ROYAL ACADEMY OF ARTS 26 April – 14 July 2002 Supported by the RA Exhibition Patrons Group



AN INTRODUCTION TO THE EXHIBITION Written by Olivia Callea for the Education Department © Royal Academy of Arts, 2002

On the cover: Cat. 18 Seated Buddha, Northern Qi dynasty (550–577) Limestone, h. 64 cm. Qingzhou Municipal Museum, Shandong Province Photo © The State Administration of Cultural Heritage, People’s Republic of China

Designed by Maggi Smith. Printed by Burlington


ICONOGRAPHIC ILLUSTRATIONS INTRODUCTION THE DISCOVERY CHINESE SOCIETY CHINESE PHILOSOPHIES AND RELIGIONS Confucianism Daoism (Taoism) Buddhism The Spread of Buddhism in China BUDDHIST ART AND SCULPTURE Why were the sculptures made and who commissioned them? How would these statues have been used for worship? Why were the sculptures buried? CONCLUSION COMMENTS ON THE PLATES Characteristics of the sculptures in this exhibition GLOSSARY BIBLIOGRAPHY





6 6 6 6 7

7 8 8 9


10 10



Hair knot C. faji

Crown or diadem C. baoguan

Necklace C. xiangquan

Chest cloth C. seng qizhi

Stole C. tianyi

Pearl chain C. yingluo Ornamental side sash C. kundai Fan ‘Peach-shaped object’ C. taoxingqu

Lower garment C. shangqun

Stole C. tianyi

Lotus blossom- or capsule-shaped pedestal C. liantai

C. Chinese S. Sanskrit Iconographic Illustrations © Museum Rietberg Zürich

Head nimbus C. touguang


Protuberance ¯ C. rouji, S. ushnisha

Robe C. shangzhuoyi, S. uttarasanga ¯ Chest cloth C. yanyeyi, S. samkakshika ¯

Sash ¯ C. dai, S. katisutra

Mantle C. jiasha, S. kashaya ¯

Robe C. shangzhuoyi, S. uttarasanga ¯

Lower-body undergarment ¯ C. neiyi, S. antarvasa

INTRODUCTION This exhibition of thirty-five Chinese Buddhist sculptures at the Royal Academy of Arts is the result of a chance discovery made by a group of construction workers in the city of Qingzhou, in the northeastern province of Shandong. These extremely rare statues, made in the sixth century CE during a period of much political and religious turmoil, are now considered to be among the 100 most significant cultural monuments of China. Although the exceptionally fine statues of this exhibition are from the grounds of the Longxing (Dragon Rise) Temple, more than a thousand such works have been found in the surroundings of Qingzhou. There have been a few other discoveries of Buddhist figures in other parts of China, but neither the number of objects nor the artistic quality of these objects can equal those of the figures from Qingzhou. During the first century CE, Buddhism arrived in China from India via Central Asia and brought with it new intellectual and representational traditions. The Buddhist monks and the pilgrims who travelled back and forth during this period enriched Chinese society and culture in a number of ways. Although China was in upheaval, or perhaps because of this unrest, the period from the fourth to the eighth century represents the golden age of Buddhism and of Buddhist sculpture. THE DISCOVERY The statues in the exhibition come from the northeastern province of Shandong, an area of economic and political significance for several millennia. Shandong lay at the end of the Silk Road. The province is dominated by the Yellow River which, as well as providing fertile agricultural land, serves as a navigable link to the sea. To the south and west, the province is bordered by almost barren mountain ranges, which stretch to the faraway mountain Taishan. In October 1996, workers levelling the sports field of the Shefan Primary School in Qingzhou discovered a large pit filled with broken sculptures. This school was adjacent to the Qingzhou Municipal Museum and, fortunately, once the museum staff were called in, they reacted with great
Map of China (according to official Chinese point of view) Designed by Elizabeth Hefti and Thomas Humm © Museum Rietberg Zürich

CE: Common Era BCE: Before Common Era CE and BCE correspond to AD and BC, respectively, and they may be employed, as in this case, when it is more appropriate to use a non-Christian dating system. The term ‘Chinese’ as it is used in the text refers to the Han people, the dominant ethnic constituent of China.


