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Chinese Arts - Plastic and Graphic Art
Buddhist Grotto Sculpture 石窟雕刻與雕塑

Dunhuang Caves 敦煌Duhuang Grottoes
Buddhism (Fojiao 佛教) reached China first through the Silk Road that had started as a great trading route in the mid of the Former Han 前漢 period. The Silk Road came into being after the conquest of Tarim basin by the Chinese during the reign of Emperor Han Wudi 漢武帝. Merchants and Buddhist monks came from Northern India, Persia, Kashmir and Inner Asia to China. One station on the long way to the capital Chang'an was the Chinese commandery Dunhuang 敦煌 (modern Dunhuang, Gansu). Monks that settled down there started digging out grottoes (shiku 石窟) for meditation and as housings for themselves and for travelers. The first grottoes at Dunhuang date from the middle of 4th century. But the carved statues and the famous wall paintings date from after the unification of Northern China by the Tuoba federation 拓拔 that founded the Northern Wei Dynasty 北魏. Although the Northern Wei had their "house" grottoes at Yungang and later at Longshan, monk artists of Dunhuang were encouraged to create hundreds and thousands of statues and paintings. Tang period 唐 emperors sponsored the grottoes too, but with the revival of Confucianism under late Tang and the Song Dynasty 宋, the Dunhuang grottoes fell into oblivion. It was a Westerner who rediscovered Dunhuang and its beautiful and great contribution to Chinese Buddhist art: Aurel Stein, the English explorer of the Silk Road. Except for art and cultural objects, many important manuscripts from Han to Tang Dynasties were discovered.
Buddha, Northern Wei, DunhuangThe first Buddha statues of Dunhuang from the Northern Wei are very thin, still looking like an ascete. Buddha Trinity, Western Wei, DunhuangVery typical for the presentation of Buddhist deities is the Buddha sitting in a niche, meditating or teaching, and accomagnied by two disciples or Bodhisattvas.
Mile Pusa, Northern Wei, DunhuangDuring late Northern Wei, the ascetic style of the Buddha made place for a more easy minded style of Bodhisattva, like the left Maitreya (Milefo 彌勒佛 or Mile Pusa 彌勒菩薩). Mile Pusa, Northern Liang, DunhuangRed and green are the main colors for Dunhuang painting. The Buddha is red faced, the Bodhisattvas mostly have white or light green faces, like this Northern Liang 北涼 Mile Pusa.
Wall paintings in Dunhuang look very unlike mostly known Chinese art. The persons are painted in dark colors. The left two pictures show stories from the Buddha's life.Wallpainting with house from a Jataka tale, Northern Dynasties, DunhuangWallpainting with deer from a Jataka tale, Northern Dynasties, Dunhuang Bas-relief with Celestial Fairies (Feitian), Northern Wei, DunhuangWall decoration behind the main statues of the Buddhist deities is effected by wall paintings or by small figurines like the left picture of Feitians 飛天, flying goddesses from Buddhist heaven.
Wallpainting with Bodhisattva group, Northern Dynasties, Dunhuang Wall paintings as background decorations often show a whole army of Bodhisattvas. The left picture clearly shows Indian influence. Buddha with two Bodhisattvas, Sui, DunhuangThis is a good example for a standing trinity of Buddha and Bodhisattvas, painted with only a few colors themselves and a richly patterned background wall.
Niche with Buddhist trinity, Sui, Dunhuang The old trinity is enlarged by guards and Bodhisattvas by the end of Northern dynasties. The main Buddha becomes smaller, the other persons taller, making them almost equally high and important as the Buddha. Pusa Sculpture, Sui, DunhuangA Bodhisattva from Sui Dynasty 隋. Typical for Chinese style depicting these beings is that it is unclear from the picture if it is a man or a woman, wiping away their worldy features.
Statue of a red-faced Buddha, Tang, Dunhuang While the later known Buddhas have a shaved, rather fatty face, Tang Buddhas sometimes are decorated with a moustache, a relict of Gandhara art. Buddha with Bodhisattvas and deities, Tang, DunhuangTang time groupings of the Buddha and his followers are not as narrowly stuffed together like the Northern Wei groupings.
Bodhisattva, Tang, DunhuangBodhisattva, Tang, Dunhuang Like in secular art, Tang dynasty figurines show a well nourished person also in depicting Bodhisattvas like the two examples to the left. Buddha with Bodhisattvas and deities, Tang, DunhuangThe colors of Tang time statues are more rich then that of Northern Wei. Blue is also integrated, and the figures look more lively in both gesture and mimic art.
Heavenly King, Tang, Dunhuang A Heavenly King (Tianwang 天王) stamping a demon to death. Detail from a Tang dynasty grotto. Wallpainting with Pusa, Tang, DunhuangTang wallpaintings also use blue colors, but the whole style with mystic black figures is still prevalent. Bodhisattvas are more depicted as monks with bald head.Wallpainting from a Jataka tale, Tang, Dunhuang
Wallpainting with elephant from a Jataka tale, Tang, Dunhuang Tang dynasty wall paintings are more rich then before. This picture shows the Buddha riding an elephant inmidst of lotus flowers. Wallpaiting at the ceiling with mandala, Tang, DunhuangWallpainting with Manjusri, Western Xia, DunhuangMandalas often decorate grotto ceilings, like the left Tang time grotto. One of the last examples of Duhuang art is the Manjusri Buddha (Wenshushili 文殊師利) painting, sponsored by Western Xia 西夏 rulers.
