The Buddha's body is gold and continuously radiates light in each direction for one zhang 丈 .

* 丈: Ancient Chinese unit of length, of about 3.03~3.2 meter

- Mahaprajnaparamita Sutra (Perfection of Transcendent Wisdom)  Volume 4 -



Gilt-Bronze Buddha Statues (金銅佛像)


Thirty-two characteristics of the Buddha's body distinguish it from that of an ordinary human. One of these characteristics is its golden color. The use of gold as a material to physically express the qualities of the Buddha is not, however, the only way to represent the Buddhist doctrines. There is also the mudrā, a symbolic gesture made by a hand or hands that demonstrates the Buddha’s virtue, and the uṣṇīṣa, a topknot-like protuberance on the Buddha’s head that represents the Buddha’s wisdom . Most of the surviving ancient gilt-bronze statues of buddhas and bodhisattvas are less than 30 centimeters tall. This portability meant that these small statues could be transferred from the sites where they were produced to elsewhere on the Korean Peninsula—or even to Japan. In this online exhibition, various gilt-bronze statues of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas will provide the viewer with an opportunity to consider the cultural exchanges and aesthetic preferences of ancient Korea and Japan.



Gilt-bronze Standing Buddha Triad (金銅三尊佛立像)

Three Kingdoms period, Baekje, 6th to 7th century, gilt bronze, Main Buddha H. 28.1cm. Tokyo National Museum, Japan. Important Cultural Property. ⓒColBase (https://colbase.nich.go.jp/)

This standing triad is believed to have been manufactured from around the 6th to 7th century. A single main buddha with a large halo is flanked by attendant buddhas on either side. An analysis of the casting method reveals that many bubbles remain inside the melted copper; this casting technique is mainly found in Buddhist statues made on the Korean Peninsula during the Three Kingdoms period. Therefore, scholars believe that this Buddha Triad was produced on the Korean Peninsula and exported to Japan. It is classified as a Buddhist work from Baekje because the round, chubby faces and patterns of the halo-like mandorla relate closely to other statues from Baekje.


What other Buddhist statues might have been produced in Japan under the influence of the Korean Peninsula?


Standing Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva (觀音菩薩立像)

Asuka period, 7th century, wood with polychrome, H. 322.5cm. Tokyo National Museum, Japan. ⓒColBase (https://colbase.nich.go.jp/)

This standing Avalokiteśvara bodhisattva in the Tokyo National Museum collection was donated by Hōryūji temple. It is said to be made of camphor wood sent by King Wideok (威德王, r. 525-598) of Baekje to the Japanese royal family in the late 6th century, and thus it is called the "Baekje Gwaneum” (百濟觀音), meaning Avalokiteśvara of Baekje, in Japanese pronunciation, the “Kudara Kannon.”

Śākyamuni Buddha Triad from the Main Hall of Hōryūji  (金堂 釋迦三尊像)

Asuka period, 623, gilt bronze, overall H. 134.3cm. Hōryūji, Nara, Japan. ⓒARTstor

According to an inscription etched into the back of its halo-like mandorla, this Buddha Triad, which is housed in the main Hall of Hōryūji, was created in 623 after the death of Prince Shōtoku's mother and during the illness of his consort. In addition, the last part of the inscription states that it was "made by Sama'ansu Dori Bulsa” (司馬鞍首止利佛師作), which indicates the creator was Dori, a craftsman from the Ministry of Artistry (工鞍部) in the Baekje government.


Buddhism and the Buddhist Culture That Spread to Japan


Click to zoom in on the image

Gilt-bronze Standing Śākyamuni Buddha (金銅如來立像)

Unified Silla period, 8th century, gilt bronze, H. 12.6cm. Tokyo National Museum, Japan. ⓒColBase (https://colbase.nich.go.jp/)

  • Detail upper body and head

Side view

The robe is worn in a style that covers both shoulders, and the folds of the robe flow down gently to the feet forming a Y-shape. Because the head is large and the hands small in proportion to the body, it does not evoke a realistic sense of volume, but it conveys an idealized beauty. During the 8th century of the Unified Silla period, many standing gilt-bronze statues with robes draped in a Y-shape were produced in this type of formalized manner.

Gilt-bronze Standing Śākyamuni Buddha (金銅如來立像)

Unified Silla period, 8th century, gilt bronze, overall H. 21.8cm. W. 8.8cm. National Museum of Korea. ⓒNational Museum of Korea

Back view

Upper portion and head

The uṣṇīṣa (肉髻), a topknot-like protuberance on top of Śākyamuni’s head, has two tiers. The Buddha wears a dharma robe (法衣) covering both shoulders. The right edge of the dharma robe crosses over the left arm and shoulder, and the inner robe (內衣) crosses obliquely. This form of dharma robe is seen most prominently from the late 8th century.

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