Buddhist Art in Japan

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Buddhism had an important role in the development of Japanese art between the sixth and the sixteenth centuries. Buddhist art and religion came to Japan from China, with the arrival of a bronze Buddhist sculpture alongside the sutras. Buddhist art was encouraged by Crown Prince Taishi in the Suiko period in the sixth century and Emperor Shomu in the Nara period in the eighth century. In the early Heian period Buddhist art and architecture greatly influenced the traditional Shinto arts, and Buddhist painting became fashionable among the wealthy class. The Amida sect of Buddhism provided the basis for many artworks, such as the bronze Great Buddha at Kamakura in the thirteenth century. Many of the great artists during this Kamakura period were Buddhist monks, and Buddhist art became popular among the masses with scroll paintings, paintings used in worship and paintings of saints, hells and other religious themes. Under the Zen sect of Buddhism, portraiture of priests became popular. However, Zen had less use for religious images and by the mid sixteenth century most painting in Japan was of landscapes and secular themes. Buddhist art was introduced to Japan along with the Buddhist religion in 552 AD. Almost all the art produced in this Suiko period in Japan was to do with the new religion. "The introduction of the Buddhist faith had from the very start gone hand in hand with the introduction of Buddhist images." (Munsterberg 1985: 19) These Buddhist images included Chinese scrolls depicting the life of Buddha, at first copied by Chinese priests in Japan, later painted by the Japanese themselves. With the introduction of Buddhism, temples were needed for the practicing of the religion. This consisted of a kondo, a hall whose purpose was to contain a sacred image of a Buddhist saint, as well as a pagoda or gojunoto, a five story tower. The development of Buddhist art was helped greatly by crown prince Shotoku Taishi (573-621) who travelled around the country, establishing Buddhist temples and appointing painters to paint the images to decorate them. In fact, one of the main reasons Buddhism became popular was due to his efforts. "Without [Shotoku's] inspiring patronage Buddhist art could hardly have flourished so successfully among his countrymen." (Anesaki 1975: 20) The main temple he built was the Horyu-ji temple near Nara, now the oldest wooden structure in the world. Inside the kondo, or golden hall, sit large statues of Buddha and two Buddhist saints (bodhisattvas). Also at Horyu-ji are carved wooden Guardian Kings of the Four directions, and the Tamamushi shrine. Similar temples appeared at this time through the Kinai provinces, or western Japan, where Shotoku travelled. Buddhist art continued to flourish under the reign of Emperor Shomu in the eighth century, who built the enormous sculpture of Buddha at Todai-ji. This 16 metre high sculpture used up all the copper in Japan, which for several hundred years had no bronze production because of it. The construction of this temple, and similar temples in Japan's provinces was "inspired by a fervent desire on the part of secular leaders of the time to create in Japan the ideal Land of the Buddha." (Ishizawa 1982: 15) In the imperial ordinance the Emperor issued in 743 he justified the using of the gold involved in the construction of the statue by stating the gold was "a testimony of the marvellous teaching of Buddha." (Tsuda 1976: 38) However, it is likely the emperor also wanted the sculpture to show what Japan was capable of as an independent power from China. In any case, similar structures were constructed all over Japan because of an imperial decree that stated each province should build a pagoda and a temple. Artists of this Nara period also created statues where they removed the clay in the core and replaced it with a wooden frame to make it light enough to be carried in religious festivals. During the eighth century Early Heian period, Buddhist art and architecture...
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