2005 Balzan Prize for the History of the Art of Asia
Lothar Ledderose is one of the most distinguished scholars of Chinese art history worldwide. In the West and in East Asia he is recognized for the incisiveness and imagination of his work. He is thoroughly acquainted with the rich scholarly heritage in East Asia and he combines the rigour of the German academic tradition with flexibility and openness to new ideas.
He was educated at the universities of Cologne, Bonn, Paris, Taipei and Heidelberg, where he received his Ph.D. summa cum laude. He then continued his studies at Princeton and Harvard, and spent several years in East Asia, including work at the National Palace Museum in Taipei and a research fellowship at Tokyo University. This part of his life acquainted him with the international academic environment and broadened his view of the subject.
Lothar Ledderose is one of a handful of scholars outside China to have come to grips with the art of calligraphy – the central and most valued art form of the Chinese tradition. His pioneering books of the 1970s on seal script and the canonical figure of Mi Fu are a significant part of the small body of works on this art in western languages.
From 1976 onwards, after his election to the chair of the History of East Asian art at Heidelberg University, Chinese painting became one of the main fields of Lothar Ledderose’s research. His publications in this area included innovative, interdisciplinary works like The Earthly Paradise. Religious Elements in Chinese Landscape Art (1983), and culminated in Orchideen und Felsen: Chinesische Bilder im Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst Berlin, a catalogue of the collection of Chinese paintings in Berlin, published in 1998. It sets the highest possible standards for such projects.
Lothar Ledderose has made an outstanding contribution to research on one of the problems which have traditionally fascinated European scholars of Asian art – its relation to the West. The catalogue Japan und Europa: 1543-1929, which he edited, was published in 1993. It showed a broad new approach to the interpretation of cultural and artistic patterns on both sides of the globe, and became a classic study of East-West intellectual and cultural relations.
In the 1990s, Lothar Ledderose explored new avenues of research on what he calls modular art production in China. His question was: how did the Chinese manage to produce artistic works of a very high quality in huge numbers and often in very little time? His explanation is that systems were devised so that products could be assembled in ever newer combinations from a variety of standardized components. In 2002 his book Ten Thousand Things: Module and Mass Production in Chinese Art (2000) won the Joseph Levenson Book Prize of the Association of Asian Studies for the best book of the year on traditional China. This book makes a significant contribution in illuminating fundamental paradigms of Chinese art history, and it lays a foundation for a more truly global art history. Lothar Ledderose demonstrates how creativity rooted in the natural processes of fecundity and multiplicity can be observed in a range of art forms across the whole spectrum of Chinese art history, beginning with the terracotta warriors of the First Emperor.
Lothar Ledderose’s activities in organizing art exhibitions from China and Japan have also been extremely successful. He began in 1985, with an exhibition of Chinese paintings of the Ming and Qing periods, which was shown in several German cities (exhibition catalogue Im Schatten hoher Bäume. Malerei der Mingund Qing-Dynastien [1368-1911] aus der Volksrepublik China). In the same year, his exhibition devoted to the Forbidden City in Beijing drew about 400,000 visitors in Berlin (exhibition catalogue Palastmuseum Peking. Schätze aus der Verbotenen Stadt, 1985). The exhibition of the terracotta army of the First Emperor of China was perhaps the most comprehensive one in the West (exhibition catalogue Jenseits der grossen Mauer. Der erste Kaiser von China und seine Terrakotta-Armee, 1991).
Over the past few years, Lothar Ledderose has shifted his attention towards the Buddhist tradition in Chinese culture and art, studying Buddhist scriptures engraved on stone, which begin in the second half of the 6th century. Working in collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing and involving scholars from Japan and Taiwan, Lothar Ledderose aims to document, translate and analyze these inscriptions, and to produce virtual models of the sites.
Professor Lothar Ledderose is one the most interesting experts on the art history of China and Japan living outside those countries. His worldwide recognition gives him the opportunity to promote the subjects of his research in an international context and to involve several generations of younger scholars.