speed to save the statues from being pillaged and sold. Within ten days the staff had removed fragments of around 400 statues. The haste of the excavation may have created some evidentiary problems, but it certainly saved the statues from being dispersed. However, the main figure of the temple, which was reputedly 12 metres high, was not found in the hoard. In the pit, figures and steles (upright stone tablets) had been deposited in several layers, with the better-preserved ones in the middle, surrounded by fragments and broken pieces. Smaller pieces and heads of the Buddha (one who has attained enlightenment) and bodhisattvas (beings who have delayed enlightenment to assist others in their quest for salvation) were found lining the wall of the pit. There were 200 intact torsi, 144 Buddha heads and 46 bodhisattva heads. The majority of statues were made from fine-grained limestone, which is still quarried in the area surrounding Qingzhou. At the bottom of the pit, there were also fragments of marble, granite, cast iron and lacquered wood, as well as low-fired earthenware and unfired clay. A white porcelain bowl dating from the Northern Song dynasty (960–1127), three stone steles with sutra inscriptions (from the holy Buddhist scriptures) and 119 coins were found. The dates of the coins and the ceramic bowl suggest that the pit was closed in the first half of the twelfth century. However, it is thought that the majority of the figures in the pit and in this exhibition were carved much earlier, in the sixth century under the late Northern Wei (386–534), Eastern Wei (534–550) and Northern Qi (550–577) dynasties. The statues were found in what is now believed to be the site of the Longxing Temple, a monastery which is thought to have been founded before 425. The temple is likely to have been of considerable size; evidence suggests that a pagoda and various halls once stood there. After 1461 there were no more references to the Longxing Temple, which may have burned down. CHINESE SOCIETY China has a recorded history of over 4000 millennia. From the third century BCE when the first emperor unified China, it possessed an imperial system of government, which lasted until 1911. From the Han dynasty period (206 BCE – 220 CE) onwards, political power was highly centralised. While successive emperors were not tied to any organised religion, they asserted that their right to rule was bestowed by ‘heaven’s mandate’. Dynasties rose and fell through military action but the imperial state structure endured through all these changes. The country was governed by a meritocratic bureaucracy of highly literate administrators selected for their individual learning and ability. The government was separated into three discrete hierarchies: the general administrative departments responsible for ritual, taxation, justice and diplomatic relations; the military; and the censorate, which oversaw the other departments. While China was ethnically, linguistically and economically diverse, it possessed a common script from 1300 BCE, which served as a means of promoting a certain cultural unity. The character-based script could be read by all those who had learned it, though different regions pronounced the ideograms differently. Although initially agrarian, China became an important, highly organised and efficient commercial power during the Han dynasty. Salt, gold and fine silks were traded as far west as the Roman empire and throughout southeast Asia. Because of its wealth, China was an attractive prize for the non-Chinese nomadic people on its borders who took advantage of the periodic internal unrest. As the Han dynasty began to wane, China suffered the Period of Disunity, a time marked by war, famine and mass deportations. Han rule, which held a unified China, was replaced by a series of kingdoms led by nonChinese, which blended the governmental and military traditions of the nomads with those of the Chinese. In 316 CE, a small tribe of nomadic herdsmen from southern Manchuria, the Toba, who had settled in southeastern Mongolia, were given some land in north China as part of an alliance with the nowsettled Eastern Chin dynasty. By launching a series of offensives, the alliance succeeded in unifying northern China in the first half of the fifth century. It adopted the name of Northern Wei and followed an aggressive policy of state intervention in the control and distribution of the population. State employees were practically kept prisoner in their workshops and farmers were controlled by a military-type organisation. Above all, the Wei made use of deportation to populate the area around their capital, Datong (west of Shandong).


As the Northern Wei’s empire grew, so the need arose for the sophistication of Chinese institutions and advisors. The capital was moved to Luoyang on the Yellow River in 494 CE. By the end of the fifth century, as a result of the growing importance of agricultural revenues, the non-Chinese ruling elite developed an increasing taste for luxury; Chinese culture and its crafts became fashionable, as did its religion, Buddhism. The Toba’s traditional equestrian attire was forbidden and replaced by Chinese mantles and robes. The use of Chinese family names and intermarriage with the Chinese was also encouraged. The initial warlike traditions of the Toba people became a thing of the past. A fervour for Buddhism, characterised by lavish spending on outward display, took hold of high society. Buddhist monasteries and towers rose everywhere, furnished with bells and statues. The city of Luoyang became the greatest centre of Buddhism in east Asia. In 523, the nomad armies, guarding the empire against incursions from the steppes, rebelled and, after ten years of civil war, formed the Eastern Wei kingdom. This kingdom was hostile to Han Chinese culture and intent on maintaining nomadic traditions. In 550 power was usurped again and the Northern Qi dynasty (550 –77) which followed was formed along the same anti-Chinese lines. CHINESE PHILOSOPHIES AND RELIGIONS When Buddhism first arrived in China there was no organised religion with scriptures, monasteries and clerics. Rather, there were sophisticated philosophies which evolved into more formal ‘religions’ as a result of its influence. At this time, China’s primary belief systems defined man’s relationship to his society through ancestor worship. Through the ancestor’s intercessions, appeasement of the gods and spirits was sought. The great philosophies of Confucianism and Daoism existed alongside these beliefs. Confucianism Confucius (551– 479 BCE) was a contemporary of Siddharta Gautama (he was the ‘historical’ Buddha – see under ‘Buddhism’) in India (c. 563 BCE – 480 BCE) and a predecessor of the Greeks Plato (429–347 BCE) and Aristotle (384 –321 BCE). Confucius sought a rationale for a structured society and his teachings emphasised the need for cosmic order. He posited a hierarchy of superior/inferior relationships: parents were superior to children, men to women, and rulers to subjects. If everyone performed the role assigned, then the social order would be sustained. He also emphasised the natural equality of men at birth, believing that man was by nature good, possessed an innate moral sense, and was perfectible through education. Daoism (Taoism) Dao means ‘the path’ and the main philosophical text is the Dao De Jing (also often seen spelt as Tao Te Ching), which is attributed to Lao Tzu. Daoism is a philosophy of passivity, or ‘action by inaction’ which teaches following one’s unadulterated inner nature and accepting without struggle the experiences of life. It was seen as a reservoir of popular lore and an escape from Confucianism, and was characterised by a belief in unseen spirits of nature, cosmology, animism, alchemy, early medicine, mysticism and ancient magic, the search for the elixir of immortality, and for the Isles of the Blessed (paradise). Buddhism Buddhism originated in India in the fifth century BCE. Its founder was Siddharta (his given name) Gautama (the clan name) (c. 563 BCE – 480 BCE). He was the son of the chief of the Shakya tribe, whose territory straddled the modern India–Nepal border (hence he was also known as Shakyamuni – the sage of the Shakyas). He renounced his life of privilege after being moved by the suffering of all life forms trapped in the cycle of life, death and rebirth. After years of asceticism and meditation, he achieved nirvana, the release from the cycle of existence, or, put another way, ‘the blowing out of the fires of longing and attachment’. He was given the name Buddha (‘the awakened one’) upon attaining this spiritual enlightenment. The historical Buddha Shakyamuni is regarded as one of a series of


