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HOME : Chinese Art : Ming Dynasty : Ming Dynasty Wooden Sculptur
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Ming Dynasty Wooden Sculptur - NP.005
Circa: 1368 AD to 1644 AD
Dimensions: 16.5" (41.9cm) high x 12.5" (31.8cm) wide

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Upon leading a victorious rebellion against the foreign Mongul rulers of the Yuan Dynasty, a peasant named Zhu Yuanzhang seized control of China and founded the Ming Dynasty in 1368. As emperor, he founded his capital at Nanjing and adopted the name Hongwu as his reign title. Hongwu, literally meaning “vast military,” reflects the increased prestige of the army during the Ming Dynasty. Due to the very realistic threat still posed by the Mongols, Hongwu realized that a strong military was essential to Chinese prosperity. Thus, the orthodox Confucian view that the military was an inferior class to be ruled over by an elite class of scholars was reconsidered. During the Ming Dynasty, China proper was reunited after centuries of foreign incursion and occupation. Ming troops controlled Manchuria, and the Korean Joseon Dynasty respected the authority of the Ming rulers, at least nominally.

Like the founders of the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.- 220 A.D.), Hongwu was extremely suspicious of the educated courtiers that advised him and, fearful that they might attempt to overthrow him, he successfully consolidated control of all aspect of government. The strict authoritarian control Hongwu wielded over the affairs of the country was due in part to the centralized system of government he inherited from the Monguls and largely kept intact. However, Hongwu replaced the Mongul bureaucrats who had ruled the country for nearly a century with native Chinese administrators. He also reinstituted the Confucian examination system that tested would-be civic officials on their knowledge of literature and philosophy. Unlike the Song Dynasty (960-1279 A.D.), which received most of its taxes from mercantile commerce, the Ming economy was based primarily on agriculture, reflecting both the peasant roots of its founder as well as the Confucian belief that trade was ignoble and parasitic.

Culturally, the greatest innovation of the Ming Dynasty was the introduction of the novel. Developed from the folk tales of traditional storytellers, these works were transcribed in the everyday vernacular language of the people. Advances in printmaking and the increasing population of urban dwellers largely contributed to the success of these books. Architecturally, the most famous monument of the Ming Dynasty is surely the complex of temples and palaces known as the Forbidden City that was constructed in Beijing after the third ruler of the Ming Dynasty, Emperor Yongle, moved the capital there. Today, the Forbidded Palace remains one of the hallmarks of traditional Chinese architecture and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the vast nation.

The current sculpture dates from this highly changeable and dynamic time. This imposing wooden sculpture depicts the universal (Vairocana) Buddha seated in padmasanam (lotus position) and the hands folded together, palms up, in a meditative position known as dhyana mudra. He holds a small spherical object in his hand, which is commonly interpreted either as a medicine jar, a pearl of wisdom, or a wealth ball. The Buddha is bare-chested and wears a pantaloon-like garment, tied at the waist with an ornate knot, and overlain with a loose, flowing tunic. His face shows no signs of emotion, and has the appearance of one lost in deep meditation. His hair is represented by a series tightly spiraled curls with the supra-cranial eminence – believed to denote Buddha’s wisdom and learning – protruding from the top of the head. The earlobes are long and pendulous, the result of wearing heavy earrings during his princely youth. Unlike some early Chinese Buddha images, such as the Sakyamuni Buddha, the Vairocana Buddha is shown in the standard meditating pose. This reflects the effort made by the Chinese to reinterpret the Buddhist religion, which by the time of the Tang Dynasty had become a central and important part of the Chinese culture. As Buddhism continued to thrive in China, the tenets of the faith and its iconography were continually reinterpreted by generations of religious philosophers and artesans, Soon, the traditional appearance of the Buddha as promulgated by Indian artesans had been changed almost beyond recognition, as this extremely fine figure testifies. - (NP.005)


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