Logo Reino Unido Logo España
Chinese Sculpture


Stone (Qing Dou)

6th century,Qi Dinasty.


35 cm.

<< Back
Buddhist sculpture from Qingzhou during the Northern Qi dynasty (550 -577) is notably different in style from the works found there during the late Northern and the Eastern Wei dynasties (386 – 550).Many free – standing Buddha figures from the Northern Qi dynasty share certain characteristic features. They are generally about one metre height, with not very pronounced protruberances under their crowns (the unisha, the sign of transcendent wisdom), and their eyes are almost closed, expressing contemplation. They raise their right hand in the "Fear not!" gesture or "abhaya mudra" and their left hand in a lower position, indicates "your wish is granted" or "varada mûdra".The number of figures unearthed is likewise surprising. Certainly, the making of cult images at that period was determined not only by the needs of a temple, but also by those who donated such images. The most striking differences between the sculpture of the Northern Qi dynasty and that of the Northern and Eastern Wei dynasties are in the garments depicted in the figures and in the treatment of the body. In the first half of the sixth century the Buddha wears a monk`s robe with a sash, and a mantle of a thick material. In the second half of the century this typically Chinese attire, inspired by the robes of Confucian officials, is replaced by a close-fitting monk`s garment of thin, light material, clearly influenced by Indian dresses.This garment appears in two variants. In the first variant, the drapery falls in series of narrow, U-shaped folds, either covering the body completely or leaving the right shoulder and the chest exposed. The folds are represented either by double lines or by ridges. In the second variant , the garment clings to the body, the smoothness of the material is only disturbed at the collar, the ends of the sleeves and the hem, where arc-shaped lines indicate a slight outline of the cloth.Traces of polychromy on many of these figures show that the robes were often painted with squares like shapes denoting patchwork, with figurative images ocuppying some of the inside of these squares. The bodies of the figures attired in Chinese dresses are static and restrained in treatment. In contrast the figures of the Northern Qi dynasty emphasise the three-dimensional fullness of the body and sometimes appear with a slight indication of movement.In 1976 Northern Qi figures of this type were found near the ruins of Longhua Temple in Shandong Province. This was followed by the discovery of stylistically similar pieces during excavations carried out from 1988 to 1990 in the precints of a temple in Zhucheng, Shandong. Yet widespread interest was not aroused until the sculpture hoard found at Longxing Temple in Qingzhou, that was unearthed in 1996. The stylistic origin of both variants of the figure with smooth drapery are in Mathura and Sarnath in northern India, the two great centres of Buddhist art during the Gupta period in the fourth and fifth centuries.The drapery in some examples clings so tightly to the body that this type of robe was likened in China to a wet cloth taken "out of the water". In statues from Sarnath, which lies on the River Ganges and became an artistic centre slightly later than Mathura, the Buddha often wears a smooth robe almost completly free of folds. Only at the neck, the ends of the sleeves and the hem it does some curved incised lines, indicating the presence of clothing.Figures of the Buddha wearing thin robes existed in India before the fourth century, in the north-west and in Gandhara. From about the fourth century the Buddhist art of these regions influenced the style of the sculpture made in cave temples on the Silk Roads in central Xinjiang. By the beginning of the fifth century Buddhist sculpture with stylistic traits from northern India and Gandhara was to be found even further east, in the heartland of China.This "indian" mode prevailed in China Buddhist sculpture until 480. A change in style occurred between 480 and 490, in the reign of Emperor Xiaowen (471-499) of the Northern Wei dynasty. Marked by the introduction of the Chinese Buddhist attire. Some 50 years later, in the mid-sixth century, sculpture in places further east in China, particularly Qingzhou, Shandong Province, and Quyang, Hebei Province, one more began adopting and adapting stylistic traits from Indian models. Is possible that these Northern Qi figures with their thin robes were influenced directly by contemporary, Gupta –period images of the Buddha in India. This influence could have arrived because of the Northern Qi rulers, originally members of a non-indigenous, nomadic people belonging to the Xianbei culture, admired all things foreign and are said to have treated even humble Indian monks with deference. Unlike the emperors of the late Northern Wei dynasty, who, although also non-native, with a"barbarian" origin, enthusiastically adopted a policy of sinicisation, these Northern Qi rulers emphasised their Xianbei traditions and where sympathetic towards everything non-Chinese.Before Buddhist art flourished in Shandong during the Northern Qi Dynasty, regions further south in China were in contact with South-East Asia and India. These territories of the Southern Dynasties, centred on Jiankang, enjoyed some 50 years of peace under Emperor Wu (502 – 549) of the Liang Dynasty. At this time many monks left South-East Asia and India travelled by sea to Liang. Numerous Buddhist temples were built, and Indian-style images of the Buddha seen to have been greatly admired. The early Buddhist images imported from India and worshipped at the court of Emperor Wu are not extant, yet works based on them have survived. Since the early twentieth century standing Buddhas with thin, Indian-style garments from the period of the Northern and Southern dynasties (420 – 589) have repeatedly been found on the upper reaches, near Chengdu, Sichuan Province. The Chengdu figures are comparable in style to the Northern Qi sculptures from Qingzhou. The Northern Qi dynasty is known to have been in contact with the Liang dynasty in the south. The rites and ceremonies of the Northern Qi were influenced by the Liang, and perhaps this influence extended the Buddhist images.Buddha statues with almost completely smooth drapery have been found in China only in the Qingzhou region. This figure type derived ultimately from the art of Sarnath, and reached Qingzhou and Southern China. The great cave temples on the trade routes from India to China were important centres of Buddhist art. The Northern Qi dynasty had close relations with the oasis town of Kucha on the Silk Roads in what is now Xinjiang. The Qi rulers were attracted not only to the dancing and music of their neighbours, but also to the cave temple architecture of Kucha. Comparing Buddha images from the Northern Qi dynasty with those of Kucha, we can find also certain similarities.During the Northern Qi Dynasty, Buddhist monks and laymen also came to China directly from India. The indian orientations of Northern Qi sculpture distinguishes it not only from the Buddha images popular under the Northern Wei emperor Xiaowen (471 – 499), with their Chinese-style attire, but also from the art of the Liang and Chen dynasties in the south and the Northern Zhou dynasty in the west.The most popular type of sculpture during the Northern Qi dynasty was the figure sculpted in the round. A great number of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas were carved. These figures have been classified as free-standing sculptures, yet they are not intended to be seen from all sides; rather, they were designed to be venerated from the front in temples. Extant cave temples of this period indicate that statues in cult spaces were arranged symmetrically. The sculptures from the Longxing find thus have to be imagined as belonging to groups, such a triads showing the Buddha in the centre and bodhisattvas and other figures on either side. The figures are a random group of cult images that happened to have survived the 500 years from their creation to the sealing of the pit in which they have been deposited.