My article “Curators Discover New Details in the Etchings on a 6th-Century Chinese Sculpture” appears in Smithsonian magazine. Here’s the lede:
A life-size limestone sculpture created in the late sixth century, and bearing intricately involved narrative details carved into its robe, was likely used as a teaching tool to instruct students about Buddha’s life and teachings. The digital tools used to make an unprecedented three-dimensional scan of the Buddha, part of the collections of the Freer and Sackler Galleries, couldn’t be more different from the sculptor’s techniques employed 15 centuries ago. But their educational motivations are surprisingly similar.
Over the centuries significant pieces of the Chinese sculpture, known as Buddha draped in robes portraying the Realms of Existence, or Cosmic Buddha, were lost including the head, hands, parts of its feet and portions of its base.
But standing in front of this masterpiece of Buddhist art, a few days before the opening of the exhibition “Body of Devotion: The Cosmic Buddha in 3D,” J. Keith Wilson, curator of ancient Chinese art at the Freer and Sackler Galleries, reflected on how rare and unusual the work was. The exhibition includes the ancient sculpture along with touchscreen monitors that allow visitors to drill down into super magnified images to study the complex illustrations that cover the sculpture.