Buddhist Paintings (仏教絵画)

Buddhist paintings are paintings whose subject matter is Buddhism. They include temple wall paintings, paintings drawn on silk, paper and panels, and block prints, and so on.

Buddhist Paintings in India and Southeast Asia

Wall paintings at Ajanta cave temples (mainly the 5th to 6th century, midland India) and wall paintings at Sigiriya (the 6th century, Sri Lanka) are well known.

Buddhist Paintings in Central Asia

There are some wall paintings to decorate stone and earthen walls in the remains of Buddhist temples at Bamiyan, Kizil, Miran, Bezeklik, and so on, and we see that they are influenced from various styles such as Rome, India, China and so on.

Buddhist Paintings in China

According to "Lidai Minghuaji" (Record of Famous Painters of All the Dynasties), it seems that the main stream was wall paintings until the Tang Dynasty. From Mogao Caves in Dunhuang City, a large number of wall paintings from the 5th to 12th century as well as Buddhist paintings drawn on banners, Buddhist paintings drawn as illustrations at the beginnings of Buddhist scriptures in Kansubon (book in scroll style) have been discovered together with Mogao literature.

At Mogao Caves, many Buddha biographies and honshotan (tales of Siddhartha's good deed in previous life) were created in the Northern Wei Period around the 5th century. Since around the seventh century in the period of Tang Dynasty the Illustrations of the Pure Land (the pictures describing Buddhist Heaven and Pure Land) of each Nyorai (Tathagata) had increased.

The portraits of the five patriarchs of the Shingon Buddhism which Kukai brought to To-ji Temple were authentic paintings of the Tang Dynasty created by Li Zhen and others who were kyutei gaka (court painters) (around AD 806).

Li Zhen and a portrait of Amoghavajra

The formidable-looking Juroku Rakan zu (painting of Sixteen Arhats) by Guanxiu (832 - 912) of Former Shu (Qianshu) in the Godai-Jikkoku (Wudai Shiguo) period is well known.

Among works in the early Liao Dynasty, there are wall paintings in the style of the painting academy in Northern Song at rocky hill temples (Shanxi Province) (AD 1167).

Buddhist paintings of the Southern Sung period were imported into Japan and Kenpon Chakushoku Senju Kannon-zu (a picture of Thousand Armed Avalokiteshwara, colored on silk cloth) owned by Eiho-ji Temple and others have been passed down. After the Southern Sung period, Buddhist ink-wash paintings and hakubyoga (white monochrome drawings) reflecting the tastes of temples of Zen sect and bunjin-kanryo (government officials of letters) were also created.

Mokkei, Kannon Enkaku zu (Daitoku-ji Temple), ink painting on silk, the Southern Sung period
Wu Pin, a picture scroll of the 500 followers of Buddha (Cleveland Museum of Art), light color on paper, the late Ming period

In addition, as Mongolians worshipped Tibetan Buddhism, Buddhist paintings in the Tibetan style were introduced in Yuan Dynasty, and since then many of them were created in the Ming and Qing periods.

Buddhist Paintings in Tibet

There are wall paintings as well as mandala (Buddhist visual schema of the enlightened mind) Buddhist paintings called Thangka and used in rites for praying.

Buddhist Paintings in Japan

The Asuka period to the Nara period

Regarding the Asuka period, the remains of paintings, not to mention Buddhist paintings, are scarce and therefore we can only imagine the paintings of those days from the paintings shown on the walls of Tamamushi-no-Zushi (the "Beetle Shrine") of Horyu-ji Temple and from the designs of such remaining artifacts as tenjukoku shucho (embroidery representing Tenjukoku paradise) at Chugu-ji Temple. Reviewing these remains of artifacts, it is presumed that paintings of those days were succinct as greatly influenced by the style of the Chinese six dynasties.

