Korea, Buddhist Art in

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Buddhism, over the one and a half millennia since its introduction to Korea in the fourth century, has inspired the creation of uniquely Korean traditions in Buddhist art. Korean monarchs and members of the ruling class from the sixth to the fourteenth centuries were patrons of the Buddhist religion and supported the creation of artistic and ceremonial objects and the construction of the most famous Buddhist monasteries and pagodas in Korea. Buddhism lost these influential patrons during the Chosŏn dynasty (1392–1910), but thereafter gradually permeated among ordinary folk, a change that is reflected in the country's Buddhist art.

Buddhist monastery architecture

Korea's Three Kingdoms—Koguryŏ (37 b.c.e.–668 c.e.), Paekche (18 b.c.e.–660 c.e.), and Silla (57 b.c.e.–935 c.e.)—built great monasteries in their capitals or nearby, judging by the historical records and the architectural remnants. The latter include Kŭmgangsa near P'yŏngyang (probably from the early sixth century); Hwangnyongsa (founded in 553) with its legendary nine-story wooden pagoda (destroyed in 1234 by the Mongols, except for the foundation stones, now visible after excavation) and Punhwangsa (built in 634, only three stories survive of the original nine-story pagoda built of brick imitating stone), both in the Silla capital of Kyŏngju; and Mirŭksa (built by King Mu of Paekche in the early seventh century) in Iksan.

Korean Buddhist monasteries feature architectural elements similar or identical to those of secular buildings introduced from China. In general, there is little difference in architectural style between sacred and secular buildings in East Asia. The monasteries of the Three Kingdoms consisted of a lecture hall, a main hall with Buddhist images (also known as kŭmdang, or Golden Hall, the focus of worship), a pagoda, and a temple gate arranged along a north-south axis. Later, many more image halls (pŏptang) were added to the complex according to the scale of the monastery. These ceremonial halls are dedicated to a specific buddha or bodhisattva and other Buddhist deities—thus Piro chŏn for Vairocana; Taeung chŏn (Hall of the Great Hero) and Yŏngsan chŏn (Hall of Vulture Peak), both for Śakyamuni Buddha; Muryangsu chŏ Infinite Life) and Kuŭn chŏn (Hall of Utmost Bliss), both for AmitĀbha Buddha; Yaksa chŏn for the Medicine Buddha, Bhaiṣajyaguru (Yaksa Yŏrae); Mirŭk chŏn for Maitreya; Kwanŭm chŏn for Avalokiteśvara; Chijang chŏn for Kṣitigarbha; Sipwang chŏn for the Ten Kings; Nahan chŏn for arhats; and Chosa dang for a monastery's founding teachers. Sometimes three buddhas, who embody past, present, and future, are enshrined in one hall. Besides the bell and drum pavilions, there were additional buildings for the storage of Buddhist scriptures, lecture and meditation halls, monks' living quarters, and kitchens.

Pagodas and reliquaries

Multistoried pagodas (t'ap), built in the center of the monastery's courtyard for daily circumambulation, were originally reliquaries of the historical Buddha Śākyamuni, but increasingly came to serve as commemorative monuments. Simple, monumental granite stone pagodas were built with minimal adornment. The finial was designed in the form of an ancient Indian stūpa. The relic chamber in wooden pagodas was located in the foundations beneath the central pole, while in stone pagodas it was located above ground just below the central mast. From the late seventh century "twin pagodas," a Chinese innovation introduced for the sake of symmetry, began to appear. King Sinmun built Kamŭnsa (twin pagodas) in 682 in memory of his father King Munmu, who unified the Three Kingdoms under the rule of Silla. StŪpas (pudo), mostly octagonal single-story stone monuments, served to enshrine the relics of eminent monks.

Reliquary containers were exquisitely crafted in ceramic, gilt bronze, silver, gold, and glass. The outer container is usually a square or rectangular box. The innermost reliquary, which contains the relic of the true body of the Buddha (the remains after cremation), is a tiny crystal or glass bottle with an exquisite gold or openwork stopper. Gilt-bronze images and written Buddhist sūtras, both representing the dharma body, were also deposited in reliquaries. In the five-story granite stone pagoda in Iksan Wanggung-ni was found a copy of the Diamond SŪtra in seventeen gold sheets, on which is embossed the entire text in majestic regular script style, the only known example in East Asia. Reliquaries from the unified Silla period (668–935) were often in the shape of a miniature pagoda or palanquin with a bejeweled canopy and musicians or guardian kings at the corners. Stūpas of eminent monks from the Chosŏn period (fourteenth to seventeenth centuries) yielded white ceramic and brass reliquaries in the form of simple covered bowls.

