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Shilla Period Sculpture (57 B.C~A.D. 668)

It took time for Shilla to officially accept Buddhism because of the kingdom's conservatism and geographical remoteness, but when it finally did in 527, the production of Buddhist images flourished. A Buddha about five meters tall was made in Hwangnyongsa temple within two or three decades of Buddhism's acceptance as a state religion. Buddhist sculpture developed so rapidly that by 579, Shilla artisans were exporting their works to Japan. This growth was made possible by the originality of Shilla's artists and the cultural influences of the neighboring Paekche kingdom and Koguryo Kingdom.

Examples of early Shilla sculpture include a gilt-bronze standing Buddha which is believed to have come from Hwangnyong-sa temple, a stone relief of a group of Buddhas on Mt. Tansoksan in Kyongju, a Maitreya seated half cross-legged (National Museum collection) and a gilt-bronze standing bodhisattva excavated from Koch'ang (Kansong Museum collection). Of these, the relief on Mt. Tansoksan best represents the techniques and style of early Shilla. The giant Buddha of Hwangnyongsa temple, which unfortunately was destroyed, must have been of great artistic value as it is recorded to have been one of the three most important treasures of Shilla.

The seventh century saw drastic changes in both the quantity and quality of Buddhist sculpture. The seated stone Buddha of Inwang-ri of Kyongju; the headless figure seated half cross-legged in a posture of meditation on Mt. Songhwasan; a Buddhist group in T'apkok; a part of a stone figure in a half-seated meditational posture, and a stone relief of Buddha, both from Mulya in Ponghwa; and a standing gilt-bronze bodhisattva (the former Toksugung Museum collection) are some examples of this period that share the same stylistic traits. Some of them are portrayed in geometric abstraction, with some indication of Qi and Zhou influences. Some others display Sui and Tang influences, evident in their round, full faces, relaxed bodies and the realistic rendering of the garments.

The stone relief of T'apkok and the triad of Samhwaryong best illustrate the Shilla sculpture of the time. The Buddha, the central figure of the triad, is seated on a low stool in a rather awkward pose. With a low usnisa, the round, smiling face, the elegant rendering of the body under the thin robe, the shallow relief of the sparse folds which cluster at the knee, the Buddhist swastika on the forehead, the decorative knot of the belt, and the simple halo, all indicate a stylistic departure from the previous period. Chinese influences of the Qi, Zhou, and especially of Northern Zhou, are quite obvious. The triad is believed to date from around 600, antedating slightly a triad in Pae-ri, which is believed to have been made in the early 600s.

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