- Gallery Text
Inspired by Indian religious practices — and by tales of the Buddha imprinting his shadow on a cave wall — Chinese adherents of Buddhism created elaborate cave temples at sites in north China from the fifth to twelfth centuries. Hewn into limestone or sandstone cliffs, they ranged in size from small grottoes of only a few square feet (which were typically used as private meditation spaces by monks) to massive temples featuring monumental sculptures. Interiors were embellished with murals and sculptures carved from the rock walls. In sponsoring such sites, social elites, including emperors and their families, displayed their piety, as well as their political ambition and power.
The large Seated Buddha and five sculptural reliefs here come from Tianlongshan, near the city of Taiyuan in Shanxi Province. From the sixth through eighth centuries, approximately twenty-five caves were carved into the cliffs there. The caves had relief sculptures on each wall — often a buddha in a niche flanked by bodhisattvas and other devotional figures. Apsarases, angel-like beings that appear in celebration of auspicious events, decorated the ceilings. To increase their sense of lifelike presence and visibility in the dim cave light, they were brightly painted, as evidenced by the traces of pigment found on the Seated Buddha and others of these figures.
- Identification and Creation
- Object Number
- Seated Buddha (probably Shakyamuni)
- Other Titles
- Alternate Title: Sakyamuni
- Work Type
- sculpture, figure
- early 8th century
- Creation Place: East Asia, China, Shanxi province, Tianlongshan
- Tang dynasty, 618-907
- Persistent Link
Level 1, Room 1610, Buddhist Sculpture, Buddhism and Early East Asian Buddhist Art
View this object's location on our interactive map
- Physical Descriptions
- Light gray sandstone with traces of polychromy; from north wall of Tianlongshan Cave 21, near Taiyuan, Shanxi province
- H. 109.5 x W. 75 x D. 47 cm (43 1/8 x 29 1/2 x 18 1/2 in.)
Weight 699 lb.
- [Yamanaka & Co., New York, May 11, 1936] sold; to Grenville L. Winthrop, New York (1936-1943), bequest; to Fogg Art Museum, 1943.
- Acquisition and Rights
- Credit Line
- Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop
- Accession Year
- Object Number
- Asian and Mediterranean Art
- THIS WORK MAY NOT BE LENT BY THE TERMS OF ITS ACQUISITION TO THE HARVARD ART MUSEUMS.
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- Seated Buddha, both hands missing. From north wall of cave 21 at Tianlongshan, Shanxi province
- Publication History
Kristin A. Mortimer and William G. Klingelhofer, Harvard University Art Museums: A Guide to the Collections, Harvard University Art Museums and Abbeville Press (Cambridge and New York, 1986), no. 22, p. 28
Li Yuqun, "A New Understanding of the Tang Dynasty Grottoes at Tianlongshan", Orientations, Orientations Magazine Ltd. (Hong Kong, May 2002), vol. 34, no. 5, pp. 48-53, p. 50, fig. 5
Stephan Wolohojian and Alvin L. Clark, Jr., Harvard Art Museum/ Handbook, ed. Stephan Wolohojian, Harvard Art Museum (Cambridge, 2008), p. 35
Tianlongshan Caves Project, website, Center for the Art of East Asia, The University of Chicago, accessed April 7, 2021, https://tls.uchicago.edu/single-sculpture/170
- Exhibition History
S426: Chinese Buddhist Cave Sculpture, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 10/20/1985 - 04/30/2008
Re-View: S228-230 Arts of Asia, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 05/31/2008 - 06/01/2013
32Q: 1610 Buddhist Art I, Harvard Art Museums, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050
- Subjects and Contexts
Google Art Project
- Related Media
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