Although Japanese paintings get a lot of international attention, Japanese sculptures are also quite amazing and should get the reverence that Japanese paintings get. For example, one of the more famous sculptors in Japan is Tankei (湛慶). The most famous sculpture by Tankei is the sculpture in a temple called Sanjusangendō (三十三間堂). The sculpture is considered one of the premier national treasures of Japan.
Jōchō (定朝) was the most famous and beloved sculptors ever in Japan. The sculpture on the left is an example of Jōchō’s work. If you look at the expression on the Buddha’s face, it is tender and gentle. The merciful expression on the Buddha’s face is something that no other artist did before Jōchō. Jōchō revolutionized a new style of Buddhist imagery by sculpting a compassionate expression on the Buddha’s face.
You may have seen some of Kaikei’s (快慶) work without even realizing it. There are many of Kaikei’s original works all over Japan. The sculpture of the Bodhisattva on the left is a wooden statue made with gold, copper crystal and lacquer. Many of Kaikei’s works relatively small in size, but they are nevertheless famous for their originality. Kaikei is famous for sculpting intelligent and elegant looking expressions on the faces of his statues.
Unkei’s (運慶) sculpture of the guardian statues at Tōdaiji (東大寺) or Tōdai Temple is probably one of the best-recognized sculptures in Japan. His works are famous for being realistic. Like the photo of the statue on the left, his figures are muscular rather than delicate. His style of sculpture broke with the style of his predecessors. Instead of making figures with soft lines and ephemeral expressions, his statues were solid and lifelike.
Tori Busshi (止利仏師) was originally a saddle maker who became a sculptor through hard work. Although he had no formal training in sculpting images, his work was renown and respected by his contemporaries for the peaceful expressions on the faces of his figures. One of his patrons was Suko Tennō (推古天皇) or Empress Suiko . She was so impressed by Tori Busshi’s work that she granted him a title and some land, which was unusual for someone of his rank to receive.