Typologies of text-image relations

Begin - Einde 
2018 - 2025 (lopend)
Vakgroep Talen en Culturen
Andere instituten 
Numerous other universities
Text and image relations
Chinese text corpora
Chinese cliff art



"Typologies of Text and Image Relations (Cliffs/Caves)" is Research Cluster 3.4 of the project "From the Ground Up: Buddhism & East Asian Religions" (Cluster leader: Christoph Anderl)

This cluster investigates the development of specific patterns of text-image relations in East Asian Buddhist iconography, with a focus on Chinese sites but if possible also including data from Korea and Japan. We attempt to analyze how textual and visual media interact with (and reference to) each other and how Buddhist themes were programmatically arranged in cliff and cave sites, and how these arrangements were related to ritual uses and accommodated specific religious (and possibly other) needs/purposes in the local environments.

The topic is also approached from a comparative perspective, in order to study how Buddhist themes (especially Buddhist key narratives) transformed when they spread from India/Central Asia to China, and which specific text-image relations developed in the Chinese context at specific locations. The research cluster will not only focus on collecting and analyzing relevant material during the field trips, but will also investigate how the findings can more generally contribute to our understanding of the interplay between textual and iconographic media. Through this, we hope to engage with current theories on narratology and text/image interaction.

For the fieldwork, several sites in East Asia have been selected. The specific sites for the field trip will be announced at a later date, but will probably include selected locations in Sichuan, Hebei, and the Dunhuang area. It is important that the activities will also draw on the expertise of local scholars and institutions. In addition, we aim for close collaboration with other clusters dealing with related questions and materials, e.g. “Text and/as Image on East Asian Religious Manuscripts and Xylographs” and “Dunhuang Transformation Tableaux”.

Besides the fieldwork activities, and archiving and analysis of relevant textual and image material, cluster activities will include the organization of a conference in Ghent, in collaboration with other institutions. Besides presenting results based on the material retrieved during the field trips, we also aim at including panels on narratology theories, as well as on an interdisciplinary/interreligious perspective concerning the role of text-image relations in the spread of religions.

Field work was originally scheduled to start in 2020; however, because of the Covid19 crisis, the first (of the three) field trips to Sichuan had to be postponed until 2022. In 2021, several online training sessions for the research clusters have been organized.


For Cluster 3.4, the following training sessions in 2021 have been scheduled:

"Basic Patterns of Text-Image/Object Relations"

Date: Tuesday, May 18, 2021
Time: 5–8 am PDT | 2–5 pm CEST | 8–11 pm China
Format: Lecture/seminar with case studies and discussions (will be recorded and recordingsmade internally accessible)
Max # participants: 30 (booked out)
Workshop leads: Christoph Anderl (Ghent), Paul Copp (Chicago), and Monica Zin (Leipzig)

Description: In this seminar we will focus on both theoretical questions and concrete case studies. Theoretical issues include: identifying basic patterns of relations between textual and iconographic versions of Buddhist narratives, as well as programmatic relations between texts and images, between contents (text/image) and forms of objects, and between the forms of inscribed/imaged objects and their contexts of use. Most case studies will also include a diachronic and cross-regional perspective, tracing the transformations of text-image relations based on specific cultural-religious settings, material base, targeted audiences/viewers/users, and other relevant factors. Areas will include India, Gandhāra, the Tarim basin, Dunhuang, Sichuan,
and Korea.

Keywords: Buddhist narratives; ritual objects; text-image relations; iconographic programs;
Buddhist art

Relevant for cluster: 3.4 Typologies of Text and Image Relations (cliffs/caves)


"Graphic Variation, Modification, and Replacement in Medieval Chinese Writing: Case Studies and Resources"

Date: Tuesday, August 17, 2021
Time: 5–8 am PDT | 2–5 pm CEST | 8–11 pm China
Format: Seminar (will be recorded and recordings made internally accessible)
Max # participants: 30 (booked out)
Workshop leads: Christoph Anderl (Ghent), Suzanne Burdorf (Ghent), and Lia Wei (Ghent)

Description: In this seminar we will discuss case studies of various types of substitutions and modifications of Chinese characters typical for medieval handwritten texts, as well as introduce resources to facilitate the reading of Dunhuang manuscripts and epigraphic material (including the Variants module of the “Ghent Database of Medieval Chinese Texts”, and the Taiwanese “Dictionary of Chinese Variant Characters”, among other databases and reference tools). In the introduction, various types of replacements, graphic modifications and variations will be dealt with, with examples drawn from Dunhuang manuscripts. In addition, we will also focus on medieval lexicographical material among the Dunhuang hoards, addressing the questions of and theorizing about variants (異體字) and replacement characters (通假字).

In the second part, the focus will be on the 10th c. Liáo dictionary Longkan shoujian 龍龕手鑒 which focuses on registering variant graphical forms, indicating their readings, and relating graphical forms to each other. Besides discussing the structure and the particularities of this extraordinary lexicographical work, we will also address the question of how the dictionary can be used as a reference work when dealing with medieval Chinese (and Japanese) handwritten material.

The third part of the seminar deals with very early rock carvings of the 6th century by the Taoist Zheng Daozhao and the Buddhist Seng’An Daoyi, and the epigraphy they produced in the landscapes of Shandong province as part of their artistic and religious expressions. Special focus will be devoted to their calligraphy styles and the modulation of character forms, the integration of Seal script characters, and processes of character modification which result in forms stripped of phonetic and semantic contents, and instead assuming artistic and soteriological functions. The material presented is directly based on multiple field trips, and field work-related questions will be likewise addressed during this part of the seminar.

Keywords: Phonetic loan characters; historical lexicography; Dunhuang manuscripts; variant characters; writing conventions in Medieval China; epigraphy

Relevant for cluster: All clusters dealing with manuscripts / ritual writing / inscribing
landscapes / epigraphy.


Fieldwork data (Fieldwork May 2022) are accesible here:

“Database of Religious Sites in Anyue District, Sichuan” (ed. Christoph Anderl et al.)

The results of the virtual fieldwork of May 2022 in the framework of Research Cluster 3.4, “Typologies of Text-Image Relations” of the FROGBEAR project “From the Ground Up: Buddhism and East Asian Religions” is now uploaded in the “FROGBEAR Database of Religious Sites in East Asia”:




Please choose “Cluster 3.4” from the first dropdown window.


Currently, 155 objects are accessible with multiple photographs and descriptions, focusing on the following sites:


Wofo yuan 臥佛院

Yuanjue dong 圓覺洞

Pilu dong 毗廬洞

Kongque dong 孔雀洞

Qianfo zhai (千佛寨)