Even from the Nara period there are not many remaining paintings. Reviewing very few remains of artifacts such as Yakushiji Kichijoten zo (the Statue of Kichijoten at Yakushi-ji Temple), we recognize that like other contemporary figurative arts Buddhist paintings of those days were strongly influenced by Tong Dynasty in China. The characteristics of the wall paintings of Kondo (the Golden Pavilion) of the Horyu-ji Temple are strong wire-drawing called Tessenbyo (wire-line drawing) and deep shaded expressions, and these styles are considered to have originated from the paintings in India and the western region (Central Asia). Out of the wall paintings of Kondo (the Golden Pavilion) of the Horyu-ji Temple, the twelve mural paintings on the large walls burned down by the fire which broke out in 1949, and only 20 mural paintings of Hiten (a flying, music-playing Buddhist angel) escaped the fire.

The representative works of that period are the followings:

Tamamushi-no-Zushi (the "Beetle Shrine")(Horyu-ji Temple), Asuka period
Horyu-ji Temple Kondo, Main Hall, mural: Burned down in 1949 (20 mural paintings of Hiten [a flying, music-playing Buddhist angel] escaped the fire), the early Nara period.
Mafu Bosatsu (Shoso-in Treasure Repository), the Nara period
The Statue of Kichijoten (Yakushi-ji Temple), the Nara period
Hokkedo Konpon Mandala (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), Nara period

The Heian period

Although Buddha statues of Esoteric Buddhism were created since the Nara period, the acceptance of Esoteric Buddhism was fragmentary. In the early Heian period, the ninth century, Kukai, Saicho, and other Buddhist monks went to Tang (to China for study) one after another and brought the systematic Esoteric Buddhism to Japan. Those monks who went toTang for study brought to Japan many Mikkyo-zuzo paintings such as Ryokai mandala (also called Ryoubu mandala), which had a deep impact on Buddhist paintings in Japan. Ryokai mandala symbolically represents the view of the world conceived by Esoteric Buddhism; and although the original which Kukai brought over does not exist any more, commonly called Takao mandala at Jingo-ji Temple is said to have been created when Kukai lived and to be close to the original which Kukai brought over. In the later periods, a good number of Ryokai mandala were continuously created. In addition, various mandala and Buddhist paintings to be used for the Shuho (esoteric ritual) of Esoteric Buddhism were produced.

In the late Heian period, as influenced by "Ojoyoshu" (The Essentials of Salvation) by Genshin (a priest) and other writings, Jodo-shinko (the Pure Land faith) which prays for resurrection to Saiho Gokuraku Jodo were spread, and also Mappo-shiso (the "end of the world" belief) which considers the present world as the end of the world where Buddhism has declined was spread. Under such circumstances, Amida Nyorai Raigo-zu (painting of Descent of AmitabhaTathagata), Illustration of the Pure Land, and so on were created aggressively.

The three Jodo Mandaras (three descriptions of the transformation of the Pure Land)
Taima mandala
Chiko mandala
Seikai Mandara

Also, increase in faith on Hokke-kyo Sutra mainly by Imperial court and nobility caused the wide-spread creation of the statues of Fugen Bosatsu which were supposed to protect the believers of Hokke-kyo Sutra. That was the time when the culture in Japan as a whole gradually got away from the strong influence from China and Japanization made progress and this trend is seen in Buddhist paintings from this period. The twelfth century in the late Heian period saw the peak of the history of Japanese Buddhist paintings, and, starting with Fugen bosatsu zo (statue of Fugen bosatsu [Samantabhadra Bodhisattva]) owned by Tokyo National Museum, many aristocratic and aesthetic works were created.
Among Hokke-kyo Sutra and other Buddhist scriptures, there are the remains of so-called sosyoku-kyo (copying of a sutra with decorative ryoshi-paper) whose ryoshi-paper (paper for writing) is decorated with gorgeous coloring and gold and silver foil inlay
The flyleaves illustrations of the Buddhist scriptures are recognized as the Buddhist paintings of that period.