countless Buddhas of infinite worlds of the past and future. ‘Buddhas are as numerous as there are grains of sand on the banks of the river Ganges.’ - Three main movements developed within Buddhism: Hinayana (the Lesser Path), Mahayana (the Great Path) and Esoteric Buddhism. These movements have a variety of doctrines, practices and philosophic paths. Most share as their ultimate goal the attainment of nirvana. The majority of believers adhere to the middle way, the path between extreme asceticism and sumptuous living advocated, - according to tradition, by the Buddha himself. (Mahayana was the version of the ‘middle way’ that was popular in China during this period because it was more inclusive than Hinayana, allowing one to attain nirvana without renouncing worldly pleasures. It emphasises the Buddha-nature in all things; everything already is the Buddha-nature, and has only to realise what it is to attain nirvana.) The flexible nature of Buddhism and absence of a single doctrinal authority enabled the religion to flourish in varied cultures, and its adaptation to indigenous cultures contributed to its diversity. The Spread of Buddhism in China Buddhism was known in China in the second century BCE but was not established until the first century CE. It probably came to China along the caravan routes of the Silk Road. As a result of this, central Asian painting and sculpture influenced the Buddhist art that would be produced in China. There are many legends surrounding Buddhism’s arrival in China. Historical texts state that the Emperor Ming of the Eastern Han dynasty (57–75 CE) had a dream in which he saw a divine figure. The body of the figure gleamed like gold and behind its head there was a halo resembling the shining sun. The emperor’s advisors suggested that this might be a deity known in the west as the Buddha. The Emperor sent his emissaries to India in search of this god. The emissaries had the Holy Scriptures copied and a statue of Buddha Shakyamuni made, which was displayed in the capital, Luoyang. Two Indian missionaries came to Luoyang with the returning Chinese delegation in 67 CE. They are said to have brought, on the back of a white horse, copies of the first translated Buddhist texts: the Scripture in Forty-Two Sections. Legend has it that to honour the two monks, the Emperor had the Monastery of the White Horse built in the capital. This was the first Buddhist monastery on Chinese soil. The first Buddhist communities in China were probably established in the commercial quarters of larger cities, thanks to foreign merchants. By the fourth century, Buddhism, with its promises of salvation and bliss in the afterlife, had become a significant influence on Chinese life, penetrating all layers of society. There were however, tensions between Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism which were to have major repercussions for the acceptance or rejection of Buddhism by different parts of China. Buddhism often appropriated Daoist concepts and images (see the moon and sun in cat. 1) for its teachings and iconography. Buddhism’s popularity peaked in the fifth and sixth centuries, an unsettled time in Chinese history, when people were suffering endless wars, deportations, famine, floods and droughts. Contrary to Confucianism, whose emphasis on accepting one’s assigned role within the family and society was in harmony with the feudal order, Buddhism was periodically in dispute with the authorities. This was because Buddhist adherents left their families to take vows as monks and nuns and to pursue the service of religion (or to take refuge from taxation, forced labour or conscription). The monasteries became increasingly powerful as they attracted gifts of land and goods from the faithful. The emperors, threatened by this challenge to their ‘divine’ authority, alternated between harnessing the religion and its powerful following to their own ends, and embarking on prolonged persecutions, during which monasteries were razed to the ground and lands were seized. For instance, between 444 and 451 there were imperial decrees posted which threatened death to any ‘who dared to serve the barbarian gods or make images, statues or figures in clay or in bronze’. BUDDHIST ART AND SCULPTURE Sculpture never enjoyed the high status accorded to it in the West because it was not originally used to represent religious images and, unlike painting or calligraphy, it was made by artisans rather than


