My primary research area is the period when the Tibetans took over Buddhism from India, and when Tibetan Buddhism gradually developed its distinctive form (7th to 15th centuries). Throughout this period, the art preserved in Himalayan monuments contributes substantially to the understanding of later Buddhist art in South Asia and the development of Indian esoteric religious forms in general, the processes of adoption and adaptation of these forms in the formulation of a distinctively Tibetan Buddhism, and the competing public faces of Buddhism in Tibet. Within that broader frame, I have most extensively worked on the monuments in and artifacts from the Western Himalayas and depictions of Yoga Tantra themes.

More recent research focuses on early Buddhist art during and after the Kuṣāṇa period (1st to 5th centuries), in particular the representations of the Bodhisattva and future Buddha Maitreya and their relationship to the development of Mahayana Buddhism.

I base my research predominantly on the primary documentation made during numerous research travels, and I am therefore also engaged in questions of the documentation, preservation and restoration of art, its materiality, and its contemporary interpretation and presentation.


A documentation and exhibition project for the Rubin Museum of Art now regularly brings me to Mustang. Consequently, I have begun to work on some of the painted caves of Mustang as well as the documented objects. Concerning the caves, there is much more to say than has been published so far, and many of the objects have remained virtually unknown. The documentation project will cover as many transportable objects as I can get access to.

Muhammad Nari Stele

Thanks to Paul Harrison—and many earlier conversations on the Muhammad Nari Stele of the Lahore Museum— in 2010 I was invited to teach Gandharan art at Stanford University. The complementary focus of our teachings and further discussions finally let us understand the stele much better. Although we have published a comprehensive study on this subject recently, we intend to continrue our research on this subject.



Methodologically, my research concentrates on (re-)evaluating the extant material evidence using art-historical methods and taking into consideration new documentation and recent research on the history and development of Indian and Tibetan Buddhism. This particular approach results from an increasing awareness concerning questions of methodology in art-historical research and the value of visual culture for understanding the religious, social and cultural developments within Buddhism and beyond it. Research on art thus becomes a primary source to reassess and refine our knowledge of the more public and popular aspects of Buddhism at a given time and place and the society supporting it. In this connection I am particular interested in processes of inter-religious and transcultural exchange and the accompanying reinterpretations and transformations.

This research approach implies that Buddhist art and architecture cannot be interpreted properly without taking a much wider range of sources into account, in particular roughly contemporaneous art and architecture of other religious traditions in the same area. Also the multivalence of the message art communicates and the variety of recipients of this message need to be considered, as is also the case, for example, with contemporaneous secular culture, such as royal ritual, artistic fashion or philosophical movements. When suitable, my research also draws on comparative evidence as far afield as Borobudur on Java, the caves and artifacts of Dunhuang in China, or Yoga tantra art of Shingon Buddhism in Japan.

Alchi Monastery Complete

An exciting project I took up with Jaroslav Poncar is the publication of all temples of Alchi in a two volume publication, one volume of which will be republishing the Sumtsek volume Jaro did with Roger Goepper. The publication will be of smaller size and in two volumes. The Sumtsek volume will be adjusted to fit the overall concept and updated if necessary.

Rubin Museum of Art

During my employment as senior curator at the Rubin Museum of Art the museum's objects determine a good part of my research. There is a great range of questions to be answered, common threads being issues of style, donorship, cultural interrelationship, and religious usage. Of course, I will continue researchig on these objects.




Western Himalayas

Undertaking privately-financed research trips since 1990 and participating in all major field research undertaken within the framework of Klimburg-Salter’s research project from 1991 to 2001 my academic career has from the start focused on in situ documentation and research. Consequently, I have contributed more than 20.000 slides and negatives to the Western Himalayan Archives Vienna (WHAV), now housed at the Institute of Art History at the University of Vienna.

The projects I have participated in concentrated on the earliest Buddhist art in the western Himalayas, attributable to the period from the 10th to the 13th centuries. This art can basically be read in two ways: on the one hand it is evidence for the latest phase of Buddhism in Northwest India, a stage of development otherwise almost completely lost, on the other hand it documents the main phase of the Tibetan adoption and adaptation of Indian Buddhism. The artistic heritage of this art is undoubtedly Indian, be it Kashmiri or representative of other schools of north Indian art (clay sculptures of a technique described in Indian Ś́ilpaśāstra literature, painted textile patterns best related to contemporary Gujarati textiles (Tabo), unusual iconographic types, both Buddhist and Hindu that appear to be specific to northwest India and at least partly derive from a Kashmiri context. In addition, certain artistic elements can be traced beyond the Indian heritage, e.g. to Central Asia or even the whole area surrounding the western Himalayas (especially evident in the textile patterns of the Alchi group of monuments).

My research on early Buddhist art in the western Himalayas has been generously funded for more than ten years by the Austrian 'Fonds zur Förderung wissenschaftlicher Forschung' (FWF). The extent of this support is well documented in my CV. September 2000 to August 2003 I received a three-year research grant by the Austrian Program for Advanced Research and Technology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (> APART project).

I am extremely grateful to all the teachers who have supported my research over the years, most important among them being: Deborah E. Klimburg-Salter, Ernst Steinkellner, and the late Maurizio Taddei, and to the numerous kind and helpful people during my research travels, particularly the monks and caretakers of the monasteries and village temples I surveyed and documented.