Nara Messages from 1300 Years Ago

Bonten: Nara period (645-794). Dry lacquer. H 55 3/4 in. W: 14 1/2 in.
Taishakuten: Nara period (645-794). Dry lacquer. H 55 1/8 in. W: 15 1/2 in.


“Bonten and Taishakuten are Japanese names for the Vedic deities Brahma and Indra. Brahma, the central Hindu deity, is the creator of all things, while Indra is the god of thunder. In the Japanese pantheon, the two figures are attendants of Shaka, the historical Buddha. These examples, full frontal and upright with graceful torsos, are beautifully colored.”

I found the information on the dry lacquer technique interesting. It originated in China, and the method used several layers of fabric soaked in lacquer and applied to a clay core. The core was later removed leaving a lightweight but durable sculpture. It took a long time and was costly so after the Nara period which these sculptures date from, they stopped using the technique. It’s a bit like papier maché in principle.

I don’t know, I keep thinking of being empty inside yet having strong layers. The emptiness being the floating realm of the Buddha, the layers being your physical body, the representation of the Self, while inside you are the empty, open. The folds of fabric, like the statues are beautiful. Folds of the Universe, folds molding to each body.

Well, something like that.

Don’t you love artwork?

Sure you do.





2 thoughts on “Nara Messages from 1300 Years Ago

  1. I had to go Google this technique and was fascinated by it. I can’t imagine spending all that time making a clay statue, layering it with lacquered fabric, then destroying the clay base inside. I would probably think I was done after I made the clay statue. 🙂 However I suppose without the clay, the statue would be much lighter and easier to move around.
    Love your analogy of “emptiness” with the statues!

    • Exactly, I couldn’t believe it either. When looking back at artisans, even gardeners and dressmaking, the time spent on making things is mind-boggling.

      Granted, they had more time and less people, but they also had slaves and servants and a hierarchy of status/caste that we find distasteful today.

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