Seated Amitabha Buddha located in Berlin's Museum of Asian Art.

Identification Edit

This sculpture of The Buddha Amitahba is from 746 CE, during the rule of the Tang Dynasty in ancient China. It is made of grey limestone and is 94 cm X 49.5 cm. Berlin’s Museum für Asiatische Kunst, or Berlin's Museum for Asian Art, currently houses this seated sculpture of the Buddha Amitabha ["Buddha Amitabha Auf Dem Lotosthron."] It was made during the "golden age of Buddism in China" and represents a new branch of Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism ["Buddha Amitabha Auf Dem Lotosthron."] This sculpture of a seated Amitabha Buddha was used for religious worship, which can be identified in it's virtuous inscription.

Technical Evaluation Edit

This sculpture was crafted from grey limestone into 94 cm X 49.5 cm dimensions. It's seated position, with the arms resting at his side, represents a dominant component of Amitabha Buddhism, meditation. This seated Amitabha Buddha was extracted from small Chinese village called Baozhong and was donated to the village by a clan of elders called the Fuyin [Wenzel 2011]. This sculpture was found mostly preserved, with its head and body still intact and only missing the left hand ["Buddha Amitabha Auf Dem Lotosthron."] It's base includes an inscription which states:

“As a matter of general principle, while highest truth is devoid of any image, without images there would be nothing to make visible its [being the] truth;and while highest principle is devoid of all words, how, without words, would its [being the] principle be made known” [Wenzel 2011l].
This inscription shows the values of Amitabha Buddhism during the Tang dynasty, which highlighted truthfulness and morality. Limestone was a common sculpting material during the Tang dynasty and was easily found within the region, but other common sculpting materials included marble, sandstone, wood, and bronze [Jessica Rawson, et al]. During the Tang dynasty, sculptures of Buddha started to become more plump and rotund rather than being thin and slender in the past [Jessica Rawson, et al]. This statue was crafted by a sculptor, and even though the sculpture itself was highly valued, the profession of a sculptor was not. [Jessica Rawson, et al]. In fact, “sculptors were nearly anonymous until the 20th century" because the sculpture was to be associated with Buddhism and not the artist [Jessica Rawson, et al]. Sculptors used bronze and iron casting to aid them in their sculpting [Jessica Rawson, et al]. To finish a sculpture, they were often lacquered in vibrant colors with heavy pigments [Jessica Rawson, et al]. However, this Amitabha Buddha's lacquer diminished over time.

Local Historical Context Edit

Buddha amitbha

A traditional painting of Amitabha Buddha, who was often red because it symbolized love and compassion ["Meaning of Amitabha."]

This sculpture was produced in 746 CE, when Emperor Xuanzong was the leader of China and the Tang Dynasty [Department of Asian Art 2001] Emperor Xuanzong was often referred to as ‘The Brilliant Monarch’ because he set high standards for China, especially in the arts and literature. Under his rule, “the Tang culture was much more cosmopolitan and open to influences from the West” [Jessica Rawson, et al]. During this time, the Tang dynasty flourished. Jobs had become specialized in categories such as agriculture, sculpting, and iron casting, and the Silk Road was a catalyst for increased trade during the Tang dynasty ["Tang Dynasty — The Golden Age."]. Even though Buddhism was first found in India, it was during the Tang dynasty that Buddhism really became popular in China ["Tang Dynasty — The Golden Age."]. Some of the more popular art included Buddhist sculptures, which were typically for religious worship and often their inscriptions reveal their religious function. Sculptures and statues with inscriptions such as the seated Amitabha Buddha were very highly valued in Chinese culture because of the emerging interest in Buddhism [Jessica Rawson, et al]. However, as previously stated, the sculptor was not as highly regarded as his own sculpture. This sculpture of the Amitabha Buddha was known as a “celestial Buddha who presides over the Pure Land” ["Buddha, Probably Amitabha (Amituo) [China]."]. Pure Land Buddhism, a branch of Buddhism, is a “devotional cult of the Buddha Amitabha” and “is one of the most popular forms of Mahayana Buddhism in eastern Asia today.” ["Pure Land Buddhism."] Pure Land Buddhism is a belief that the devotion to the Amitabha will lead to the Western Paradise, or ‘the Pure Land’. ["Pure Land Buddhism."]. Amitabha Buddhism “[stressed] the impossibility of achieving enlightenment during a life lived under less-than-ideal circumstances”. ["Buddha, Probably Amitabha (Amituo) [China]."]. Sculptures of deities such as the Amitabha Buddha were intended for "complex rituals and other forms of devotion" [Leidy 2010]. This time period represented a much more progressive China who soon began to emerge as a great empire in Chinese history [Department of Asian Art 2001]

World-Historical Significance  Edit

Buddha another

Another seated Amitabha Buddha from the Tang dynasty, located in The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Amitabha Buddhism “is one of the most popular forms of Mahayana Buddhism in eastern Asia today” ["Pure Land Buddhism."]. In fact, this Amitabha Buddha sculpture is one of many and today there are many replicas available for religious worship. Most of these sculptures include insciptions that reflect the virtues of Amitabha Buddhism such as meditation, dharma, good deeds, and learning ["Pure Land Buddhism."]. The Amitabha Buddha is called the Buddha of Immeasurable Light and often sits in meditation “encouraging the viewer to follow the essential teaching of the Buddha, ‘to subdue one’s mind’” ["Meaning of Amitabha."]. "Chinese Buddhist [sculptures] frequently illustrates interchanges between China and other Buddhist centers" [Leidy 2010]. Buddhism originated in India, but it isn’t nearly as present as it is in China, Tibet, Korea, and Japan today [Leidy 2010]. Mahayana Buddhism spread into Korea, where many similar sculptures of the Amitabha Buddha, both seated and standing, can be found with an array of Bodhisattvas sculptures [Soyoung 2002]. Zen Buddhism, a branch of Mahayana Buddhism that spread into Japan, focuses mainly on meditation. Instead of sculptures like in China and Korea, Zen Buddhism often features their Buddha in ink paintings [Department of Asain Art 2002]. Buddha can be brought to life in many forms, such as sculptures and ink paintings, but his religious importance is universal.

References Edit

"Buddha Amitabha Auf Dem Lotosthron." Staatliche Museen Zu Berlin. Accessed April 21, 2015.  

"Buddha, Probably Amitabha (Amituo) [China]." The Metropolitan Museum of Art. September 1, 2010. Accessed April 21, 2015.

Department of Asian Art. "Tang Dynasty (618-906)." The Metropolitan Museum of Art. October 1, 2001. Accessed April 21, 2015.

Department of Asian Art. "Zen Buddhism." The Metropolitan Museum of Art. October 1, 2002. Accessed April 21, 2015.

Jessica Rawson, et al. "China." Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, accessed April 21, 2015.

Lee, Soyoung. "Korean Buddhist Sculpture (5th–9th Century)." The Metropolitan Museum of Art. October 1, 2002. Accessed April 21, 2015.

Leidy, Denise. "Chinese Buddhist Sculpture." The Metropolitan Museum of Art. September 1, 2010. Accessed April 21, 2015.

"Meaning of Amitabha." Amitabha Hospice Service Trust. Accessed April 21, 2015.    

"Pure Land Buddhism." Encyclopædia Britannica. September 2014. Accessed April 21, 201).

"Tang Dynasty — The Golden Age." Ancient Civilizations. Accessed April 21, 2015.

Wenzel, Claudia. "The Image of the Buddha: Buddha Icons and Aniconic Traditions in India and China." Transcultural Studies. January 1, 2011. Accessed April 21, 2015.