Buddhist paraphernalia

Bronze bells, censers, incense boxes, kuṇḍikā (water bottles), and flower vases can all be categorized as Buddhist ritual objects and ceremonial paraphernalia; such objects were executed with considerable craftsmanship since the Three Kingdom period. A Paekche gilt-bronze censer from the late sixth century, excavated in Nŭngsan-ri site in Puyŏ, shows a superb combination of traditional ideas in its dragon support and its lotus bowl and cover in the shape of the legendary Penglai paradise mountain surmounted by a phoenix. During the Unified Silla period, magnificent bells were cast in bronze as seen in the huge Pongdŏksa bell. The refinement of design with floral bands and elegant airy apsaras kneeling on clouds, as well as the profound sound and superb casting technique, is unmatched in East Asia. In the Koryŏ period (918–1392) incense containers and bottles for private use and for altars were made of lacquer or bronze. They were often decorated with tiny and elegant inlaid designs executed with mother-of-pearl on lacquer vessels or with silver on bronze vessels.

Buddhist sculpture and painting

Buddhist images of Śākyamuni, Amitābha, the Medicine Buddha Bhaiṣajyaguru, and the Universal Buddha Vairocana, who were enshrined in the kŭmdang, are the focus of worship. No large bronze images, prior to the ninth century, have survived, but small votive giltbronze images (ten to thirty centimeters in height and dated between the seventh and ninth centuries) have been excavated from temples, residential sites, and pagodas. These images were for personal altars or for ritual offering. From the earliest period (sixth century) Buddha images portrayed characteristically Korean broad faces with high cheekbones, while the drapery styles, which show influence from the Six Dynasties in China, are characterized by the symmetrical arrangement of garments and an emphasis on frontality. Maitreya Bodhisattva (Mirŭk posal), the Future Buddha, was worshiped in royal and aristocratic circles in the early seventh century in all of the Three Kingdoms. Some of the finest images demonstrate Korean mastery of the lost-wax bronze-casting technique and refinement in every detail. Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva (Kwanseŭm posal) was one of the most popular images throughout history in Korea. The Avalokiteśvara image excavated from Sŏnsan, a small bronze masterpiece, effortlessly conveys a gentleness in facial expression, a gracefully raised right hand with lotus bud, and the fluent style of sashes and skirt.

A new style of thin monastic garment worn with the left shoulder bare appears in most eighth- and ninth-century Buddha images in Korea, after Korean monks began traveling to Tang China, Central Asia, and as far as India. Monumental granite stone images (all their original coloring is now lost) were carved from the seventh century and enshrined in cave temples (e.g., the Amitābha Buddha triad in Kunwi in North Kyŏngsang province); during the seventh to ninth centuries they were also placed in natural environments, such as Namsan, the sacred Buddhist mountain in Kyŏngju. SŎkkuram Buddha image from the mid-eighth century is unquestionably one of the great masterpieces of the world in its outstanding concept and execution in rough textured granite. In the Koryŏ and Chosŏn dynasties, Buddhist images wearing heavy garments covering both shoulders were made in all kinds of materials, in particular bronze, clay, and wood. Especially

in the Chosŏn period, large carved wooden altarpieces depicting the pantheon of buddhas, bodhisattvas, arhats, and guardian kings in high relief were frequently placed behind three-dimensional main buddhas in the worshiping halls.

The paintings of sacred images on the walls of monastery must have been practiced in Korea at the same time the sculptured images were executed, but despite written records in the Samguk yusa (Memo-rabilia of the Three Kingdoms), no visual material has survived.

Sagyŏng (handwritten and hand-painted Buddhist scriptures) flourished during the Koryŏ dynasty. The most frequently copied sūtras of the Koryŏ dynasty were the Huayan jing (Korean, Hwaŏmgyŏng), Amitābha Sūtra (Korean, Amit'agyŏng), and LOTUSSŪtra (SaddharmapuṆḌarika-sŪtra; Korean, Pŏphwagyŏng). Sagyŏng took the form of precious

illuminated manuscripts in which the title, the exquisite miniature paintings of the dazzling frontispiece, and the text were decorated and written in gold or silver on dark indigo-dyed paper made from the inner bark of the mulberry. During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, Koryŏ became the center of illuminated manuscript production in East Asia.

In the Koryŏ period, when Buddhism prospered under royal and aristocratic patronage, Pure Land Buddhist paintings of Amitābha, Water Moon Avalokiteśvara, and Kṣitigarbha flourished. These paintings were rendered on hanging silk scrolls in various sizes, depending on their use; smaller scrolls were for private altars, and larger ones for temples. The images are outlined in red or black ink and painted with mineral colors, including cinnabar red, malachite green, and lead white. These principal colors, finely ground and prepared with a binder, were first applied on the back of the silk, then on the front, in order to ensure the durability of the colors and to intensify the hue. Gold for exposed parts of the Buddha's body and decorative motifs were applied on top of this. Facial details were drawn and the image would be completed during an eye-dotting ceremony. In the Chosŏn dynasty Buddhist paintings of large figural groups were often executed on hemp. Mineral pigments on such paintings were applied only to the front surface. As a consequence, some colors, especially red and green, have been lost from paintings dating from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. A new type of painting, in which Buddhist images were mixed with native Korean spirits and deities, began to emerge in the second half of the Chosŏn dynasty.

See also:Chan Art; China, Buddhist Art in; Huayan Art; Monastic Architecture; Portraiture; Pure Land Art


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Youngsook Pak

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