scholar-officials. It was, however, a popular art form, although before the arrival of Buddhism, deities were never depicted in human form. Archeological finds tell us that pre-Buddhist sculptures were stylised figures or animals in bronze, stone and ceramics. In later periods, sculpture became progressively more realistic, such as in the life-size tomb figures of soldiers or the depictions in clay of farms and farm animals in tombs of the Han and Tang dynasties. In early Buddhist art there are no images of the Buddha. Rather, a small number of symbols are used, such as footprints to represent the Buddha; the ‘wheel of doctrine’, which represents the first sermon given by Siddharta; and stupas (originally ceremonial burial mounds; later they were smaller, tower-like structures, or pagodas). The most extensive surviving early Chinese Buddhist art is to be found in large cave-temple sites such as Dunhuang. Caves were hollowed out of the cliff faces and painted or sculpted with figures. Dated inscriptions are often found in these caves, enabling historians to trace styles and to date the Qingzhou statues. The sources of early Buddhist images were the kingdoms of central Asia, which in turn were in contact with the Buddhist kingdoms in Gandhara (present-day Afghanistan and Pakistan). In this area Alexander the Great had established his easternmost kingdoms and introduced provincial forms of classical Greek architecture and sculpture. By the beginning of the second century CE, changes in doctrine and religious consciousness had led to the making of the first images of the Buddha, which demonstrated this classical Greek influence in their idealisation of form. His figure became the central symbol of Buddhism, serving as a focus for meditation, devotion or ritual and as an expression of the peace, harmony and power of enlightenment. Easily-transported objects, such as sketches, descriptions, statuettes, reliquaries and coins, were the inspiration for early Chinese Buddhas. Buddhas in human form appeared as ornaments in tombs, on mirrors, on gold jewellery and on ceramic objects such as money trees or funerary urns. Under the rules of the Northern and Eastern Wei and the Northern Qi, Buddhism enjoyed substantial patronage; the making of images and the building of monasteries were encouraged. On the sculptures, clear distinctions of size and style were made between each personage. Buddhas were clothed simply, with idealised features, deeply carved in relief or in the round, in majestic, solemn, seated or standing poses. The bodhisattvas were smaller, richly clothed and adorned (cat. 5) and showed slight movement. The Buddha disciples were smaller still and the donors were the smallest of all. On the triads (cat. 1) the intricate background designs were lightly etched into the stone. Why were the sculptures made and who commissioned them? A variety of holy scriptures encouraged the commissioning and making of Buddhist images. They suggested formulas to the sculptors, which were based on ideal proportions rather than human ones. There were probably manuals as well, but Chinese artists would have relied more on the descriptions or sketches of pilgrims and monks returning from the Silk Road and India, and on small votive statues, which had been made for personal use and had been brought back by the faithful. The commissioning and the making of Buddhist images were acts of worship. Monks, nuns and laity would commission such sculptures and insert inscriptions which professed their devotion. Numerous artists, painters, metal workers, sculptors and architects lived on the commissions given to them by monasteries, the lay communities or rich individual believers. The families of craftsmen passed on the principles of and instructions for their carving from one generation to the next. How would these statues have been used for worship? The statue was not considered complete or sacred until the eyes had been painted on, but once this ‘eye-opening ceremony’ had taken place, these statues were shown the reverence afforded to religious imagery all over the world. As the foci of respect in temples and temple grounds, they would have been circumambulated (walked around) and flowers would have been strewn around them. During ceremonies, as coloured silk banners flew and incense burned, believers would prostrate themselves in front of the sculptures, which inspired meditation and contemplation.


Why were the sculptures buried? There were no inscriptions or dedications found with the hoard explaining the reasons for their interment and so the true reasons for their burial are not known. However, we do know that Buddhism suffered periodic persecutions in China, during which time images and monasteries were damaged or destroyed, and monks and nuns were dispersed or killed. These persecutions took place in 446 (Northern Wei), 574 (Northern Zhou), between 842 and 845 (Tang), and then in 955 (late Zhou). The Japanese monk Enmin (793– 864) kept a detailed diary of his sojourn in China and recorded the violent, forced return to secular life of more than a quarter of a million monks and nuns. The Emperor confiscated monastic properties; bronze bells and metal icons were melted down by the state. In the entire empire no images of bronze, iron, gold or silver were permitted for public or private worship. Only sculptures made of wood, stone, clay or other non-metallic materials are said to have been exempt from devastation. One theory advanced for the burial is that these statues might have been pillaged and vandalised during this time – some show signs of damage from fire – then recovered and buried in an orderly fashion by monks. Another theory posits that the figures were buried two centuries later due to an edict against Buddhism by Emperor Huizong of the Song dynasty (r. 1101–1125). This decreed that Buddhist temples had to assume Daoist names and that Buddhist monks had to wear Daoist robes and resume use of their former Chinese names. However, as this edict was rescinded the following year and the faces of the statues are not defaced, it seems likely that the statues were interred in less dramatic circumstances. The discovery of a stele, and a hoard of statues and coins, in the foundations of a pagoda a few miles from Qingzhou, at Mingdao temple, points to another theory. There, the stele inscription records the work of two monks who interred already-destroyed sculpture as a pious deed. Although there was no inscribed stele in the pit along with the find at Longxing temple, the care with which the pieces in this exhibition had been buried would appear to indicate that they may also have been interred by monks as a meritorious act. A final theory speculates that not all of these statues are from Longxing Temple; that they may have been brought there to be buried ceremoniously when beyond repair or use or when their style had become outmoded. CONCLUSION These treasures from Shandong province help us to understand how the great impulse of Buddhist religious fervour, which had its peak in the sixth century, influenced every aspect of Chinese life. The sculptures also show how the spread of Buddhism gave rise to an entirely new sensibility, introducing foreign representational traditions that were to revolutionise Chinese art. It introduced figural religious iconography to China, as well as a taste for sumptuous ornamentation (statues covered in gold and precious stones or silks), and for the repetition of motifs. All these tendencies were in opposition to the classical Chinese tradition, and their immeasurable influence upon Chinese art endures today.


