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Investigating the Layers of a Korean Buddhist Sculpture

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Social Studies +1 Age Levels Middle School (13 to 15 years old), High School (16 to 18 years old)

This Learning Lab Collection focuses on a single Buddhist object from Korea. Students will formulate questions about a Buddhist work of art from Korea using Project Zero's Layers Visible Thinking Routine.  They will investigate answers to their questions by researching the exhibition website and engaging with various interactives and digital resources provided.  

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Tags:  Art; Buddhism; Korea; Project Zero; research; National Museum of Korea


About the exhibition:

Sacred Dedication:  A Korean Buddhist Masterpiece
September 21, 2019–March 22, 2020
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

A single object—a beautiful gilt wood sculpture of Gwaneum, the bodhisattva of compassion and the most popular deity in Korean Buddhism—is the focus of this loan exhibition from the National Museum of Korea. Carved in the late Goryeo period (918–1392), this crowned image is now known to be the oldest surviving gilded wood figure in an informal pose. Its posture, with one leg raised and the other lowered, is associated with the deity’s dwelling place, where he sits calmly on rocks above the crashing waves of the sea. The same subject in a similar pose was common in devotional paintings, such as the hanging scroll of Suwol Gwaneum bosal (Water-Moon Avalokiteshvara) now in the collection of the Freer Gallery.

Sacred texts and potent symbolic objects were sealed inside this hollow religious sculpture when it was first placed into worship in the thirteenth century. The practice of adding dedication material to a Buddhist sculpture during consecration ceremonies was believed to transform it into a living body. Recent research conducted by the National Museum of Korea provides new information about this rare sculpture, its hidden contents, and the special rituals that surrounded image consecration in Korea centuries ago.

We thank our colleagues at the National Museum of Korea for sharing their research and facilitating this exhibition.