Dunhuang, Made and Dedicated with an Undivided Heart

Virtual Lecture by Dr. Neil Schmid (史瀚文)

dunhuang promo graphic

New Event Date Change

This virtual lecture date has been changed to Thursday, March 11, 2021, 7pm (EST). The event recording will be available by the end of the next day.

The GW Confucius Institute and the GW Corcoran School Department of Art History are proud to have Dr. Neil Schmid (史瀚文) present a virtual lecture on "Dunhuang, Made and Dedicated with an Undivided Heart", which will be moderated by Dr. Cristin McKnight Sethi and Dr. Divya Kumar-Dumas.

Near the oasis of Dunhuang in the northwest China lie the Mogao Grottoes that contain thousands of images of pious donors dating from the fifth to the thirteenth century. Appearing across media, these images range from murals in caves to paintings on silk. Typically accompanying these devout portraits are cartouches with information about the donor together with their familial and social positions. This talk addresses several fundamental questions about Dunhuang portraiture and its role in the religious economy of medieval China, such as:

1) What, precisely, constitutes an individual portrait and its presentation of personhood?

2) Are there different types of portraits given social status, and if so what does this tell us about the gift of the image at Dunhuang and its attendant goals?

3) Do the physical circumstances of portraits, such as paintings on silk or in cave murals, differ in their presentation of individuals, or are there transmedial elements that unite donor, object, and goals?

This talk concludes with a discussion of how Dunhuang portraits demonstrate continuities in Chinese representations of the self while foreshadowing changes to come in later dynasties.



Dr. Neil Schmid (史瀚文) is a Research Professor at the Dunhuang Research Academy, and he is one of the world’s leading authorities on medieval Buddhism’s visual culture. He studied Chinese and East Asian Studies at Georgetown University, Waseda University in Tokyo, L’Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes in Paris, and finally earned a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania. He specializes in Silk Road and Buddhist Studies with an emphasis on the archaeological sites of Dunhuang.


Dr. Cristin McKnight Sethi is an Assistant Professor of Art History and Administrator of Graduate Studies Art History Program at the Corcoran School of the Arts & Design (GW). She is a curator and historian of South Asian art. Her research and teaching interests include textiles and folk art, the intersection of gender and practices of making, networks of circulation and exchange, the anthropology of art, and postcolonial theory. She has published on contemporary craft in India, the history of natural dyes in Asia, and the production and circulation of folk embroidery during the late nineteenth century. 

Dr. Divya Kumar-Dumas is a Professorial Lecturer of Art History at the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design (GW) and Adjunct Instructor for the Department of Art History, Theory & Criticism at Maryland Institute College of Art. Her work focuses on the art of architecture, gardens, and landscapes, with an emphasis on Asia.