CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

About History Press Release Sessions Schedule Activities Participants Venue Discussion Registration Closed


Human and Divine in Sacred Footprints and Their Representations

Session 3 Imagination and Projection

Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, Houston


Footprints (vestigiapada) of sacred figures have been venerated in multiple cultures for centuries.  Sacred footprints have been reproduced, depicted, and disseminated widely for devotional use.  It has often been remarked that footprints occupy a liminal space between presence and absence, indexical signifiers of the once-present-now-absent figure.  Such an ambivalence is more charged in theological terms:  the footprints signify human presence and human absence – the human was once here, but is no longer, having become or returned to spirit.  Footprints are the tangential point of contact between the terrestrial and celestial spheres.  They are quintessentially terrestrial – pressed into the earth by a body possessing mass and weight – and yet are perceptible only when the body is gone – in some religions, gone to heaven.  Clinging to that body is problematic in spirit-centered faiths.  This paper considers the body/spirit, human/divine, terrestrial/celestial dichotomy and the function of footprints as a hinge between these dichotomies, focusing on certain images of Christ and, to a lesser extent, the Buddha.