Representative works:
Early period
Ryokai Mandala (Takao Mandala)(Jingo-ji Temple)
Ryokai Mandala (a work attributed to Shingonin Mandala)(To-ji Temple)
Shingon Shichisozo Ryumyo, Statue of Ryuchi (other 5 works are Chinese-style pantings)(To-ji Temple)
Twelve Devas (Nara Saidai-ji Temple [Nara City])
Fudo Myoo zo (colored statue of Cetaka on silk) (Yellow Cetaka) (Enjo-ji Temple)
Late period
Fugen bosatsu (Tokyo National Museum)
Twelve Devas (To-ji Temple's ancestral property, owned by Kyoto National Museum)
Butsu Nehan-zu (painting of Buddha nirvana)(Koyasan Kongobu-ji Temple)
Amida Shoju Raigo (Descent of Amida and the Heavenly Multitude) painting (Mount Koya,Yushi-Hachimanko)
Wall painting of Byodoin Hoo-do (Byodoin Temple)
Flyleaves illustation on Buddhist scriptures donated by Heike (Itsukushima-jinja Shrine)

Furthermore, among the emakimonos (illustrated scrolls) which were widely produced in the late Heian period, we find those whose subject matter is Buddhism such as legends of the temple foundation and biographies of high ranking monks.

Representative works:
Shigisan Engi Emaki (picture scroll depicting the stories about Mt. Shigi)
Kokawadera Engiemaki (a picture scroll of legends of Kokawadera Temple)

The Kamakura period

In this period, Raigo-zu (painting of Descent of Amitabha Tathagata) and sosyoku-kyo (copying of a sutra with decorative ryoshi-paper) were created following the previous period, but we see the advent of new genres such as Rokudo-e (paintings of the six realms) in the context of philosophy of the six realms, Juo-zo (the statue of Juo) depicting the dead realm's king who judges the dead, and suijakuga which are paintings based on the theories of Buddhist/Shinto unity, and the contents of Buddhist paintings became diverse. Zen sect which emphasizes shiho (to inherit the dharma from a priest master) respected the images of the patriarch just as Buddha statues. The portrait of a Zen monk in the Zen-specific style is called Chinso, and the portrait of Daito Kokushi at Daitoku-ji Temple is one of the representative works of this period. The Buddhist paintings of this period have the tendency to emphasize lines drawn in sumi in general as compared to those of the Heian period, and their designs are strongly influenced by the age of the Sung dynasty in China.

Amida Coming over the Mountains (Kyoto Zenrin-ji Temple, Kyoto City)
Amida Shoju Raigo (Descent of Amida and the Heavenly Multitude) painting (Rapid Descent) (Chion-in Temple)
Daruma-zu (Kogaku-ji Temple, Yamanashi)
Portrait of Daitou Kokushi (Daitoku-ji Temple)
Picture of Saint Myoe Seated in Mediation in a Tree (Kozan-ji Temple)
Honen Shonin Eden (Chion-in Temple)
Ippen Shonin Eden (Pictorial biography of the monk Ippen)(jointly owned by Shojoko-ji Temple and Kankikoji temple)
Rokudo-e (painting of the six realms)(Shiga Shoju-raigo-ji Temple)

The Muromachi period

During this period, as Ashikaga Shogun Family supported Zen sect, it became even more popular than in the previous period, and ink-wash painting Rakan zu (pictures of Buddha's disciple) and Kannon zu (Avalokitesvara painting), etc. were aggressively created. Mincho, an artist monk who lived at Tofuku-ji Temple is a representative artist of the period and there exists many of his works including chromatic pictures and ink-wash paintings.

Mincho Shoichi Kokushi zo (image of Shoichi Kokushi)(Tofuku-ji Temple)

From early modern ages onward

During the early modern ages a large number of Buddhist paintings were created, which are classified by shape into paintings on the walls of fusuma of a building and painting on folding screens, and by genres into literati painting, Rimpa school, MARUYAMA Shijo school, Ukiyoe, and others, and therefore it is difficult to say that Buddhist paintings were of the main stream in the history of paintings. Even in this period such an artist as Tamechika REIZEI Fukko Yamato-eha (a group of artists from the late Edo period who consciously attempted to revive the past tradition of Heian and Kamakura periods) created superior Buddhist paintings.

In the Meiji period many old Buddha paintings were reproduced by painters of the Nihon Bijitsuin (The Japan Art Institute) under the direction of Tenshin OKAKURA and also new Buddhist paintings were made. Hibo Kannon-zu (painting of Avalokitesvara as a merciful mother) by Hogai KANO (owned by Tokyo University of the Arts) can be considered as a representative work of them.