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Diane Owen Hughes Scholarship

This MEMS endowment, established to honor the scholarship, teaching, and mentorship of Professor Emerita Diane Owen Hughes, is used exclusively to support graduate research and travel. Recipients of these funds will be known as Diane Owen Hughes Scholars.

MEMS was pleased to award the 2023 Diane Owen Hughes Scholarships to Jahnabi Barooah Chanchani and Frank Espinosa.

Jahnabi Barooah Chanchani
Project:  Animals in Early Indian Buddhism

With financial assistance from the Program in Medieval and Early Modern Studies, I spent a few weeks in Pune, a bustling metropolis in western India, earlier this year. The objective of the trip was to conduct fieldwork and archival research for the second chapter of my dissertation. The dissertation, entitled “Animals Like Us: Interspecies Relationships in the Sanskritic Literary Imagination in Early India,” investigates a corpus of Sanskrit literary texts to chart modes of affective human-animal relationality between the fourth and sixth centuries. The second chapter will be centered on Jātakamālā (Garland of the Buddha’s Lives), a Sanskrit literary text composed in the fourth century CE by Āryaśūra. It narrates some of the previous lives of the historical Buddha, in many of which he assumes an animal form.

I worked closely with faculty members and scholars affiliated with the Department of Sanskrit and Prakrit, and with the Department of Pali at Savitribhai Phule Pune University. We met every day for at least two hours to read portions from different Sanskrit texts, including the Jātakamālā, and I became acquainted with other texts related to the Jātakamālā that also feature animals in interesting ways. These promising avenues for future research include Haribhatta and Gopadatta’s Jātakamālās, texts modeled on Āryaśūra’s work, and a drama called the Nāgananda.

The time in Pune was also helpful for networking with Sanskrit scholars and getting to know new archives. I was able to arrange meetings at the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, a repository of many valuable manuscripts in Sanskrit and other languages, and made contacts at the Anandashram, which has a library with at least 15,000 Sanskrit manuscripts. I was also able to renew contact with scholars at Tilak Maharashtra Vidyapeeth, a reputed center for Sanskrit scholarship.

While in Pune, I also made several excursions to Karla and Bhaja, two sites of ancient Buddhist caves carved into mountain cliffs of the Western Ghats between ca. 200 BCE and 200 CE. My objective was to test a hypothesis that the perspective towards animals encoded in the Jātakamālā–animals as moral exemplars–was a relatively new development of the early centuries of the first millennium. At these sites, I studied the figural reliefs for representations of animals and concluded that the status of animals at Bhaja and Karla had indeed changed over the phased construction of the caves. At first, they were not relevant. But with time, they began to be portrayed in proximity to shrines, suggesting that they had earned a place amongst the Buddha’s followers. Throughout, I found that the positioning of animals reflected a hierarchical relation with humans.

My weeks in Pune were very productive and I returned to Ann Arbor energized and excited to begin drafting the second chapter of my dissertation.


2022 Diane Owen Hughes Scholar

Ludovico Brea, detail from The Coronation of the Virgin (1513), Santa Maria diCastello, Genoa

Brenna Larson
, History of Art
Project: Reconsidering the Practice and Oeuvre of Ludovico Brea

I traveled to western Liguria this past summer to examine paintings at the core of one of my dissertation chapters. The Observant Dominican complex of San Domenico in Taggia was founded in 1456 by a friar from Milan who saw the strategic utility of building a convent in Taggia, an important crossroad for merchants and travelers in the region. The church complex is unusually dense with works from the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries and is an important case study for Ligurian art production. Between 1488 and 1513, the painter Ludovico Brea completed five altarpieces and a series of frescoes for the complex. Brea’s work at San Domenico directly led to his employment at Santa Maria di Castello in Genoa, a site that occupies two of my dissertation chapters.

Ludovico Brea, Madonna of the Rosary (1513), in the church of the Madonna della Misericordia, Taggia

On site, continuities across the paintings were apparent in ways that had been inaccessible in  reproductions. The church was, and continued to be, dedicated to the Madonna della Misericordia, and this legacy speaks in Brea’s corpus. In at least two instances (altarpieces dedicated to St. Catherine of Siena and the Madonna of the Rosary), Brea modified his iconographies to satisfy the namesake of the church and the patron of the chapel. These site-specific continuities in Brea’s corpus provide a structure with which to explain some of the diversity of his formats and iconographic points of reference.  I was also able to see for the first time some of the technical diversity in the paintings: various techniques were used for faces and figures, both within individual panels and across polyptychs, demonstrating the formative role of collaborative work in Brea’s career.

The town of Dolceaqua provided access to Brea’s altarpiece of St. Devoté (1515). That painting varies dramatically in format and technique from other paintings completed  by Brea and his workshop around the same time, and complicates existing narratives that try to explain the lack of consistency in his oeuvre.