COMMENTS ON THE PLATES Characteristics of the sculptures in this exhibition These limestone sculptures were made within the fifty-year period between 529 and 577. Stylistically, they can be divided into two groups: the Wei, comprising the Northern Wei (386–534) and the Eastern Wei (534–550), and the Northern Qi (550–577), with the turning point occurring in 550. The sculptures fall into three formats: figures of the Buddha, figures of bodhisattvas and figural triads (a central Buddha flanked by two bodhisattvas). They vary in size and quality, as well as in style, illustrating differences in the means of the donors and the artists’ skills. The dynastic changes were often reflected in the philosophy and the artistic styles that were adopted. The Sinocisation (‘Chinesification’) of the Northern Wei, for example, is reflected in the clothing of the statues; by the end of the fifth century, Buddha figures were no longer shown in Indian clothes but in more traditional Chinese robes. The most important stylistic elements of the Northern Wei

dynasty are combined in cat. 13: a high protuberance on the top of the head (ushnisha); large, open
eyes; a gentle smile; and tiered, decorative lower hems on the garments, which flare out sideways. The drapery conceals the shape of the body. Linear forms dominate, emphasising the stylised folds. In the case of the Northern Qi, however, these Chinese qualities were rejected. The Qi aristocracy was led by military troops of nomadic origin who were hostile to Chinese influence and favoured the foreign and the exotic in art. This led to a new style which was influenced by Indian Gupta art: the bodies are now shown in slight motion, clad in thin robes which cling to their body in a naturalistic way. This style was inspired by Greek sculpture and what is known as the Gandharan style (cat. 29)

Cat. 1 STELE OF HAN XIAOHUA, Northern Wei
The stele’s design is that of an altar platform with a surmounted triad. There is a donor inscription on the right side of the stele which states the year and the object of the donation and makes pious vows: ‘On the fourth day of the second month of the second year Yong’an (529) the laywoman Han Xiaohua humbly had a Maitreya statue made for her deceased husband Le Chou’er and her deceased descendants Youxing and Huinu, as well as for her surviving child Ahu; she also vowed to serve and worship the Buddha rebirth after rebirth and generation after generation after traversing this lower existence.’ The base of the stele is engraved with a figure on a lotus blossom (symbolising purity), which carries on its head a bowl with an incense burner. The figure is flanked by two lions beside each of which there is the figure of a kneeling donor. Short inscriptions on the left and right edges of the base say, respectively, ‘Le Chou’er, in reverence’ and ‘Han Xiaohua, in reverence’. The preoccupation of the followers of the Buddha was to gain merit in this world in order to avoid being reborn or being reborn of lower status. One way to obtain merit was by the commissioning of religious figures. In his preface to the ‘Record of Buddhist Temples in Luoyang’ (547), the military leader Yang Xuanzhi noted: ‘The people and wealthy families parted with their treasures as easily as with forgotten rubbish. As a result, Buddhist temples were built side by side, and stupas rose up in row after row. People competed among themselves in making or copying the Buddha’s portrait. Golden stupas matched the imperial observatory in height, and Buddhist lecture halls were as magnificent as Efang (ostentatiously decorated palaces of 221–207 BCE). Indeed (Buddhist activity was so intense) that it was not merely a matter of clothing wooden (figures) in silk or painting earthen (idols) in rich colours.’ The Buddha is smiling and has an ushnisha, which symbolises omniscience. He raises his right hand in the position indicating ‘Fear Not’ and gestures ‘Your Wish is Granted’ with his left hand. These would have been powerful gestures to the kneeling supplicant during times of uncertainty. The reassuring figure is identified by the inscription as Maitreya, the Buddha of the future. The two gestures occur frequently in representations of Buddha Shakyamuni and Maitreya during the sixth century. They were probably the most popular deities of the time.


Cat. 1 Stele of Han Xiaohua Northern Wei dynasty, dated 529 Limestone H. 55 cm Qingzhou Municipal Museum, Shandong Province Photo © The State Administration of Cultural Heritage, People’s Republic of China

The two bodhisattvas are almost identical. Each holds a lotus bud in his right hand and a small fan in his left hand. Characteristics of the Northern Wei style are the flaring tips of the garment and the scalloped hems forming lozenges on the bottom. The statues stand on pedestals with inverted lotus petals and behind their heads are halos in the shape of double lotus blossoms. Three Buddha figures, seated in the crosslegged lotus position, are etched into the background. Above these figures, two deities are sculpted holding the sun and the moon. Of all the statues found at Longxing Temple, this is the only one with a depiction of both the sun and moon. These were powerful ancient Chinese symbols, representations of Daoist deities. During this period, such iconography was incorporated into the Buddhist pantheon.


