Annotated Bibliography: Art History Comparative Analysis

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Art History Comparative Analysis

Buddhist Sculpture of the Song Dynasty

The Song Dynasty (also known as the Sung Dynasty) in China is known to have produced artwork across a multitude of media. While most often, the pottery and painting are most exalted, sculpture was also produced during this period that spanned the late tenth century to the early twelfth century CE. Among the sculptures produced during the Song Dynasty are a number of boddhisattvas, two of which are under discussion herein. Throughout this period, artistic style varied greatly, even within this subset of sculptures. The two works presented are Seated Boddhisattva Avalokitesvara (Guanyin) (hereafter referred to as Seated) and Boddhisattva Guanyin (Kuan-yin) (hereafter referred to as Kuan-yin. Careful formal analysis, paired with literature on the Song Dynasty artistic styles and goals show Kuan-yin to be a precursor to Seated.

Both of these works show the Boddhisattva seated, with the right arm perched upon the right knee, and the left leg crossed in front. Each sculpture has similar headdress, jewelry and robes. Seated faces down somewhat, with the body formed in such a way so as to suggest that the figure is turned somewhat whereas Kuan-yin sits facing forward, with its shoulders squared to the front as well. The latter is made of poly-chromed wood, and Seated is carved of wood that is covered with gesso, pigment and gilding. Both sculptures are from the eleventh century CE, and on both, the robes follow the same contours though the creases and folds in the fabric are carved deeper in Kuan-yin.

The headdresses worn by each sculpture carry a floral motif, though Seated's appears to focus more on leaves and vines whereas Kuan-yin's headdress is predominated by flowers, with clearly defined petals. Each figure wears a small smile, and Seated depicts a face that appears to be looking down, or perhaps the eyes are closed. Seated shows a graceful positioning of the right hand. Unfortunately, the right hand on Kuan-yin is missing, so a comparison cannot be made. However, one might safely presume that the fingers would be relaxed, yet outstretched, similar to the pose of hand shown in Seated.

Amid all of the similarities between these two pieces, the most striking difference is the lifelike movement of Seated. Though created in the same century, it is clear that Kuan-yin is either an earlier work or of the Southern Song Dynasty tradition as opposed to the Northern Song Dynasty style. "In sculptures, statues of boddhisattvas in wood, clay or stone are more lifelike and less symbolic than those of earlier periods, reflecting the new concept of individual personality" ("Song Dynasty"). The stiff posture of Kuan-yin contrasts against the presentation of Seated, but because both are in the same positions and dressed the same, it is a safe presumption to say that either Kuan-yin is a precursor to Seated, or that Seated is not at the end of the movement trending toward individual personality because it still demonstrates the symbols found in Kuan-yin.

Delving further into writings about artistic styles and ideals during the Song Dynasty, one will discover that the artwork of the Southern Song Dynasty is no less aesthetically inclined than the work produced by the Northern Song Dynasty. "The decorative arts also reached the height of elegance and technical perfection during the Southern Song" ("Southern Song Dynasty"). While a more rigid posture is not necessarily indicative of a lack of elegance or technical perfection, there are other, subtle differences between Seated and Kuan-yin that demonstrate the latter to be of inferior elegance than the former. Consider the drapery of the boddhisattva's robes in each piece. In Kuan-yin, the folds are geometrical and do not vary much in depth of carving, whereas in Seated, the folds are more realistically draped, showing varied depths of carving and more naturally curving lines that suggest a subtle elegance. This increased trend toward such a distinction further supports Kuan-yin as a precursor, stylistically, to Seated.

However, all is not settled upon the aforementioned accounts. In his… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Art History Comparative Analysis.  (2011, April 4).  Retrieved May 20, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/art-history-comparative-analysis/148377

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"Art History Comparative Analysis."  Essaytown.com.  April 4, 2011.  Accessed May 20, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/art-history-comparative-analysis/148377.