Description and history
The Shaka triad is a bronze sculpture that depicts Shaka (Sakyamuni) and two bodhisattvas near him. This sculpture is located in the West Precinct of Horyuji temple and was made by Shiba no Kuratsukuri-be no Obito Tori Busshi, who was a Japanese sculptor during the late 6th and early 7th century. Tori’s title Busshi has a meaning of the maker of Buddhist images. The sculpture of the Shaka triad has a mandorla, which has an inscription providing a piece of essential information about the date, the author, donors, and the circumstances in which the statue was created.
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The structures of most temples of this period did not survive. Still, those sculptures that left are significant in defining the Asuka period, which is associated with a turning point for Japanese society and art. The inscription on the back is the focus of many research and scholarly articles because it gives a legend that the central statue was created using the life-size image of Prince Shotoku Taishi, who was a founder of Horyuji Temple and Japanese Early Buddhism.
Characteristics of the figures made by Tori show his interest in linear drapery and include thin, elegant bodies, squatness in the relationship of the body to the feet, and the proportion of the faces. Moreover, the information given in the inscription provides us with a motivation that donators had when funding the making of the sculpture. The reason for the donations was the anxiety because of the illness of the Prince and Princess of Kashiwade.
The mandorla, which was a part of the sculpture, has been an issue for many of the researchers who debated over whether it was a fundamental part of the statue. The mandorla was made using a lost-wax technique. This technique was mainly described as utilizing wax over an inner clay mold for the basic shape and patterns. Then wax was used to cover the outer clay mold, which was then heated and poured into melted bronze. The debates arose because a mandorla inscription could be molded together with the statue or molded many years after the figure was made.
Importance in understanding culture
This sculpture and inscription are vital because they give information about the development of Buddhism in Japan. Buddhism is believed to be the first religion known to the world. Originated in India, it had spread across the globe, starting from a significant part of Asia and bringing its own philosophy, art, and ethics. The central figure of the sculpture is the historical Buddha who lived in the sixth century. When Buddha came to Japan, his name was transformed to Shaka or Shakyamuni, which means sage of the Shaka clan. Tori Busshi was a Chinese immigrant who was also associated with the fact that Buddhism came from China and Korea.
At first, it was mostly welcomed by the rich, ruling nobles of Japan and created an even more significant gap between social classes. The reason for this issue was the complex theories that common people could not understand. The importance of the Shaka Triad sculpture is the information that it gives about Buddhism in Japan and the changes that it brought to Japanese society.
Fig. 17-7. Tori (623) Shaka Triad, kondo, Horyuji, Ikaruga, Nara Prefecture, Japan, Asuka period. Bronze, Shaka 2′ 10″ high. From Gardners Art through the Ages: A Global History (p. 496), by Fred S. Kleiner, 2015, Cengage Learning.