Cat. 3 Triad with mandorla Late Northern Wei (386-534) or Eastern Wei dynasty (534-550) Limestone H. 125 cm Qingzhou Municipal Museum, Shandong Province Photo © The State Administration of Cultural Heritage, People’s Republic of China

Cat. 3 TRIAD WITH MANDORLA, late Northern Wei or Eastern Wei
This representation of the Buddha flanked by two bodhisattvas is amongst the best-preserved in this exhibition. The Buddha, with his high topknot and tight hair curls, has a round, smiling, ageless face, suggesting his enlightened state. The head is rather large in comparison with the body. Coloured pigments bring the Buddha’s features vividly to life, and gold is used to communicate his radiance. The use of gold gave the offering greater value and thereby bestowed greater merit on the donor. The other colours, although not as precious as gold, served a similar purpose: they made the donations more spectacular and the act of devotion more effective. Traces of sapphire-blue pigment are usually found on the curls of the Buddhas (cat. 28) while traces of black on the robes may indicate that the monks wore black robes in China at that period (cats 10, 21 and 28). The monastic robes of the Buddha are painted in a patchwork design with white stripes. Black pupils would have been painted on the eyes during the eye-opening ceremony to consecrate the statue. This custom can also be found in Brahmin India. References to giving life to statues were first found in Mesopotamia back in 3000 BCE. The bodhisattvas stand on lotus-flower pedestals, whose stems and leaves are growing out of the mouths of two dragons. The dragon represents imperial power, and affords protection and fertility. A dragon was a mythical Chinese animal, which decorated all types of Chinese art, and would have been a powerful symbol to associate with Buddhism. Representation of dragons on these statues was particularly popular in the area of Qingzhou during the Eastern Wei. This triad is one of the few from the hoard to carry an inscription. Inscriptions provide information about the donors who commissioned the sculpture to attain merit and ensure good karma. In this example, the vertical rows of engraved text are not complete (to the side of the Buddha and to the right side of the right bodhisattva), but they list the names of eleven lady donors who were nuns ‘awaiting the time of the Buddha’. Beside the inscriptions, faded pictures of the eleven nuns can be seen.


Cat. 5 TRIAD WITH MANDORLA, Eastern Wei or Northern Qi
The largest image from the hoard weighs one ton, but its maximum thickness is only 35 centimetres. In Buddhist temples in China, many statues would line the walls and some of the grounds, but there would be a principal statue, usually of greater size than the others, to which the temple would be dedicated. Despite its size, it is not thought that this triad with mandorla was the main Longxing
Cat. 5 Triad with mandorla Eastern Wei (534–550) or Northern Qi dynasty (550–577) Limestone H. 310 cm Qingzhou Municipal Museum Shandong Province Photo © The State Administration of Cultural Heritage, People’s Republic of China

Templepiece. The principal Luoyang statue is described in the chronicle written by Yang Xuanzhi: ‘North of the stupa was a Buddhist hall, which was shaped like the palace of the Great Ultimate. In the hall was a golden statue of the Buddha 18 feet high, along with ten medium-sized images – three of sewn pearls, five of woven golden threads and two of jade. The superb artistry was matchless, unparalleled in its day…Here were kept all the sutras and Buddhist images presented by foreign countries.’ This Buddha wears a red and green patchwork mantle draped over his body, his robe fastened with a sash. Though his is made of stone, real mantles of silk made to adorn statues have been found. They were often made from robes given by donors during their lifetimes or as bequests. The donation of silk was also considered good karma by the scriptures. This Buddha is carved in higher relief than the bodhisattvas. A mandorla (an almond-shaped feature which frames figures or groups, and signifies their holiness), decorated with painted flames, surrounds the concentric halos of the Buddha. At the top of the mandorla, there is a flying stupa carved in high relief. Four apsaras (heavenly flying beings) are offering gifts, dancing and playing music on either side. Their scarves, which convey movement, are flying out towards the edge of the sculpture. Apsaras are low-ranking deities in the Buddhist pantheon. They are the protectors of the Buddha and the doctrine. They derive from Indian mythology and occur in Chinese art from an early date. The architecture of the stupa is unusual because there are no similar Indian or Central Asian stupa. The acanthus leaves on the roof corners are reminiscent of those on Corinthian columns in ancient Greek architecture. This might indicate Gandharan influence. The images of flying stupas can represent different stories. One is that a particular Buddha called Prabhutratna, who had attained nirvana, vowed to appear every time the Lotus Sutra was being preached. When another Buddha was preaching the Lotus Sutra (which was very popular in sixth-century China) Prabhutaratna appeared in his stupa, in the air, and the Buddha rose to sit beside him. Representations of two Buddhas side by side are popular during the fifth and sixth centuries.


