Art of the Week

Korean, Three Kingdoms (50-668)
Standing bodhisattva, 500-99
Bronze 27 cm. h.
Gift of J. R. von Reinhold Jamesson ‘51

The Three Kingdoms of Korea refer to the ancient Korean kingdoms of Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla, which dominated the Korean peninsula and parts of Manchuria for much of the 1st millennium. The Three Kingdoms period ran from 57 ad until Silla’s triumph over Goguryeo in 668, which marked the beginning of the North and South States period of Unified Silla in the South and Balhae in the North. All three kingdoms shared a similar culture and language. Their original religions appear to have been shamanistic, but they were increasingly influenced by Chinese culture, particularly Confucianism and Taoism. In the 4th century, Buddhism was introduced to the peninsula and spread rapidly, briefly becoming the official religion of all three kingdoms.

Bodhisattvas are beings in the Buddhist pantheon that have attained enlightenment but have opted to stay on the temporal world to help those who have not yet reached nirvana. Bodhisattva images of the 6th century are rarely independent figures. Most surviving images are those that were once attached as attendants to a Buddha in a single mandorla triad. Occasionally single mandorla triads were made with the bodhisattva as the main figure with two monks as attendants. This piece figures a plump face and gently depicted robes; fishtail draperies, and large hands.

McKillop, Beth. Korean art and design.  [New York]: IconEditions, [1992].
Korean arts and culture. Seoul, Korea: Seoul International Pub. House, c1986.
Pak, Youngsook. Buddhist sculpture. Seoul: Yekyong, 2002.
Buddhist sculptures of Korea. By: LEE, Lena Kim. Arts of Asia, July/August 1981, Vol. 11, p96-103.

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