Ancient Chinese Embossed Buddha Images

27th of Sep. 2000


In ancient 6-9th centuries Far-EAST, Embossed bronze buddhist images were popular, which was beaten on concave/convex bronze mould. Usually, they were embellished by engraving and gilting. It should have been cheap, because many products can be made with one mold and it doesn't need much bronze. Mounted to wood/metal frame, it became personal worship image, or Put many plaques to wall of alter/temple, which they ornamented. Most plaques have several nail holes. It suggest their usage. Horyu-ji monastery in Japan has some backing wood and bronze plate for such embossed images In Japan, Horyu-ji monastery and relative temples and museums have several 7th century plaques.
Japanese learned such technique from China, but chinese embossed plaques are rare.
They should have been more producted than casted whole images, so more should have survived. Controversely, a plaque is rare than a whole images. I feel strange. They were not carefully handled as whole cast image? This thin plate might call heavy corrosion anf bronze desease? Because they were wall ornaments, they disapeared with the architecture?
Here, I introduce some chinese plaques.

Berlin Plaque(Lost?)

Berlin Plaque Perhaps, this plaque is the oldest. Maybe middle 6th century. [Enlarged] The drapery pattern of lower part of buddha robes were popular in middle 6th century. I feel some possiblity that it was made in Korea, but I think it be mostly chinese. Their rows of triads clearly show that they were ornaments of wall. Under the throne, two animals admired. They feel deers. If it so, it is a Shakayamuni-buddha Paradise, because deers symborized Sarnat( Deer Garden) where Shakayamuni-buddha first teached.
4 throne parts are beaten with a common mold. Many angels and surronding buddhas are beaten with 3 molds. It is intersting that a few small mold are used repeatedly to produce this plaque.
In 1920s, Berlin Asia Museum had it. I can't know whether this passed under WWII Berlin Bombing or not. It is regret that I don't know the size, I imagine 30cm H, maybe.
pl. source: Sai-KA-SHA, TAI-TO KO-GEI 100 SEN, 1930, Tokyo

Four Plaques scattered on the Globe.

Hosokawa Winthlop
MOA Hakuturu

1st upper Left is Hosokowa Collection plaque(h 15.4 x w 15.2cm) [Enlarged] E In 1930s, several similar plaques should been uneathed at the same site. Three other palaques were published. 2nd(monocrome) in Winthlop collection, Harvard Univ.(Cat. No.1943.53.74) [Enlarged] E, 3rd(colour) in MOA Museum, Japan, [Enlarged] E, 4th(monochrome) in Hakuturu Museum, Japan. They were made with the same mold, but additive engraving and incising made some varinations. Corrosion, damage, and patina change the surface.

tachibana These are thought to be 6-7th century. The slender bodies of lower boddhisatvas on lotus thrones like 7th century Japan casted relief bronze screen plate in Horyu-ji, Nara. Perpendicular bodies of attendants like ones in the Alterpiese(AD593 :Sui Dynasty), which is in Fine Arts Museum, Boston. Date of these 4 plaques should be Sui-early Tang dynasty.
What is the name of this buddha? Left attendant bodhisatvas holds an indian book. Such book is a sign of Manjusili Bodhisattvas. Since Manjusili Bodhisattovas is usually an attendant of Shakyamuni Buddha, this plaque should depict Syakyamuni Buddha Paradise.

Tour de force Plump image

Nezu Front Nezu 3to4 It might not be believable that this be an embossed plaque. [Enlarged] 22.4x 18.8cm. At heighest, it is raised up 5cm ( 6cm thick, ca).The parfume burner a monster supports raised than others. It likes that whole images casted should be attouched to a bronze plate. But it is really an embossed plate beaten of a bronze plate. [3/4 angle Enlarged IMAGE] Since back beaten hollow is wide at bottom, it was not beaten on mold. Supporting a bronze plate with a sort of paste, craftmen should beat.
I have seen it in Nezu Museum, Tokyo. Yashiro thought it middle Tang(early 8th century) artifact. The round and esoteric shape suggested the date should be later than middle Tang. All figures are plump and have real fresh. The center monster supporting a burner is wild and vivid. Since the halo has fire flame pattern, which is tradition/maniera from later 5th century, it has a traditional face.
Yamanaka Co. sold it to Mr. K. Nezu before 1938. Now in Nezu Museum, Tokyo. 22.4x 18.8cm. bronze gilt. Y. Yashiro thought this is Amidaba-buddha Paradise.
Fanmensi tower warehouse contains some embossing artifacts in about AD840. The technique is lesser than Nezu Plaque. Since Fanmensi treasures were devoted by the Emperor, it should show the summit at that time. This fact lead me Nezu plaque should be produced about middle Tang: the most gorgeous period in Tang dynasty.
pl. and ref. Yukio Yashiro, Chinese Repousee Plaques with Buddhist Figures, "The BIJYUTU KENKYU", No. LXXVIII, 1938/6, Tokyo, Japan

Later embossed image

Brundage Plaq This date is uncertain , may be after late Tang dynasty. [Enlarged] Indeed it is a real chinese embossed plaque, it is not refined, somewhat intimate, and a little lamaistic. The left attendant has a sword and a square object ( Indian book??). This is an esoteric icon of Manjusili. Hence it must be after later 8th century.
A. Brundage had it and donated to St. Francisco. It is in Asia Museum San Francisco.
pl. and ref. A. C. Soper, Some late Chinese Bronze Images(Eight to Fourteenth centuries) in Avery Brundage Collection, M.H.De Young Museum, sanfrancisco , Atribus Asiae vol.31(1969), No.1

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