senbutsu せん仏
KEY WORD : art history / sculptures
Also written 甎仏 or 磚仏. Japanese buddhist images in relief on unglazed clay tiles sen せん which are square, rectangular, or flame-shaped. Made by pressing clay into moulds, drying and then firing. Surfaces were occasionally decorated with gold leaf (kinpaku 金箔 ; see *haku 箔). Individual images were enshrined in an altar and used for private worship, but more commonly senbutsu were made in large numbers and used to decorate the interior walls of temples (see *sentaibutsu 千体仏). Although in the strict sense of the term, senbutsu should be the images of buddhist deities on clay tiles, the term generally includes other motifs related to Buddhism, such as the phoenix *houou 鳳凰. Popular in China from 6c, senbutsu were introduced to Japan in the latter half of 7c. Numerous examples of the Buddha triad *sanzonbutsu 三尊仏 about 20cm X 20cm large, were excavated from the back-hill of Kawaharadera 川原寺, Nara (built in the 660's). Other examples have also been found in the ruins of temples built in 7c-8c, such as Tachibanadera 橘寺 and Yamadadera 山田寺, both in Nara. Few examples dating after 9c have been discovered. Contemporaneous characteristics in style between China and Japan can be seen in senbutsu and repousse Buddhas *oshidashibutsu 押出仏 which are technically related to each other. Specifically, the late 7c examples mentioned above have the distinctively mature, sensuous style of the early Tang dynasty, while wooden or bronze statues of the same period retain a stylistic influence from the earlier Chinese period. This difference is due to the fact that once a mould was imported from China, numerous copies could be produced from it. When a mould was broken, a new one was made using a produced work. Because a new mould shrank about 20% when fired, new products became smaller than the original. This process of making smaller clay figures using renewed moulds is called *fumigaeshi 踏返 (changing step). Sometimes metal repousse buddhist images were used to make a new mould for senbutsu, and senbutsu were used to make repousse Buddhas.


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