Yungang Caves 雲崗
When the Tuoba federation founded their kingdom named Dai 代 in the north of modern Shanxi province, they were already converted to Buddhism. The impressive religion of Buddhism was an instrument of state control. The Tuoba emperors, calling their empire "Northern Wei" , saw themselves as an incarnation of the Buddha and expressed their worldly and sacral rule by giving the Buddha statues the face of the repective rulers. The first capital of the Tuoba in Datong 大同 was equipped with a large place of Buddhist worship. The outburst of digging, carving and creating activities began around 460 AD under the guidance of the monk Tanyao 曇曜. Stone Buddha images were much worse to destroy then the wooden or metal images during the Buddhist persecution some decades before. Experienced artisans from Dunhuang were transferred to assist the Yungang artisans. The Buddha images of Yungang are still influenced of Middle Asian examples from Gandhara and Bamiyan: Buddhas have curly hair as well as bald heads, like in Central Asia. The flaming nimbus around the Buddha is also a Central Asia feature, like Indian flower ornaments and scenes of Shiva riding a bull. The most popular deities under Northern Wei rule were the historical Buddha Shâkyamuni (Shijiamouni 釋迦牟尼) and the Bodhisattva Maitreya.
Shrine, Northern Wei, Yungang Many Buddha grouping in the grottoes are protected by a roofed shrine. Some of the main Buddhas are still covered with gold color. Main Entrance, Yungang GrottoesThe main entrace of Yungang Caves with an entrance hall from later times.
Great Buddha, Northern Wei, Yungang One of the earliest and the main Buddha statue of Yungang Caves. It is said to be the picture of the Northern Wei ruler, the personification of the reborn Tathâgata Buddha. Buddha, Northern Wei, YungangThe statues exposed to sunlight have all lost their original coloring. The Buddha sitting and making a blessing gesture, to his left a disciple. Buddha Grotto, Northern Wei, Yungang
Relief with an elephant from a Jataka tale, Northern Wei, Yungang Buddha Shakyamuni riding an elephant, a bas-relief of which only the red background color is left. Grotto wall, Northern Wei, YungangThese two pictures show the whole decoration of Yungang grottoes, richly decorated with Bodhisattvas sitting in small niches and facing the main Buddha of the grotto. Grotto Wall, Northern Wei, Yungang
Relief with a meditating Buddha, Northern Wei, Yungang A Buddha group from wall bas-relief, Buddha accompagnied by two disciples and two Bodhisattvas. Other wall decorations show Feitians 飛天, sexless beings that accompany the Enlightened in the Western Paradise. Relief with a celestial fairy (Feitian), Northern Wei, Yungang
Longmen Caves 龍門
When the Northern Wei Dynasty shifted her capital from Datong to Luoyang 洛陽 in the Yellow River plain, there was also a need to create a new place of worship and expression of worldy rule of the Buddha emperor. Sui and Tang emperors continued to create pictures of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, disciples and creatures of heaven and hell. Especially during the reign of Empress Wu Zetian 武則天 chiseling grottoes and statues were put into great effect. Popular deities were now the Buddha Amitabha (Amituofo 阿彌陀佛) and the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara (Guanshiyin 觀世音). Stories of the Buddha's life and pictures of Buddha worship by the imperial clans are often used items too. The Longmen caved do not only present the statues of the respective deities, but the names of the patrons or sponsors of the images are inscribed. Members of the imperial families (Tuoba 拓拔, Yang 楊 of the Sui and Li 李 of the Tang) contributed to the richness of Longmen sculptures, as well as Buddhist societies and single groups of monks and nuns. But because the paintings and sculptures in Longmen Caves since long have lost their coloring, they are not as beautiful as the paintings and statues in the Dunhuang or Yungang Caves.
Overview of the niches of Fengxian Monastery, Tang, LongmenThe core of Longmen Caves is the Fengxian Monastery 奉先寺. It is marked by a large terrace facing the Luo River. The main Buddha is accompanied by two disciples, two Bodhisattvas and different guards of Heaven.
Great Lokeshvaraja Buddha, Fengxian Monastery, Tang, Longmen The main Lokeshvaraja Buddha (Da Lushenafo 大盧舍那佛) of Longmen Caves, carved during the Tang Dynasty. Bas-relief with a procession of Northern Wei nobles, Longmen A procession of the Northern Wei nobility marching to venerate the Buddha at Longmen Caves. A bas-relief that probably once has been coloured.
Maijishan 麥積山
This mountain near Tianshui 天水/Gansu was first used as a Buddhist refugium at the end of 4th century. Although Maijishan is noot as famous as the upper three caves, the grottoes in this curious mountain contain more then 7000 Buddha and Bodhisattva steles.
Maijishan grottoes The Maijishan mountain is named after its shape like a haystack. Bodhisattva head, Western Wei, MaijishanThe grottoes of this mountain contain very beautiful statues of Bodhisattvas like the left Pusa 菩薩 whose face lineaments are very soft, almost like that of a girl.
Other Buddhist Grottoes
Statue of Maitreya, Tang, Leshan Very famous also outside of China is the huge sitting Buddha of Leshan 樂山 in Sichuan from the Tang dynasty. Thousand arms Guanyin, Southern Song, Baodingshan, DazuAlso in Sichuan, near Dazu 大足, is the Baoding 寶頂山 mountain with more modern sculptures like this example of a thousand hand Guanyin 觀音 Bodhisattva of Mercy.
Famous Buddhist caves are spread all over China. Without giving examples of their art style, only their names should be mentioned here: Bingling monastery 炳靈寺 near Yongjing 永靖/Gansu and the Northern Caves 北石窟 of Qingyang 慶陽/Gansu, the Thousand Buddha Cliff 千佛崖 at Guangyuan 廣元, the Mingshan 茗山 mountain in Anyue 安岳/Sichuan, Gongxian 鞏縣 in Henan province, Xumi 須彌/ Ningxia, and 克孜爾 Kezier (Bezeklik) in Xinjiang province.

  © 2000 ff · Ulrich Theobald · Mail