Is Buddhist art well represented at the Rietberg Museum?
It is one of the strong cores of our collection. We have a very fine collection of ancient statues which were collected by Eduard von der Heydt, the founder of the museum. Among them is a high-relief fragment from the XNUMXnd-XNUMXrd century from the Gandhara region, where we see, in the center, the enlightened Buddha, draped in a finely pleated monk's robe, seated, legs crossed, immersed in meditation. We also have Buddhist bronzes from Tibet and the Himalayan region and a fine collection of Japanese nô masks.
What are the highlights of your exhibition “Next stop: Nirvana – around Buddhism”?
One of the flagships of the exhibition is the monumental statue of Buddha, over 2000 years old, which comes from the museum of Peshawar (Pakistan), which lent it to us. This piece, which is 3,5 meters high and weighs 1,5 tonnes, was transported from the Gandhara region to be exhibited in Zurich. Gandhara, a now defunct kingdom, once controlled the famous Silk Road. Its rulers, the Kushan kings, for the first time elevated Buddhism to the rank of state religion and promoted its principles of pacifism and tolerance. This sculpture thus plays a sort of role of messenger of peace and tolerance in a country, Pakistan, socially divided. It was discovered in 1908 by the British before being kept in the museum of Peshawar. Since then, she has hardly left Pakistan. We had to bring in an expert from Zurich who traveled to Pakistan to make sure that the object could indeed be moved and that there was no risk of it being damaged.
As part of this exhibition on Buddhism, you are offering several itineraries, several thematic discovery visits, one of which focuses more particularly on the teachings of Buddhist art.
The itinerary centered on Buddhist art makes it possible to identify and grasp the meaning of Buddhist iconography. How do you recognize a Buddha from a Bodhisattva? How to understand the Buddhist artistic language? What do the hand movements of the Buddhas mean? Why does such a deity sport several arms, heads and legs?
You are offering another thematic discovery tour centered on the provenance of the works…
We explain to the public, as part of this journey, how these masterpieces of Buddhism arrived in Zurich in our collections. Most of the works were donated by collectors like Heinrich Harrer – an Austrian mountaineer, researcher and author of the book Seven years of adventure in Tibet adapted for the cinema by Jean-Jacques Annaud – who brought an important collection of Tibetan objects back to Europe, after living in Lhasa in the 1940s, where he was employed as tutor to the young Dalai Lama.
The itinerary centered on Buddhist art makes it possible to understand Buddhist iconography. How do you recognize a Buddha from a Bodhisattva? What do the hand movements of the Buddhas mean? Why does such a deity sport several arms, heads and legs?
We also invite visitors to understand the meaning of the lotus flowers, a symbol of Buddha's wisdom, his elongated earlobes, to also understand, for example, what a stupa is...
What is the educational program, initiated several years ago by the canton of Zurich, and aimed at making young people in secondary schools aware of the great religious traditions?
This mediation project, initiated in 2015, called “Art and religion, looking to understand”, aims to foster a better understanding of the role of religions through art. We have the same desire to offer, within the framework of the college, an initiation to the great religious traditions of the world. We do this with the greatest possible neutrality by endeavoring to analyze religious phenomena taken in their socio-political and socio-economic context.
We will soon be organizing another exhibition on the image in Islam, on iconoclasm. This exhibition will also be accompanied by educational programs for young people in secondary schools.