Incense and Prayer

Mae Harkins ’24, an art undergraduate major at the University of Notre Dame shares a captivating work is entitled Ash Banquet by Zhang Huan.

Based in Shanghai, China, Zhang Huan is acclaimed for his performative work, paintings, photographs, and sculpture. An exploration of ritual and spirituality has long been a part of his practice, as has the intersectionality of cultures and beliefs. While living in New York in the early 2000s, Zhang became a deeply faithful follower of Buddhism and Buddhist practices. 

Ash Banquet is part of a larger series wherein ash from burnt incense rods discarded from Buddhist temples is mixed with stable pigments and applied as a heavy impasto. Zhang views the material not as refuse but as the remnants of the prayers and dreams that he has an obligation to help preserve. 

What can this modern, interreligious interpretation of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper give to us? The connection is prayer. Pope Paul VI wrote in his apostolic exhortation Evangeli Nuntiandi, that other faiths “…carry within them the echo of thousands of years of searching for God…They have taught generations of people how to pray.”

Within the Christian tradition, this ancient search has culminated in the person of Jesus Christ. On Holy Thursday, we commemorate the Last Supper, including the washing of the feet and the institution of the Holy Eucharist. As often as we have listened to the retelling of this scene and viewed it in various works of art, it can seem commonplace. However, when we examine the reality of what Jesus gave us during his last meal, we are in awe. At every Mass, we celebrate the memorial of Christ’s offering and beckon every searching heart to find a home in the life of the Trinity.

This Lent, ThinkND invites you to join FaithND and the Raclin Murphy Museum of Art for a journey of Lenten discovery through some of the most significant liturgical paintings in the Raclin Murphy collection, challenging you to contemplate prayer, fasting, sinfulness, mercy, grace, and God’s infinite love from the perspectives of the artist’s gaze. To subscribe to the FaithND Daily Gospel Reflection visit

Zhang Huan, Ash Banquet #4, 2021, Paint with ash on linen. Raclin Murphy Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame. Acquisition grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., 2021.012.

For closer viewing of this work through the digital collections of the Raclin Murphy Museum of Art, please click here.

Art and HistoryReligion and PhilosophyAsh BanquetAsh WednesdayBetrayal of Christ by JudasDigest184Digest274EucharistFaithNDHoly WeekLast SupperLentRaclin Murphy Museum of ArtZhang Huan

More Like This

Related Posts

Let your curiosity roam! If you enjoyed the insights here, we think you might enjoy discovering the following publications.

Stay In Touch

Subscribe to our Newsletter

To receive the latest and featured content published to ThinkND, please provide your name and email. Free and open to all.

What interests you?
Select your topics, and we'll curate relevant updates for your inbox.