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Styles & Periods
Buddhist Art

Two of the many great artistic cultures of Asia have rich traditions involving the depiction of the Buddha. The texts of the Buddha traveled along the silk road from India into China in the second century, and then onto the Japan in the fourth century. Spectacular monuments to the tradition sprang up along the route, and then in the heart of the cities, as the nations embraced the new religion. In China, one of the first great works commemorating the life of the Buddha is the set of monumental carved figures in the cliff in Shanxi. Dating from the fifth century, the central image is a 55 foot-tall seated Buddha in meditation. The facial features show a radical departure from Indian models. The faces are distinctly Chinese, and the aesthetic is elongated and regal. In Dunhuang, cave paintings of the Amitabha, or Paradise Buddha, grace the walls, painted in a naturalistic and soft manner. Japanese depictions of the Buddha certainly used Chinese models, but also came to develop a new sensibility. The Buddhist capital city of Nara on the island of Honshu is the home to many masterpieces of Buddhist architecture and sculpture. The Shaka Triad is one of the earliest groupings there, made in a style that mirrored the work of Chinese artists. Soon, however, a more individual style emerged, one that was lighter, and showed a naturalistic sense of movement and form. Some of the most animated forms are the paired Guardian Kings found at the central gate of temple complexes. The Amida Buddha, created near Kyoto in the ninth century, shows the height of elegance in Japanese Buddhist sculpture.


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