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Nara Period

Updated on January 25, 2013


Japanese Buddhism found its finest expression in the arts and architecture of the Nara period. The establishment of the new capital allowed the development of more complex and permanent forms of architecture. Outstanding are the Toshodaiji Temple (begun eighth century) and the Todaiji Monastery (founded 745) which majestically blend Chinese and Japanese tradition.

The former houses an amazing diversity of lacquer statuary, featuring the full range of Buddhist deities and contemporary techniques. Nara sculpture attained a high degree of technical and stylistic proficiency producing a multitude of tomb and temple guardian figures modeled in clay and, originally, vividly painted. Among the period's sculptural masterpieces are the Yakushi Nyorai, Buddha of medicine (circa 793), a wooden figure with delicately rendered drapery, and the bronze Yakushi-ji Triad (circa 720).

It was in painting that China's influence was most strongly felt. The murals of the kondo at Huryuji depicting Buddhist paradise scenes (circa 700, destroyed by fire in 1949) were the masterpieces of Nara painting.

Like them, the screen paintings of the Beauties Under the Trees (eighth century) in the Shosoin show a mastery of the delicate Chinese Tang dynasty's style. Vertical and horizontal scroll paintings and the simple, calligraphic style ink drawings first appear during the Nara period.


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