Cat. 6 TRIAD WITH MANDORLA, late Northern Wei or Eastern Wei
This Buddha with two attendants is surmounted by eight apsaras. The uppermost two carry a stupa - tras). while the others worship the Buddha by making music (as is described in many su A variety of instruments can be seen, some Chinese and others foreign (Indian and Central Asian). The stupa (or pagoda) is one of the most distinctive kinds of Buddhist building in China. It is the only tall building to be found in traditional Chinese architecture and takes the form of a storied tower, or an upturned bowl. Stupas were built first of wood then later of brick and masonry. They had a general tetragonal (three-sided) shape until the Tang dynasty (618–920). In Luoyang in the sixth century there is written reference to a 400-foot-high pagoda. Perspective is attempted in this sculpture to make the stupa appear a distant building. Legend has it that in the third century BCE, two centuries after the Buddha Siddharta’s death, the Indian king Ashoka had 84,000 stupas, each containing some of the Buddha’s ashes, erected all over the world. Each sculpted stupa represents one of these reliquaries. Relics were very important in Chinese culture, and most statues contained sacred texts (the copying and reciting of which was good karma) or the mortal remains of the Buddha. This added to the mystique of the icons but also drew heavy criticism from the authorities. The founder of the Eastern Wei dynasty, Gao Huan (496–547), wrote that after the nine-story pagoda in the Northern Wei capital had burnt down, people living on the coast of Shandong province started seeing an apparition of the pagoda, which would disappear into the Eastern Sea. This was interpreted as predicting the fall of the Northern Wei and legitimising the new ruler’s authority.
Cat. 6 Triad with mandorla Late Northern Wei (386–534) or Eastern Wei dynasty (534–550) Limestone H. 76 cm Qingzhou Municipal Museum, Shandong Province Photo © The State Administration of Cultural Heritage, People’s Republic of China


Cat. 18 Seated Buddha Northern Qi dynasty (550–577) Limestone H. 64 cm Qingzhou Municipal Museum, Shandong Province Photo © The State Administration of Cultural Heritage, People’s Republic of China

Cat. 18 SEATED BUDDHA, Northern Qi
Only a few sculptures from Qingzhou show the Buddha cross-legged, although the posture is quite common on sculptures in Chinese cave temples. The Buddha is seated on a round lotus base with double petals. The aquatic lotus has remained one of the primary symbols of Buddhism and is used in all sorts of artistic devices. The half-closed eyes of this statue show the Buddha in meditation. This figure shows a remarkable similarity with figures found in Hebei province (to the north of Shandong), particularly in the rendering of the feet and the hands, and in the stylised representation of overlapping drapery folds. It is likely that, during the Period of Disunity, a number of artisan families from Hebei province were forcibly moved to Qingzhou.


This free-standing Buddha has a nimbus (a halo) decorated with seven small Buddhas. Most of the free-standing Buddhas have halos which are carved separately and attached by an iron hook, but this Buddha and halo have been carved from the same block of stone. When unearthed, the halo was found to be broken in three pieces. The small Buddhas which can be seen on this halo have been identified as ‘manifestation Buddhas’, illustrating that the
Cat. 22 Standing Buddha with head nimbus Northern Qi dynasty (550–577) Limestone H. 116 cm Qingzhou Municipal Museum Shandong Province Photo © The State Administration of Cultural Heritage, People’s Republic of China

Buddha can manifest itself in different visual forms in order to reach every living being with his message. The oversized ears end in elongated perforated earlobes, a sign of the renunciation of worldly pleasures. The ushnisha (protuberance) is much smaller than those on the earlier sculptures we have seen. In contrast to the bodhisattva, the Buddha does not wear any jewellery; he is a fully enlightened being, emancipated from this world and its trappings, who is always represented in simple monk’s attire.


Cat. 26 Standing Buddha Northern Qi dynasty (550–577) Limestone H. 115 cm Qingzhou Municipal Museum, Shandong Province Photo © The State Administration of Cultural Heritage, People’s Republic of China

Cat. 26 STANDING BUDDHA, Northern Qi
The damage this figure has sustained makes it difficult to decipher the intricate scenes carved on its body. It would seem that the scenes were first painted on the sculpted figure, and then carved into reliefs. The images cannot easily be identified without the polychromy, but a comparison with other sculptures from this find suggests that they may depict various Realms of Rebirth (the spheres of the gods, of human beings, of animals, hungry ghosts and hell). There may, however, be regional and folkloristic additions and variations (such as dragons).


