BBuddhist art and Buddhism - A religious belief based on the teachings of an Indian prince, Siddhartha (or Shakyamuni) Gautama (born in Nepal, c. 563 - c. 483 BCE), commonly known as the Buddha, who held that suffering is a part of life but that mental and moral self-purification can bring about a state of illumination, carrying the believer beyond suffering and material existence. The central goal of Buddhism is the abandonment of desire and the realization of non-attachment.

Making generalizations about the visual culture of any group of people is a crude endeavor, especially with a culture as diverse as Buddhism's. With this thought in mind, know that this survey, as any must be, is tremendously limited in its breadth and depth.

(pr. boo'dizm)

Examples of Buddhist art:


see thumbnail to leftIndia, Katra Mountains, Uttar Pradesh, Shakyamuni Buddha, late 1st-early 2nd century CE, mottled red sandstone, Worcester Art Museum, MA.




Northwest India / Pakistan, ancient region of Gandhara, Torso of a Standing Bodhisattva, Kushan period (c. late 1st - 3rd century CE), c. late 1st - 2nd century, schist, height 64 1/2 inches (163.8 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. See Bodhisattva.


see thumbnail to leftNorthwest India / Pakistan, Gandhara, Standing Shakyamuni Buddha, 3rd century CE, gray schist with traces of gesso, Worcester Art Museum, MA.




Northwest India / Pakistan, ancient region of Gandhära, Model of a stupa (Buddhist shrine), c. 4th century CE, bronze, height 22 3/4 inches (57.8 cm), width 7 1/2 inches (19.1 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.



In the spring of 2000, Afghanistan's Taliban (Islamic extremists in power) destroyed colossal statues of the Buddha, carved from a living rock cliff at Bamiyan, 145 km west of Kabul, Afghanistan, long before the arrival of Islam in that area. One of the statues was 53 meters high and dated to the 5th century CE; the other was 37 meters tall and dated to the 3rd century. These were rare examples of statuary in the Greco-Buddhist style, priceless ancient relics of this important cultural crossroads. Several thousand monks once lived in the caves next to the statue. The Taliban's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, ordered the destruction in an edict, saying such images were contrary to Islam. "These idols have been gods of the infidels, who worshipped them, and these are respected even now and perhaps maybe turned into gods again," his edict said. Other resources on this story: 1 and 2. (See Islamic art, Islamism, and xenophobia.)





India, Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, Standing Buddha, Gupta period (c. 319-500), 5th century CE, mottled red sandstone, height 33 11/16 inches (85.5 cm), width 16 3/4 inches (42.5 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.


see thumbnail to leftChina, Shenxi Provence, Seated Bhuddha with Attending Bodhisattvas, Northern Wei dynasty, early 6th century CE, limestone with polychrome, Worcester Art Museum, MA.




China, Hebei province, Maitreya altarpiece, Northern Wei dynasty, 524 CE, bronze with gilding, height 30 1/4 inches (76.9 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. See Chinese art.



China, Henan Province, Head of Buddha, Northern Qi dynasty, 550-77 CE, limestone, Worcester Art Museum, MA.



see thumbnail to leftChina, Seated Buddha, T'ang dynasty (618-907), c. 650, dry lacquer with traces of gilt and polychrome pigments, 38 x 27 inches (96.5 x 68.6 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.


Attributed to Emperor Shomu (Japan), Nara Period, 8th century, Kengu-kyo Sutra, a Buddhist scripture also known as "Ojomu", brushed ink calligraphy on paper, 27.5 x 696.9 cm, Tokyo National Museum. Japanese authorities have designated this a "National Treasure." See Japanese art.



see thumbnail to leftJapan, Nara Period, 8th century, Bowl with cover having yasti-shaped handle, sahari (a copper alloy), mouth diameter 6.5, overall height 9.3 cm, Important Cultural Property. Horyuji Treasure. See yasti.





Afghanistan (?), South Asia, Buddha Shakyamuni, 8th-9th century, limestone, 17 1/4 x 12 3/4 x 5 inches (43.82 x 32.39 x 12.7 cm), Los Angeles County Museum of Art.





see thumbnail to leftThailand, Dvaravati, 9th century, Buddha Shakyamuni, bronze, 13 1/8 x 4 x 2 1/8 inches (33.2 x 10.1 x 5.4 cm), Los Angeles County Museum of Art.



Borobudur — one of the most magnificent Buddhist shrines in the world — was built at the end of the 9th century by the Hindu kings of the Sailendra dynasty. Borobudur is located 42 kms west of Yogyakarta, on the island of Java in Indonesia. The plan for this stupa is a schematized representation of the cosmos, a mandala. After visiting its lower terraces decorated with bas-relief, pilgrims attain the shrine's crowning stupa, which symbolizes the Absolute. Also see plan and representation.



see thumbnail to leftJapanese, Heian period, early 10th century, Juichimen Kannon (eleven-headed Kannon), solid woodblock construction with traces of polychrome, Worcester Art Museum, MA. See Japanese art and wood.



Japan, Fudo Myo-o, Late Heian period, twelfth century, wood with color and gold leaf, 80 inches high (203.2 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. This statue of Fudo, whose name means "immovable," is a staunch guardian of the Buddhist faith, warding off enemies of the Buddha with his word of wisdom and binding evil forces with his lasso. A symbol of steadfastness in the face of temptation, Fudo is one of the most commonly depicted of the Esoteric Buddhist deities known as Myo-o, "King of Brightness." Here his youthful, chubby body and his skirt and scarf are modeled with the restrained, gentle curves typical of late Heian sculpture. Fudo's hair was once painted red and his flesh dark blue green.



Burma, 13th century, Buddha (detail), wood with traces of gilding and polychrome, 60 x 12 x 5 1/2 inches (152.4 x 30.5 x 14 cm), Los Angeles County Museum of Art.



see thumbnail to leftChina, Mandala, 1279-1368, Yuan dynasty (1279-1368), silk, 33 x 33 inches (83.82 x 83.82 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. See Chinese art, mandala, tapestry, and textile.



China, Mandala, 1330-1332, Yüan dynasty, c. 1330-32, silk, metallic thread, 96 5/8 x 82 1/4 inches (245.4 x 208.9 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. See Bodhisattva, Chinese art, mandala, and textile.



see thumbnail to leftTibet, Sonam Gyatso (Third Dalai Lama), 16th-17th centuries, copper, gilding, height 14.5 cm, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.





see thumbnail to rightHakuin Ekaku (Japanese, 1685-1768), Daruma, hanging scroll, ink on paper, chop marks, 44 1/2 x 19 3/4 inches (113 x 50.2 cm), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA. Daruma (Sanskrit: Bodhidharma) was Zen's first patriarch, a legendary meditation master who traveled from India to China in the sixth century. His teachings were radically different from the elaborate, ritualistic schools of Buddhism that were then prevalent. Haquin Ekaku was also a reknowned Zen master. See kakemono.



Also see apsara, blanc de Chine, chado, Chinese art, ethnic, flag, Japanese art, Sri Lankan art, and wabi-sabi.




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