This exhibition features six replicas of Buddhist statues made as final research projects by master’s and doctoral degree students specializing in sculpture and statue restoration studies at the Tokyo University of the Arts Graduate School of Conservation.
The replicas are of a standing bodhisattva Maitreya (Buddha of the Future) statue from the temple Todaiji Chushoin, a bodhisattva Sūryaprabha statue from the Tokyo National Museum, a bodhisattva Candraprabha statue from Tokyo University of the Arts, a seated Samantabhadra (Bodhisattva) statue from the temple Jionji in Yamagata Prefecture, a standing Tathāgata statue from the temple Toshodaiji, and a dry-lacquer wooden statue core from the temple Akishinodera. The exhibition introduces fascinating insights into the techniques for making such statues gained through creating replicas.
[Organizer] The University Museum, the University of Tokyo (UMUT)
Conservation forms part of the activities of a museum. A museum must balance both exhibiting and conserving, though the latter does not mean merely maintaining an artifact in its present condition but also actively conducting research to find new insights and provide information about the object. Exploring this theme of conservation, the exhibition features six replicas made as the final research projects of Tokyo University of the Arts Graduate School of Conservation master’s and doctoral degree students specializing in sculpture and statue restoration studies. In the field of archaeology, scholars verify research by re-enacting something using the same methods as people originally employed. When producing replicas in cultural property conservation, re-enacting the techniques used at the time likewise makes it possible to verify the details of the production process and construction that are difficult to determine from scientific analysis. Re-experiencing the same procedure as the original production and observing things from the same perspective as the original creator can also lead to new discoveries. When attempting a replica, the maker reproduces as much as possible the conditions under which the artifact was made, including the use of tools like a soft iron and steel forged-welded chisel or tempered saw, and employing traditional materials like cypress and lacquer, though the maker may also reference findings from X-rays and the latest advances in 3D laser scanning. By skillfully balancing classical tools and materials with contemporary technology, and through engineering, it is possible to produce accurate replicas. Completed replicas are both achievements in the pursuit of new art-historical knowledge and authentic new contemporary works in their own right.
Among the works of art and crafts designated as National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties in Japan, sculptures account for the largest number. Of these, most are Buddhist statues. Preserving these by legal structures or by environmental means, such as protecting them against humidity, earthquakes, and fires, is often not enough, and making replicas gradually accumulates new insights and leads to better conservation of cultural properties in the future.
Replica and Presumed Restoration of Standing Bodhisattva Maitreya (Buddha of the Future) from Todaiji Chushoin
Kojima Hisanori / 2014
Aiming to get closer to the intentions of Kamakura-period (1185–1333) Buddhist sculptors and based on scientific study, this is a very accurate replica that includes even the incredibly complex internal structure of the statue. Over the process of making the replica, it became apparent that the change midway from the original position of standing up straight to one whereby the statue seems almost to be walking gave the statue a highly unusual structure. Since this distinctive appearance that resulted from the alteration was continued by subsequent generations of sculptors, the statue may well have served as a prototype in the early Kamakura period, when Japanese Buddhist statues evolved considerably.
Replica of Bodhisattva Sūryaprabha Statue from the Tokyo National Museum and Bodhisattva Candraprabha Statue from Tokyo University of the Arts
Shirasawa Yoji / 2013
These are replicas of Nara-period (710–794) attendant figure statues (intended to accompany another statue in the middle) made in the wooden-core dry-lacquer style. This is a technique in which a wooden core is first made, over which the details are molded with a mix of lacquer and wood powder. The nature and process of the technique leaves many aspects of the resulting statue unclear. The cores of both statues comprise a skeletal frame with a head, torso, arms, and legs, and are crafted in such a way as to work symmetrically as attendants to the main statue. The parts also take into consideration structural strength and processing ease, and are shaped simplistically to lend sculptural volume and movement. In this, we sense not the process for making a wooden statue, but rather a structure and shape based on the technique for modelling a statue using a wood-lacquer paste. Along with the forethought required for shaping the ideal form, the unstinting effort visible everywhere in the statues reflects how they were produced in order to convey a more sculptural style of expression.
Replica of Seated Samantabhadra (Bodhisattva) Statue from Jionji, Yamagata Prefecture
Lee Pin Yi / 2020
This is a replica of a seated Shakyamuni (Gautama Buddha) statue made as part of a study of replicas of the Shakyamuni triad (Shakyamuni flanked by two bodhisattvas) at the temple Jionji. Thanks to a highly precise scientific survey of the Shakyamuni triad statues, the carving lines on the statue base and conjoined plane were confirmed. After verifying these with 3D data, the carving lines were used for reference when making the statue. The silhouettes of the three statues are very similar and it is likely that they were made according to the same overall design. Over the course of making the replica, it became clear that the statues were sculpted initially as per a fixed plan and then various changes were made midway through, such as completely remaking the head parts and altering the mudra (hand pose). From the records we have of the remodelling of Buddhist statues undertaken at the request of powerful figures during the period of cloistered emperors (ca. 1067–1221), we can tell that Buddhist sculptors employed a wide range of technical tricks to meet those demands.
Replica of Standing Tathāgata Statue from Toshodaiji
Tsuchiya Yoshimasa / 2003
Made from a single piece of wood as was common in the early Heian period (794–1185), this statue at the temple Toshodaiji is that of Tathāgata standing upright, wearing vestments, and with both arms bent. The head as well as the ends of the arms and legs are missing. The statue is characterized by its “wavy” style with a richly inflected, physical-seeming body alongside large, circular curves alternating with smaller ridged curves. This “wavy” style was often employed in the early Heian period and accentuates the intensity and sense of volume. During the process of carving the statue from a single block of wood, the sculptor would work from the back to scrape out the inside in order to prevent the wood from cracking when it dries. This replica was made the same way, though a large crack nonetheless appeared when it dried. While we may presume the cause to be inadequately dried wood, this result also indicates that people in Japan a thousand years ago had a truly profound understanding of timber.
Dry-Lacquer Wooden Statue Core from Akishinodera
Kikuchi Toshimasa / 2008
This is a replica of the current state of a dry-lacquer wooden statue core at the temple Akishinodera, an example of a late Tenpyo-period (729–749) sculpture in which we can determine that the clay statue prototype core used in hollow dry-lacquer statues is the same kind of core as those inserted into dry-lacquer statues. From the various mortices as well as where the parts are fixed in place with iron nails, we can see the highly sophisticated carpentry of this statue core. The upper shoulder is hollowed-out in a very similar way to how statues made from single blocks of wood are hollowed out from the back, while the main part of the arms are made in the wooden-core dry-lacquer style. These features reveal that the late Tenpyo period, when the hollow dry-lacquer technique was in decline, was also a time when many techniques were intermingling, and that, during the making of such statues, the squared pieces of timber inserted into the mortices were not only stops for the clay, but also served as reference points for the outline of the statue.