Asian Classics Through Art

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(Detail) Scenes from a Panji tale [malat] of a legendary prince. 19th century. Ceremonial cloth made from pigments and ink on cotton; National Gallery of Australia

Asian Classics Through Art

A series of 5 monthly lectures online exploring art related to classic Asian epics.


April 5 (Easter Monday) 2021

A Dish Best Served Cold: the Akō Incident and the Forty-seven Rō​nin

Russell Kelty

Of all the spectacular tales of loyalty, revenge and death none resonates more profoundly in Japan and around the world than the Akō incident (Akō Rōshi) (1701–03), more commonly known as the revenge of the forty-seven rōnin. The Akō incident took place during the ‘golden age’ of the Edo period, known as the Genroku era (1688–1704), when a century of peace fostered a blossoming of art and culture. It also marked the transition of the samurai from their primary function as warriors to bureaucrats and administrators of regional domains. Tantalising aspects of the incident immediately inspired fictionalised accounts on the puppet (bunraku, jōruri) and kabuki stages in Edo, Kyoto and Osaka, the most famous of which, Treasury of Loyal Retainers(Kanadenhon ChÅ«shingura) is one of the most popular plays of all times. Throughout the Edo period (1625-1868) the Akō incident continued to spark controversy and debate and inspired artists in every media, particularly print, to endlessly represent the characters and places central to the incident. For over 300 years the story of the forty-seven rōnin has been retold endlessly on the stage, in print and on the large and small screens, transforming it from a national legend of Japan to an international phenomenon.

Russell Kelty, Associate Curator, Asian Art, Art Gallery of South Australia, is preparing the display Samurai from mid-2020 to 28 March 2021. Kelty received a BA in Art History from Colorado State University, then spent three years living and working in Japan. He completed an MA in Art History at the University of Adelaide and is currently a PhD candidate at Sydney University.

Monday 7 June 2021

Panji Stories in Southeast Asia 

Professor Adrian Vickers

Tales of Panji, dating from the 13th century and written by diverse authors, tell of the search by Javanese cultural hero, Prince Panji Inu Kertapati, for his beloved princess Candra Kirana. The earliest Javanese texts no longer survive; early forms of the narrative are known through temple reliefs and statues. This lecture will describe the spread of these stories from Java as far as Myanmar and Cambodia, using illustrations from a range of artistic traditions, including the Javanese wayang beber scrolls, Balinese classical art, Thai temple murals and Burmese illustrated manuscripts. Of particular importance is the revival of Panji stories in recent times, the result of conjunctions between local politics and regional heritage trends.

Adrian Vickers is Professor of Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Sydney, and a member of the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre. His publications include the 2012 book Balinese Art: Paintings and Drawings of Bali 1800-2010.

Monday 5 July 2021

The Tale of Genji

Jackie Menzies

The Tale of Genji (Genji Monogatari), written by Murasaki Shikibu, a lady-in-waiting at the imperial court of Japan in the 11 th century, follows the numerous romantic liaisons of the handsome prince Genji. The narrative captures the customs, social mores and refined aesthetics of a court of extraordinarily complex political and personal intrigue. Its 54 chapters have been a constant source of inspiration for artists of different schools, all seeking to convey the emotional intensity of the interpersonal relations they describe.

Jackie Menzies is a curator, lecturer and writer. She is an Honorary Associate, Department of Asian Studies, School of Languages and Cultures, University of Sydney and Emeritus Curator of Asian Art, Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Monday 2 August 2021

Sacred Love: The Gitagovinda of Jayadeva

Dr Julian Droogan

The 12th century Indian Gitagovinda (Song to God) is an extended poem celebrating the love between Radha and Krishna. It works as an allegory for the love between the human soul and god, a description of the Hindu path of ecstatic devotion (bakti) and has had a profound influence on the diverse arts of India, from miniature painting through to 21st century Bollywood.

Dr Julian Droogan has a PhD in the Study of Religions from the University of Sydney and is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Security Studies and Criminology, Macquarie University, where he works on issues of culture and extremism. His academic background encompasses South Asian studies, the anthropology of religion, and archaeology. He is a regular speaker at the Art Gallery of NSW and leads study tours to South and Central Asia and the Middle East.

Monday 6 September 2021

The Shahnama (Book of Kings)

Dr Peyvand Firouzeh 

The Shahnama (Book of Kings) is an epic poem composed in Persian by the poet Firdausi in the early 11th century and ranks among the most widely copied and circulated literary works in the Persianate  world. Drawing upon several prominent medieval and early modern examples, Dr Firouzeh will discuss the textual and visual traditions surrounding the Shahnama as a vehicle of imperial patronage and ideology across Persian speaking societies.

Peyvand Firouzeh is Lecturer in Islamic Art at the University of Sydney. She specializes in medieval and early modern art and architecture from the Islamic world, with research interests in sacred art and architecture, and the mobility of artistic and intellectual networks within and beyond the Persianate world. She served as acting curator of Eastern Islamic collections at the British Museum in 2014-2015.

How to Book: Booking confirmation and payment in advance are essential. No refunds. Book via email to Chris Manning ( or call Chris on 0412 686 025.

How to Pay
1.  By Direct Debit (“your name, CLASSICS” as reference)
BSB: 012 003     Account Number: 2185 28414
Account Name:   The Asian Arts Society of Australia

2. By credit card on this website – see booking button on top right of this page


5 April, 2021
5:30 pm - 6:30 pm AEST
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