You are here > Home > Quick Navigation > Sculpture & Carving >

Statues in Four Chinese Grottos

In 460, the Wuzhou mountain valley in Datong, Shanxi Province, was reverberating with the sound of iron hammers beating rocks. A monk was directing hundreds of thousands of workers to continue their labor, carving stones and rocks to begin creating the Yungang Grottos. The monk, Yu Yao, was ordered by the emperor of the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534) to supervise the historic project. Most of the Northern Wei rulers believed in Buddhism, and the digging of the Yungang Grottos went on for some 3O years. Under the direct leadership of the emperor and the ruling officials, the Yungang Grottos were constructed on a large scale and extend for about one kilometer from east to west. Today there are 53 individual grottos with 51000 statues in the Yungang Grottos.

The statues include Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, vegetable growers and young children. They show variety of expression and the drapery was carved with refined and consummate skill. The Buddha statues in the No.8 Grotto-one with three heads and eight arms and the other with five heads and six arms-have well-shaped bodies and natural expressions. The Flying Asparas statues in No. 7 and No. 9 grottos convey great strength and are surrounded by lotus flowers. The decorative patterns in the Yungang Grottos are also very attractive, adding to the religious atmosphere and demonstrating the majesty and prosperity of the ruling class of the time.

The Yungang Grottos introduced foreign Buddhist art imagery but, at the same time, drew on the legacy of the powerful Han Dynasty artistic traditions. The grottos emphasize the statues in their entirety and reveal their inner spirit and great strength. Being the early focus of Buddhism during the Northern Wei Dynasty, the Yungang Grottos had great influence on grotto art development in other Chinese areas. (Fig.3-10)(Fig.3-11)

The Mogao Grottos in the Hexi Corridor in Gansu Province are composed of conglomerate rock that cannot be carved. Many colored clay sculptures adorn these grottos, some standing singly, some in groups. The Buddha statues are usually set in the center, surrounded by followers on two sides. These followers number three at least and 11at most. The biggest Buddha statue is 33 meters high, and the smallest one is only 1O cm. The statues are surrounded by beautiful murals depicting Buddhist stories. (Fig.3-12)

The Longmen Grottos are situated on the bank of the Yi River in Luoyang, Henan Province. They were carved from the Northern Wei to the Song dynasties. There are over 21,000 grottos with some 100,000 statues in the Longmen Grottos. Two caves, the Guyang Cave and the Binyang Cave, contain the most representative statues. The Sykyamuni statue in the Guyang Cave sits cross-legged with a smile on his round face. The Buddhas on his two sides appear solemn. On the walls of the cave are three rows of big niches and countless small niches. The patterns in these niches are elegant and enigmatic. The main Buddha in the Binyang Cave has a long face and nose; he is smiling. Three fingers of his left hand Curve downward, and his right hand is stretched forward, which indicates he is explaining Buddhist scripture. In front of the Buddha are two mighty stone lions; on two sides are four followers. The roof of the cave is carved with lotus flowers surrounded by white clouds, and the Flying Asparas are dancing in the clouds. On the front wall and the two side walls are four tiers of exquisite relief carvings.(Fig.3-13)

The Maijishan Grottos are situated in the Maiji Mountain, southeast of Tianshui County in Gansu Province. The mountain, which is shaped like a haystack, gets its name from the Chinese for haystack, ma4iConstruction of the Maijishan Grottos went on from the Northern Wei till the Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. But because of earthquakes and erosion by wind and water, about one-third of the grottos have crumbled in ruins. only 194 grottos with about 7800 clay and stone statues and some 1300 square meters of murals are preserved. Clay statues in the Maijishan Grottos include round carvings, deep reliefs, paste carvings, and wall carvings. The round carvings are very vivid and full of interest; they range from the 16-meter big Buddha to a small 10cm sculpture. The Buddha statues in the Maijishan Grottos are humanized, making viewers feel familiar with them.(rig.3-14)

Besides the four big grottos, there are many small grottos and cliff sculptures of different styles on a minor scale throughout China.

Quick Navigation

New Article