Images of cats from the British Museum collection, £9.99
Explore / Articles
Japanese Buddhist sculpture
With Buddhism, bronze and wooden images of Buddha and bodhisattvas were imported from Korea. A famous example made in Japan is the bronze Shaka triad in Hōryūji Temple in Nara, which bears an inscription saying that it was cast by Torii Busshi, a Korean immigrant, in AD 623. Sculpture changed according to Japanese taste in the Nara period (AD 710-794) when temples were built throughout the country. Materials were bronze, wood, clay and kanshitsu ('dry lacquer'). An example of this last is the portrait statue of Ganjin, the monk who founded Tōshōdaiji Temple.
In the Heian period (794-1185) wood sculpture became the norm and the deities of Esoteric Buddhism provided new subjects. The images became more naturalistic with increasingly complex drapery. Private workshops grew up throughout the country. By the end of the period the main construction method had changed from ichiboku-zukuri ('single wood block') to yosegi-zukuri ('joined wood block').
In the 11th century, the sculptor Jōchō (?-1057) refined yosegi-zukuri into a pure Japanese style to suit the courtly taste of the day. The Amida in the Byōdōin (1053) is the only surviving example of his work. Many temples and their contents were destroyed during the Gempei Wars (1180-85), and a new Kei school emerged, headed by Kōkei (late twelfth century), his son Unkei (died 1223) and disciple Kaikei (late twelfth - early thirteenth centuries). They led a great revival of Buddhist sculpture which was continued by a number of lesser artists through to the end of the Edo period.