Rachel Saunders joins A&A as assistant professor of Japanese art history

May 2, 2024

We are pleased to welcome Rachel Saunders to the faculty as assistant professor of Japanese art history. A specialist in narrative and sacred painting, Saunders joins us from Harvard University, where she has served as the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Curator of Asian Art since 2015. Her research interests span a wide variety of mediums and periods (medieval to contemporary) and include Buddhist materiality, arboreal arts, and science and the practice of art history. Her most recent project examines more-than-human being in the ecology of bird-and-flower painting in early modern Japan. She is currently at work on a monograph titled Making Sacred Matter: Xuanzang and Buddhist Materialities in Medieval Japan, which examines alternate ontologies manifest in Buddhist objects. Since joining the Harvard Art Museums Saunders has curated a number of shows, including the special exhibition Painting Edo (2020), and Prince Shōtoku: The Secrets Within (2019). She has held teaching appointments at Harvard University and Boston University. Her research has been supported by the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts (CASVA), The University of Tokyo (Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia, 2011–2014), the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, the Japan Foundation, the Kajima Foundation, and the Met Center for Eastern Art Studies. Her recent publications include the co-edited Japanese-language volume Hābādo Daigaku Bijutsukan Sejuikku Korekushon Namubutsu Taishi zō to zōnai nōnyūhin kenkyū shiryōshū [Interpreting the Harvard Art Museums’ Prince Shōtoku at Age Two and his Relics] (Tokyo: Chūō Kōronsha, 2023); “Seinaru emaki o tsukuru: Genjō Sanzō-e ni okeru e to kotoba’”[The Making of a Sacred Scroll: Explicit Intertextuality in the Illustrated Life of Xuanzang] (Chikamoto et al., Tokyo: Bensei Shuppan, 2021); “Birds, Flowers, and Botany in Sakai Hōitsu’s Pure Land Garden,” Painting Edo (Saunders and Lippit, Yale, 2020), and Catalogue of the Feinberg Collection of Japanese Art (Yale, 2021). 

Saunders holds a BA from the University of Oxford, an MA from the University of London (SOAS), and earned her PhD from Harvard University in 2015.