• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 1210

    JAPANESE AND KOREAN ART

    24 March 2003, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 314

    Anonymous, Koryo Dynasty, 13th century

    Visualization of the Hwaom Pure Land

    Price Realised  

    Estimate

    Anonymous, Koryo Dynasty, 13th century
    Visualization of the Hwaom Pure Land
    Hanging scroll; ink, color and gold on silk
    59 3/8 x 23in. (131.1 x 58.5cm.)


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    Published:
    Jackie Menzies, ed., Buddha, Radiant Awakening, exh. cat. (Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2001), pl. 108.

    Iwai Tomoji and Fukushima Tsunenori, eds., Koryo-Richo no bukkyo bijutsu ten/Buddhist Art of Koryo and Choson Dynasties, Korea, exh. cat. (Yamaguchi: Yamaguchi Prefectural Museum of Art, 1997), fig. 47, p. 132.

    Hong Yun-sik, "Koryo bulwha yae yipohsuhew Whaumchungto byunsangdo" (A Koryo Buddhist painting of the "Visualization of the Hwaom Pure Land"), Munhwajae (Cultural Properties), no. 28 (May 1995), fig. 2, p. 287.

    _____, "Whaumchungto sasang dameum Koryo bulwha" (Including the idea of a Koryo Buddhist painting of the "Hwaom Pure Land"), Wolgan Misool (Art Monthly) no. 5 (May 1995), color plates, pp. 169-71.

    _____, "Kaigateki soan shimesu chuki Korai butsuga" (Mid-Koryo Buddhist painting discovery), Tong-il Ilbo (Tong-il Daily News), May 9, 1995, p. 4 (illustrated).

    Samsung Foundation for Culture, ed., Dae Koryo kuk bo jeon/The Great Koryo Exhibition, exh. cat. (Yongin: Ho-Am Art Museum, 1995), pl. 19.
    "Kukbo kub yihyung Koryo bulwha: 'Whaumchungto byungsangdo' choicho balkyun" (A different style of Koryo Buddhist painting: Newly discovered "Visualization of the Hwaom Pure Land"), Joong-ang Ilbo /The Joong-ang Daily News, March 17, 1995, p. 1 (illustrated).

    "Whaumchungto byungsangdo balkyun" (Discovery of a "Visualization of the Hwaom Pure Land"), Jugan Bulgyo/The Jugan Bulgyo Shinmun (Bulgyo weekly/The Jugan Bulgyo newspaper), April 25, 1995, p. 9 (illustrated).

    "Koryo 'Joongki whapung' johnjae yipjeung: Saero balkyun dain 'Whaumchungto byungsangdo'" (Receipt of a mid-Koryo Buddhist painting: A newly discovered "Visualization of the Hwaom Pure Land"), Joong-ang Ilbo/The Joong-ang Daily News, April 16, 1995, p. 13 (illustrated).

    "Whaumchungto pyohyunhan Koryo bulwha balkyun" (Discovery of an expressive Buddhist painting of the "Hwaom Pure Land"), Pub Po Shinmun (Pub Po newspaper), April 26, 1995, p. 8 (illustrated).

    "Kukbo kub Koryo bulwha 'Whaumchungto byungsangdo' balkyun: Joong-ang Ilbo kiwhack team Tokyo yeso" (Discovery of a national-treasure Koryo Buddhist painting "Visualization of the Hwaom Pure Land": Joong-ang Ilbo's Tokyo marketing team), Bulgyo Shinmun (Bulgyo newspaper), April 25, 1995, p. 12 (illustrated).


    This painting is exceptional not only for its high quality and early date, but especiallly for its iconography. It is the only known visualization of the Hwaom (Avatamsaka in Sanskrit) Pure Land, a synthesis of the Avatamsaka school of Buddhism and the Pure Land of the Buddha Amitabha that was popular during the late Koryo period.

    Fifty-two buddhas descend on clouds that tumble down from right to left like swelling surf, cresting in smaller, tighter curls. This descent from heaven is set against a backdrop of thin horizontal bands of white clouds at the top left corner suggesting distant space. The buddhas are individualized by their postures and by their garments (pink, red and white), some made of patchwork and some red with finely detailed gold medallions, typical of Koryo Buddhist painting.

    According to Hong Yun-sik, Director of the Tongguk University Museum, Seoul, the five main buddhas are at the bottom of the painting. They represent, second from the right, Vairocana of the Avatamsaka Sutra wearing a jewelled crown and with both hands extended to the sides, palms facing up; second from the left, Shakyamuni with hands in the gesture of preaching or setting the wheel of the law in motion; and the other three, various forms of Amitabha. Next in importance are the seven itinerant monks carrying backpacks with scriptures carefully wrapped in leopard skins and protected by parasols of thatch. Each monk carries an attribute such as a flywhisk, alm's bowl or willow branch. They may represent the former lives of the seven Buddhas of the Past. Rising behind the monks are an additional forty-one lesser buddhas with transparent haloes and hands held in a gesture of veneration. Together, the fifty-three buddhas represent a crowd of all the buddhas of the past as well as all those who fill the space and the time of the universe.

    Korean monks went to study in Chinese monasteries in the seventh and eighth centuries. When they returned to Korea they introduced Avatamsaka or Hwaom Buddhism, which became one of the most influential sects. During the Koryo dynasty the Hwaom sect was favored by the aristocracy and its temples spread throughout the peninsula. On the other hand, the much more accessible Pure Land salvational sect, originally popularized in the seventh century by the monk Wonhyo, was spreading at the same time. Pure Land Buddhism centered on the worship of Amitabha and appealed to the masses. As outlined by the Korean art historian Pak Youngsook in "The Korean Art Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art" in Arts of Korea (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1998), one should not underestimate the significance of Amitabha Pure Land Buddhism in Korea at this time. In fact, painters along with Buddhist devotees in general were drawn to the last chapter of the forty-volume version of the Avatamsaka Sutra (Hwaom-gyong) translated by Prajna into Chinese in the late eighth century. The final chapter promises rebirth in Amitabha's Western Paradise. In short, since the metaphysical world preached by the supreme buddha Vairocana is incomprehensible to most ordinary Buddhists, the compassionate Amitabha and his paradise are introduced here as an easier and more direct route to salvation.

    Exhibited

    Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, "Buddha: Radiant Awakening," 2001.11.10--2002.2.24
    Ho-Am Art Gallery, Seoul, "Dae Koryo kuk bo jeon/The Great Koryo Exhibition," 1995.7.15--1995.9.10