Digital 3D scans carried out on a 6th century life-size statue of a monk have revealed stunning illustrations carved into the limestone that depict stories from the Buddha’s life and teachings. The carvings are almost impossible to see with the naked eye, so the new scans will enable experts to decipher the stories that are intricately embedded in the robe.
The Buddha Vairochana (Pilushena) statue, known also as the “Cosmic Buddha” was originally recovered from Henan province in China and belongs to the Northern Qi dynasty (550 – 577 AD), an era of great artistic transformation and religious expression.
“The iconography of the narrative scenes that cover its form-fitting robe represents the life of the Historical Buddha as well as the “Realms of Existence,” a symbolic map of the Buddhist world,” explains the Freer Gallery of Art , where the Buddha is on display.
In Buddhist texts, Vairochana is described as the generative force behind all phenomena in the universe. He is also a central figure in the Chinese schools of Tiantai and Huayan. The narrative scenes are spiritual emanations rising from the Buddha himself and illustrate fundamental Buddhist teachings. These scenes originally would have been painted, as suggested by the slight traces of pigment that remain.”
3D Scans Reveal Detail of Intricate Carvings
The Washington Post reports that the carvings on the Buddha are extremely worn and researchers and art historians had been trying for years to piece together the illustrations using paper rubbings. However, when this process began to wear down the surface of the sculpture, Keith Wilson, curator of ancient Chinese art at the Freer and Sackler Galleries, turned to Smithsonian’s new 3D digitization program for assistance.
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