models of the canopy, which were strongly related to the Ark, the Tabernacle, and the Temple, and further enriched by Christological and Marian concepts, the canopy emerges as an architectural parti. Invested with its own material-immaterial complexity, canopy as a theoretical house of the Byzantine-rite churches is accentuated within the performative contexts of the religious practices. In contrast to the positivist elaboration of the primitive hut, the origins of the Byzantine canopy—both the hut and the tent—cannot be located in natural world, however, but in nature as absolute, in divine creation. Yet both the canopy of the Byzantines and the primitive hut of post-18th century architectural thinkers promote the pursuit of the truth in the matter by giving type (shape) to its ultimate source, the typeless (shapeless) archetype. Such an understanding of canopy as the theoretical house is the basis for understanding tectonics in architecture as suspended between its physical and metaphysical realms. The canopy of the Byzantine-rite church, this presentation posits, can and should be understood as an intellectual exercise, an aesthetic concept, and a design principle in Byzantine sacred architecture.

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Figure to the left: Presentation of the Mother of God in the Temple (also known as the Entry of the Ever Virgin Mary and Most Holy Mother of God Theotokos into the Temple; Vavedenije), icon, Hilandar, Mt. Athos, 14th century.
Photo: Courtesy of the Foundation of the Holy Monastery Hilandar
Figure to the right: Primitive hut, engraving, Charles Eisen, frontispiece of Marc-Antoine Laugier, Essai sur l’architecture, 2nd ed., 1755.
Photo: Public domain image from DOME, digitized content from the MIT Libraries’ collections,

October 10, 2022 at 5:30 pm PST on Zoom: Betsey A. Robinson, Associate Professor of Roman Art & Architecture, Mediterranean Archaeology at Vanderbilt University

The Nature of Sacred Space in Ancient Greece 

It is not uncommon to hear a tourist at the Sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi exclaim, “you can see why this place was considered sacred,” or “you can still feel the presence of the gods,” when exploring the spectacular site. Current scholarship attributes the location and evolution of ancient Greek sanctuaries to diverse geographic and social factors, often emphasizing the latter. But physical settings and natural features and phenomena certainly shaped and nuanced experiences of the sacred, both at major sanctuaries and at less- or un-developed sites. How far can we, and should we, take concepts of “numinous” or “charismatic” landscapes? This lecture will draw on my ongoing research on mountain sanctuaries—particularly Delphi and the Thespian Valley of the Muses—in the Hellenistic and Roman-imperial eras, a period that brought many challenges to Greece and ever-increasing external involvement. It will explore material and perceptual phenomena within natural and built environments, as understood through archaeology, topography and architecture, landscape and literature.   

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Wen-shing Chou

Wen-shing Chou specializes in art of China and Inner Asia. Chou holds a BA in Art History from the University of Chicago, and a MA and PhD in History of Art from the University of California, Berkeley. Her 2018 book Mount Wutai: Visions of a Sacred Buddhist Mountain (Princeton University Press) won Honorable Mention for the Joseph Levenson Prize (China Pre-1900) from the Association for Asian Studies. Chou’s research has been supported by the Mellon fellowship and membership of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, the Ittleson Fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, and the Metropolitan Center for Far Eastern Art Studies, Kyoto. Her articles have appeared in The Art Bulletin, the Journal of Asian Studies, the Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, and the Archives of Asian Art.

Chou is currently co-editing and co-curating C.C. Wang: Lines of Abstraction (Hirmer Verlag, 2023) on the artistic experimentations of twentieth century’s preeminent connoisseur and collector of Chinese art. The exhibition and publication are carried out in collaboration with Daniel Greenberg (University of Minnesota) and students at Hunter College and the University of Minnesota. Chou’s second book-in-progress, Shaping Time: Art of Rebirth in China and Inner Asia, explores the visual and material culture of reincarnation within the Gelukpa sphere of influence from the seventeenth to the twentieth century. 

Jelena Bogdanović

Jelena Bogdanović studies cross-cultural and religious themes in the architecture of the Balkans and Mediterranean. Her authored and edited books include The Framing of Sacred Space: The Canopy and the Byzantine Church (Oxford University Press, 2017), Type and Archetype in Late Antique and Byzantine Architecture (Brill, 2023), Icons of Space: Advances in Hierotopy (Routledge, 2021), Perceptions of the Body and Sacred Space in Late Antiquity and Byzantium (Routledge, 2018, 2020), Space of the Icon: Iconography and Hierotopy (Theoria, 2019, with Michele Bacci and Vladimir Sedov), Political Landscapes of Capital Cities (University Press of Colorado, 2016, with Jessica Christie and Eulogio Guzmán), andOn the Very Edge: Modernism and Modernity in the Arts and Architecture of Interwar Serbia (1918–1941) (Leuven University Press, 2014, with Lilien Robinson and Igor Marjanović). 


Betsey A. Robinson

Associate Professor
Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania
Roman Art & Architecture, Mediterranean Archaeology

Betsey A. Robinson (Harvard University, A.B., A.L.M.; University of Pennsylvania, Ph.D.) teaches courses in the architecture, art, and archaeology of the ancient Mediterranean world. Her primary research interests include Greek and Roman architecture and art, ancient cities and religious sites, and landscapes–actual, imagined, and as represented in ancient art and literature. Since 1997 she has conducted research at the Corinth Excavations of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, focusing on water supply, infrastructure, architecture, and works of art in context. Her book, Histories of Peirene: A Corinthian Fountain in Three Millennia (Princeton: ASCSA 2011), won a Chancellor’s Research Award and the 2011 PROSE Prize for Archaeology and Anthropology. Her current monograph project, “Divine Prospects: Mounts Helicon and Parnassus in Ancient Experience and Imagination,” is a book-length manuscript on Hellenistic and Roman perceptions of, and engagement within, Greek landscapes and sanctuaries. Ongoing research considers relationships and tensions between natural environments and human occupants around the Mediterranean, from antiquity to the present. Additional interests include Roman-era mosaics in Corinth, and the history of archaeological excavation in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Betsey Robinson grew up in Falmouth, Massachusetts. Her career began with deep-sea exploration in the Mediterranean with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and research in paleontology and history of science at Harvard; more recently, she has excavated ancient through modern contexts in Israel, and Italy, and Greece. She has held residential fellowships at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, in Landscape Studies at Dumbarton Oaks, and as the Oscar Broneer Fellow at the American Academy at Rome, and she has received major research grants from the Kress Foundation, the Loeb Classical Library Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Solow Foundation. She serves on the Managing Committee of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, and she is currently an Academic Trustee for the Archaeological Institute of America.

Select publications:

Histories of Peirene: A Corinthian Fountain in Three Millennia (Princeton, 2011)

Ancient Waterscapes , editor with Sophie Bouffier and Iván Fumadó Ortega (Volume 3 in the HYDRΩMED research project series, Aix-en-Provence, 2019)

More at

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This new major: Climate Studies at Vanderbilt and press release!

HART’s exciting new programs in Architecture and the Built Environment


American School of Classical Studies at Athens

The Archaeological Institute of America