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Art History Essay : Proposal


Chinese Buddhist Art – What is it?

  • Buddhist art – Art forms that depicts subject matters that originates from the religion of Buddhism.

– Chinese Buddhist art – Buddhist art that originated from China.

– It will inevitably have international influences as even the religion was initially Indian.

– As time went by, it changed mainly in terms of aesthetics despite similar intended purpose. In this essay, I will observe this change through a comparison between two Chinese Buddhist sculptures. One is the Northern Wei Dynasty sculpture in Yungang Grotto, specifically Shakyamuni Buddha in Cave 20, and the other is a Tang Dynasty sculpture in Longmen Grotto, specifically Buddha Vairocana.

Longmen Grottoes

Longmen Grottoes

Yungang Grottoes

Yungang Grottoes



– Scale: Both are monumental and much larger than life (17.14m for Vairocana and 14m tall ), perhaps because both were under patronage of emperor. More manpower might have been involved as it was a ‘government project’, so to say.

– Being carved in a cave – The latter Longmen Grotto might have been intended to ‘rival the [earlier] great Buddha of Yungang’. It might have been a show of craftsmanship using the same technique. Although the type of stones used were different, both are carved in stones and thus might have been expected to last a long time as a legacy (any evidence/citation to support?)

– Intended purpose: worship and political motive (‘contribute to the royal house itself’). For Vairocana: honors Wu Zetian.


– Form : Buddha Vairocana in Longmen Grotto had “better modeling, refinement of proportion, and subtlety of feeling”. (Reminder to give evidence here through visual analysis)

– Medium : Shakyamuni in Yungang Grotto was carved out of soft sandstone, Buddha Vairocana in limestone


– It shows how Buddhism developed in China, and how religion was also a part of politics.

– It also showed how Chinese sculpture developed to be more lifelike.

– Perhaps this development in Chinese Buddhist sculpture would have continued further if the banning of foreign religions in the Tang Dynasty was not administered.

  1. You have chosen two nice objects to compare!
    But, we need to work more on that introduction. It needs more details.
    You have a few interesting ideas hidden in your paragraph on similarities–which of these is going to be your thesis?
    Your paragraph on differences needs to be much more stronger–what is different? subject matter, composition, patronage?