Around the 3rd century AD, the grotto art originating from ancient India was introduced to China through the western regions, along the ancient trade routes and over mountains and deserts. In the Northern Dynasty and the Sui and Tang dynasties, the art of statue-making reached many peaks in northern China. In the late Tang Dynasty, the grottoes in the north gradually fell from prominence. However, in the Sichuan and Chongqing regions along the Yangtze River, sculptors were still hammering away at their stones. With their inclusiveness and open-mindedness, they once again created stunning masterpieces in the history of Chinese grottoes.
The Sichuan and Chongqing regions have the most widely distributed and numerous grottoes in China. Among them, the Dazu Rock Carvings, rooted in the fertile soil of the Bashu culture (a regional culture centered on Sichuan and Chongqing), have become a model of Chinese grotto art. Having absorbed and integrated the essence of early grotto art, the Dazu Rock Carvings are innovative, ingenious and varied. With their distinctive national and secular characteristics and elements from everyday life, they carry the unique spiritual connotations of a changing era. In 1999, the Dazu Rock Carvings were inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List as a cultural heritage site, reaching a final peak in the history of human grotto art.
As a representative of late Chinese grotto art, the earliest stone carvings work was built during the Yong Hui period of the Tang Dynasty (650-655 AD) and reached its peak during the Five Dynasties and the Southern Song Dynasty. Most of the Dazu Rock Carvings were carved along the cliffs and the shrines were built beside the rocks. The most representative sites such as Beishan, Baodingshan, Nanshan, Shizhuanshan and Shimenshan have converged into a natural grotto art gallery.
As a historical witness of ancient civilization, the Dazu Rock Carvings inevitably suffered various degrees of damage over thousands of years exposed to the elements. In order to pass on the splendid culture to future generations, the people of Dazu have made unremitting efforts in the process of the preservation and inheritance of this world cultural heritage. Through the combination of traditional engineering and modern technology, they have sought to preserve the Dazu Rock Carvings as close to their original condition as possible. Through the use of big data, they also established a monitoring and early warning platform for the Dazu Rock Carvings. Strengthening the digital preservation of stone carvings with the power of technology and art has brought the immovable Dazu Rock Carvings into people’s lives and given new vitality to this world cultural heritage.
“Remarkable and Graceful: Special Exhibition of Dazu Rock Carvings,” hosted by the National Museum of China, is the centralized display of 82 fine collections from the Dazu Rock Carvings Museum. Among the exhibits are such figures as dignified and elegant Bodhisattvas, merciful and solemn Buddhas, humble looking almsgivers, vivid looking drunkards, and intricately patterned incense burners. These are all exquisitely carved, cleverly composed and diverse in subject matter, which can be considered as the peak of Chinese stone carving art aesthetics.
We sincerely hope that this exhibition will provide you with an in-depth understanding of the unique charm of the Dazu Rock Carvings and a better understanding of China’s long-standing and profound civilization.