The Sacred Tripod: Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism in Harmony

February 19, 2011—August 14, 2011

Location: Nelson-Atkins Building, Gallery 222

Admission is free.

In traditional China, the Three Teachings (sanjiao)—Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism—were likened to the legs of the ancient sacred tripod known as ding. This analogy underscored the fundamental role of each of the religions in Chinese society.

Despite competition and occasional outbreaks of hostility, the three generally coexisted in an atmosphere of tolerance and mutual influence. Many Chinese believed in and patronized all three religions, sometimes at different stages in their lives, but often simultaneously. As philosophical interchanges among the religions arose, so did the flow of influences among their respective visual arts.

All three religions were vital creative forces for art, and art, in turn, was crucial for strengthening the faith of adherents. Although the paintings, prints and rubbings displayed here are associated with a specific religion, they often share imagery or stylistic features borrowed from one of the others. Indeed, the same artists often created works for more than one religion.

Although most were anonymous, others were famous artists who, through their exploration of religious themes, raised the status of religious arts to a high level of prestige.


Image: The Three Teachings, Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Chinese. Hanging scroll, ink and color on silk. Overall: 57 3/4 x 29 in. (146.685 x 73.66 cm). Gift of Bronson Trevor in honor of his father, John B. Trevor, 76-10/12.
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