Sat, Aug 31, 2019 - Page 14 News List

Bilingual Arts: Early influences on Buddhist art

Photo 1: Map showing Buddhist expansion from the Buddhist heartland in northern India (dark orange) starting in the 6th century BC, to a Buddhist majority realm (orange), and the historical extent of Buddhism’s influence (yellow). Forms of Buddhism: Mahayana (red arrow), Theravada (green arrow), and Tantric-Vajrayana (blue arrow).

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The historical Buddha Siddhartha Gautama, or Sakyamuni, passed away around the fifth century BC. Later, the Indian emperor Ashoka the Great (304 – 232BC) of the Mauryan Dynasty dispatched Buddhist monks to spread the religion beyond the empire, which had a huge impact throughout the Asia region (photo 1).

During the early years of Buddhism, idol worship was forbidden, and it wasn’t until later, when Greek anthropomorphic concepts influenced Buddhist statues, that Buddhist art developed different styles and an iconological vocabulary of its own (for the Hellenistic Gandharan style of Buddhist statuary, see Bilingual Arts on July 27).

Following the transmission of Buddhism to China via the Silk Road, there was a significant transformation in Buddhist statuary and figurative representation. In Chinese painting there is the twin concept of 吳帶當風、曹衣出水 (“Wu’s strands flapping in the wind, Cao’s clothes from the water”), in which the 吳, wu, of the first phrase referred to the Tang Dynasty painter Wu Daozi (685 – 758AD) — known as the “sage of painting” — while the 曹, cao, of the second refers to the Buddhist figurative artist Cao Zhongda (dates unknown) of the Northern and Southern dynasties period.

Wu’s figurative representations were said to depict clothes billowing in the wind, using flowing lines. No actual examples of Wu’s work survive, but see Bilingual Arts on Sept. 30, 2017 for an introduction to examples of Wu’s painting style in the Dunhuang Mogao Caves.

Cao was from a state in Central Asia, in the present day region of Samarqand in Uzbekistan. He was renowned for his figurative paintings and Buddhist statuary dating to the Northern Qi Dynasty (550 – 577AD). Cao used dense, fine lines to depict figure-hugging clothing, revealing the shape of the torso beneath, as if the person had just emerged from water.

In the tuhua jianwen zhi (Record of Illustration and Traditional Chinese Painting) by Northern Song Dynasty art connoisseur Guo Ruoxu, Guo writes: “under Wu’s brush, clothing is depicted in strong, rounded strokes, fluttering in the air; Cao builds up the clothing with dense, tight lines. Thus, their work was later described as ‘Wu strands in the wind, Cao clothes from the water.’ Indeed, sculpture and statuary started with Cao and Wu.” Guo’s words show us the extent to which the figurative styles of Wu Daozi and Cao Zhongda were to influence Chinese painting and sculpture.

Unfortunately, painting and calligraphy are fragile, and few examples survive the ravages of time. Also, in antiquity, the work of sculptors was anonymous. As a result, we cannot attribute any works to Cao Zhongda per se. Nevertheless, in the extant Buddhist statuary datable to the Northern dynasties, we can still distinguish his style in the Buddhist Caves at Yungang (photo 2), which were clearly influenced by the Gandharan style.

From the Gandharan-influenced style to Cao’s legacy and the lively depictions of Wu, we can see the line of stylistic development of Buddhist statuary, and how Buddhism itself was influenced by its new home.

(Translated by Paul Cooper, Taipei Times)




This story has been viewed 4942 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top