This bodhisattva is one of the most outstanding examples of Northern Qi sculptures. It shows the tendency to represent forms naturalistically, a characteristic of Northern Qi: full, oval face, meticulously modelled mouth, curved, downward-looking eyes, fleshy hands and a somewhat stiff posture. The back of this statue is also carved, exemplifying the sixth-century transition from background-bound sculpture to free-standing figures carved in the round. Bodhisattva sculptures are less austere and inward-looking than Buddhas. A bodhisattva is a person on the path to enlightenment, who delays his attainment of nirvana in order to intercede on behalf of other believers. A bodhisattva displays his power and compassion through his graceful gestures and elegant garments. In addition to a sash and a long
Cat. 31 Standing bodhisattva Northern Qi dynasty (550–577) Limestone H. 165 cm Qingzhou Municipal Museum Shandong Province Photo © The State Administration of Cultural Heritage, People’s Republic of China

stole, the bodhisattva wears a long, deeply carved string of pearls, which can be seen on the back and the front. Opulent jewellery on the bodhisattva is meant to symbolise the splendour of another world. Pearls, gold, agate, silver, lapis lazuli and beryl were counted among the Seven Precious - Materials mentioned by the Mahayana scriptures as favoured donations. These were major imports to China in exchange for silk. The necklace is adorned with an animal mask which is spitting pearls. The mask can be traced back to Hindu models. On the sash a figure in prayer, an animal mask, flame jewels and a Buddhist treasure flask are carved. The head-dress shows a small seated figure holding a string of pearls, which is identified as being Buddha Amitabha. The inscription on the back states that it was made on the ‘25th day of the 9th month’, but the year is missing.


Cat. 32 Seated bodhisattva Eastern Wei (534–550) or Northern Qi dynasty (550–577) Limestone H. 90 cm Qingzhou Municipal Museum, Shandong Province Photo © The State Administration of Cultural Heritage, People’s Republic of China

Cat. 32 SEATED BODHISATTVA, Eastern Wei or Northern Qi
This bodhisattva in pensive posture sits on an hourglass-shaped throne. The left foot stands on a lotuscapsule pedestal, which grows out of a coiling dragon’s mouth. The face is still golden, surrounded by black hair styled with four bows. The diadem’s green ribbons on a red background are contained within a pearl roundel, a typical central Asian stylistic device. The styling of the robes and the body indicate a very early date for this sculpture. The style may be recognised from inscriptions at the cave temple of Dunhuang. The statue may represent Prince Siddharta waiting in paradise for his rebirth as a Buddha.


- Amitabha: primary Buddha in the northern Mahayana pantheon, ruler of the western paradise (the imaginary pure land where Buddhist devotees could hope to be reborn) Apsaras (feitan): heavenly flying beings Bodhisattva: one on the path towards becoming a Buddha, but who delays that final act to help others in their quests for nirvana Buddha: the enlightened one Confucianism: Chinese philosophical system associated with the structure of society Daoism: native religion of China, based upon nature worship and shamanism Dharma (Wheel of doctrine): in Buddhist art the wheel of doctrine symbolises the first sermon given by the Buddha Four Noble Truths of Buddhism (the teachings of Buddha) • All life is suffering • This is caused by cravings /desires for material things • Freedom from suffering /absence from craving = nirvana. • This can be reached by following the Eightfold Path to nirvana: 1. right understanding; 2. right directed thought; 3. right speech; 4. right action; 5. right livelihood; 6. right effort; 7. right mindfulness; 8. right concentration Gandhara: refers to an area in present-day Afghanistan and Pakistan, which gave its name to a sculptural style inspired by classical Greece, brought to the area by the Greek soldiers of Alexander the Great Gupta: refers to the best-known period of Indian art of the fourth to seventh centuries, which is characterised by the transcendental, ethereal images of the Buddha that are most familiar today Karma: the accumulated good and bad actions that one commits, which help shape the next incarnation Lakshanas: precious attributes of the Buddha such as the high protuberance on his head (ushnisha) or his elongated earlobes - Mahayana: the Buddhist doctrine of the Great Path which is more inclusive than Hinayana (the Lesser Path), the Buddhist doctrine of the lesser vehicle which requires complete abnegation and renunciation in order to be saved Mandorla: almond-shaped sculptural feature which frames figures or groups and signifies their holiness Mantra: a mystic chant, which evokes the divinity Maitreya: the Buddha of the future Mudra: hand gestures such as ‘fear not’ and ‘your wish is granted’ Nirvana: ultimate goal or condition, beyond existence and without form or definition Nimbus: the halo or cloud surrounding the Buddha which indicates his holy state Stupa: originally a pre-Buddhist dome-shaped burial mound. Under Buddhism, the location of auspicious relics. Sutra: sacred scriptures of Buddhism, said to have been the word of the Buddha Stele: an upright rectangular stone slab or tablet with a straight or rounded top known from the Han dynasty onwards Swastika: symbol of good fortune

CLUNAS, Craig, Art in China, Oxford History of Art, 1997 FISHER, Robert E., Buddhism Art and Architecture, Thames and Hudson, 1993 GERNET, J., A History of Chinese Civilisation, Cambridge University Press, 1982 LEE, Sherman (ed.), China 5,000 Years: Innovation and Transformation in the Arts, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Guggenheim Museum Publications, New York, 1998 RAWSON, J. (ed.), The British Museum Book of Chinese Art, British Museum Press, 1992 SICKMAN, L., and SOPER, A., The Art and Architecture of China, Penguin Books, 1988 TREGEAR, Mary, The Art of China, Thames and Hudson, 1980


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