A sacred monument from the past and the art of sculpting with clay

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Ti Gong

Shuanglin Temple in Shanxi Province deserves the title of “the world’s best colored clay sculpture museum”.

Easy to obtain and inexpensive, clay replaced materials such as stone and metal during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) to become a prime choice for sculpture in Buddhist temples. Shuanglin Temple, southwest of Pingyao Old Town, Shanxi Province, fully deserves the title of “the world’s best colored clay sculpture museum”.

From the smallest at just 30 centimeters high to the tallest at over 3 meters, the sculptures of Buddha and heavenly warriors in the temple are a pinnacle in the history of Chinese colorful clay sculptures.

They sit, sleep, squat and squat on walls, ceilings, pillars or high platforms. They wear long loose dresses with beautiful headgear or stiff armor with various weapons. There are 2000 Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian statues in 10 halls.

If an ordinary Buddha statue in other temples can be compared to a standard passport photo, the sculptures at Shuanglin Temple could be considered Instagram posts that show your personality and life stories with more enjoyment, making the solemn and sacred Buddhist themes diverse and interesting, while showcasing the superb skills of the craftsmen and the artistic appeal of the clay sculptures.

The statue of Bodhisattva Weituo in the Hall of a Thousand Buddhas is definitely the cover photo.

About 1.6 meters tall, the Buddha in full armor holds a vajra weapon in his left hand and clenches his right fist.

Standing on a T-shaped step with his head held high, Weituo shows a straight and stern demeanor with furrowed brows and dazzling eyes.

The craftsman handled his armor and the battle robe streamers in a very delicate manner. The rough and stiff texture of the weave contrasts sharply with the soft and tender flying streamers.

Weituo’s portrait is far exaggerated with the entire body in a twisted posture. His elbow is elongated, representing the powerful bravery of the picture and a feeling of anger with pride.

There was once another statue of Yecha Buddha in front of Weituo, but it was stolen and it is not known where it is.

There are over 500 statues of Buddha in this hall, some riding on auspicious clouds and others sitting on the backs of animals.

Over 30 statues of donors from the Ming Dynasty are lined up on both sides of the gate.

Their very realistic costumes and headgear provide invaluable material for the current study of the sartorial culture of the dynasty.

The Hall of Heavenly Kings has 15 statues inside and four outside. They sit or stand, and some are served by goblins at their feet.

A celestial king with a big belly has to tie his pants just under the nipples, while the anther rolls his eyes, nose in the air, half naked.

In the back wall of the hall, a Guanyin Buddha was carved to be mounted on a monster in the roaring waves across the stormy sea.

He lowers one leg and puts another on the animal’s back, perfectly calm and collected.

The Shijia Hall is a hall of statues suspended from the four walls.

In total, 48 sets of sculptures tell how the religion’s founder, Sakyamuni, was born, died, and obtained his nirvana and rebirth to become a Buddha.

More than 200 characters with different postures and various costumes were sculpted by commuting between buildings.

The Hall of Buddhas is located to the west of the temple and is a Guanyin Warrior Spirit Shrine of a Thousand Hands and a Thousand Eyes, surrounded by over 400 little Buddhas, standing on colorful clouds.

Almost all Buddhist temples have an Arhat hall and the Shuanglin temple is no exception. Here there are the 18 arhats of the Ming version. Real size, they keep both sides of Guanyin Buddha.

With precise proportions and anatomy, the arhats are full of vigor and personality with varied facial expressions.

A big difference that sets this room apart from others is that these arhats are separated by wooden niches with intricate wood carving.



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