Art History



Degree Name

Master of Arts in Art History (M.A.)

Type of Paper/Work

Qualifying paper


Elizabeth Kindall

Second Advisor

Amy Nygaard Mickelson

Third Advisor

Lois Eliason


Over 150,000 monochromatic glass beads were unearthed from beneath the Yongning Buddhist Pagoda (516-534 C.E.) during the Northern Wei dynasty (386-535 C.E.). Located in Luoyang, Henan province, China, the pagoda and its surrounding monastery site were commissioned by Empress Dowager Ling. The Northern Wei dynasty was ruled by the Tuoba clan of Xianbei ethnicity. This study first considers the beads in relation to material culture by examining historic accounts of the dynasty, excavation records related to glass, and glass production in China and India. The rulers of this dynasty sponsored Buddhist art such as caves, temple sites, sculpture, and glass. The route of the glass beads found at the Yongning Pagoda may be traced from India to China. Travelers came via routes that developed across central Asia, referred to as the Ancient Silk Road (2 nd century B.C.E.). Glass art underwent major developments during this era, including the introduction of glassblowing technology, new understandings of glass’ chemical composition, and political unification. The largest development of glass was the technical understanding of its three main components (formers, fluxers, and stabilizers) which allow artisans to control melting temperature, malleability, color, and more. This study then uses gift theory to examine the role of beads as part of the processes of exchange and reciprocity within the local socio-Buddhist sphere. The Tuoba rulers, as well as Chinese Buddhists, highly valued glass objects. Glass objects were used within the realm of material and gift culture thus I argue the Yongning Pagoda beads serve as spiritual capital for Empress Dowager Ling and the local Buddhist clergy.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.