maandag 29 juli 2013

China, Dazu Rock Carvings

The steep hillsides of the Dazu area contain an exceptional series of rock carvings dating from the 9th to the 13th century. They are remarkable for their aesthetic quality, their rich diversity of subject matter, both secular and religious, and the light that they shed on everyday life in China during this period. They provide outstanding evidence of the harmonious synthesis of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.

The eclectic nature of religious belief in later imperial China is given material expression in the exceptional artistic heritage of the Dazu rock art. Tantric Buddhism from India and the Chinese Taoist and Confucian beliefs came together at Dazu to create a highly original and influential manifestation of spiritual harmony. The Dazu carvings represent the pinnacle of Chinese rock art for their high aesthetic quality and their diversity of style and subject matter.
The earliest rock carvings in Dazu County date back to AD 650, in the early years of the Tang dynasty, but the main period began in the late 9th century. In 892 Wei Junjing, Prefect of Changzhou, pioneered the carvings at Beishan, and his example was followed after the collapse of the Tang dynasty. The creation of rock carvings ceased during the early years of the Song dynasty, and was not to resume until 1078, in the reign of Emperor Yuan Feng of the Northern Song dynasty. Work began again at Beishan, continuing until 1146, and the groups at Nanshan and Shimenshan were carved.
At Beishan the cliff that houses the carvings is divided into two sections: the north with 100 groups of carvings and the south with 190. There are 264 niches with statues, 1 intaglio painting, and 8 inscribed pillars; in all there are over 10,000 carvings at Beishan. More than half the carvings represent Tantric Buddhism and the remainder relate to the concepts of the Trinity and Sukhavati. Over one-third of the Beishan carvings date from the mid-10th century and are characterized by their small and pretty figures, varied postures, natural and unrestrained features, and delicate dress ornamentation.
Statues from the Song dynasty (late 10th to mid-12th centuries), are more vivid and with clearly differentiated personalities, graceful postures, well-proportioned figures and splendid apparel. The seven inscriptions that survive are important for the study of history, religious beliefs, dating, and the identification of historical figures.
The Nanshan carvings, the best preserved of the five major Taoist groups in China, extend over 86 m. For the most part they depict Taoist subjects. By the 12th century, when these carvings were executed, Taoism had evolved from worship of the Supreme Master and the Three Officials into belief in the Pure Trinity and the Four Emperors.
Shimenshan carvings, from the first half of the 12th century, cover 72 m. They demonstrate the integration of Buddhist and Taoist subjects, the latter being the most characteristic. The 92 statues in the Cave of the Gods and Goddess of Mount Tai [Taishan] reflect the important role of the Taishan Family among the Taoist divinities between the 10th and 13th centuries.
Between 1174 and 1252 the monk Zhao Zhifeng promoted Tantric Buddhism at Baodingshan and created the only large stone ritual site for this belief, attracting master craftsmen from all over the country. Widespread warfare caused work to cease again at the end of the 13th century, and would not begin again until the late 15th century, during the Ming dynasty. It would continue, albeit at a much reduced scale, until the late Qing dynasty (end of 19th century).
Baodingshan is a very impressive site 15 km north-east of Longgang Town, on the sides of a U-shaped gorge over 500m above sea level. There are two groups of carvings. The first and smaller group, known as Xiaofowan, is on top of the mountain and closely linked with the Holy Longevity Monastery, built at the same time but later destroyed by fire and rebuilt during the Ming and Qing dynasties. The second (Daifowan), lies to the west of the monastery. The integration of the basic doctrines of Buddhism, the ethics of Confucianism, the tenets of rationalism, and Taoism. In many ways the Baodingshan carvings may be considered to represent the acme of Chinese rock sculpture.
The late 11th-century Shizhuanshan carvings extend over 130 m and offer a rare example of a tripartite arrangement of Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian images.

Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC

Historical Description

The earliest rock carvings in Dazu County date back to AD 650, in the early years of the Tang Dynasty, but the main period began in the late 9th century. In 892 Wei Junjing, Prefect of Changzhou, pioneered the carvings at Beishan, and his example was followed after the collapse of the Tang Dynasty by prefectural and county officials, local gentry, monks and nuns, and ordinary people in 907-65 (the Period of Five Dynasties and Ten States).
The creation of rock carvings ceased during the early years of the Song Dynasty, and was not to resume until 1078, in the reign of Emperor Yuan Feng of the Northern Song Dynasty; work began again at Beishan, continuing until 1146, and the groups at Nanshan and Shimenshan were carved. Between 1174 and 1252 the monk Zhao Zhifeng promoted Tantric Buddhism at Baodingshan and created the only large stone ritual site for this belief, attracting master craftsmen from all over the country.
Widespread warfare caused work to cease again at the end of the 13th century, and was not to begin again until the late 15th century, during the Ming Dynasty. It was to continue, albeit at a much reduced scale, until the late Qing Dynasty (end of the 19th century).

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